10Qs with John Nunan of Muckie Mittens and Serious Rooms

John NunanChances are that if you’ve paid any attention to Maine music in the last 15 or so years, you’ve seen John Nunan on drums.  From Bullyclub to Strause & Company, he’s a constant around town.  He’s currently involved in two newer projects, Muckie Mittens and Serious Rooms, and both have new releases.  Muckie Mittens’ debut is being released by Lorem Ipsum Recordings on 8/20 and Serious Rooms’ release will be celebrated with an event at USM’s Southworth Planetarium on 8/24.

Where were you born?

I was born in London during the height of the swinging 60s, although I can’t say I participated in the summer of  love that much. We lived in large house in Cricklewood, with an outdoor toilet and a bathroom we shared with 2 other families. My parents, my brother and I all slept together in the same bedroom till I was about eight. To say it was cozy is an understatement, but I remember it fondly.

What brought you to Portland?

I came to work in America in the early 90s. I worked at an arts camp in Maine, first as a counselor and then eventually as a camp director living there year round. The summers were exciting and fun, but after a few years the winter experience was a little like The Shining. I came to Portland in 97 looking for a little culture and I found it in spades. I answered my first ad and joined a group within a month of being here and pretty much haven’t looked back since.

Do you have a day job, and if so, what is it?

I work as the marketing & communications director for a large disability non-profit. I work with a diverse group of co-workers and consumers who have a wide range of disabilities. It makes for a really healthy, interesting work environment. It’s nice to be able to go home at night with a clear conscience about what I do.

What was your most memorable gig?

I played an open air festival show with one of my bands in England in the 80s. There were thousands of people there and a few big name artists on the bill ( UB40, Hawkwind, Ian Gillan etc.). We got to hob nob with the names backstage for the day and generally be treated like stars. Not too shabby.

What was your worst gig?

When I was in bullyclub, we played a Superbowl party in Northampton MA. We drove 3.5hrs to get there and were told to set up right in front of the TV. We were instructed to play during the half time and every time there was a commercial. We probably didn’t play more than an hour all told and never made eye contact with our audience once. I can’t remember how much, or if we got paid, but I do remember we drove through a blizzard to get home which doubled our travel time. Oh the glamorous world of rock & roll!

What album or artist has most influenced you as a musician?

This is a difficult one to answer as we obviously take different things from everything we listen to. I have to say, that the 3rd album by Peter Gabriel (“Melt” in the US) had a massive impact on me. The sense of experimentation was huge. He took massive risks in terms of song construction that I still admire to this day. There are no cymbals on the album, and for someone who is a drummer, that is a brave restriction to make that forces you into new direction and creative solutions to compensate for their absence. He chose to build most of the songs from the ground up around rhythm rather than chords and that is something that I still do in my production work today.

nunan1What’s the one piece of musical equipment you can’t live without?

While I could be flip and say my drum key, I think the thing I use most is my computer. Nowadays it is central to almost every project I am working on, whether is it to hum a melody idea, record a demo, create album art or just communicate with bandmates. I remember what it was like before, but I don’t want to imagine what it would be like moving forward without it.

Any advice for a musician starting out?

Keep an open mind, and always remember to take time to listen to the people you are playing with. It’s a lost skill, but it is much more important what you are doing together than what you are doing individually.

What’s the origin behind your band name?

Band names are a necessary evil. People place too much emphasis on them when the truth of the matter is you ultimately will be remembered for the music you create. The Beatles, The Jam, The Who – none of these are great names in themselves, but we forget that because the bands themselves were great. Muckie mittens was a phrase that came up that made us all smile. If it does the same for someone else, and they remember the songs – it has done its job.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

Other people seem to take issue with my love of 1970’s prog, Rush, Peter Gabriel era Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson etc. Me, I’m guilt free…well at least in terms of music!

Stephen Quirk
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One thought on “10Qs with John Nunan of Muckie Mittens and Serious Rooms

  1. Great interview. Especially if you read it with a British accent… the UK’s loss is Maine’s gain! On top of being talented and head over heels in love with music, John Nunan is one heluva nice guy. Proud to have been associated with some of his projects as well as to have attended every show Rush has done in the last 12 years with him!

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