Matt McJunkins is a busy man. Between his work in the Beta Machine and as the bassist in A Perfect Circle (who are preparing to release a new album soon), he doesn’t have much free time these days.
At the NAMM Show in January, however, he did find a few minutes to spare for an interview about the Beta Machine and some lessons he’s gleaned over the years in his various bands and projects. Enjoy our conversation below.
Rock Cellar: Your band, The Beta Machine, recently released its debut EP. It has some very interesting sounds on it. I had no idea what to expect, but in preparing for this interview I looked at your past work and realized I’d seen you before in Ashes Divide — and obviously I know A Perfect Circle.
Matt McJunkins: Where’d you see Ashes?
Rock Cellar: Probably Shoreline, up in the Bay Area at Projekt Revolution or something.
Matt McJunkins: I remember that show. We played in the blazing sun. I think we were one of the first bands, or the first band on the main stage. So it was probably right before the sun was about to go down. UV torture.
Rock Cellar: Describe the Beta Machine to anybody that might not have heard it yet.
Matt McJunkins: The Beta Machine is a band started by myself and Jeff Friedl. It’s our thing, our way of getting our own music out to the world. It’s just our perspective, I guess. Putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak.
Jeff and I have been playing together since Ashes Divide — or actually, we played a show together before that, that’s how we met, so we knew each other briefly. But yeah, from touring with Ashes Divide, Billy (Howerdel) recommended us for Puscifer, then that eventually led to us playing in A Perfect Circle together. So we worked together a lot over the years. Somewhere in there we started working on some ideas that were maybe going to be for Puscifer or maybe for another project.
We had to rework some Puscifer ideas for a live setting, so we got in a room and started coming up with riffs and re-imagining songs, but in some cases sticking to the original songs more or maybe changing the rhythm or the feel.
A lot of that stuff we came up with was used for Puscifer live shows, but some of the other ideas that weren’t used we really liked but didn’t know what to do with it. Fast-forward a year or so later, we kept tinkering with those songs and talking about it and went through a lot of ideas, iterations, before really having to nail it down.
Rock Cellar: So it was a really open-ended kind of thing.
Matt McJunkins: Yeah, we had this EP — that’s the stuff that we liked the most and saw the most potential in. But there is a ton of other stuff that we worked on that is completely not within that wheelhouse at all. There are no rules, really, so you can do whatever the fuck you want. That’s the beauty of it, that’s why we enjoy it so much.
— Rock Cellar Magazine (@RockCellarMag) January 26, 2018
Rock Cellar: You’ve been in several high-profile acts over the years. How do you take your experiences with those bands and projects and apply them to something like the Beta Machine? Or do you even?
Matt McJunkins: It’s learning, constantly. Playing live shows with different bands, you can’t help but be influenced by that process. I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of bands that I really like, I really enjoy. So I’m always learning. The main thing is the work ethic — I’ve always tried to work really hard to make something good. To push each other to create something that you can work on together, almost like a common goal.
Rock Cellar: Were you in Puscifer when they played Coachella and there was a big RV or camper van parked on stage?
Matt McJunkins: Yep.
Rock Cellar: That was quite a visual spectacle, let me tell you, from the perspective of somebody who watched it from the polo grounds.
Matt McJunkins: Awesome. That was the first time I’d played Coachella. The only time, really, until this coming April when A Perfect Circle does it again. That was pretty special. Yes, both weekends we did a little different show, a slightly different visual thing. That’s kind of what Puscifer does, you never know what you’re gonna get. It’s great.
Rock Cellar: It was a very vivid hour of music, weird videos and everything.
Matt McJunkins: Yeah, it was really fun.
Rock Cellar: Have you been playing shows with the Beta Machine recently or have you been caught up with Perfect Circle?
Matt McJunkins: Yeah, the Beta Machine just released our debut EP. We’ve been playing a fair amount mostly in town, in L.A., around Orange County…we opened for Palms at the Observatory a few years back. Mostly small places, just as a means to figure out what the hell we’re doing since it’s a relatively new thing. Then a Perfect Circle invited us to open the last tour, so we were the opening band on the fall run in Fall 2017.
So both bands, doing the thing…it wasn’t as crazy, it was awesome. I get it, it does sound like it could be a lot of work every night, but…honestly, I play a show and I felt really warm, I wanted to keep going. So for Perfect Circle you’re already worked up, you’ve already seen the crowd, you kinda know what to expect visually speaking. How it feels to play on that particular stage in that venue in front of those people. That’s usually…even at soundcheck, as soon as there’s people there everything changes depending on how the crowd reacts.
Rock Cellar: You mentioned Rush earlier. Growing up as a kid in Palm Springs getting into music, what type of bands and artists helped light that fire, so to speak?
Matt McJunkins: We were just talking about that, Jeff and I, we were going to put together some Spotify playlists for the Beta Machine. Just kicking back and forth some ideas, what we’d put on there. One of the things that came up is the stuff we grew up with. At that time, as a younger kid, I have two older brothers and they’re into a lot of music, heavy music, especially then. So as a really young kid I was getting into bands that I probably shouldn’t have been listening to — like Appetite for Destruction as a six year old — my stepdad wasn’t cool with that, but still I found a way.
Super early on it was like the Beach Boys, a one-off since my folks were into that. The surfer-rock thing was really cool, I wore a lot of cool skateboard gear even though I never skated, but anyway, the skating and surfing thing seemed cool. But then ’80s rock, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, Ratt, the whole thing. Skid Row, super into that. As I got older, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, the big four, Anthrax, all that stuff. Then, in the early ’90s alternative scene, Lollapalooza, 120 Minutes, Primus, White Zombie, Tool, Rage, Alice in Chains, grunge, and so on.
And from there, I guess probably because of some of what those bands were into, stuff like Rush, Yes, Genesis, bands like those.
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