Mugstar are veterans of the UK’s psychedelic scene and one of the late, great John Peel’s favourite bands. M quizzed them about their numerous musical experiments and film projects…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 22 Nov 2013
  • min read
Liverpool’s Mugstar are one of the most respected psychedelia bands in the UK.

The group, who have been playing, performing and recording since 2003, are adored for their heavy psychedelic kraut-rock sound and intense live gigs. Mugstar’s first single Spotlight Over Memphis caught the ears of broadcaster John Peel and the band have never looked back, releasing a string of singles, EPs and albums.

They've also shown a tireless work ethic when it comes to playing live and earnt themselves a much-deserved status as cult heroes. Mugstar were again one of the highlights of this year’s Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia while latest records AXIS and Centralia are perhaps their best yet.

The band have also chosen to embark on a different path of live film soundtracking. Earlier this year the group provided the music to Ho Tzu Nyen's Earth, the Singapore-based director’s imagining of a future post-disaster.

Pete Smyth (guitar/vocals/keyboards) and Jason Stoll (bass/sax) from the band talk about creativity, psych and their different approaches to writing music for film and albums…

How did Mugstar first get together? What were the first records that you bonded over?

Jason: We got together in 2003 after playing in different bands on the same bills. We all bonded over Hawkwind's Space Ritual album. We wanted to create a band that was a full assault on the senses both audio and visual.

You’ve released six albums since you’ve been together – how have your songwriting approaches changed since you’ve been together?

Jason: We go through some very creative periods where a lot of new ideas come through. So it means songs do get written in a short space of time. But we also love to jam a lot. We always record these sessions, then take the best bits and construct into them into songs.

Songwriting has become easier in some ways as we know each other’s musical responses a lot better. And with that in mind it has probably changed how we work significantly. We initially drew diagrams to work on song structures. Now we work off memory and each other!

At this year’s Summer Camp you performed a new score for Ho Tzu Nyen’s Earth - what are the challenges presented by working to screen?

Jason: Well we like the challenge of working with different formats and film was one of the areas which intrigued us the most.

At times our songs can be quite open ended but with film, we had to adopt a very disciplined approach. There was no room for error or extending any parts. It’s a different challenge which we liked as normally we will work off emotion. If we're playing a normal show and it's going well, we could extend certain sections. But with film you’re challenged by its very limits. Ho Tzu Nyen's Earth is a very slow moving and almost static film so we’ve come up with a new score to respond to that sense of stasis.

Pete: You need to pay more attention to what’s in front of you when writing music for film. It’s different to songwriting, you’re more influenced by the images and timing. You’re very much more aware that you need to build up tension in certain parts.

When you write songs, it’s about how you’re playing with other people and your structure. With soundtracks you have far less control. The image interprets how you play.

How do these film projects differ to working on albums?

Jason: We do approach them in very different ways. Normally the writing of an album will be an organic process but with the film format you are governed by what’s presented on film.

Have you always wanted to work with film? And how has undertaking these projects impacted on your other musical works?

Jason: I think it was a natural progression for our music to head that way. Although as massive film fans it was something we had discussed a lot. We made a film called Ad Marginem which we soundtracked, released on vinyl and DVD. We wanted to progress our ideas forward in terms of an audio and visual approach to presenting Mugstar.

What does ‘psychedelia’ mean to you in 2013? 

Jason: Psychedelia in 2013 means a whole array of ideas. But for me it's more of a personal thing. Someone once said to me that Mugstar's music made him feel like he was on drugs. Now that's psychedelic to him. For me it's about the emotion and the feeling it gives you.

We were asked about the 'psychedelic renaissance' happening at the moment and I'm not so sure how valid that claim is. Many of the bands have been around for awhile. But there are a lot of positives to come from it though; such as some good psych festivals popping up.

What other projects have you been working on? What does the future hold?

Jason: We have an album coming out with Damo Suzuki, from Krautrock legends Can, on Important Records in November. We are also going to be working with a contemporary dance company in Paris next April, performing a live score. We will have another new album out in 2014.

We'd obviously love to work more with film, soundtracks and also to do our first US tour.