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!

Poetic Feet and Mayor Pete

If you’re at all like me, at one point or another in your education, you had to learn poetic meter — all that stuff about iambic pentameter and whatnot. I think I had to memorize all of the different types of “feet” in seventh grade: iambs, troches, dactyls, and so on.

At the time I thought that learning all of the different types of feet — the technical name for which is prosody — was completely useless. It turns out, however, that understanding prosody has one fairly specific use: explaining the difficulty that many have when it comes to pronouncing the last name of Presidential hopeful “Mayor” Pete Buttigieg.

Needless to say, the spelling of Buttigieg itself raises issues with respect to pronunciation; it’s certainly not as straightforward as “Warren” or “Sanders.” To address this problem early in his political career, my understanding is that the politician’s campaign issued a fairly straightforward pronunciation guide: Buttigieg sounds like Buddha Judge.

If they had left it that, all would have been relatively well–at least insofar as getting comfortable with pronouncing Mayor Pete’s last name is concerned. After all, we can all say “Buddha,” and we can all say “Judge,” and, perhaps most importantly, we can say the two words in rapid succession without tripping over either of them.

The problem, however, is that Buddha Judge wasn’t quite right. The “uh” sounds needed to be “eh” sounds. Thus, a subsequent note went out to the press. To wit (and in my own words): Instead of Buddha Judge, it’s actually Boot Edge Edge.

While this new pronunciation guide solved one problem, it caused another. This is where understanding prosody comes in handy — at least insofar as it gives us some terminology we can use to describe the problem.

While the original guide to pronouncing Buttigieg may have gotten the vowel sounds wrong (giving us “uh” when “eh” would have been more appropriate), what it got right was the type of “poetic foot” we should use when pronouncing Mayor Pete’s last name; it’s what’s known as a dactyl, which is to say that the three syllables in his name follow an accented-unaccented-unaccented pattern. Other dactylic words include battleship, endocrine, and fallacy.

By way of contrast, what Mayor Pete’s campaign gained in correcting for the pronunciation of the vowel sounds, they lost in (for lack of a better term) poetic footage. Boot Edge Edge consists of three accented syllables and does not roll off the tongue easily.

Yes, we can say “Boot,” and we can say “Edge,” and we can also say “Edge” again, but three accented syllables rarely follow each other in nature. Perhaps this is why my seventh-grade teacher never gave us a word for the phenomenon. But it does have a name. It’s a molossus.

Not only does lack of practice make it, perhaps, somewhat difficult for some people (myself included) to pronounce a molossus like Boot Edge Edge but, more to the point, that pronunciation is prosodically incorrect. As noted earlier, just as Buttigieg should be pronounced with “eh” sounds instead of “uh” sounds, it should also be pronounced as a dactyl and not a molossus.

Unfortunately, there’s no combination of words in the English language that will give us both the correct vowel sounds and the correct prosody as a reference point for pronouncing Buttigieg. I’m slightly tempted to say that it starts with “booty” and ends with “jedge,” but the long “e” sound in booty is still not quite right and “jedge” is not a word.

On the other hand, my purpose here in all of this wasn’t so much to provide a solution as to explain the problem in the kind of excruciating detail that only my seventh-grade English teacher would truly appreciate. As far as solutions go, I’ll leave that to Mayor Pete’s campaign team.

Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 11.12.20 AM

There’s a reason the banner says “Pete” and not “Buttigieg.”

 

Track-by-Track “Tell Me a Story”

This track gets a tiny bit political — or at least takes a look at some concerns I have about the way we, as a culture, discuss weighty issues. Essentially, “Tell Me a Story” is about the vapid nature of the infotainment that passes for news in our world.

“We play this game, you and I: We hit the gas and close our eyes” is meant to suggest that, on the whole, we tend to act before we think and without regard to consequence. The next lines, “We roll through fire, we roll through flood, we roll past sad men gunning for blood” is, sadly, a line I wrote a few years ago but which continues to be increasingly relevant.

The first part of the chorus, “Tell me a story, sing me a song, tell me it’s okay, tell me I’m wrong,” is directed at two groups: the media and politicians. I feel like both of these groups are, to some extent, responsible for selling us a comfortable myth. Essentially, their job is to tell us that everything is fine when our senses tell us that it’s not.

The second half of the chorus builds on that theme and gives way to the suspicions many of us have even as the evening news assures us that the next day will be bigger and brighter: “Tell me a story, sing me to sleep, I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.”

The second verse builds on the imagery of driving, but this time around “we” aren’t in the driver’s seat any more. Rather, “We go along for the ride. We barely blink when our worlds collide.” These lines speak to our relationship with news media in particular. While there are certainly some news stories that can bring a tear to my eye, I see so many tragedies on the news so often that I’ve begun to become desensitized to them.

Watching the news feels like being shuttled somewhere in a limousine and passing scenes of destruction everywhere we turn. And there’s nothing we can do about it beyond shaking our heads, shuddering and heaving, while other people who don’t have the option of watching all of these events unfold from a safe distance literally struggle to breathe.

Lest anyone think that I’m pinning the blame for the sorry state of the world solely on the media, the last verse turns the situation around and puts some of the responsibility for the way things are on our shoulders as well — i.e., the audience who keeps the 24-hour news industry in business: “We built this world, you and I. We saw it coming and let it slide.”

In the last two lines, I’m thinking specifically of Alec Baldwin’s depiction of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, but also more generally about how we engage in many of our discussions about politics from a cynical distance, as if everything is a joke: “We went for punchlines. We took the bait. We laughed as mad-men turned up the hate.”

I’m definitely speaking from my own perspective here, but my own tendency is always to poke fun at things. If my recollection of a certain MASH episode is accurate, Sigmund Freud once said that anger turned sideways is humor, so this instinct is only natural, but is it productive? Are there better ways to address the ills of society?

Clearly there are, and a lot of people are engaging these ills in productive ways. For the rest of us, though, (by which I mean people like me) this song is meant as a call to question our collective media diet and think about new ways to engage with the world.

In terms of music, I tried to make the serious message of the song a little more palatable by couching it in an arrangement reminiscent of Burt Bacharach. I also think of this track as fitting into the larger premise of the album in that it explains, to some extent, where all of the people went — and why the world is not only populated by answering machines. And the last flourish of trumpets is meant to sound like a circus. Or, if you prefer, a media circus.

Tell Me a Story

We play this game, you and I.
We hit the gas and close our eyes.
We roll through fire. We roll through flood.
We roll past sad men gunning for blood.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.

We go along for the ride
We barely blink when our worlds collide.
We shake our heads, shudder and heave
While other people struggle to breathe.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.

We built this world, you and I
We saw it coming and let it slide
We went for punchlines. We took the bait.
We laughed as madmen turned up the hate.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.