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Moñecho is the recording moniker of Williamsport, Pennsylvania native Matthew James Serra. Currently a one-man project, Moñecho blends elements of folk, ambient, various non-Western musics and a metallic heaviness. He has recently released his début album Past Waters/Fever Lives, so we caught up to discuss the origins and inspiration of this album, as well as Moñecho’s future plans. Echoes and Dust is also exclusively premiering the track Torrent from the upcoming album.

(((o))): You have recently moved to New-York. I think it would have a kind of diversity that would appreciate you as your music sounds very diverse? 

Yep, I have been here for about a little over two months; not quite enough to really dig in, but I really enjoy the cultural diversity; it’s really exciting to me to find myself sometimes using two or even three languages to communicate in a given day.

(((o))): What is the place of music in your life?

Music has always been very high on my priority list, especially since I began to study guitar in high school, but until recently always has seemed to come up second to work, study, school, finances, etc.  My move to Brooklyn was designed to be a conscious prioritization of music.  Here, musical happenings and musical people are much more accessible to me, and because of my current jobs, I have much more time and energy to spend on music.  It’s difficult to devote time to things like music, things that are very important personally and emotionally, but not urgent; we, and I, often spend our time on things that are much more urgent, regardless of whether they are important to our lives or not.  Over the past few years, I’ve been fairly disciplined at making sure I spend time on these important/non-urgent items, like music, study, meditation, exercise, but I’d definitely like to put even more emphasis on these activities in my life over non-important matters.

(((o))): Moving to other city to concentrate on music – it evidently changed your life?

I am a Spanish teacher by trade and education, but I don’t feel like classroom teaching is right for me. I definitely prefer working one-on-one with students, and living here allows me to do that. This leaves me a lot of time that I can spend on music, music promotion, practising, or rehearsing. So moving here was designed so that I not only have contact with music, musicians, and a population that is more open to experimental music, but also to have more time and energy to spend on music.

(((o))): You mention folk as one of key points in your material?

Definitely; like a lot of music-lovers of my generation, I was first exposed to American folk music through the new wave of folk in independent music that was pervasive when I was in high school; things like Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine, you know.  But I think my most important personal development with folk music, when it became something I wanted to approach compositionally, was hearing Grizzly Bear.  Their music contains many complex harmonic ideas and lots of huge climactic passages, things that I hadn’t heard before in folk music.  They still use the aesthetic and instrumentation of folk music, at least of this new wave of folk music, but they do much more exciting things.  Hearing these things is what made me realize that I could create music with aspects of American folk music that could really excite me.

(((o))): On ‘Fever Lives’, you have a choral arrangement of Bulgarian folk song, which absolutely surprised me as a listener. Where did your interest in this music come from?

I think my first experience with Bulgarian folk was a record by Jeff Mangum called Orange Twin Field Works, Vol. 1.  It was field recording of folk music festival in Bulgaria. All the recordings are combined as one track, so it sounds like you are walking through the streets of the festival.  I’ve listened that so much, and I used to tell my friends, “You have to hear this stuff; it’s the most metal thing you’ll ever hear.” (laughs).  In a lot of different cultures’ folk musics,  there is an intensity and severity that we normally associate with metal or certain forms of rock music in Western culture.  Hearing this intensity or heaviness was very interesting and intoxicating to me.  That’s a big part of why I’ve been drawn to many of these different folk musics.

(((o))): How did you find this one particular song?

The year before I lived in Spain, I worked at furniture factory, and I became close friends with one of the workers there.   Before I left for Spain, he burnt me a stack of CDs of all the music he wanted to show me.  One of them was that field recording of the Bulgarian folk festival. That CD and a few albums by Lightning Bolt were my favorites; they were just so awesome! I listened to those albums all the time that year abroad, and both greatly influenced me in different ways. After falling in love with that field recording, I researched Bulgarian folk music and got as many recordings as I could.

(((o))): So you are kind a folk collector?

Yeah!  Mostly I just love the challenge of the search.  Like trying to find things that are in another alphabet; that’s a challenge that I enjoy.  I’ve sometimes searched for albums that are only published in the cyrillic alphabet; it’s quite satisfying to find something after searching for a long time.

(((o))): And  a metalhead? 🙂

I would definitely say I’m a metalhead, and have been ever since I was a teenager.  Recently, I’ve been really into The Armed’s Untitled record.  I get really into it; I think people must think I’m crazy when they see me listening to it on the subway. Anyway, I also like things that have the intensity of metal, like the folk music I was talking about, but other musicians have it, too.  Recently, I’ve been really into Tigran Hamasyan; he’s an Armenian jazz pianist, but sometimes it sounds like he’s playing some Meshuggah riffs on the piano.  It’s great, and super heavy. I’m actually trying to transcribe some of his compositions for guitar.  Anyway, yes; I’ve been into heavy, screaming music since I was 14 and I started listening to hardcore and metal, and it never stops. All my music teachers and professors told me, “You’ll grow out of this eventually,” and I was like, “No! I am never gonna grow out of this; believe me.” And I haven’t.

(((o))): So there’s something that metal gives you? What emotion does it provoke? 

I think people associate metal, screaming, and heaviness with anger. And, you know, it can have that association.  However, I’m not an angry person at all, so the way I experience it is a kind of ecstasy.  It <metal music> just makes me really happy. (laughs). When I hear really heavy sounds, I just smile, open-mouthed, even on the subway.

(((o))): What instruments do you play? Did you learn yourself or taking classes?

I play the guitar and the piano, and I sing and do electronic production as well. I first started playing piano when I was in second grade. I took classical piano lessons until I started playing the guitar; guitar just became my focus. I still play piano, but I recognized that I had the most ability to express myself musically through the guitar. I would practice for hours and hours daily, mostly just teaching myself.  My taekwondo instructor founded a music school in my hometown to teach modern and classical guitar, bass, keyboards, and vocals, and I immediately joined in. His name is Dave Brumbaugh; I often say that outside of my parents, he is the adult figure of my life that I’ve learned the most from. I have been studying jazz guitar for a couple of years, but my relationship to jazz is mostly academic. Being proficient in jazz is the best way to become more in tune with my instrument in the way that I want to be.   My studies of jazz harmony has been influential as well.  There are lots of ii–V–I’s in jazz, but I’m most excited by things like upper structures, tensions, tritone substitutions; there are so many options.

(((o))): Are you more interested in acoustic or electric guitars?

I mostly practice on an electric guitar with a pick, but I’ve recently realized that most of things that I write are fingerstyle on the acoustic. Maybe that’s just how I prefer to accompany my voice.

(((o))): How the song is born? From melody or words?

It really depends on the song. A lot of my songs begin through finding something pleasing to me on the guitar. There is always a “spark” – a small song fragment that excites you – and those can come from all different places. I think on this record most of the songs’ “sparks” came from the guitar, but many times they were piano-based.

(((o))): Right now Monecho is just you, your voice and fingers. But you plan to have a band?

Oh yeah.

(((o))): So why?

I don’t feel like I can fully express my music by myself. I can’t do everything just with my guitar and voice. I really want the whole band so that the live manifestation can be a more faithful expression of the compositions. Also, the interactivity of playing with other people can be particularly special.  It’s like an entirely different kind of communication through which to form relationships.

(((o))): Have you ever experienced that special musical interaction?

Yeah; I was in indie rock band. It was really fun to be in someone else’s band; it was very carefree compared to Moñecho.  I wasn’t the one writing most of the music.  Instead of writing and recording a hundred multi-tracks of vocals, percussion, guitars, bass, and whatever other weird instruments, I was only in charge of my voice and guitar.  Anyway, there was one particular time when we were playing live; we experienced this moment during the climax of the song when there was this deep sense of stillness and excitement.  It happened a number of times.

(((o))): Was that your only experience having a musical moment like that?

It’s the biggest experience that comes to mind, but those experiences are, like most things, on a continuum. I was at open session last night accompanying a songwriter on percussion. It was his song, and another guy and myself were playing cajón and tambourine.  Somehow, though we didn’t know the song, we all locked into the energy of the music, and everything was in sync.  We looked at each other afterwards, and I know we all had at least a bit of that feeling. I’ve also experienced some of that feeling in choirs that I’ve sung in.

(((o))): So why did you create your own project? 

I’ve always wanted to create my own music. For these compositions, I didn’t know anyone where I was that would be a good fit for a live band, and I didn’t have enough money for a professional recording, so I was like, “Whatever; I am gonna do all of it myself. And I’m not going to stop until it’s good.”  It’s less carefree to be the sole person responsible for the music, but it’s much more rewarding on a deep level.

Lots of these songs were floating in my head for a while. Recording this album was like getting up to speed of where I am in my musical life.  The earliest song on the album I wrote when I was maybe 17 or 18 years old.  I hadn’t done anything with these songs, and I needed to, like, exorcise them out of me, so that I could move on to other things.

(((o))): Did your environment ever influence your musical creation at all?

When I was working at that furniture factory, I used to just zone out, drilling boards or feeding planks into a machine, and listen to the music of the entire factory.  I would hear how a certain saw would harmonize and make a major third or major second with some other machine’s grindings; it was peaceful in a way.  I also would use some of the time to write my own music in my head.  Actually, I wrote a quite a lot of Sister, Mother <final track from PW/FL> while working in the factory. I remember one specific time when I was experiencing the music so intensely, and I was so palpably excited about it, even though it was just inside of my head.

(((o))): So urban space influenced you. That’s something that average people can hardly imagine.

Well, it doesn’t always happen, but even so, I don’t think it’s so rare for people.  I feel like people put composers and some artists on a pedestal, and I’ve definitely done it as well, but as I grow up, I realize the pedestal is shrinking.  Anyone is capable of creativity, and lots of people experience music in their environment just like me.  I know a lot of people who harmonize to the ceiling fan in the bathroom or to the vacuum cleaner.  Everybody can experience beauty in the sounds of their day-to-day lives.

Past Waters/Fever Lives is available now from Bandcamp.

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