The beautiful thing about progressive rock
music is that it comes in all shapes and sizes...so
to speak. One of the 'quirkier' outfits to come to my attention
has been a group out of New Jersey called Fun Machine. Unusual? Sure but they also play with lots of Mellotron sounds. So I just had to find out more.
Jerry Lucky: These days, there is so much bio and background information floating around on everybody, especially on the Internet…but tell me something
about Fun Machine, that’s not already been published that you think listeners would appreciate knowing?
Johnny once took a vow of celibacy, Wetzel ran in the junior Olympics, Renee used to like the Seal song, "Kiss from a Rose", and Colin
used to be and still is a huge Michael Jordan fan.
Wetzel: Fun Machine actually owned a 'Fun Machine' organ at one point, even used it on a few older recordings. It made really cool cheesy sounds but the B flat would sound every time you hit a note. One day it stopped working altogether and we took it out with a sledgehammer, Gabriel style. It is our mission as a band to one day find another working FM organ, and we will continue making crazy music until our demands are met.
JL: OK, so in as few words as possible how did Fun Machine actually come together? Who’s in it, where’d they come from and what’s their place in the band?
Colin: Wetzel and Johnny have been playing music together since high school, Renee has been playing with them on and off in various bands since then. I joined a couple years back on drums.
Wetzel: Punk kid (Wetzel) meets prog head (Johnny Tronny) in high school. The duo makes crazy music together and Renee plays shows with us. Renee recommends a crazy Irishman, Colin, to hop on drums. A few shows and a lot of beers later and here we are!
JL: Is Fun Machine the full time gig? Or do some of the members hold down normal jobs?
Colin: At heart fun machine is the full time gig, but Johnny and Renee have normal jobs.
Renee: Some of us do. We'd like to do the music-thing full time. We're trying. We also all have other bands that we play in. Wetzel, John, and I are in a band called Tanjents, and Colin is in the Roadside Graves.
John: I hate my normal job. I feel dumber when I leave work, then I go home and stare at the piano. It stares back, but eventually the piano gets creeped out. But yes, we are shooting to where it can be a full time thing without us being completely poor.
Wetzel: Well the way I see it, John and Renee have 'normal' jobs and it drives them crazy. Colin and I have 'abnormal' or 'flexible' jobs and it drives us crazy too. The apex of our happiness is when we are on tour, it makes us feel like our skills our being put to the best possible use. Unfortunately, none of us are related to the Hilton family and none of us are drug dealers so we do what we must to fund our flight parade.
JL: I’m wondering about the feelings within the band about playing what I would clearly call Progressive Rock. Did you or others perhaps want to avoid the tag? What other music label would fit what you play?
Colin: It’s no mystery that the term "progressive rock" can be used to describe our sound, but we certainly didn't set out to be a "Prog Rock" band. We just try to be honest and play what we want and what comes out comes out. Also some of us don't listen to progressive rock that much so there are other influences coming into it that I think gives the music a twist and hopefully makes it difficult to pin down to one genre.
Renee: Tags in general are deceiving, but I think in this case if you want to put Fun Machine under a general prog rock umbrella, it's probably somewhat accurate. We all come from different music backgrounds and interests. John's the real proggy guy in the group, and has been that way since he was little. Wetzel was a punk kid, complete with Mohawk, bondage pants, and vagrant life-style. He then moved into more psychedelic tastes, partly from John's influence. Colin digs a lot of different music, and to illustrate that point, he plays music in a crazed prog rock band, as well as a crazed country band. I have also moved around musically, but generally like music that is "crazy" and/or "dancey".
Wetzel: Fun rock, odd pop, and magic movement are terms I've always thought will give someone a mental taste, but honestly, nothing will give you a diaper-like security when prepping to hear Fun Machine. Progressive rock is such a broad term that you can't really determine what you are in for. It also seems to be a growing trend of bands nowadays to say "I don’t like to label our band one thing or another" or "It’s hard to fit us into a genre" and then they get on stage and its regular old rock, it makes it difficult for those who are actually eclectic musicians. We'll let you know what genre WE think we fit into, but it's up to you after the show or album to tell us what you think it is.
John: Prog is just a way to categorize bands that cannot otherwise be categorized. Prog
is a giant umbrella with little tiny umbrellas inside little tiny umbrellas. We’ve been dubbed Eclectic Prog by the great deity, Progarchives.com.
I have no problem with that. My only gripe with prog in general is new prog bands recycling old material, going down old paths and
not in a new light or well assimilated way, but in a diluted watered-down copy job that is light years away for the originators in
quality and is usually bland and boring. I guess you could say that about all music in general.
John: Prog is just a way to categorize bands that cannot otherwise be categorized. Prog is a giant umbrella with little tiny umbrellas inside little tiny umbrellas. We’ve been dubbed Eclectic Prog by the great deity, Progarchives.com. I have no problem with that. My only gripe with prog in general is new prog bands recycling old material, going down old paths and not in a new light or well assimilated way, but in a diluted watered-down copy job that is light years away for the originators in quality and is usually bland and boring. I guess you could say that about all music in general.
JL: Is there an early prog moment that was an epiphany for you or others in the band?
Renee: In Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture when they rip off Ziggy's cape and he's wearing that amazing leotard thing. He looks like a crazy space alien man-girl. That was seriously a life changing moment for me.
Colin: when David Bowie takes off his cape to reveal himself in tights in the Ziggy Stardust video.
John: I think my life in general has been a prog epiphany. But I guess a specific moment would be when I was four or five years old and I used to love the Anderson, Bruford, Wakemen, and Howe live video live at the Shoreline Amphitheater in California…I would set up snack tables around me and made pretend I was Rick Wakemen. I even had a keyboard scarf. No leotards were harmed in the making of that video.
Wetzel: For me it was less 'moments' and more precisely songs, 3 songs for that matter. First is "Echoes" off of Pink Floyd's "Meddle", second is "Supper's Ready" off of Genesis' "Foxtrot", and last but not least is "Starless" from King Crimson's "Cirkus" live album. Before that I was strictly a punk rock man and since then I've opened my eyes and heart to many different styles and genres of music.
JL: I get a distinct Frank Zappa sense from parts of your music. Is that in anyway accurate?
Colin: None of us listen to him regularly but I think all of us respect him and what he does and I can see how the comparison is made. I think it’s the fact that the songs are fun. There is a certain humor and lightheartedness to it but still doing it with musicianship. That’s what I get from Frank Zappa.
Renee: We all like and admire Zappa, but I wouldn't really call him an influence in that we haven't really shaped and developed our sound with him in mind. We sort of discovered him after the fact. But we are told very often that we have a similar feel.
Wetzel: Not at all, but he's a cool guy none the less. I guess the only similarities are we extremely enjoy making and playing our music and making it fun for others, but that’s about it. Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing, but none of us our directly influenced by him.
John: We recently saw a DVD Live at the Pier in NYC from the 80’s which was our biggest exposure to Zappa yet, and it is really fun. “Baby Don’t You Want a Man Like Me,” “Keep it Greasy,” and “Dangerous Kitchen” are on that and they’re great…hilarious. “Titties and beer in a rustic setting.” Fabulous.
JL: Some of your tunes, convey a certain wackiness…maybe walk us through how your compositions come together.
Wetzel: Syd Barrett once told Roger Waters that any idea in music is a gift, and no matter what it sounds like you should try and use it, same holds true for Fun Machine. If somebody has an idea it is used, not much goes to waste. Usually it stems from John and I creating a skeleton, and when we have it on the operating table Renee and Colin start filling in the meat. Really nothing is taboo for us. Slow, fast, hard, soft, confusing, empty, full, annoying, childish, everything works off the next. If it sounds weird than we know we are doing something right, the main point is to create something that people haven’t heard before (ourselves included), this keeps it fun, interesting, and musically keeps us on our toes.
John: We don’t necessarily aim for one particular type of sound, and along those same lines, we do not unnaturally try to be strange or different. Ideas bob up in different situations…we could be behind the piano or acoustic guitar and magic chords appear…we could be improvising all together and an ensemble type part will take shape and we’ll use that. People have criticized our penchant for jumping stylistically from one part to the next, often out of the blue. One example being that someone wrote once in a harsh context that we probably do this ‘just because it sounds cool.’ Isn’t that the point! Family Vapor from the new album Sonnenhuhn got slagged once for that same reason, but what some people don’t understand is that there is a story in that song and each little part is a new episode with new characters that inhabit this overarching story and the music changes to fit that situation. It’s just the attention span thing I guess.
JL: John, you and I emailed each other a while back…we both read The Mellotron Book around the same time…what’s your Mellotron moment? The first time you heard it?
John: Well, I guess I have always heard the instrument since I could remember. My father Ronald was and is always playing great stuff and took me to concerts since I was three years old, the first being Pink Floyd’s 1987 tour. The first time I realized that this particular sound was something special was when my father was playing (as he does every year on Thanksgiving Day) a Genesis bootleg, 1973 Live at the Felt Forum, NYC, Thanksgiving Day. I was about 10-11 years old and Genesis was well on its way of becoming in my mind, the greatest band that ever played music ever. Reading up on them, I realized at that point they were still struggling to make a name for themselves, and were still in debt. So how in the hell could they tour with a choir, brass section, and string section??!!! It made no sense to me…then I did some more research and I discovered the Mellotron and that was that. It turned out I loved the Mellotron already, I just had no friggin idea what it was! Now I know what it is…the most strange and magical, if slightly troublesome, instrument invented. My spine has permanent goose bumps from this beast.
JL: You use the M-Tron Software quite a bit throughout your CD, correct? I’m guessing you feel it does justice to the original?
John: Well…the purists may scoff, but I think all around it is the best alternative to an actual Mellotron. Firstly, it costs less than $100 which is great. It is not synthesized sounds, but painstakingly captured samples of MANY MANY tapes including Chamberlin tapes and no one could ever compile all of that tape in one lifetime to use on their machine. It is stand-alone, so you just need a good driver, but no separate sampler program. It retains the ‘flaws’ such as the eight second limit loop, plus various quivers, quavers, wobbles, and slightly out of tune notes. If you process it the right way with EQ, reverb, delay, etc…dirty it up slightly, over-dubs and panning…you got yourself a Mellotron. Plus, mine freezes up every once in a while mid performance, so that lends a Mellotron reality to this digital version. It has always been a dream to press my finger on a keyboard and hear those sounds, now I can easily do that. I LOVE IT!!!!!!
JL: The new CD, your first has just come out…what’s on the agenda…will we be seeing Fun Machine on tour…playing prog festivals and such?
are going on a tour through
John: Yes, stay tuned because there are many things buzzing around right now…we would LOVE to get on some festivals, we are waiting to hear back from a few. As Cully mentioned, we are opening up for Keith Emerson in June which is significant, especially for me, someone who has been listening to his music since I was literally two years of age. I have the picture to prove it!
Wetzel: Since the release we have played on
JL: Thanks for taking the time…and I look forward to hearing about all your future escapades. All the best!