Everybody Loves The Crackle Of The Vinyl: A Conversation With Monster Rally

Posted by: Necci – Feb 18, 2011


We live in an era that’s fond of free and accessible things. The Internet provides us with this in the form of constant, innumerable data. It’s because of this situation that the modern world is blessed with artists equipped and enabled by an indifference to public domain. Modern artists create a unique pastiche composed of three-dimensional aptitude--text, sound and video--with or without the consent or citation of the origination or ownership. Today, an artist spawns in the digital realm of blogs, forums and torrents, not necessarily on the backs of label or locale. And an artist’s noteworthiness is tempered by the public’s willingness to capitulate to the caprice of monopolized communications. This is all the result of the connected willing: poor, rich, educated, ignorant, healthy, bed-ridden, trendy or bland--all connected.

In his Columbus, OH bedroom, Ted Feighan, a senior at Ohio State University with a track in print-making, does extracurricular work on his version of the new methodology of modern day production. His collection of vinyl records is used for both listening and sampling, and acts as either the influence or instigation for his tropically-tinted project known to the blog world as Monster Rally. As Monster Rally, he has three digital releases under his belt, and, with the help of Oakland’s Gold Robot Records, recently extracted his amalgamations from the digital realm and into the stylus with the limited vinyl release of his debut LP, Coral. I spoke with him the day of Coral’s release on Jan. 11.

A consortium of influences from both antiquated (Les Baxter and Martin Denny) and contemporary (MF Doom and Pete Rock) artists surface in his effort to create an updated version of the style that aroused his interest in sampling: exotica. “[I] just always loved that sound and I thought it would be cooler for somebody to do it modern. I was ultimately disappointed with all those chill-wave bands out there--I hate that term--doing tropical music. When I picture tropical music it’s more Hawaiian stuff, or all that exotica,” he says with a smirk I can see through the phone. “The thing is with people that loop it into chill wave--those kids are using synths and it all sounds new. I’m trying to make something that sounds old.”

On his debut, Monster Rally knits samples of intricate exotica instrumentation, curtailed by the brevity of hip-hop styled drum loops, into a fabric of crackling cadence. “I think that everybody loves the crackle of the vinyl, but it’s [never] better than over some type of Hawaiian record with the breeze and the waves and everything, so I always like to incorporate that into songs as much as I can without overdoing it,” says Feighan. His sample selections are ensconced in random obscurity--cuts from casually selected thrift-store albums featuring a retro-exotica aesthetic--so Feighan’s work comes without discouragement of looming writ. “I don’t really worry about copyright. I sample from [random] records in the store and I don’t even know who they are; I think that the owners of those songs are probably dead. And I’m using such a small amount of them. The profits on [Coral’s vinyl release] are going to be really slim--the records are going to essentially pay for themselves. Fingers crossed so no one comes after me,” he cracks.

The samples are culled from a multitude of thrift and record store purchases, which just happen to feature the uniquely concocted hooks and percussive bedding that comprise the bizarre oceanic keepsakes of Coral. “I’ll go to a thrift-store--I like to buy more from the thrift-store because they’re cheaper, but you always find the better ones at record stores--and I’ll look around at the record bins and pretty much base it solely off the cover. And if I go to the record store it’s pretty much the same thing, but there I’m looking more in specific sections. Almost all the records I’m getting from the record store are from the world music section,” explains Feighan. To add more cohesion to the rhythm, he incorporates his own musical stylings. “About 95 percent of the album is samples, while five percent of it is me playing bass,” he notes.

Without sampling his more contemporary influences, Feighan manages to construct tracks on Coral reminiscent of those artists. The successive tracks “Sun Bum” and “Sun Videos” exude the choice, blithe elements integrated into the style and production of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch and El Guincho’s Alegranza. “That Panda Bear record is definitely one of my all time favorites. Same thing with the El Guincho record. I love what they were doing, and they were doing something kind of similar and I was definitely really inspired by them,” Feighan says with glowing inflection. “I love Animal Collective, obviously--that might be my favorite record of any [incarnation] of them.” The influence of Person Pitch stretches beyond the sonic elements of Coral--the cover art, designed by Feighan, triggers comparisons to Person Pitch’s pastel collage cover by Agnes Montgomery.

The concept of Coral lies somewhere between experimental-pop albums and hip-hop mixes; assorted, dynamic and entirely intentional. “Back in the 60’s--you know, everyone says that The Beatles killed the single because they started putting out all these great records. So people were worried about records for a long time, and I feel that now it’s right back to the single. Even in the independent music world,” expounds Feighan. “[On Coral], I feel like you could listen to one [track], but I make them shorter so that they’re are more of an idea all played together. Each side of the record is pretty much its own track, and you just flip it over.” Only half of the tracks are exclusive to Coral; the other half are derived from Monster Rally's digital EP, Palm Reader, and 7” vinyl EP, Color Sky. Some might see the recycling of these tracks from EP to LP as lazy, especially when considering their brevity. Feighan explains, “I thought about extending some of them, but I like the idea of making some short. The way that I made this record was inspired by hip-hop beat tapes like Donuts from J. Dilla, or anything from Madlib. Every 15-second stretch of the record you’re paying attention to it and it’s always changing, so that by the time you’re done with it you don’t think you just listened to it for 45 minutes.”

He disagrees with the thought of Coral's loops being too repetitive. “I have had people complain about the loops,” reveals Feighan. “What I’ve really discovered about my own music is that when you listen to it--like, ‘Masasu’ isn't the same song at the beginning as it is at the end; even though it’s the exact same. The way that the guitar hits you in the beginning, you are contemplating it for 50 seconds. A song like that or ‘A Voice.’ When you listen to a sample like that for one or three minutes you develop a little narrative in your head--if you hear that for two seconds of the song it just goes away, but if you pay attention for a minute it gets back to you.” The loops are not simply nuances of the tracks, but, in some cases on Coral, are the entire track.

Feighan performed live for the first time in Columbus just five days prior to the release of Coral. With his sampler and projected footage, he meticulously sampled all the elements of his instrumentals in real time. “It actually went over really well. I didn’t know what to expect. My set was about 40 minutes. I’m doing a lot because I’m playing it live. People were dancing. I definitely couldn’t have expected more.” Despite the promise of winning fans over through potentially sweaty sets on the road, it seems Feighan’s more inclined to use his time away from the classroom creating music than preparing to play it live. “Initially, when I started making this music and putting it online I wasn’t thinking too much about playing shows. It was a challenge to do. And what I was thinking [was] that I really love playing shows--and I’m sure that I’ll play some more now that I feel a little bit more confident. But I also feel like I’ve been focusing a lot on practicing for the show, because there’s a lot to figure out, and I haven’t a lot of time to record new music. Which is funny--I’m usually recording music everyday, but I haven’t really made any new music for a month,” says Feighan.

His aspirations are based loosely around the hope that the cleverness of his retro-exotica infused beats will spark interest with fitting and capable MCs. “The only thing I ever think about on top of my songs is rap. Even with a song like ‘Color Sky’ that no one thinks of as rap but me.” So far his brief career has yet to spark a gabber’s gift. It seems as though it’s only a matter of time before a lyricist stumbles across the coconut groove of “Moonglow” and experiences an epiphany of creative divinity. “Nobody’s contacted me about it,” Feighan proclaims. “I just wish that someone would get ahold of me being like, ‘I really want to rap over your music.’”

Monster Rally is a far cry from Feighan's earlier works. After high school, (Teddy) Feighan played bass for Driver’s Side Impact--an emo-rock band signed to Victory Records. “I was in the band 'til beginning of 2008. I really wasn’t happy doing it,” he says. “The relationship with the label was horrible and I ended up hating everybody in the band--which is terrible, because they were all my best friends.” After his departure from Driver’s Side Impact, he started collecting records to sample, despite not having a sampler. Surprisingly enough, the impetus for Feighan's next project would come from the Charles (Chas) Addams book, Monster Rally. Yes, that’s right, the guy who created the Addams Family. “The name of the book is what inspired me to start making the music. It was my mom’s from when she was younger. I found it and thought that it would be an awesome band name, and that I should start making some of my own music right now.” So, a few days later, Feighan bought Roland SP-303 and 404 samplers, set up a Bandcamp site and released MR’s digital debut, the luau-tinged remix of MF Doom's “Vomit.”

“Myspace I think is slowly becoming a thing of the past,” he says. “That platform is always having problems. Then I found Bandcamp and thought it would be really great. Every now and then I have to pay like ten bucks for three hundred downloads. It’s important for me to give away the music, though,” he explains. “I just figured it doesn’t cost me hardly anything to make this music--I record all myself--so, I might as well give it away for free. And I think people would be more likely to check something out for free than if I were to charge them.” You can name your own price for Coral, although MR’s entire catalog, except the remix of “Vomit,” is free via Bandcamp. “It’s an interesting way to be making music these days, where you can do everything yourself, and just put it up online have everyone respond to it. It’s nice to do everything alone,” says Feighan, “knowing that you don’t have anybody but yourself to hold accountable for anything.”

Feighan’s drive and accomplishments are inspiring. Hearing his story is enough to make you regret all those wasted hours spent in front of Halo back in college. After all, it’s not as if you have a highlight reel of your best moments that three hundred people are willing to download.

By Mark Craig