- Andy Cvar
Something that's always been true of SLC-born band Muzzle Tung is that play is central to their experimental, avant music. 2016's Administration was the first full-length album, and was born primarily of the two collaborators Michael Biggs and Geoffrey Leonard. The intense haunted house of a rock album was just one marker on the journey of Muzzle Tung, which would feature a rotating cast of supporters and collaborators over the years. Come 2020, their newest full-length Gannet (released Sept. 2 and available at muzzletung.bandcamp.com) features Dyana Durfee (formerly of Foster Body, Big Baby and several others), Karley Parker and Seth Pulver (formerly of Seven Feathers Rainwater) alongside Leonard to create a record that, among its sonically weird wanderings, establishes a vision of time and place among friends.
While Leonard maintains that Biggs is still one of his best friends, he also describes that early iteration of Muzzle Tung as one filled with heads bashing together, a competitive yin and yang between the two. With the new lineup, though, a fresh freewheeling impulse guided the way for Gannet's birth. "The second record was just... harmonious," says Leonard. He remembers asking Durfee if she'd be down to play synth seven times to get "Tarry by the River" pinned down, to which Durfee said yes—an unsurprising fact for anyone who's watched Durfee cycle through multiple different instruments in different bands over the years. Parker points out that among their core foursome, other appearances were made too, including David Payne of the Jazz Jaguars on sax, and their other friend Stephen King featuring on guitar when he was in town from Baltimore. Producer Michael Sasich of the recording studio Man vs. Music also made his unique mark on the record.
Gannet floats in a bubble of positivity, under a ray of funky sunshine. The only exception might be the slightly more down and dirty "Heroin," which echoes The Velvet Underground song of the same name but with "boo, scared ya!" lyrics like "Heroin is gonna getcha!" That song pulses and spirals just like most of the songs do, with burping synths that form a cohesive aesthetic palette while also never quite meeting each other from song to song. "The Sun's a Bad Boy" features just that as a refrain, progressing along bumpy lines both doomy and playful. Leonard offers that for Gannet, he took on more of a producer role, contributing aspects like a basic beat, a bass, melody or vocal part and then opening it up to the others. "Having other people contribute and turning those moments into like, ways to have productive friendships," was also a way of expanding the scope of Muzzle Tung, according to Leonard.
As they made the album, the group also filmed a companion video series called Technicians. It was State Fair season, and pre-Corona, facts that are apparent in the mask-free videos. Durfee and Parker star in what seems like a wacky spin on Charlie's Angels, where Charlie is rather a psychedelic floating head named Liaison who lives in a doll house in the basement, from whence he delivers his unintelligible mission commands. Each of the series' four videos—shot and directed by Leonard—is bookended by first a meandering composition from the Rest 30 records stash (the dragon's hoard of a local label stewarded by Payne) and later a song from Gannet. The Rest 30 songs include work from Jazz Jaguars and Glinting Gems, and were included both out of sheer adoration for David Payne—who Leonard calls the "lifeblood of Salt Lake City"—and because of their being "longform, chill, groovy, jazzy" compositions already readily available for use. "We'd always tease that we wanted [Payne] to come to our house to sing us to sleep," says Parker, explaining that that quality suits the pleasant, dreamy atmosphere of Technicians.
The leisurely atmosphere of Technicians was a result of their trying to craft easy, extra content around Gannet—which ended up just making filming time out of "hang out time." "The activities we did, we tried to think of wholesome things ... like flying kites, going to state fairs," explains Parker. The State Fair also holds some nostalgia for the group, as Leonard and Parker lived right across from the fairgrounds before they decamped to Pittsburgh this last spring. While Parker remained in SLC for a few months, Leonard stitched the videos together alone in Pittsburgh, grappling with pandemic loneliness on top of the emotional affair of editing footage that's SLC all over—scenes of a glimmering downtown horizon join cameos of bad Utah drivers and the underworld of Quarters Arcade Bar.
All nostalgia aside, do the limitations of the pandemic, or half the band's status as newly minted Ohioans spell the end of Muzzle Tung? "I wouldn't say it's the end of Muzzle Tung," says Parker. "Just maybe a new ... possible rendition. Seth, our old drummer that was on the album, lives in Columbus, Ohio, so it's not too far." For his part, Leonard isn't much phased by any of the circumstances. "I feel like so many things have happened in my life between the first and second record—almost four years—that it's like, there's always gonna be things that happen in life that can slow down the process. So, what's a pandemic?"