The Astute Recorder



Music Feature: Delving into pc muñoz's "Grab Bag."

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(Feb. 7, 2009)—In his latest video "Family Matters," pc muñoz is sometimes shown through tiled images, donned in black and floating whimsically against hypnotic-blue hues and patterns. Smooth rhythms serving as the aural backdrop help create an alluring audio-visual experience—as lyrics encasing the conflict of one’s instinctive need to be singular, while existing within a global whole, segue between a mellow rap and the chant of an infectious chorus.

Using similar aural dynamics, which blend rhythmic beats with striking accents of bass, keyboard, cello and—in my personal favorite "The Man I Can’t Be"—synthesized horns, pc has made his 2008 release Grab Bag a magnetic experience. Lyrically, the album is part social befuddlement ("MPEG"), part soul cleansing ("Wish I Knew") and part, "Man, how I cherish my family." In “Hurricane Miguel,” inspired by the legacy that is pc’s and his wife’s first toddler Miguel, the art-funk composer intones:

The past couple of weeks have been a celebratory ones for pc, having enjoyed the release of the “Family Matters” video, which was directed by his brother Alex Muñoz, and the Grammy nomination of cellist Joan Jeanrenaud’s Strange Toys, an album pc produced. One could even say the past 15 years represent an ongoing artistic achievement for pc, with his fusing his talents as both poet and musician to produce genre-defying sounds.

I caught up with pc recently and talked to him about his entire experience as an artist, the influences behind Grab Bag and his work with some of his favorite artists.

ASMAN: Grab Bag is an appropriate title for your latest album. With the mastery you’ve achieved with the variety of genres represented, I can’t help think of the “grab bag” as a collection of musical and lyrical influences that have inspired you. In this context, what’s in the Grab Bag?

MUÑOZ: Musically—definitely early hip hop, Prince and avant-garde. Lyrically—writers, including Prince, who’ve taken great care in their songwriting: Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne and Springsteen and hip-hop guys like Chuck D and Rakim, and proto-hip-hop master Gil Scott Heron. Grab Bag is the most representative of everything I’ve done—I’ve mixed together what I love most about music while making sure the album flows as a whole. I love putting a sequence of songs together into a cohesive flow while mixing up the context. Some of the sounds found in Grab Bag are not the usual pairings. There might be an improvised oboe or electric cello on one part of the album, with different instrumentation or female voices on other parts.

ASMAN: Each song on Grab Bag is an artistic treasure, but lyrically, I’m intrigued with "MPEG." Musically, it has a contagious funky beat.

MUÑOZ: Like "Family Matters," "MPEG" had a juicy groove going and I wanted to write great lyrics for it. At that time, I was thinking about viral videos and a guy who posts videos of himself all day long. I wondered to myself: “When does he actually live if he’s always documenting what he does?” It became a circular thing. What does this guy call his life? Is his real life actually what we see online, or does he live his life so he can tape it and broadcast it for the rest of the world to see? It’s insular in its own way, and yet the public is into it. This is not a criticism of technology, because I love it and believe it’s a great tool.

ASMAN: Let’s talk about the collaborations. There’s a new experience with each track, showing the breadth—and depth—of your talents and those of your featured artists.

MUÑOZ: Ingrid Chavez, who sings in the first track “Disappear,” is someone I’ve admired since her first solo album on Paisley Park Records and her performance in Prince’s film Graffiti Bridge. One of my terrible secrets is I’m usually not a fan of spoken word spilling over music. I’ve never really appreciated that—Gil Scott Heron is the exception. But when I got Ingrid’s album, I was inspired—soaring, singing choruses with spoken word. I appreciated that aesthetic. I had always been disappointed she didn’t get more attention. I also loved the work she did with David Sylvian. She did a lot of really great work with him on his solo stuff as well as in their collaborations with Riyuichi Sakamoto. I always thought her voice was so cool and that she had such an artsy persona.

ASMAN: How did you and Ingrid meet?

MUÑOZ: It’s funny. She was raising her two girls on the East Coast, taking some time off, and someone told her to get a MySpace page. When she put her page up so many people responded, leaving her notes saying, “It’s great to see you again.” She and I connected through MySpace and shortly after started talking about collaborating. “Disappear” was first recorded as a single then Talking House asked me to create an entire album. Ingrid was a trooper. She came in for the day, recorded the song then went back to the East Coast the next morning. She was awesome to work with. She has a new album coming out, which she recorded in Italy with great composers. She’ll be touring a bit through Europe to promote that. She’s a wonderful woman and a great artist.

ASMAN: Then there’s the charming Micropixie who appears with sassy-abstract spoken word in “Chatter & Buzz,” your own Heron-esque performance with acoustic cellist Joan Jeanrenaud in “Archery” and the emotional ballad-turned-rock jam featuring Danny Zingarelli in “Wish I Knew.” I know you have tremendous respect for each of them. Who are some of the other local (Bay Area, Calif.) artists with whom you’ve worked but are not featured in Grab Bag?

MUÑOZ: One of the artists I worked with recently was FEMI, whom I’d seen locally and always loved her live show. I always appreciated her mix of funk, soul and Latin. We created a six-song EP together, “Sweet Water Soul,” and had a great time doing that. I also enjoy working with Kevin Carnes from the Beatnigs, who’s now a drummer in my band “left hook.” He’s just a fantastic drummer and perfect for what I do—while rooted in hip hop, he totally wants to stretch the bounds, go avant-garde and wildly experimental. He’s also a great singer. He sings back-up for “left hook” and is the drummer for Broun Fellinis—an acid jazz trio in San Francisco. He’s done a ton of work.

Vicky Grossi, the "left hook" bassist, is also into funk and avant-garde—a great player and really open. Same with Dave Worm, a multi-talented vocalist who brings so much to the live shows. He's a great spirit. And Danny Zingarelli is the ultimate secret weapon with his talents with electronics and percussion. Danny's a great singer too.

The engineers I work with at Talking House are also very important—Justin Lieberman, Willie Samuels, and Peter Krawiec—all of whom are important collaborators in achieving the sounds I'm looking for.

ASMAN: As someone who is a Pacific Islander (Chamorro of the Island of Guam) and part Portuguese, English and Scottish, how would you say your multiculturalism influences your artistry?

MUÑOZ: I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and am reminded of an artist who came to see one of my earlier performances and told me he didn’t like it, basically saying, “Ah, it’s okay.” We have the kind of relationship where we’re blunt with each other. He told me: “You know, pc, you are a 21st century composer and you’re fooling around with club music.” He said he thought I was capable of creating really interesting music and said I could do a lot more with experimentation. But he also said to me, “What makes your aesthetic interesting is one can really sense you come from the Pacific Rim because there are a lot of Asian influences in your work—rhythm and melody, with minimal harmonic movement."

After he told me that, I started realizing there was a lot of truth to what he said. Often times, I am mostly concerned with rhythm, texture and momentum, rather than the usual tenets of Western music theory. My friend was curious as to why I wasn’t exploring that more.

My style has matured a bit since then. I’m proud of what I’ve done in the past and have managed to work with a lot of great people. My multicultural heritage has inspired me to bring a variety of artists and styles together to create a richer sound.

ASMAN: What was it like working with your brother Alex on the “Family Matters” video?

MUÑOZ: I did one video with Alex in 2002 for “Skin City.” He is the natural choice for me when making videos and he’s done a ton of great work. He started a non-profit organization in LA, Films by Youth Inside, which helps incarcerated youth make films that are played all over the world and all sorts of festivals.

When I talked to him about creating a video for Grab Bag, he suggested we work with “Family Matters” and came up with a simple concept for it. There are a lot of interesting animation effects, “no monkeys” (gimmicks), as I like to call them. It’s always great to work with my brother. He’s decisive and knows what he wants. At the same time, he’s open and willing to cooperate and inspire.

It was an interesting experience creating the video because Alex’s take on the song was very personal. It has a lot of layers and there were parts of it that resonated with him and made him think about our family. Working with him reminds me of when we were kids and we’d take songs or talk shows and be creative with them. Now we both do artistic things for a living.

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