I Like a Little Mystery: A Conversation with Megazillion

Megazillion is a self-described “post-genre” recording artist from Baltimore, Maryland. He’s been releasing music since the early 2020. As the post-genre label suggests, his music can’t be pigeonholed. There’s a bit of metal, a bit of techno, a good helping of ambient, and the oddly infectious thirty-second EDM-inspired ditty “Cicadas on My House.” Currently working on a full-length album, Megazillion is also eyeing a possible return to live performance in the near future. 

First off, you go by “Megazillion,” and I notice that you tend to obscure your face when you appear in videos. There seems to be a bit of secrecy with respect to your “real” identity. What’s the story there?

Well, I do that for a few reasons. One, I think I am generally a bit camera shy which is weird because I have no problems getting up and speaking to a room and I am a vigorous performer on stage. Whenever some of my other projects bring out a camera though I get a little twitchy. That isn’t the main reason, well, maybe it is, geez. Okay, so I like a little mystery. Everything is so face value these days and that is fine for some things, but I do find it a bit boring. I love it when a band blows my mind and I have no idea what is happening. It can be a bit unsettling, funny, outrageous. All things I believe that make it interesting. Why do we need to know? I feel like it’s expected now, and I have a resistant nature I suppose. 

And where did the name “Megazillion” come from?

I wanted something that sounded like a giant of the propagated and vapid hollow consumption lifestyle grind. Like SO BIG. It’s slightly funny, but then it has a “z” and that automatically makes it fun to say. Sounds over the top but cool.

Good point about the “Z.” I’m also curious about the “post-genre” label. Can you say more about that?

I’ll try to condense this explanation. Easy answer? I loathe marketing. Which makes this privileged life grating for me as we cannot function without almost constantly being indoctrinated with commercials, ads, propaganda, etc. Genre is a marketing tool. I want to make what I want to make without that looming over my soul and influencing my creative process. Plus, I have been doing muti-genre projects outside of Megazillion for so long it’s really what I do. This is the project where I go all the way though. Case in point, you mention in the intro I have done metal, ambient, electronic, well the stuff I will be releasing this year goes further, there is a decent amount of shoe gaze, doom, kraut rock, stuff with acoustic guitars, punk, some surf, experimental noise and so on. Now ultimately, it’s all rock in a sense, besides the ambient stuff, and that is fine. I wanted it to be free of the narrow filter that one genre perpetuates. Also, “post genre” sounds cool to me.

That being said I will acknowledge I have to market to survive now. Or how will I even find an audience with all this noise? I call it THE STAIN. Lol. It’s unavoidable unless you want to live in a cave.

I wonder if being an independent artist can be freeing in a way, especially in terms of genre.

It absolutely is! I have never been one to be concerned with what was “hot’ or “not.” I just want to try and create stuff I am proud of and hopefully enrich some lives and maybe not die at a job I hate. It’s a hard road in the sense that there is no blueprint for doing things your own way. Each person that does this must define it for themselves. I love the ones that do even if the art doesn’t speak to me personally.

Who are some other indie artists you like to work with or just plain admire?

I am pretty much just working with The Secret Weapon right now (drums) and we are about to get the live band going. I love bands like Secret Chiefs 3, King Gizzard, Liars, etc. As far as music closer to my level of awareness I do have a bunch of stuff I dig. I love checking out Bandcamp and connecting with other musicians on social media. I made friends with Limnetic Villains on Twitter, and I listen to his stuff pretty often, super good. There is this band from France worth checking out called Franck Racket that I listen to as well. From Baltimore I love Eze Jackson, Queen Wolf, Infinite Pizza, Landis Harry Larry to name a few, honestly, I should mention like 50 bands! It’s insane here. I love it.

Looking ahead, I know you have an album coming out. I’m guessing that it transcends genre or, at least, that it can’t be pigeonholed into a single genre. Are there any challenges to putting together a collection like that?

This year my plan is to put out at least three releases and start the next album and they are all different. Making the different styles is so natural to me at this point the creation isn’t hard. The album as an example is hard in the production sense. Every song is a different sub-genre or outright genre and making it work sonically so it all sounds like the same album took a bit more than a minute. I am the engineer and producer as well, so it was a huge undertaking.

You’re also planning some live shows. Again, I’m wondering about challenges. How do you put together a band that can span so many styles of music?

I live in Baltimore. I have been an active member of multiple scenes for a long time, I am fortunate that we have SO MUCH talent here. I also make sure I give people the respect they deserve so finding folks seems to be already working out. The challenge for me is I have always been the guitar or bass player. I have never been the singing front person. I am terrified! I put this off for many reasons. But Covid really drove home that I must go all the way. Going all the way to me is diving into the unknown. Will I fail? Sound bad? Be delightful? Who knows!

Organizing all this music and preparing people will be a task but I think it will be rewarding for everyone. I want the shows to pop and light the place up. I want everyone to feel like it wasn’t just worthwhile but exciting and essential. That is what I want it to be for myself so hopefully it translates even to the back of the club. I realize I’m setting the bar a bit high but why not? Worst scenario we hit 70% of that and it’s a super fun moment.

You mentioned to me a little while back that your son plays drums on your recordings. How did he become involved with the project?

I must be honest I have been kind of shy about this subject. One for the anonymity we spoke of and the protective instincts of being a parent. The internet can be creep central as you well know. I feel like we can be a little easier now as he is a solid person, still young, but sees things for what they are. Anonymity be damned. He was only twelve when we recorded the drums for “Everyday” (one of our first videos/singles) so I wasn’t in a rush to make it public.  Also, it happened so organically during lockdown I never even dreamed it would turn into this. His drumming in the last two years has gone from being extremely impressive to next level ability. He is at the point where he plays like four times a day and is very, very dedicated. He started School of Rock around eight and started drums around nine. He has played in front of like 500 before Covid in a big venue and killed. This of course is a very special thing for me as music is my life. It goes back to my dad who recently passed. Not only was he my dad, he was my first and truest muse and my ultimate champion as an artist. He was so proud of what we were doing. He wanted to help with the album and heard it in stages as we worked on it. He loved all the singles and videos we did and would play them for EVERYBODY, literally.   He will be missed, and we will celebrate that spirit.

Megazillion was as an idea since like 2017. I had a demo of the first two singles back then. But for a very long time I was scoring indie films and working with my other bands. Then Covid happened and it was just my son and I and all our toys. I realized it was time for Megazillion. Then it occurred to us that we should start recording together. Now we have a bunch of singles out, an album on the way, a bunch of songs for after that. It’s beautiful. Honestly, Covid forced our hand (we would always jam Black Sabbath and old thrash songs he had gotten into that I knew because I started there as well) and it really is one of the best things that has happened in my life. I feel extremely inspired, even with my Dad leaving us. If anything, it just pushes me to go further as I want him to live through this.

Does he offer suggestions?

I said in so many words from the jump that I create a huge amount of stuff so it can be overwhelming but when we are working the door is wide open for your ideas. Please let me know. He is starting to get more comfortable with that. The thing is though he is starting to shape what I write because I hear him playing along to Rush or Dillinger Escape Plan and its re-opening doors in my mind. I have history writing complex music. Again, a very beautiful moment.

What has playing together brought to your relationship?

I am very fortunate that he, I and my wife get along very, very well. It was already solid AF but Covid and now this has really elevated it to great levels. It’s my rock honestly.  

I’m curious about “Cicadas on My House.” A cynical part of me thinks of it as an incredibly ingenious and diabolical ploy to get more plays on streaming platforms. After all, you can getabout 120 plays an hour from a thirty-second song. Then again, I’ve really only seen the song on YouTube, so…

HAHA, ok, so that was one of those things (like “Opposable Thumbs”) that literally fell out of the sky. I was cleaning those critters shells off the side of our house, and it was like hundreds, and I just started singing that. I ran inside and recorded it in an hour and spent about two hours on the video. I don’t want to get into my feelings about the state of music because that’s a different story, but I wasn’t thinking that at all. I just didn’t see it being more than a minute. Find me on Bandcamp and Youtube for now.

“Cicadas on My House” by Megazillion

There’s also something political about some your songs. I’m thinking of “Fork in the Road” in particular. It isn’t exactly taking sides in a particular political debate, but its lyrics still offer political commentary – or at least metacommentary in the sense that they’re about how we frame large-scale conversations in the twenty-first century. How do you see politics fitting into your art?

I do write about things that concern me politically. Considering “Fork in the Road” I am not a “both sides” guy because that is a gross oversimplification. My idea for “Fork in the Road” was how do we navigate as a creature away from all this cruelty with so much noise? I don’t like to over explain but if you read the lyrics with that statement, it’s pretty clear. I do see art as a great tool against what I think is unjust, cruel, and downright wrong. I love disruptive art, period. I know this can turn people off but after what I’ve seen the last few years, after already seeing things as problematic, I don’t see any reason to not say that comfortably. Plus, I have always enjoyed people who speak like that through their art. It makes me engaged. I want the real shit.

Anything else on the horizon?

As I mentioned I have the album coming, then a bunch of EPs, I will be making more videos for this stuff as well. I want to make this a banner year for releases. The album is a genre journey as mentioned. One EP is a remix release a friend did for my first track “The Sea and We”, another is an ambient release that I started on vacation last summer. It’s all based around the acoustic guitar. Recorded the main tracks in a cabin on Lake Erie. Another EP will be extreme heavy stuff. There is one track so far called “The Clown” on the Youtube channel. It’s the heaviest stuff we do, mostly short grindy tracks with surprises. We call that GRAVE CONCERNS under Megazillion. I am also launching a series called “Lo-Fi High” which is all my old experimental and electronic/ambient recordings I did on a cassette four-track over a decade. It’s a huge amount of stuff I have never released and its very raw and much of it is me learning and trying weird things. I recently borrowed a working machine as mine broke and have dumped it all into Ableton. I also have started designing Megazillion shirts and other oddities and launched a Red Bubble store. If you follow me on Twitter and IG I make short psychedelic music videos fairly often as one offs. The music is from the scores I have done or from the stuff on my hard drives I never released. They are fun.

Cool! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thanks so much for this. I don’t get to talk in depth about my work a lot and it’s nice to get the opportunity!

The Process Is the Motivation: An Interview with the Jasmine Monk (aka “Jaz”) of The Smashing Times

Thanks once again to Janglepop Hub for turning me on to another great band! This time around, it’s The Smashing Times. What really grabbed me about this band – even before I heard their music – was the fact that they were releasing their songs as singles on 45 RPM seven-inch vinyl. Given the price point, it’s the kind of move that takes more than a bit of chutzpah, but when I gave the music a listen, I ponied up and ordered the record, whose echoing, twangy guitars and plaintive vocals made me nostalgic for the days of my youth when the seven-inch single was the coin of the realm for indie bands. What really piqued my interest, though, was the fact that I couldn’t find any trace of the band on social media beyond their Instagram page, so I dropped them a line to find out more…

Who’s in The Smashing Times? How did you get together? What’s your working relationship like?

Myself – Jaz – Ole and Zelda/Anais. Ole and I knew each other from a now defunct punk house in Bellingham, Washington, that was called D. Street and I think may have even been on a street with a similar name to that. Anais and I go way back and similarly met at various occasions in odd places in those shabby early twenties bohemian party scene days. It’s interesting how being young and poor sort of deposits you in buildings that have gone without updates. It’s as if bohemia really does exist in some static dimension.

We sort of conceptualize what we want to do. When Ole and I first met again here in Baltimore we were sitting at Asian Taste talking about the Yardbirds and Mod Revival stuff, Squire, Purple Hearts, The Jam etc… For us the Television Personalities are really the perfect intersection between the punk DIY, irreverence, and the sick riffs of Petula Clark’s session musicians. Then Ole turned me on to The Times single “Red with Purple Flashes.” Holy moly, that single is everything. Our name is sort of a portmanteau of The Times and the single “Smashing Time,” also that film.

When we started, we wanted to be a mod revival band, but Anais had never drummed before and Ole hadn’t played bass in nine years or something. So, I wrote tunes that were carried by the vocals and guitar. We were drawing heavy from Cleaners from Venus, The Times, and TVPs on the first EP.

One thing I love about The Smashing Times is that I feel like you’re really going all-in on a kind of DIY nostalgia: seven-inch records, cassette releases, general avoidance of social media. Is that all part of a single conscious decision with respect to how the band presents itself, or is it just organic to who you are?

We are lucky to have inherited this concept from Crass. I’m so sick of perfect things and cleanliness. I want to make something with no motivation other than to make it. Like an Enso circle, the brush stroke is the art, the process is the motivation.

Ole is the largest contributor to our tactile and visual aesthetic, he is like our Gee Vaucher. Part of it is tradition, part of it is convenience and habit. I think on my last count I have been in 15 or 16 bands. And it’s like, here we go again, gotta get the tape out and then a single and try to get somebody to finance an LP. The price point on a single is about the same as a cassette but you can get a smaller batch of cassettes made and don’t have to sit on them for as long. Summer Inside happened because we were couped up for so long and couldn’t play shows so we were just like, lets make some tunes and keep putting out mixtapes.

It feels really good to me to have so much control over it. Ole and I started playing music during the Napster days, but people still bought CDs and LPs. It’s been awesome to have access to so much music but at the same time it has become really devalued. Having a tactile thing is like an offering to people who listen to the music. It’s like, hey you found us, good job, here is a thing most people can’t appreciate, but you listened, so here is a delightful bauble which, for your perseverance, you deserve to enjoy.  

We have another single in the bag but we are learning that the plants are still so backlogged with the success of Mcartney III that they don’t want to do singles anymore. They don’t really make money for the plant, labels, or for the bands. So yea, we do it so that little you, the listener, can enjoy the experience. Here is the single, get ready for the LP… “Big A, Little A, bouncing be. The system might have got you but it won’t get me.”

I mean, even the sleeve for the 45 I bought (“Dreams on Union”) is, I think, a hand-folded, photocopied sheet of letter-sized paper, just like the indie records I used to buy from bands when I was in college. I’m picturing the band hunched over a dinner table, folding the sleeves by hand and sliding each record into the package. Is that accurate, or am I romanticizing things?

It literally does happen across the kitchen table. I will try to get a pic for you.

The decision to photocopy it has to do with the early TVPs singles and the O-Level stuff. It’s sort of a shibboleth. Basically Ole sat me down with his collection of old stuff and said “look what Dan Treacy did, let’s do this.”

I know you work with the independent label Painter Man Records. How did that relationship come about? Broadly speaking, what does your deal look like, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m also curious about the choice to release cassettes and seven-inch singles. Was that their idea or yours—or is it more the result of a dialog between the artist and the label?

Technically the cassettes are on Heavy Numbers Choons, Painter Man distributes those. In truth the single is self-released. We like the Painter Man logo so we were fine with it being on there.

Ah, I see. Some but not all of your music is on Spotify and other streaming services. How do you decide what to release on Spotify and what to hold back, as it were?

We do it in batches and the single didn’t make it in the first batch.

You mentioned in our correspondence a while back that you’re based in Seattle. The city is legendary among music lovers for its indie music scene in the 1990s. What’s the scene like today?

We are from various parts of Washington. Inevitably you end up in Seattle. We are mostly from the northern-most part of the state and centered around Bellingham which is near the border with BC. Because of this we had a lock on Vancouver as well as Seattle and could help distros and touring bands facilitate the crossing. I played with Jay Arner in his old group Fine Mist up there and got deported the night we opened for Hercules and Love Affair. DEPORTED. They had us in this holding vestibule and they wouldn’t let my friend Rachel go to the bathroom. Imagine having to pee in the vestibule.

Seattle has become Amazon’s town and is basically unlivable for bohemians. We all moved to Baltimore in 2018 and then Covid happened. Seattle bands that I like are Super Crush and Shine. Baltimore bands that I like are Corduroy and Posmic. It’s cool to be in a new town and meet all these local characters and hear new music.

I’ll have to check them out! In terms of your music, one thing I really love about “Dreams on Union” is your effective use of pauses. They build a tiny amount of tension that propels the music forward like a little sonic slingshot. And, of course, there’s plenty of jangle and echo, which I also love. Can you say a little bit about how you record your songs—how you approach production and arrangements?

That is good to hear. I worried they might be too progressive. It happens differently every song. I write all the parts and have a general sense of arrangement. Anais has had a bigger hand in arrangement on our newer stuff. The arrangement is big part of the value of having band members is. Everyone has suggested things at one time or another that have worked out beautifully to my mind.

I wrote and arranged “Dreams.” Anais really did not want to learn it and hates playing it. That is probably where the tension came from. The drums on it are the first take. She just got up and walked out so we had to make do. I think it turned out well, I love idiomatic art and music. I feel like on the middle 8 bass part you can picture Ole being like “oh shit, what is next?” and that to me recreates the spontaneity of fabulous improvisation like the Velvets and Miles Davis but without the burden of all that horrid skill.

We have three Shure SM57s and some kind of Shure drum mic. I’ve learned a lot about how to use them and EQ and so on and so forth. I think you can really hear the progress. It’s slow going, I’m more of a tactile and intuitive person so rather than looking up a youtube video on how to do things I just dig in and learn from the mistakes as they happen. Those recordings are gloriously imperfect but that was where we were at the time and honestly it’s what we are going for.

I feel like that Sad Eyed Beatniks person really gets the indeterminacy thing. I listened to a bit of one of their tapes on Bandcamp, I heard the drums drop the beat, I’m having that. I bought all the tapes. Similarly, but not nearly as cool, check out the guitar solo on “Heart of Stone” by the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards frets out. He fucks up the solo and they keep it and it sells millions of copies. Because the imperfection is attractive.

What about writing? What moves you? What, to your ears, makes a good song?

I think we are all sort of coming to this realization that modern life is bunk. Anais and I are in our early thirties. They say you realize there is no future. Even if you can pay your bills, what is the point? That being said, vague lyrics about your condition are bound to strike a chord with someone, I think good poetry needs to be vague enough for a sort of empathic bond to be formed between the speaker and listener. Our shared suffering is where we form solidarity and understanding. The aughts were all about shrugging and racing to be the first one to say “I am detached.” But then we got around to watching Manufacturing Consent, it matters, art matters and solidarity matters, and it seems like awareness is beginning to grow. Pay it forward, you know?

The real challenge is marrying modern day problems with a wide array of 60s-90s British pop culture references and giving you that warm feeling in bottom of your belly like the first time you heard Ride or The Creation. I’ll never be able to do that like Mick Trouble does. Have you heard that LP? Amazing.

I’ll have to look for that one! I imagine playing live is a big part of how you’ve developed a fan base. Any chance you’ll tour anytime in the near future?

We are planning some gigs on the West Coast this June hopefully with Semitrucks from LA. Paul from Expert Alterations/Corduroy will be filling in on drums. We are pretty excited to hit the road again after the last couple years.

Any other plans?

We are wrapping up an EP and will be shopping an LP this summer! Our mastering dude says there are 18 month wait times on vinyl so look for the EP in 2023.

I am working with Blake from Corduroy on a second Midden Heap EP and Anais and I recorded an album in summer of 2021 under the name Roshan Gosh.

Sounds like you’re pretty busy these days! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! 

Thanks for having me. It means a lot that there are people interested in representing underground music.