Of Electrons and Bikini Lines
CoC interviews Ed Mundell of The Atomic Bitchwax
by: Aaron McKay
Six o'clock central time rolls around on a rather crisp Thursday evening and the phone rings to present the very amiable and jovial guitarist Ed Mundell on the other end. "Oh, hey, Aaron? This is Ed Mundell from The Atomic Bitchwax. I think that I am supposed to call you, I think, now..." I knew instantly I liked this guy, personally, as much as I had come to appreciate and relish The Atomic Bitchwax's music. Fresh off a Monster Magnet (Ed's other band) show at a local New Jersey bar, Mr. Mundell explains that he has only been up for about an hour. I hope I sound as involved and competent as Ed does having been awake for less than sixty minutes! Involve yourself with this interview to follow; I severely doubt you will be disappointed for doing so...

CoC: Let's start off by saying that I know that The Atomic Bitchwax has some huge support among the contributors of Chronicles of Chaos. I'll just let you know that I'm a fan, too!

Ed Mundell: Really? Seriously? That's cool! Right on! Yeah, I've been playing this kind of stuff for years and years and years and now there is this kind of market for it, or people who actually like it. I remember playing these same songs in front of like -five- people, you know? Now, all of a sudden, we have packed houses and stuff. It's pretty weird.

CoC: Have you noticed that with bands like Cathedral, Mindfunk and Sleep -- do you think that helped you guys at all to break into this style of music? Kind of paved the way, if you will?

EM: You know, I never listen to any of those bands -- I listen to Sleep, but I don't know Mindfunk at all and I met Lee Dorrian once, but I never actually heard Cathedral.

CoC: It seems like there is a bit of a niche, even though you guys are completely distinctive...

EM: Oh, you mean the "stoner rock" thing.

CoC: Yeah, a little bit, but Bitchwax has a different way of approaching it. At least that is the way I look at it.

EM: You can still play heavy rock and not take every move from Sabbath. I listen to fuckin' Deep Purple, I listen to Zeppelin, I listen to Sabbath, I listen to Kyuss, I listen to everything, but there is no rule where you can't, say, throw a little Stones groove in there. You can be heavy rock and not be exactly like Sabbath. There is a -lot- of great musicians in old bands, bands like Free or Captain Beyond, who were totally great. They all have really great things about them and they are still heavy rock. Even King Crimson -- you can throw it all into the same kind of category.

CoC: That is completely true, but you guys have done an incredible job of staying autonomous and found your own sound.

EM: Thanks! We could have taken the easy way out and started writing songs that sounded like Monster Magnet. If anyone was going to make an album that sounded like Monster Magnet, I could have gotten away with it. I could have just whipped out something, but that is not what I play when I am not with Monster Magnet. We [The Atomic Bitchwax] write all the songs together. You know, Keith and Chris started out listening to Metallica [The old stuff, of course, not the new -shit-! --Aaron], whereas I started out listening to, like, Ted Nugent. Very different approaches. Then we might be on a ZZ Top kick, so then someone might bring in a ZZ Top kind of part. Something like that. Depends on what you're listening to.

CoC: I know that you guys have been around since 1992. Was this just the right year for you to put out the album?

EM: Between touring -- I was touring a lot with Magnet --, we would always play shows in between tours. Between _Dopes to Infinity_ [-Great- release! --Aaron] and touring for that record and actually making the _Powertrip_ record, there was about a year and a few months off for me. So I had to get the painting houses jobs and stuff. We just really had time to develop this band and to play more shows, not just one show here or there, two shows here, five shows next month, or something like that. We could play three or four shows a week and we played a lot just to keep busy and to keep playing. I don't want to sit around. When I'm not on tour, I get bored and get into trouble <laughs> -- start drinking too much and the whole thing... I just want to keep playing all the time. Those guys are the same way. We had a lot of time to develop it. I had made _Powertrip_, then there was another eight months in between making it and leaving to go on tour, due to various problems with getting that record out. So we had a lot of time, and you know what, this guy at TeePee wants to pay for us to go into the studio -we- wanted to go into, which was Tracks East. That's where Keith can get his best drum sound. We want to go here and record and if we can do that, we'll do it. We did do it and we worked with the people we wanted. We actually did the record in about three days...

CoC: You're kidding!

EM: Nope! We played a Nebula show, then I played a Magnet show, then I split for a tour, so they [Bitchwax] mixed the record while I was gone last Summer. The Bitchwax record was finished during the last week of May 1998 and it didn't come out until June of 1999, because we couldn't get the album cover together and stupid stuff like that.

CoC: Yeah, yeah. Well, the album cover is incredible. It has a unique slant to it, providing, artistically, exactly what you guys are trying to convey musically. It comes across really well.

EM: That guy's artwork -- his name is Orion Landau --, for the lack of a better term he's like a Frank Kozik kind of guy, he does rock posters. Orion does really, really good quality work. I met him in San Francisco and told him some ideas and he was up for it. Orion was actually designing a Monster Magnet shirt that never came out, I don't know why. He did this really cool "sacred-heart bull-god" shit for us and I said, "Orion, I have this other band, we have an album done, but we don't have any artwork." He just said, "Wait a second!" He had the _Meteor City_ album, a compilation album which we did a song on, and he had a couple of live tapes of ours in his studio that he listened to and he didn't know it was -my- band. He would listen to this stuff while he was painting. He was like, "Man! I'd love to do an album for you!" So he did all the artwork and we had a photo taken and he touched that up.

CoC: Kind of a small world, isn't it?

EM: Yeah! And it's becoming even smaller, too. It's totally strange.

CoC: The Atomic Bitchwax has a "supergroup" thing going on among the members. How did the three of you meet?

EM: Years ago, I lived with a couple of friends in a house in Long Branch, New Jersey, and Keith and Chris lived around the corner. Keith was going out with this girl who was my sister's best friend. He would come over to the house with this girl, Erin, and I'd be hangin' out, smokin' pot and listening to music. He was like, "I smoke pot and listen to music and I play drums!" I had a basement and it turned out that he lived around the corner from me. I asked him, "Why don't you bring your drums and leave them in the basement?" We all smoked pot all the time and worked nights. They did sound at the local bars and I worked at a supermarket at night, so none of us went to work until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. We had all day to do nothing, so we would just jam all day. This was before I was in Monster Magnet and before Chris was in Godspeed. Then the music thing began taking off for me, and Chris and Keith got in some bands, but [the three of us] kept playing in between tours and finally threw a name on it. We were starting to write songs, so we might as well have a name -- so we came up with a name. We actually played our first show as Helium Head. Helium Head was my suggestion, because we couldn't come up with a name. Then I got overthrown, overruled...

CoC: Out-voted!

EM: Yeah. After the first show, they were like, "Helium Head is gay!" <we both laugh> "What are you talkin' about? It's -great-!"

CoC: As a three piece unit, how does the Atomic Bitchwax accomplish that "full" sound? It doesn't sound like there is a damn thing lacking in the songs. How do you pull that off?

EM: Well, you know, Keith is like a spaz on drums. Other than maybe "Shitkicker", he never plays just a straight beat -- he's all over the place. That really fills it up. If you notice, whenever there is a guitar lead, there is usually a bass lead underneath as well, so we are pretty much just going for it all the time. When we actually started writing songs, everyone in our area was trying to sound like Pearl Jam. Stone Temple Pilots had just come out, Pearl Jam were huge and everybody was starting to sound like that. Dudes that we used to know for years that used to play in Sabbath cover bands were all selling their souls to sound like Pearl Jam so they could "make it". So, you know what, we were like, "That sucks! Why are you doin' that?" We wanted to play heavy rock, but completely different, with the rule that we weren't going to sound like anybody else, and if there was a guitar lead, there was going to be a bass lead at the same time. Just go for it all the time and don't sound like anyone else.

CoC: Well, you guys pulled it off. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with MIA. It seems extremely solid and mutually beneficial, from what I am able to tell.

EM: Actually, we are with TeePee and TeePee is with MIA. With Tony at TeePee it is pretty cool. We don't have a manager, so between me and Tony we get it all taken care of. We have this tour coming up with Core and Nebula and he is pretty much doing the role of manager. Tony is just into music and [TeePee] is just really into music. A lot of their bands don't sell a lot of records, so it is hard to make ends meet sometimes, but it is kind of cool that they just want to have good music out there. Have you heard the Core record yet?

CoC: No, not yet.

EM: Man! Wait 'till you hear that! It is -awesome-. I can't describe it. It is like equal parts Hendrix, Blue Cheer and Miles Davis.

CoC: I'm told by TeePee that they are "an original groove explosion"...

EM: They range from pretty trippy/psychedelic to super fuzzy Blue Cheer heavy. A really, -really- good band. It is hard to describe them, but you can tell their influences when you hear it. Really good.

CoC: On The Atomic Bitchwax's self-titled release, I noticed a stark lack of lyrics. Was that a bold stroke to emphasize the uncommon sound you guys possess?

EM: Kind of. We write a lot of instrumentals and live, you can tell we kind of expand on them and tone things down things down for the record. We can take the songs to other places live. Basically, Chris writes all the lyrics and if he comes up with some, that's fine; if he doesn't, that's fine too. I mean, I listen to instrumental music -- that is why I am surprised a lot of times that people like this record. They come up to me and say, "I have that record -- holy shit, man!" I say, "There is a lot of instrumentals on there. You like instrumental rock?" Apparently there are people who do! I thought I was the only one... I almost feel like I've done something wrong because I wanted to do something that we liked and we knew that everyone else didn't like, but we -loved- this stuff and everyone hated it. It is almost like we failed, because everyone seems to like it now. <laughs>

CoC: To Hell with 'em! You guys were on the front end of that curve. That's the way I look at it. I mean, you guys beat everyone to the punch and came straight off sounding like an original band. Now it can be other bands turning to copy Bitchwax. <laughs>

EM: Oh, wow! Thanks! There was a big move a few years ago, everyone was copying Fu Manchu -- the whole thing, the way Scott [Hill, guitar/vocals] sings and all that. Now there is a whole Kyuss revolution -- two years too late. <we both laugh>

CoC: Took bands -that- long to get the Kyuss sound copying off the ground! How does it affect you coming right off a Monster Magnet tour and being ushered right on to an Atomic Bitchwax one?

EM: I've had about five weeks off and [Monster Magnet] are playing these two shows. I took two weeks off and didn't do anything -- didn't even look at a guitar. Magnet was on tour for the better part of fifteen months straight and that was long. We ended it all with shows in Japan and Australia. Coming home there were 25 hours worth of airplane flights and airports. So I didn't do anything for two weeks -- I had to learn to sleep again. I work it to where I keep [the two bands] completely separate. If I don't, I'll fry my head. I can't really overlap them. Right now they are kind of overlapping where I am doing Bitchwax rehearsals and Magnet rehearsals. It is a bit tiresome sometimes, so I try to work it out when I know there is going to be time off; I get the Bitchwax thing rolling again and practice, because we need a couple of days to get used to playing with each other again. The last three Fridays, we have played warm-up shows for this tour and we are going to rehearse all this weekend. We leave Tuesday for Cleveland, Ohio.

CoC: Almost a complete reversal coming off one tour right on to another...

EM: It is a completely different mind set. It is just something where I have to rearrange my brain a little bit. In Bitchwax, live, I can do anything I want. If I want to hold a note for twenty minutes, and just let it feedback for twenty minutes, I can. Those guys know when I am going to come back into the next part or that I will give them a cue that my lead is done or whatever. Or the next night, I could just, you know, go a different way and play four notes really fast. That's it. That's my lead. I can do whatever I want. Those guys can, too! Within the arrangements, there is a lot of room for us to move around so we don't get bored playing the same exact thing, playing the same exact way, every night. We used to do "Hope You Die" and throw "Hey Joe" at the end or start it with "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" into "Hope You Die" ending with "Hey Joe", depending on what we were listening to. If we were on a big Zeppelin kick, we'd go into some "When the Levy Breaks" part in the middle of a tune. It is pretty much open to whatever we want. We just started covering "Dirty Deeds" by AC/DC and an Atomic Rooster song; we cover them, too. We've been writing some weird shit.

CoC: How do you think The Atomic Bitchwax fits into this whole music scene now, other than being a real breath of fresh air?

EM: I don't know. We are not played on the radio, which is probably good. I never really thought about it. If people like it -- that's cool. I hope they come to the shows. I mean, the record is one thing, but the shows are kind of a different animal. We are still heavy rock, but it is just a different brand of heavy rock.

CoC: Different flavor...

EM: Yeah.

CoC: Anyone that you are listening to these days? Anyone impressing you?

EM: I still like Clutch a lot and I like this band Fireball Ministry [www.fireballministry.com --Aaron]. I don't know if you've heard them...

CoC: No...

EM: They are on Bongload. I actually just arranged for them to play on the five California dates, because I like their band. I saw them play at the Continental in New York three weeks ago. I thought they were great! It is a different kind of heavy. They do weird, almost like Skynard guitar, but in a weird Black Sabbath kind of context. And live -- the record I like, but live, I thought they were -awesome-, so I arranged for them to play five shows on this tour. They are from L.A., so...

CoC: Are you responsible for setting these openers up?

EM: We wanted to tour with Core and Nebula, and I got that all together, and in different places -- I mean, we have a booking agent and everything, but I think we are headlining most of these places. I really don't want to. I want to play, then go down, have a beer and watch Nebula play. We are pretty much headlining, so... In Cleveland we are playing with Red Giant, who are a really good band. We just request bands that we want to play with. Nebula had been playing forever, and with the Monster Magnet name recognition we don't really need a local opener, so we can bring along other bands to open for us and that totally rules.

CoC: Wouldn't you say that The Atomic Bitchwax is more of the crowd draw, though?

EM: We really haven't played other than in Baltimore, Philly, West Virginia and Boston -- we really haven't done a tour yet, so we'll find out. I hope people come and check it out and I hope they don't scream out Monster Magnet songs, because we aren't going to play them! This isn't Monster Magnet. It is heavy rock, but like you said, it is a different flavor of heavy rock.

CoC: If it were solely up to -you-, and no one else had to be consulted, who would you put The Atomic Bitchwax on tour with?

EM: Oh my goodness, I don't know... <laughs> I'd want to tour with Aerosmith again because I did that with Magnet and it was so much fun... I'd watch them every night. I'd tour with them again so that I could watch them every night and watch the crowd as we played a twenty minute Hendrix instrumental or something... <I laugh> I can't really answer that -- it's an odd question. I do think it is all about the music and not about any type of competition or weirdness. I'd like to be in a position where I could bring bands on tour that I like, which is kind of what we are doing now. Core are awesome and they wouldn't have a chance to go on the road with anyone else, I think. They are still heavy, but they are kind of weird at times. But the people who go to these shows will get it, you know. I think that the right people will be at these shows and go "Wow, man -- I just got turned on to a new band! This is awesome!" Because I love to be turned on to stuff that I like, so if we can turn others on to a different band... Like having Fireball [Ministry] around at these shows, people will be like, "Holy shit, where did -this- come from?" That is a great feeling, to go out and get a record and turned on to something new. It opens your mind up to different things.

CoC: Pretty much what it is all about, isn't it? I don't want to take up any more of your time, but I -do- want to wish you the utmost success with The Atomic Bitchwax and the tour; I appreciate all your valuable time, Ed. Thank you!

EM: Are you coming to any shows?

CoC: I'm sure as hell going to try! Due to the market where I live [Iowa], most bands don't play here, so Chicago is as close to me as you come, I believe.

EM: That's next Friday, I think... My favorite guitar player is from Sioux City: Tommy Bolin. We cover "Crazed Fandango" on the record. His brother actually still lives there and plays drums. Tommy died in 1976 and Johnny plays drums in Black Oak, AK, and he is coming to our Minneapolis show and maybe, I think, the Denver show. So that'll be cool!

(article submitted 9/12/1999)


ALBUMS
7/3/2002 Q Kalis 8.5 The Atomic Bitchwax - Spit Blood
8/12/1999 A Bromley 8.5 The Atomic Bitchwax - The Atomic Bitchwax
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