INTERVIEW: John Amadon’s Monarchs of the Spukhaus

Hi John, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hello VENTS. I’m doing pretty good. It’s been a pretty intense couple years but I’m feeling good.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Without A Doubt”?

I wrote it at the very end of the recording process. It’s something that literally came to me out of nowhere in the shower. That first line “I told you before that I don’t dance” just appeared, along with the melody. I liked it because telling  someone “I don’t dance” is frankly kind of a weird thing to say, and I was drawn in by that, as well as the image of that guy you always see on the periphery of the dance floor who is either too shy or too cool to dance. I wanted to tell that person’s story. Over the next couple days, sure enough a story emerged in my mind. It’s about two people, perhaps a new couple, or courting…but they’re very different. She loves to dance, he doesn’t.  She’s outgoing, he’s more of a down to earth type. The song is from his perspective, and as the title suggests, he’s not bothered by their differences. He wants to figure it out. But in the end it’s just about the question of compatibility. Can people who are very different make it work?

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Nope. The song just appeared to me out of the aether. I took a liking to the idea and just followed it where it took me.

The single comes off your new album Monarchs of the Spukhaus – what’s the story behind the title?

My wife and I moved from Portland Oregon, our home of many years, to Reno Nevada just before I started writing the record. There was this feeling that we were striking off by ourselves on a new adventure or chapter of life. For a title, I was toying around with ideas that captured some part of each of us. My wife is a research scientist who works primarily with Monarch butterflies, thus the Monarchs, and I am obsessed with the German language. Wordplay in general plays a big part in my lyrics. Spukhaus means “haunted house” in German. I thought the phrase had a piece of both my wife and I in it, while  having resonance and imagery. The haunted house also plays into some of the record’s main lyrical themes.

The album has another single coming out, “Poor Teresa,” the opening track.  Care to talk about that song?

The album started out as a concept record centered on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks universe. I ended up paring that element down significantly, but that’s one of the Twin Peaks inspired songs that made the record. It’s my rendering of the story of Teresa Banks from “Fire Walk with Me”.

How was the recording and writing process?

The writing began when I got the idea to write a record based on characters, episodes, and themes from Twin Peaks…of which obviously I’m a huge fan. But I wanted to write these songs in such a way that while their content would be immediately recognizable to other fans of Lynch and the show, they would also just work as songs independently. To the non-Twin Peaks fan these should just sound like cool songs. I got really fired up by this idea as a writing exercise. I had never approached writing with a structure like this before and it was good fun. This process got the creative juices flowing such that after a while other, non-Twin Peaks songs started jumping into my head. I eventually decided to make the Twin Peaks element just one part of the record. It contributes a lot to the vibe, and made the writing quite exciting and enjoyable for me.

The recording was a real learning experience. I had dates booked at a proper studio in Portland, and then the pandemic hit. When it became clear that it wasn’t going to blow over in a couple months, I cancelled my studio time, and put together a home studio set up at my place.  Though I had never formally engineered a record or run a DAW myself in the past, I’ve made quite a few records prior to this point, so I had a decent understanding of engineering and how recording software works. Nevertheless the learning curve was pretty steep. With the help of a good friend who has an excellent grasp on Logic Pro X, I was able to learn pretty quickly. It ended up being a terrific experience. Being able to record entirely at your own pace, whenever you want, and taking as much time as you want without concern for studio costs is incredible. I came to very much enjoy working alone at home, and I imagine this is how I’ll be working for the foreseeable future. 

How did the lockdown influenced the writing on this album?

It certainly gave me a lot more time to work on it. Other than that I’m not sure.

What role does Reno play in your music?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t think the city has made its way into the songs in any direct way. There’s no mention of casinos or “the biggest little town in the world”. I love Reno. The level of distraction here is much, much lower than Portland.  I’m sure that has been good for concentration and focus. I have been a bit of a homebody since moving here. I can’t claim to be too hooked into the pulse of Reno.

What role does David Lynch play in your music?

Aside from the ways Twin Peaks inspired this record, his work and his approach to making art has had a huge influence on me. Lynch doesn’t care about meaning, in the normal sense. He doesn’t care if his work makes sense to you. He’s cool with the viewer bringing their own meaning to the work, with you making your own sense out of it. He’s fine with it making no sense at all, provided he’s been true to his idea. Ideas in art don’t need to follow the logic of normal waking consciousness. They can just have their own internal logic. Art can just be expressions of the imagination and as an artist you don’t need your work to conform to any expectations that others might have, even expectations as basic as that the work will “mean” something. For Lynch, the “idea” has primacy, and as an artist your job is just follow it to whatever place it may go. This way of thinking about creativity has captured me over time. It’s very liberating. It has made my writing quite a bit more abstract and impressionistic. I have very little interest in writing about my life or personal experiences. I like using dreams and the random noise of the mind as sources for song ideas. I bring a lot of this kind of thinking to bear in songwriting, and this is largely due to my admiration for and fascination with Lynch.

What made you want to make a Twin Peak-esque record and what aspect of the show did you get to use on this record?

I got the idea in the autumn of 2017, a couple months after season 3, Twin Peaks,The Return ended. It was one giant surreal puzzle to disentangle, and I’d been thinking about it constantly. At the same time, I was wanting to make another record but didn’t really know where to go with it. I didn’t have a creative basis for it yet. One day as I was driving around the idea just came to me to do a concept record based on the show. Like a lot of ideas, it just popped  into my head. I wrote maybe 3/4 of an album using this concept, but ended up keeping only a few songs. I didn’t want to trade too much on someone else’s work, and I was getting lots of other song ideas that I liked. So the Twin Peaks material became a jumping off point that merged with a lot of other semi-related ideas. I like to think of the songs as happening in the Lynchian universe. There are easter eggs here and there.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

That’s a hard question to answer. I’m honestly not sure what the inspiration is behind most of what I write. I often wake up in the middle of the night with song ideas playing in my head, or while driving, or in the shower….at the times I’m not actually trying to write. Musical and lyrical ideas just emerge. I try to record them on to my phone’s voice recorder immediately so that I don’t forget them, and I come back and work on them later to see if they can be fleshed out. I rarely set out to write a song about anything in particular, so it’s hard to understand the inspiration. Occasionally I will write something and later get a suspicion of what may have inspired it. There’s one song on the record that, during the writing process, I had no real sense of what the song was trying to say. Weeks later I realized that at the time I was writing this song, I had been watching a Netflix documentary about the opioid crisis, and that the song could be easily read as being about a person’s struggle with substance abuse. I thought that was cool, how something can effect and possibly inspire you without you being at all aware of it. 

What else is happening next in John Amadon’s world?

More writing. More recording. I hope to be right back here in a year with another record. I’ve often taken some pretty long breaks in between releases. I’d like to not do that again. I’m hoping to crank out a bunch more in the next few years. Other than that it’s get a job and go back to work in the post-Covid world.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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