The eclectic history and inspiration of Matt McJunkins
A story of bass, synths, and drum machines with Matt McJunkins.
We asked Matt McJunkins all the important questions; how he got started in music, his beloved gear, and the importance of being surrounded by other creatives.
The beginning of it all
Growing up with two older brothers and surrounded by the sounds of 80s metal and heavy rock, Matt McJunkins was to play a big part in the rock scene. As a member of A Perfect Circle and the Beta Machine — touring with various other brands over the years — he’s had a very successful and diverse career. It all started from hearing his brothers’ CDs and being influenced by the esteemed MTV show, which made him think, ‘why wouldn’t you want to do that?’
Seeing his brother finally get a drum kit was the catalyst for wanting to learn how to play, but of course, taking turns on the set proved difficult. After complaining of being bored, “as one does at the age of 13”, the idea was put out there that Matt should learn another instrument so that they could jam together.
The second catalyst thrown into the mix led Matt to land on the bass guitar, inspired by “bands with integral and unique bass roles,” such as Rush, Primus, Yes, and Cliff Burton-era Metallica, with them being on constant rotation at home.
“Then eventually [my brother] got a drum kit and he was hooked. I wanted to get into it too, but it was hard to just sit there and take turns especially when even he was pretty new to it. I was probably complaining about being bored — as one does at the age of 13 or so — and my oldest brother simply put out the idea that maybe I should just play a different instrument so that my other brother and I could actually play together and jam. I seriously never thought of this, and it was game-changing.”
As Matt got closer to finishing high school, he realised that playing music full-time was the only thing that held his “interest long enough to try and make some kind of living with it”. At the age of 19, he moved to LA and went to the Musician’s Institute.
In the box and out the box
Fast forward to now, Matt works out of two places. The first and primary space is his own small practice space that is home to all his synths, drum machines, basses, and guitars — it even houses a little vocal setup.
“It’s mostly where I mix and track anything that can be just a DI straight into a preamp and sometimes a small amp recording — but I do also have a Marshall stack in there which makes absolutely no sense for how small the room is. And then I use it a lot for editing, programming, arranging, etc. Anything that’s in the box.”
“The Summit is the centrepiece of my synth world there. It seems to be able to do most things that I need, especially anything that is like a big, layered pad or synth string sound. The fat low-end bass stuff is great too and the built-in sequencer and arp are fantastic. There’s built-in reverb, distortion, chorus, and delay too, so the options are very open.”
“A mainstay is always the Korg MS20 mini for sometimes bass or leads with super growly midrange feedback with those aggressive filters. The Make Noise 0 Coast and Strega both have a permanent home there too.”
“The Lyra 8 from Soma found its way in there not too long ago and that’s been really fun for some very exploratory drone soundscapes and also some really interesting melodic choices when you tune the 8 voices to some kind of scale or chord.”
Secondly, Secret Hand Studios, owned by his “brother from another mother”, Jeff Friedl. The Beta Machine work is recorded here to allow for bigger sounds, amp recording, and access to even more synths.
“The other place I work out of is Jeff Friedl’s studio called ‘Secret Hand Studios’. That’s where we currently work on The Beta Machine stuff, and we have been doing lots of remote tracking on bass, drums, guitars, and synths!”
“Basically, for anything that needs a great-sounding room and needs to push some air, we go there. He has a Summit there as well so it’s super dialled. Between that and the Sequential Pro 3 over there, we have lots of synth colours to choose from in that space.”
“We also both produce and engineer with other artists over there and that’s been a really fun process to be involved on that side of things. The API 1608 has been an extremely wonderful console to learn studio flow and track lots of people on.”
How synths slithered in
Now, you may be wondering how synths snuck into Matt’s work with him being so heavily exposed to rock and metal at a younger age. While he did listen to other artists to have an eclectic taste, it all started in the band Ashes Divide. With synth parts sometimes needed or preferred over the bass guitar, Matt took it upon himself to practice, practice, practice.
“I’m not a good piano or synth payer at all, but I would just practice the parts a tonne until I could pull it off. But that sort of became a new skill that I had and playing around with synths — and even piano a bit — became really interesting then.”
Synths feature heavily on Matt McJunkins’ solo album, Soundtrack For No One. Recording over a long period of two years from March 2020 to March 2022, it was a gradual build-up to become an album — in fact, it wasn’t clear until it was almost done that it would be one. While Matt is unsure of what he was listening to at the time, besides Gesaffelstein, Young Fathers, and Soulwax, he cites the importance of being surrounded by talented and creative people as his inspiration.
“I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by some very talented and creative people,” he says, “who inspire me on a regular basis in terms of songwriting, recording, and production like Battle Tapes, Snakes of Russia, Justin McGrath, and Steve Ryan so that was a definitely a big influence.”
An album on impulse
Matt states that the main point of making the songs during the period was to simply “stay sane in an insane time. It kept me busy and gave me something to look forward to.” After the realisation he had made an album, Matt shared the song ‘Entrails’ which was a very “fuck it, why not?” decision.
“Like maybe a few days before it came out is when I decided to put it out,” Matt tells us. “And then I picked up a little Critter and Guitar Eyesy for the visuals and just ran that through an old TV, got in front of it, and filmed a bunch of different clips. I stayed up all night editing on my birthday and uploaded it to YouTube at like six or seven in the morning. It was very impulsive. The songs were just sitting there getting tweaked and it got to a point where I didn’t really know what to do with them.”
There’s a lesson to be learned from Matt’s experience too — taking time away from your ideas when they are formed can be an important step to take when you are endlessly tweaking and unsure of what to do next.
For the album, Soundtrack For No One, taking the time away allowed the album to take shape, with Matt stating the songs grew on him from this point. “I heard a through line in the songs and the common thread was that whenever I worked on them and listened back there would always be some sort of visual playing in my head. Like an abstract movie trailer for a film that didn’t exist.”
“And if for some reason the music I was hearing didn’t fit the images playing along in my head, it would take me out of that headspace and then I’d stop and change something until it was right.”
A lot of Summit and gear
The powerful and versatile Novation Summit can be heard across the record. Found in either of the studio spaces Matt McJunkins found himself in, the Summit was a staple piece for big pads and wide-layered sounds.
“Lots of Summit on there for sure,” Matt tells us. “Pretty much anything you hear on there that is a big pad or anything really wide and layered, it’s that. For most of the more sub-bass/mono stuff, it’s either an MS20, 0-Coast, or an Uno Synth.”
“A little bass guitar on there that I actually tracked as just a scratch idea on A Pleasure to Burn, but I ended up really liking how the performance fit in the song. So, I re-amped it through a tiny Boss amp and just got all these different variations through a bunch of pedals and combined them.”
“I ended up doing that with a lot of drum machines on the album. Usually a DFAM, Roland TR08, or an old school 606 which is literally as old as me now!), some Arturia DrumBrute on there and an Uno Drum machine as well.”
The importance of diversity
When asked about his influences and sources of inspiration for music, the importance of surrounding himself with fellow creatives with different areas of expertise comes through in his response. The diverse music taste, instrumentation, and continuous learning, all come back into songwriting for Matt, and interestingly, the effect that touring has on his playing.
“It all funnels back in one way or another. I can’t help but have those influences come out in my own writing or playing. Especially after a tour, those parts are so ingrained and a part of you mentally and physically for months — sometimes years — so when you sit down to play and write something, the mechanics of all these songs you’ve been playing are still there.”
“Also just being around different people and seeing what works for them. How to put songs together, how it’s tracked, recorded, produced, mixed, mastered, all of it. I’ve been so fortunate to be around so many different creative people I think I just love learning how they do what they do.”
Experience and time
After many years of playing in various bands, exploring different musical instruments, and entering the synth world, Matt can reflect on his experiences and offer the following advice for aspiring artists looking to elevate their craft and productivity.
“It’s different for everyone and we all think and function differently. For me I like to have a healthy mix of sort of regular grind hours/days where it’s a daily thing and I just put in the time and do what I need to do, but as much as I can I still try to allow time and space to experience new things and let things be spontaneous.”
“I think allowing for things to happen and recognizing a good idea regardless of who has it or when is invaluable. A lot of that comes with experience and time, just trusting that things will come out ok. Not trying to put a stranglehold on the process and squeezing the fun out of it.”
“If it comes out and people think it’s not great or you wish you could have done better, that’s ok. You are always learning and it's an ongoing process that literally never ends. There’s no finish or end. Learning to let go — but still being focused and diligent — has helped me a lot.”
You can listen to Matt McJunkins’ Soundtrack For No One here and find Matt McJunkins on Instagram.