One of the last bands to record a session with the late, great DJ John Peel, Liverpool’s Mugstar have long been underground heroes.
However, despite several critically acclaimed LPs, they’ve remained a cult band. Unlike many moderately successful groups though, they haven’t buckled and continue to turn in records of a consistent and powerful quality. Rooted in kosmische and the pioneering Krautrock bands, they’ve blended in their own influences while playfully indulging in the genre’s penchant for improvisation, even collaborating with ex-Can frontman Damo Suzuki on Start From Zero to shore up their classic prog credentials.
With new LP Magnetic Seasons, there’s a desire to innovate while keeping the essential elements of the band intact, and this expresses itself in the approach to its writing and recording.
“The first side is probably more in keeping with what we’ve done before, which was organised and written before we went in to the studio,” explains drummer Steve Ashton. “But then we did a lot more experimenting in the studio – we had time to improvise a bit more and allow the tracks to grow.”
Knowing that the goal was to produce a double album helped sharpen their focus, but it also left breathing room for greater experimentation, with the more structured tracks earlier on the record and the expansive, improvised tracks later.
“The way we recorded and experimented in the studio meant there was a lot more space in the tracks than we’ve utilised before,” says bassist Jason Stoll. “When we called the album Magnetic Seasons, we didn’t even think of it as four distinct sides, as in, four seasons, that was something that somebody pointed out to us later on.”
Although it’s led to difficulties replicating the songs live as the band work up a live set with the material, Ashton explains that they changed up which instruments were being used, which “made us just approach, not the writing, but the improvising kind of differently. It’s good when things are more unconscious and more intuitive.”
It might seem odd that one of the modern psychedelic genre’s most well-known proponents are unsure whether
the term applies to them, but that’s the case. “At first it was quite odd being characterised as ‘psych’,” admits Ashton. “But over recent years it’s become a broad umbrella term. There are so many psych festivals, and the range of bands that you get at those festivals is really wide.”
As the band describe past projects and future plans, their enthusiasm is infectious. Not content to just exist on their own terms, Mugstar are determined to enjoy the ride. Asked what they love about music, there’s barely a pause as they queue up to answer.
“It’s that music is so individual for people,”says Stoll. “If one person plays an ‘E’ chord, another person will play it differently from the next one… it’s so varied and it’s so weird as an artform, because there’s no physical presence.”
“I have it on all the time,” adds Ashton. “It’s not a case of ‘Am I going to play music?’ Instead, it’s ‘What am I going to play?’ There’s never enough time to play it all.”
Laughing at his bandmate stealing his answer, guitarist Pete Smyth pipes up: “Music just totally excites me, like Steve said. There’s hardly any moment of the day apart from maybe when I’m sleeping that I’m not listening to music.”
Pete Smyth (Guitar, vocals, keyboards), Neil Murphy (Guitar), Jason Stoll (Bass), Steve Ashton (Drums)
Atmospheric Krautrock with a modern edge
Magnetic Seasons is out now on Rock Action Records
For more, visit Mugstar’s website.