05 November 2012

Boy King Islands: An Interview with The Real Music about Sun Worship

Original interview appeared on The Real Music:


Interview with Boy King Islands – Zachary Mastoon & Jason Hunt

Q: First off, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. Now, to start off, can we just get a little background information on the band? How you guys formed?

Zachary: Jason and I have known each other for twenty years now and have played music together in one incarnation or another since back in the early nineties. Some of the music we made back then was definitely influenced by Ride and Dinosaur Jr and any other guys we were listening to a lot at the time, but the duo of Boy King Islands really formed when he and I were living together in 2002. My friend Rob Sevier (who now runs Numero Group) approached me to do a My Bloody Valentine song for a seven-inch series he was working on; instead, I did a shoegaze-inspired song I wrote called “The Girl with The Stained Glass Eyes”. I asked Jason to play some classical guitar on the hook and, while it was released under my electronic alias Caural, it really was the first proper Boy King Islands song.

Q: How would you describe your music? How would you describe yourselves?

Jason: I would describe our music as what happens when you play rock music with jazz chords, Art rock rhythms, layer too many guitars, make vocals hard to hear, and use two full, multi-tracked drum takes at the same time. Add one tablespoon of soul and analog keyboards and you have it… Kind of.

Zachary: Haha! I don’t really know what we sound like anymore. The longer Jason and I play together the more the music changes shape from the shoegaze-type stuff we were going for in the beginning into this sort of orchestrated, bedroom psych-pop?

Q: Who are the biggest musical influences on you?

Jason: Our biggest influence would have to be Stevie Wonder first off. There’s a complexity to his chord patterns, vocals and drums that are always reminiscent in Boy King Islands granting the vast genre difference.  

Zachary: I definitely try to swing like Stevie on the drums!

Jason: The next couple would be Ride, My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Mew…

Zachary: Whatever instrument I play, a lot of music I love just comes through. Jason mentioned a lot of stuff we were listening to growing up with the exception of Mew who, quite frankly, I can’t listen to anymore, but it’s not until I sit back and really try and analyze our music that I can pinpoint where any of it is coming from. Even then, I have trouble doing it.



Q: I have a certain fondness for your abstract lyrics. What exactly inspires you to write these lyrics?

Zachary: All my lyrics are inspired by things going on in my life, really; music has always been the way I try to make sense out of any of it. Sometimes, I’ll get ideas from dreams (my girlfriend Alex actually dreamt the hook for “I Am You” almost verbatim, and I wrote verses to what she told me after the fact), or I’ll turn a situation into a metaphor where the resulting words are open enough for the listener to glean whatever they like. I’ve never wanted to write a song with an obvious or one-sided meaning: a song should be many things to many people, not “I love so and so and it’s going well/badly” which, in reality, is probably what 90% of anyone’s music is really about anyway.

Q: Now, you have this shoegaze-meets-alternative type of sound going on. What equipment do you use to get this sound? Are you ever able to replicate it live?

Jason: We use anything we can get our hands on: analog synths like the Ensoniq or Roland JX-3P, Fender Jazzmasters and Jaguars, any drum set someone loans us, and every foot pedal we can chain together - hopefully at the same time.

Zachary: There’s some Gibson and Collings in there too! But some of the tones come from vintage amps as well. We’ve purposefully captured some of the sounds when the tubes are on their last legs and the sound just totally breaks up. And I am sick of borrowing people’s drum sets. Seriously. To answer your second question, as of now we’re a studio project - it’s just Jason and me for the most part. To properly replicate our music would mean we’d have to find other people and teach them the parts, and we can’t remember what they are ourselves half the time! But seriously, we’ve never put together a live show and I am not sure that will change in the near future.

Q: I'd like to ask a few questions about your fantastic LP, Sun Worship now. Can I get a little information on it? Such as how you started working on it, what inspired it, how long it took, etc?

Zachary: For a long time, Boy King Islands was a side project. I was touring and releasing electronic music of my own, and Jason was playing in multiple groups. Plus, we were living in different cities, sending ideas back and forth literally on CD-R. Well, when I moved back to Chicago from New York a couple years ago, I had really fallen out of love with electronic music and fell back in love with making this sort of stuff, whatever it is. The pace really quickened and we wrapped up what became our first album, Fall, compiled from the music we had made together beginning ten years ago now. We already had been writing new stuff during the long period mixing that album, so it all just went really fast. I’d say we wrote and recorded the whole thing in just over a year.

Jason: Well I know one thing, it went faster than any other thing we've done. Due to jobs, one of us having a kid, and the other moving away it was light speed...

Zachary: Yeah, that was part of it too. Last year, Jason’s wife was pregnant with their daughter Stevie and I was gearing up to move to San Francisco, so we wanted to make sure we got this one finished before our lives changed irrevocably. After all was said and done, their daughter was born and I left San Francisco almost as quickly as I had arrived. It seems like nothing has changed even though everything has…

Q: What was your favorite song to on Sun Worship and why? My favorite would have to be either "Feel So Young" because of the relaxing mood it sets, or "Falling Ceiling" because, let's face it, it's a fantastic song.

Jason: My favorite tune is “Falling Ceiling” too, mainly for how easily and quickly it came together; it was finished almost right after its creation! What inspired it was a lot of personal change in both of our lives.

Zachary: Totally agreed. Right before I left, Jason shared this phrase on this insane alternate tuning he came up with on the twelve string and, when I heard it, I was like, ‘there’s no way we’re not doing something with this immediately’. While I typically write the lyrics and vocal melodies for our music, we did something unique with this one in that I suggested he take a stab at the lyrics as well. When we got together next, I had written a couple stanzas and so did he. We laughed when we read each other what we had come up with because, not only was the subject matter nearly identical, so was the phrasing. Two weeks before I left, we invited a couple friends over to do additional vocals on it (Keith Kreuser, with whom Jason records in Their Ocean, and Kenny Jenkins aka Diverse, an emcee with whom we all used to play). The next week, we mixed the song; only days afterwards, I was in San Francisco and we had finished the album.



Q: Can you give our readers a little information on what you're currently working on, and what you hope to do to follow up Sun Worship with?

Jason: Currently we’re working on the next album, which I think is even better than the last two. It’s just as different, but hopefully more accessible to bigger audiences. I hope people will be able to hum along more with the singing…

Zachary: Haha yeah, I think the writing is definitely changing and perhaps the melodies are a little more conventional at points.

Jason: Also, as of right now we've incorporated a whole group of new instruments that have never been used before on our recordings like horns and winds. I feel like they've changed the sound in a good, new way.

Zachary: My friend Stuart Bogie is really adding a lot to it. I’ve been doing some tracking with him at his studio in Brooklyn. We’re going to have some string players on it as well.

Jason: We also are taking more time and I hope this album is a little longer.

Zachary: For sure. We’ve got about 13 songs close to finished right now and I can’t wait to start mixing!

Q: What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with your music? I think you guys should do a double album someday (I've been listening to a lot of double albums lately, so it's just been on the mind!)

Jason: My goal starting out was to be able to write the craziest rock I wanted and not to care at all about who liked or noticed it. Now I feel more of a balance of wanting something with a little more general appeal, but still staying on the most creative side of my playing and writing.

Zachary: I think it’s a matter of our taste changing as well, though. Aside from really early pop songs I wrote with Stuart when I was 9, or some of the live hip-hop stuff Jason and I did with Diverse and this kid Andrew Reece in high school, nearly all the music I’ve done hasn’t held broad appeal whatsoever. With my first band, Transmission, we kind of went out of our way to be inaccessible, and we’d just smile when people couldn’t count along with alternating time signatures. Other than noise or ambient, I am just not into listening to really “heady” music anymore, and my heart is completely in the new direction our songwriting has taken recently. As for what I want to accomplish personally, I’d say it’s really about making the kind of music I want to listen to; that has been my goal since the beginning.

Q: What are your opinions on the music industry today (in the independent realm, of course!), and do you feel the state of it has helped you or hurt you in terms of exposure?

Zachary: I gave up on the “music industry” about five years ago now. Frankly, the music industry sucks. I think – aside from some of the smaller labels that consistently engage me like Captured Tracks or Mexican Summer – it’s back to what Company Flow had called “Independent as Fuck”: the power’s in the artists’ hands to be heard.

Jason: If a million people found out about Boy King Islands over the net - even if they got our music for free - I don’t think it would hurt anything. I think music being more accessible and steal-able actually empowers the musician, but it’s still kind of a ‘Wild West’ cause it’s all so new and uncharted. The idea of a record deal seems more and more outdated and releasing your music independently is more practical.

Q: When you're not making music, what do you do in your free time?

Jason: Hmmmm free time... Not sure what that is.... But I mainly make more music.

Zachary: I am a bit of a hedonist, I guess. I love food, the arts, and just being out and about with my lady and friends. And if I am not exercising regularly I get really moody.

Q: As a band that's unfortunately so unknown, what do you feel is the best way to promote your music?

Jason: Possibly through cool blogs, web sites, downloads, and friends.

Zachary: Nah, we’re going to take out an ad on the moon in a few years when the prices come down.

Q: If you could sit down and talk to anybody about anything, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Jason: Can’t help but be cheesy but I would love to know who shot Kennedy. I’d like to ask Sonic Youth what it’s like playing every song in a different tuning for decades - that must take some crazy memorization skills! Would be sweet to hang with Jimi Hendrix and learn how he wrote songs.

Zachary: I honestly can’t think of a non-sarcastic answer to this question, so I think I’ll sit this one out.

Q: Lastly, what are your top 5 favorite records?

Zachary: I’ll give you my top 5 from the last twelve months, how’s that? Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica; Liars, Wixiw; Diiv, Oshin; Tame Impala, Lonerism; and Tamaryn, Tender New Signs.

Jason: Hendrix, Axis: Bold As Love; Radiohead, Kid A; Ride, Nowhere; Miles Davis, Bitches Brew; De la Soul, Bulhoone Mindstate.


 All photos by Shaun Roberts from the photo shoot for Sun Worship, with model Charmaine Olivia