by Kier Byrnes
Noise: How did you get started in making the music you do today? It’s a bit of departure from the Munk of the early 2000’s.
Munk Duane: I’ve been calling it a “de-evolution.” The music I was making back in the day was heavily influenced by the electronic music world. I was enamored with sound design, sampling, and creating sonic palettes from traditional analogue synth sources, as well as warping organic, real/world sounds and layering them over a great dance beat with a deep funky bass line. I still love doing this, which is what lead me to the world of film scoring. That said, at my core, I’m a songwriter. My roots are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley, and Motown. I grew up in a house with the sounds of Johnny Cash but, like most kids, rebelled against it because it was my Dad’s music. Coming near full circle, I started to explore this music, traveled to Nashville, and immersed myself in as much tradition as I could find. It was like going back to school. I’m becoming a better writer, particularly with lyrics. For the first time in my musical existence, I’m writing songs that are not intentionally shrouded in misleading metaphor or beat poet prose. I’m writing as honest and direct as I ever have. It’s a whole new skill set and it’s super hard for me to be that raw and vulnerable.
Noise: Unlike most musicians, you have experience in multiple genres like pop, electronica, country, and rock. Which one do you feel closest to and how did that evolve?
Munk: I had a revelation about this very recently. I am not a rock artist. My voice is too influenced by Stax ’60s soul, but I do love to play hard and I can sure belt when inspired. I’m not a country artist. I proudly brandish its adornments, but I am not from the same stock and don’t wish to insult anyone by pretending to be. I am not an electronic artist. I love the creative manipulation of sound, but I love traditional song structure more. I am not a pop artist. Being born of The Beatles means accepting my inner John and George quirk, as much as I identify as a Paul. I am all of these things and none of these things. It took my entire life to come to this realization. I’m just learning to accept this and be okay with starting over.
Noise: You have over 200 media and television placements. That’s an accomplishment many other musicians can only dream of. How were you able to make that happen?
Munk: This is a mixed blessing. I got started a little more than ten years ago when I was approached by a publisher shortly after my first indie release. I hired Planetary Group to do a national radio and press campaign with money from a recent layoff – huge gamble for a guy with a young family to support. The publisher’s pitch was simply: “Do you want to be on The Sopranos?” Well who the hell could say no to that? I was skeptical, but I had absolutely nothing to lose. I gave up 50 percent of my publisher’s share in perpetuity because my logic at the time was “100 percent of nothing is nothing.” I took a considerable leap of faith. Well, they placed my music in two episodes of the show and a host of others from primetime major network hits to daytime soaps. As I started to develop a reputation, it wasn’t long before I was asked to write on spec specifically for scenes in shows. I was also approached by other entities to write for them like CBS Sports (NFL, College Football, NCAA). I became skilled at writing and producing this music at light speed (eight hours soup to nuts) in whatever style they were asking for. The last thing I wrote on spec was a song called “Just Wait,” which was written for a big Grey’s Anatomy promo spot on ABC. You know, one of those “major TV events.” It didn’t get picked up, as the description of what the music supervisor was looking for was too vague to tailor to so I had to incorporate a lot of my new learnings and identity (GASP) and I’m actually really thrilled with this new “failure.” It will be on the new album. I also lost the closing credits to the Justin Timberlake film In Time. Somedays you get the bull…
It’s a great supplemental income, but what I didn’t realize as the years passed is that I was losing myself to it. I became so good at emulation that I lost my identity as a writer.
Noise: During your epic music career, you have had music played on MTV and the Super Bowl halftime show. What do you think is the biggest hit or most popular song, you have ever written?
Munk: Ha, “epic”—that’s funny. As far as songs, possibly “Knucklebones” from the first album or “Blow Away” from the second. That’s the thing. When it great, it was no longer about songs as much as the pieces I would assemble for their specific use. I couldn’t be farther away from those two songs right now if I were on another planet.
Noise: Who are some of your favorite local musicians and how did you pick the guys you play with in the Munk Duane Band?
Munk: The South Shore has a teaming pool of talent that somehow escapes the eye of Boston, only 20 miles away. Fil Pacino, a former bandmate and one of my best friends, is absolutely one of my favorite singer/songwriters. His recent album Death by Lions was one of the things that snapped me out of my haze and helped to provide directional clarity. If you don’t like that album, you hate music. Jackson Wetherbee is another guy to watch out for. He has an effortless approach and is a total natural talent. He does regular Tuesday night’s at The Tinker’s Son in Norwell, a venue incredibly supportive of up and coming songwriters (and the best pint of Guinness around).
The band grew out of my relationship with guitarist Tony Savarino. When I first started to explore this direction, Tony was the very first guy that came to mind. His talent and vast knowledge in the genre is second to none. As busy as Tony is (he plays with a host of Boston area bands such as Garvy J and his own band The Savtones), I figured he would never be interested, but he signed right up and has been with me now for almost three years. As the band evolved, he brought in drummer Mike Levesque (Candy Butchers, David Bowie) and bass player Sean McLaughlin, who also owns 37ft Studios in Rockland, MA (Sean won producer of the year in the 2013 New England Music Awards). Later, I found what is akin to a unicorn in these parts in the pedal steel, mandolin, and lap steel player, Steve Benson.
Noise: You have accomplished a lot more than most musicians, what are some musical goals that you are still striving for?
Munk: I’ve had a period of my life where I’ve been able to get by strictly on a performing songwriter/composer’s income. Now that I’m a father of three and own a home in this painfully expensive state, having a day job is an uncomfortable cold reality. Not to over-dramatize, but every moment that I’m away from writing and playing is like Chinese water torture. It’s physically painful to me. Music is in my life daily despite sacrificing those hours, and I play more shows now than ever in my life. But it is at the expense of sleep and my sanity, as being a dad and husband is also a critical priority. I’m still striving for a way that music can once again become my soul income but on my terms. I can’t lose myself in other people’s visions again. I’m striving to achieve what many people tell me is impossible, which is a lifestyle that doesn’t mean the sacrifice of who I am for what I do. I reel against the idea that my dreams and my soul have to be crushed in order to provide for my family and survive in today’s world.
Noise: In addition to making the music, you put out your own videos. How did you get into that and what’s your favorite music video to date that you made, and why?
Munk: It’s a YouTube world and avoiding video production is close to impossible. I wrote a song for the troops who couldn’t be home for the holidays called “Walk Between the Snowflakes” and shot a video that included clips of friends and friends of friends that are separated from their loved ones serving overseas. It struck a chord with a lot of people.
I’m also wrapping up a video now for one of my new songs “Some Rivers,” which will be on my next album Argue With Gravity, directed by Michael Carroll. The stills he’s sent me have me so jazzed I think I may actually pass out when I see the final product. Michael is amazing and is making me look FAR cooler than I am!
Noise: What can you tell me about Subfamous?
Munk: “Subfamous” is a term I came up with when I realized how many people have actually heard my music but don’t know me from a hole in the wall. I decided to do a video blog series documenting the phenomenon and the daily life of a working/struggling musician. I produced 14 episodes and I’m about to start season two.
Noise:: What does the future hold for Munk Duane?
Munk: All guns are targeting the completion of Argue With Gravity and getting this band out on the road on the right bills, in front of the right audience. I’m currently searching for representation and the dream team that can pull this off. It’s so much more than a one man job and I’m already short on sleep. I’d love to be on the road with someone like Will Hoge. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed on the new TV series, and was approached right before the holiday about co-writing with multi-platinum opera singer Charlotte Church, who is looking to attract a new audience. The whole business is just a crazy roller coaster. Nothing is real to me until after I’ve done it.