Interview: Preocupations

Scott Munro of the famed post-punk outfit chats with AROUSE (as he recovers from a foot injury) backstage in Philadelphia.

by Chance Lytle


We had a call with Scott Munro, guitar and keyboards for Preoccupations, as he recovered from a foot injury backstage in Philadelphia. Preoccupations’ New Material tour brought them to the A&R Music Bar in downtown Columbus on April 26, 2018.

This interview has been edited from the original recorded version for clarity.

Chance: Softball first question, really easy, what food do you eat on tour?

Scott Munro: That’s a good question. I try to eat the best food that I can, I try to eat whatever the good local thing is. But it’s always hard, I try to eat as many green vegetables as I can; it’s hard to eat well on the road. I eat a lot of soups, you know, like a lot of Vietnamese or Chinese soup. And then we end up by necessity eating a lot of sandwiches. I’m always a fan of a good deli sandwich. We were just in New York so we had some epic delis. I always try to go for the freshest looking thing available.

C: So, you play synths, right?

Scott: Yeah, and guitar, too.

C: Preoccupations is moving toward more complex synth roles and melodies, and you’re combining those with traditional rock techniques, especially “Decompose”, which is all synth. What do you think the synthesizers bring to the band and your sound that guitars and drums can’t?

Scott: Yeah, I dunno, when we first started getting into keyboards it was mostly just because we were getting bored with guitar sounds. We’d all played in bands with lots of guitars. I’d played in a band with keyboard players before, but I hadn’t played much keyboard on records before. I took piano lessons as a kid before. It was mostly just trying to find some different sounds.

We first started out just trying to double a bunch of the guitar parts on keyboard, that’s what we did on the CASSETTE EP and VIET CONG. Most of those parts on there were doubled with keyboard and guitar.

It got to a point where we were just doubling all the parts and then you go through and listen to the mix, when we were working on the PREOCCUPATIONS record, where there were a few tracks where it sounds better on just keyboard than guitar. Then we got more into that, and once we were bringing keyboards live—me and Danny both have keyboard rigs live now—there’s no real hurdle to playing the songs live so it doesn’t really matter.

Plus, we always reimagine the songs live anyway. Like on “Decompose,” its all keyboard on the record but we play it live with guitar. It just kind of sounded better when we were jamming it.

C: What do you get out of rearranging songs for live performances?

Scott: For me and Danny especially, quite a bit. That’s my favorite part of it honestly. On the record, me and Danny occupy the same space in the band. We both play keyboard and guitar, so its like we’re both, on the recording, doing the same stuff. Matt and Mike do the rhythm section stuff, and me and Danny do whatever else. So when it comes time to play it live, we haven’t necessarily . . . on the record its like if somebody wrote the part then they’ll probably play it, but it may be like Danny wrote something on guitar and I’ll play it on keyboard live. We’ll figure it out again [live.] We go through the songs again, from a production standpoint. We’ll try a bunch of stuff.

C: You’ll cycle parts between members, live?

Scott: Yeah, and then there’s our styles of playing that’s different, too. Live, we can tap that a little bit better. If the part needs a little more focus, then maybe I’ll play it whereas if it’s a little more wild then Danny may play it. And so, I feel like we each have our strengths at how we represent the parts and those strengths work well for certain parts on the record [and] may also work well for different parts of the same song live.

C: “Compliance” and “Fever and “Death” – you guys really close an album. What goes into how you structure track order, and how do you know a closer is the closer or you know you’re going to throw a 10-minute song into the middle of an album that flows?

Scott: It depends. For the PREOCCUPATIONS record, there was never a definite. We definitely had a version of the record where “Memory” closed the record, a version of the track listing in our minds. We also had a version of the NEW MATERIAL record where the last song was “Doubt,” that super goth jam at the end of the B-side, and “Compliance” started the B-side. We tried it a bunch of different ways, but we kind of knew that “Compliance” track was going to end it.

As far as “Death” goes, we’d been closing our set with that song for two years before we even recorded that record. When we went to record that record it was obvious that that song was going to be at the end and “Newspaper Spoons” was going to be at the beginning, because those were the songs that worked the best there.

With the PREOCCUPATIONS record, I think they were a little more open ended. Though I feel when I look back at them, I don’t think there’s anything else that makes sense—although, on the PREOCCUPATIONS record there’s that one track [Note: “Forbidden”] that fades out when it hits the riff, we thought about ending with that song and fading that riff in at the beginning of the next record and making a song out of it, but then we ultimately decided that we didn’t want to be tied into having that song on the record in case we recorded it and didn’t like it.

We definitely put a lot of work into track order, though. That’s almost as important as any aspect of a record, if the songs are in the wrong order then its messy, I think. It’s the same as a set. On this tour now, we’re starting to get the set together to feel like its flowing pretty well. It always takes a while. I would even just go and, while I was living in Calgary when we were working on the master, smoke a joint and walk and put the tracks on shuffle on my iPod. Just listen to them in a random order and see how they sounded going in and out of one another.

This record was maybe a little bit easier and different. On the other records, there were a few versions of each other where the tracks bled into each other more, or we had tighter cuts or crossfades between the songs. I always like records like that, where everything blends into one song. I’d really like to do a Preoccupations record where it’s like that, one track all the way through. I feel like on this record we intentionally went the opposite direction of that, where we were just going to make a record. There’s one song in one style, and then a second song, and you know. I’m ultimately pretty happy with that decision.

C: I think that idea of a one-take record, like a one-shot movie, is really interesting and fits with how you can balance different tones in a song. In “March of Progress” you have the long drone in the first three minutes that transitions into high-energy speed. How do you balance writing the melancholy parts and have the tone shifts work mid-song or mid-album?

Scott: I just like that. It’s like that on “Memory” on PREOCCUPATIONS. That one was the best one for me as far as I felt like I could make a record like that at some point, or like “OK, I could see how that could work.” How you could feel the pieces fitting together.

C: Just wanted to say I loved your cover of “Key” by Yellow Magic Orchestra, too, that was my favorite single you’ve put out.

Scott: Oh! Thanks man, that record TECHNODELIC is one of my favorite albums of all time. We were just playing around with covers when we were in that studio for that PREOCCUPATIONS record, and I truly believe we did as good a job as we could’ve making an honest cover of that song. I think we tried really hard to make it as good as it could be, and it turned out really well. Thanks for noticing that, I felt good about that one.

C: Anything else you want to say to Columbus?

Scott:Nope, just stoked to be back in Columbus. Our good friend Sam lives there from that band Operators. They’re amazing, like if New Order had made a really rad record in the 90s. Stoked to be back in Columbus.

C: We’re glad you don’t hate Ohio after the whole Otterbein thing!

Scott: That’s ok! We don’t hate Ohio, we don’t hate anyone.

Chance Lytle is an arouse contributor and DJ, and host to Memory Leak last semester.