Alex Munk is an award-winning guitarist, composer and bandleader living in London. Upon graduating from Leeds College of Music with first class honours in 2009, Alex was awarded the prestigious Yamaha Jazz Scholarship and had a recording reviewed, featured on the front cover, by Jazzwise magazine. Since completing his MA at the Royal Academy of Music in 2011, where he was awarded the Elton John Scholarship and the John Baker Memorial Prize, he has performed alongside some of the biggest names from the UK jazz scene, including Gwilym Simcock, Iain Ballamy and Stan Sulzmann.
His band 'Flying Machines' have recorded their debut album and have launched a Kickstarter campaign to finish off the album production process. Here he explains more about the project and his time at LCoM.
How did you start out in music?
I started out by having classical guitar lessons at primary school but I never got that into the instrument - I preferred the pop and rock music that my parents were playing around the house, things like Dire Straits, Genesis, Michael Jackson and James Taylor. I didn't really get the music bug until my parents bought me an electric guitar and a friend at school introduced me to Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. I used to sit upstairs in my room for hours at a time, wailing along with my favourite records. Looking back now, I realise that I was always improvising. I'd just constantly be soloing, often just on one string as I had no idea about scale shapes or anything like that back then.
Does that love of improvisation explain how you ended up pursuing jazz?
I had a wonderful music teacher at secondary school called Ray Cook who really encouraged my passion for improvisation. Then when I was in sixth form I started having guitar lessons with Chris Montague and that was a huge deal. I'd struggled to connect with the more traditional jazz I'd heard up to that point but Chris turned me on to a much more modern way of playing that really resonated with me. I didn't have a clue what he was doing but I loved it.
You studied on the BA Jazz degree at LCoM from 2006 to 2009, what made you choose Leeds College of Music?
AM: Chris had a lot to do with that too! He'd also studied on the jazz course atLCoM so that was about as much recommendation as I needed. I'd left it a little late in the day to apply as I was still torn between doing maths at university and doing music, but he recommended that I get in touch with the college and see if there were still places available, and luckily it worked out. I gave up the idea of studying maths pretty quickly at that point.
What were the most significant factors about your time at the college?
When I went to the open day at Leeds and I was really impressed hearing about the history of the course and all of the alumni – it definitely seemed like the place to go.
There were loads of great teachers, and I got stuck into some interesting composition projects as well as getting to grips with jazz vocabulary. My one-to-one guitar lessons with Jez Franks were hugely influential on my development as a musician – laying duo with him was an education in improvising and playing in an interactive way, rather than playing safe.
Perhaps most significantly, studying at LCoM was also the first time that I'd got a band together to play, record and perform compositions of my own. I had a trio with John Marley on bass and Eddie Hick on drums, and we developed a bit of a following around Leeds playing quite open, groove-based music. I found a certain way of playing in that band that I'm still pursuing today and the teachers were really encouraging about it. There were a lot of students doing all sorts of really creative projects in Leeds and there were great opportunities to perform in the city.
You were recently back with us to perform in the LCoM50 anniversary celebrations with the Legacy Big Band, and a duet with Marc Almond. Two great and very different concerts!
It was a wonderful time! I really loved the Big Band concert – t felt great to be back and playing in a fantastic band in front of old friends and teachers. The Marc Almond concert was more nerve-wracking in a way as it was just the two of us, but it was really enjoyable.
You've been busy recently with your band 'Flying Machines'. Tell us a little more about the project.
I started 'Flying Machines' in 2014 having spent a few years performing, predominantly as a sideman in London. I finished my post graduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music in 2011, and had some great gigs during that time, but I was also itching to play some material that related to my own influences a bit more so I started to compose again.
As far as the line-up was concerned, I'd been playing with Matt Robinson (piano/keys), Conor Chaplin (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums) from LCoM days so we already had a lot of rapport together as players. They're some of the most innovative and ‘in demand’ young musicians right now.
I wanted us to make a huge sound and really full, dreamy soundscapes. I wasn't as interested in abstract melodies or writing lots of chord changes as I was in making sure the music had an explosive, visceral kind of energy. I was after a strong melodic focus too and part of the challenge has been getting the balance right. Tigran Hamasyan does this really well; he's been a huge influence on the music.
You've recorded a debut album haven’t you?
Yes, we recorded over a period of three days last year with a fantastic engineer called Tim Thomas who also studied at Leeds, on the production course. I'm really thrilled with what we captured and since the recording we've spent ages getting a great mix.
Now you've released a Kickstarter to raise the rest of the funds to finish the album production process. How's it been going?
I was a little unsure about whether to take the plunge initially as I'd never done a crowdfunding campaign before but I have to say, I'm really loving the whole process! It's been such a buzz getting the music out there this way. We've had people pre-order the album from all over the world, and it has been great exposure for the project. Obviously it's a bit nerve-wracking too; we've set ourselves 28 days to raise £3,500 to cover the costs of mastering, digital and physical release and PR, and we won't receive a penny if we don't raise all the money in this time. We've had a great response though and I'm feeling positive!
Fantastic! Well, thank you so much for your time in speaking with us Alex! We wish you all the luck with your new album and projects for the future.
KICKSTARTER VIDEO HERE!
Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1692043852/flying-machines-debut-album
Band website: http://flyingmachinesband.com
Alex Munk website: http://alexmunk.com
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