By Ben Munson
Monster Rally’s new album, Mystery Cove, is built as a neatly encompassed paradise filled with bubbling lava, massive beach drinks and sinister intrigue. Head island architect and Ted Feighan, who has been recording as Monster Rally since 2010, specifically designed his album that way.
Communicating solely through gentle Balearic tones and warm tropicalia rhythms, Mystery Cove tells a story about a pair of young vacationers who get more than they bargained for during a trip to a steamy utopia. Feighan picked each sample he used in order to advance that narrative and help the listener see everything he envisioned in his head.
We recently chatted with Feighan about his process for choosing samples for Mystery Cove and found out that it’s totally OK to picture an episode of Scooby Doo in your head while listening to the record.
Where do your samples come from? Are they all vinyl?
Every sample is all vinyl. On some of the records, though not really on Mystery Cove, I’ll play some bass in the background or some guitar.
Where do find the drums for your songs?
Some of the drums are sampled from the tropicalia stuff like the more jungle-y drums or bongos and stuff that gets added on. And a lot of the drums are from old soul, disco and funk, but also I do have a few records that are collections of drum breaks. I have some that are drum breaks from different world music, so not traditional drum breaks but they have some interesting loops. But most of the drums are just random records that have something cool.
All your samples seem to have the same vinyl sound to them. Does that just happen naturally or do you have to alter them?
For this one, I thought more about it. I made a few of the tracks for this record and some of them had that real dusty vinyl feel so I think I just leaned more toward the records that sounded that way when I was sampling them. Because I don’t real edit samples too much. Sometimes just for speed or adding light effects like reverb. But I’m not adding that sound in there. It’s just something about all the records I was sampling for this album in particular all had the same style.
There’s a good mixture of longer songs and tracks that could be considered interludes. How do you determine which songs should be one minute long versus three minutes long?
I think a couple years ago I tried to force myself to make longer songs because the first few records I put out, all the songs were like 1:15. I think it’s more so, if there are a few songs that I feel like have samples where there’s more I can pull from it that can lend itself to being a bit longer, that’s just how it goes. Sometimes I think a sample isn’t interesting enough to carry it for that long.
Right, more of the shorter songs are just a loop while the longer songs are more structured.
A song like “The Tiki Room” is a loop and some minor drums that I probably listened to while I was trying to make a song for 25 minutes straight. And at the end I thought that maybe I don’t have that much but I love the sound of this so I condensed it down and squeezed it into the record. Some songs like “In the Valleys” or “The Big Surf” had samples that really lent themselves to being in segments. Whenever I make a song I just play it for however long it would make sense on the sampler and that’s how long it ends up being.
Can you talk more about the narrative arc of Mystery Cove?
All the records that I’ve been collecting and the ones I sample for the project are almost cheesy. The cover art is always some girl and it’s really exotic and there are people on vacation. But also there’s a weird voodoo element to them. They’re just bizarre. So I was starting to make these songs and, in my mind, all the samples have such a visual element to them. So I started to think about a story of this young couple going on vacation and that this is the soundtrack to a bad TV movie.
As I was going through, the songs I was making were adding to the story. I was picturing them getting to the island and they’re having all this fun but then there’s some weird sinister elements at the ends of the songs, like maybe there’s a witch doctor watching these people from the hills.
It made a lot of sense because when I make records I have all these visuals in my mind but I’d never really tied anything together.
Did you have the narrative in mind before you started making the record?
I had the idea of making a soundtrack for this movie of the week type thing, basically a cheesy story about a couple on vacation. But that was it.
How did that story affect the music, sequencing and the samples you chose?
I had some older songs that were contention for the record before I started really thinking about the narrative. But eventually all of those got dropped out because they weren’t from the same time period or they didn’t fit right. When I was sequencing the record and adding intros and outros, it was all about what should be happening in the story. At the end of “The Big Surf,” that’s where the second half of the story starts with these people being dropped into the middle of the jungle, they’re running and all freaked out and suddenly pop out on the beach, and that’s where a big surf competition is happening and they’re having a good time.
Then at the end of that song when there’s the really sinister outro, that’s when you’re supposed to pan up and see the bad guy watching them.
I can’t help but visualize this like a Scooby Doo episode.
Well that’s kind of exactly the style that I’m thinking. The bad is guy is just “Ah, they have no idea.” Just real sinister but in an innocent kind of way. Nobody’s going to die. The guy is just sort of evil.