Munkey Junkey & Zuzu - INTERVIEW
Merseyside is a place renowned for its inclusive and diverse personality. It has a long history of welcoming in people from all across the globe. You are never too far from the water, you are surrounded at all times by vibrancy and its inhabitants are proud to live here, greeting any newcomers with a friendly face and a helping hand. It is also a location that is inseparable from its musical heritage, the city sonics are intertwined on a minute scale. So, I set out to discover the story of two individuals who have become united in the town of Birkenhead, using their musical and emotional connections to support each other in all aspects of life.
Sat on their couch in their basement studio, admiring the fine detail that has gone into the room’s messy aesthetic, I feel right at home. Munkey Junkey (Kurran Karbal) and bandmate/bestfriend Zuzu head off to grab a brew while I sit and listen to his latest tracks. When they return, we settle in, and after a half hour chat about football, holidays, and our preferred methods of intoxication, we finally slide into musical discussion.
Born in New York, growing up in the Middle-East, moving to Switzerland, then London, then finally Birkenhead, Kurran has witnessed cultural extremes from across the world. It is clear, not just from his appearance and accent, but from his music as well, that this exposure to such different societies has expanded his mind and changed his perspective of the world. The more he talks, the more I understand why his music seems so insistent on pushing boundaries and fighting against censorship.
“Growing up in the Middle-East, anything that was parental advisory, so anything I liked, was illegal. A CD would cost 50 Dirhams (around £10) but if you wanted anything that was parental advisory, they wouldn’t have it on display, you’d have to go up to the counter, ask for say ‘Limp Biscuit’ and pay 100 Dirham. Like we are about to go on tour with one of the sons of Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) and Dukie changed it for me but you just couldn’t get hold of that kind of music out there”. He adds “I went to visit my Sister in Damascus and my sister’s landlord asked me not to play my guitar because the secret police would come and search the house if they heard it”. I feel strangely moved by this revelation. It may only be the slightest adjustment to everyday life, but the thought of not having the angsty rebellion of ‘The King Blues’ or the Panic Prevention of ‘Jamie T’ by my side growing up would feel like losing a lifeline.
Now, with this new Munkey Junkey project, he seems intent on innovating and continuously pushing his sound without holding back. In fact, that is part of the reason behind his name, he explains how his favourite Hindu God is Hanuman the Monkey, known to be Joyful and innovative. I can imagine that when living in a culture so restrictive, arriving back in the west would have seemed like the gates to creativity had been opened. Even more so when he landed in the UK, it is here where him and Zuzu first met and their musical journey together first began.
Zu is another artist with a desire to express freedom, so you can see why both their music and personalities complement each other so well. Her songs capture the feelings of restraint that stifle so many early careers. From young female artists who have to battle against the preconceptions about how they should look and how their music should sound, to the thousands of musicians who face the daily task of convincing themselves that their art IS meaningful and it IS worthwhile. Her music is bold, both in sound and lyrical content. She doesn’t sacrifice passion for modesty, and her accent shines through, letting her character radiate from each and every track.
However, there is a flip side to this desire for freedom and creativity. The reality is, that if you break from the crowd you are on your own. As a keen lyricist and having played in a band myself, I understand the constant self doubts that can infect the creative process. Kurran explains that “Even though you like a record more when you are familiar with it, the tail end is that if you’ve heard your own song 500 times you start to hate it”. I can sense the atmosphere of the room sink as we begin to discuss the emotional side of making music. I can feel myself picking at the scab, scraping past the bubbling surface and discovering the harsh realities that the two musicians have faced in their careers. The tones lower, and the faces become more contemplative. It feels like a good time to dig into Kurran’s lyrics.
His first ever release, ‘Kill My Ego’ tackles issues close to the heart and features his family past as a motif throughout. He talks about his family returning to India after his cousin had just committed suicide, partly, Kurran believes, due to the pressures burdened on him by Indian culture.
“That cousin was the only cousin I had who played an instrument and I looked up to him, but he killed himself because of the pressure. It’s something that gets felt a lot in Indian culture, there’s a huge pressure to do well financially and maybe not be so creative. It’s like when people ask ‘Why are there no Indian players in the Premier League?’...I know why"!
This pressure extends outside of the cultural pressures of India. All of us feel some form of pressure to succeed in life, whether the source is external or internal. I can tell that every time I compliment some aspect of their music, be it a name or a little moment in a track (especially when I mention my love for Zu's 'All Good' which I always have to imagine the part at 2:10 being sang along to the Cadbury's Gorilla advert) both Kurran and Zu let out a smile, not of happiness but of relief. It is as if the cloud of self doubt has been blown away just for a brief moment, allowing them to relax into themselves. Yet, of course, with music or any other art form these moments of self satisfaction don’t last forever.
Check out Zuzu on Spotify !!
I think the process of making music is cyclical in nature. It is a process that leaves you exposed and vulnerable, leaving space for the dark recesses of the mind to take over. However, as Kurran points out, it can also be the best platform to heal your subconscious self and feel more connected to the world. “I think it’s healthy to talk about it...We all feel some fuckin’ crazy emotions, so to feel isolated on top of those can really send you into a spin. I feel like music can really help that”.
“We live in crazy times yeno with everything being so positive...everyone adapts. There’s kids living in penthouses that are sad as shit and some people live in tiny villages and are happier than them. It doesn’t matter where you are in life, how much money you’ve got, how many people love you, we can all be our own worst enemy and be fucking depressed”. I guess Kurran’s nomadic youth has had a part to play. When the only consistent element of your life is change, adaptation becomes second nature. However, it is this ability to adapt that has also helped him to overcome these emotions.
“I think not doing everything yourself has helped me a lot. Like I know great guitarists, I know great vocalists (pointing at Zu), now that I’m using them more I start to like my records more every listen, not less".
“It helps when other people like your stuff as well” Zu adds. “There’s songs that I hate, but when you hear people say ‘I love that song! It’s changed my life’ then you’re like ‘Okay...Maybe it’s worth singing it then”. She also points out that after recording her latest single ‘How It Feels’ she “couldn’t listen to it for three months" because she couldn't help crituing every minor detail. I guess that when you listen to another song you hear it as a song, but when you listen to your own, you just hear it as a collection of those tiny parts. Well, now that the new song has been released, I’m sure there are many who are glad that she changed her mind. The track is punchy, poignant and infectiously uplifting. As with all her releases, you just can’t help sing along to bittersweet indie tones that drag you from the daily slump and place you onto her sonic starship!
“Yeah exactly” Kurran continues, “sometimes it feels like your on a tiny little life-raft out in the ocean, but as Drake said, once people sing your songs back to you, you’ve fucking won”. This is something that is becoming all the more regular for the both of them now, and with their symbiotic support, they seem to be growing more confident and ready to innovate.
His music reflects this in abundance. On my first listen I struggled to place his disjointed beats onto my spectrum of musical prejudice. The electronic production, the Hip-hop beats, the Emo influences didn’t register; it is a new sound, a new concoction that is fresh and insightful and one that has continued to grow on me till this very moment.
“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to produce something familiar” I say, “It’s a safer bet financially”. “Especially in Liverpool” Zu adds.
Kurran nods in agreement, “Yeah totally, I always think of that South Park episode with nostalgia berries, because everyone loves hearing a song they know. It’s definitely a slippery slope as a musician to go for something because its tried and tested. We’re all guilty of it. At the moment I’m getting really into that Frank Ocean record ‘Blonde’. The first time I heard some of them songs I was like ‘This is too crazy’ but now I’ve heard them 10 times I’m like ‘YEAH!’”.
I scramble between my mental trenches trying to recollect some spurious Insta post I read so I can sound articulate “I read this thing that was talking about watching films. It said that you actually get more pleasure watching a film that you have already seen because you are familiar with it and feel safe in the story line. I guess it’s the same with music”.
“It’s so crazy you’re saying that” He replies. I can see his cogs whirring. “It’s so true, once you know the journey you kind of enjoy it more. Say you’re at the theme park, the first ride is super fun but the second and third are fuckin’ jokes! You’re like ‘OMG remember the corkscrew bit!’ - It’s so precious to have that moment in a song that only happens once”. Even Kurran struggles to describe his own music to me but I guess that this is as good of a description as any, it’s like you’re at a theme park riding on those freaky Harry Potter staircases. Never stagnant, always pulling you from your seat.
Now, feeling rejuvenated and full of creativity Munkey Junkey seems ready to take off. New single ‘Look Out Below’ it out now. It holds a deeper texture than his previous tracks and gives evidence of his personal and musical growth over the past year. With this new found confidence it feels like this is his time and that the next 6 months will be huge for him.
As we tail off into conversation comparing the traits of Liverpudlians to those from London and I realise I have missed my train, it seems the right place to end. We head through to Kurran’s super-stylised recording studio for a quick nosey and then navigate through the wooden labyrinth of his basement to find the door. With a lasting hug from the two of them and the offer to use his studio anytime I need, I feel enriched by the past couple of hours. The tales of different cultures, mental minefields and the acceptance that Kurran and Zu exude all make me feel refreshed. I notice a lift in confidence as I exit the building with a free vinyl in hand; I am more assured of my next steps in life and couldn't be more glad that I have seen a glimpse into the lives of two of Merseyside's best and nicest upcoming artists.
Keep up to date with Munkey Junkey and Zuzu on Facebook and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the big release of 'Look Out Below' THIS FRIDAY!