Mountain Movers Chisel Out Their Place in the World

Photo by Ellen Goggins

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In the cold light of 2022, it still doesn’t get much better than Mountain Movers for me. This quartet of Rick Omonte, Ross Menze, Kryssi Battalene, and Dan Greene can channel the lackadaisical euphoria of deep summer before shredding it all to bits in the form of psychedelic hail marys at the drop of a hat. Last year’s World What World continues to exorcise the demons most of us have forgotten with each melodic passage a shrine to the cosmos. They’re a band that’s been going for well over a decade now and yet each record is a level up. Mountain Movers have no ceiling.

This interview was conducted throughout the latter half of 2021 with guitarists Kryssi Battalene and Dan Greene. World What World is out now (and highly recommended!) via Trouble In Mind.

Okay so first, let’s go all the way back to when you were kids. What were some of your earliest music memories and particular songs or bands or records that grabbed your attention and maybe made you feel something unexpected?

Dan: I grew up with a bunch of older brothers and sisters who were always playing records in the living room. My oldest brother used to play guitar with his rock band in our house in the mid-’70s. I sat on the floor and watched their practices. I loved how loud the music felt up close. 

Kryssi: As a kid, I would listen to all the regular pop music that kids my age were listening to. In middle school, I would listen to some local radio. I would find out about all ages shows at VFW halls and church basements. I think listening to the radio expanded my mind about how much different music was out there and about the community right around me that participated in it. 

From there, what pushed you into wanting to play music and start writing your own stuff?

Dan: I started trading tapes, looking out for shows, reading zines, ordering VHS tapes, and checking out the underground scene when I was 14. In high school, I started learning old blues songs on guitar because I loved the tension between despair and hope in the lyrics. Then I started writing my own songs, it became an obsession, and I’ve been writing songs ever since. 

Kryssi: I played in school jazz band and things like that, and me and my saxophone friend would “jam”. In college, I started recording noise music in my bedroom and put it on the internet and that’s how I connected with noise people and other weirdos around CT and started playing with people.

So how did y’all meet anyway? And Kryssi, you didn’t join until a little later, right? I’m terrible at keeping my timelines straight sometimes…

Dan: Rick Omonte and I became friends in New Haven through the music scene. We started the Movers together in the mid-2000s. Initially, we played with different local musicians, all people we love, including our current studio engineer John Miller. Around 2010 we met Kryssi Battalene (Headroom/Masami Kawaguchi/Colorguard) because she was playing gigs in the noise scene and running a DIY spot in New Haven with Stefan Christensen called Popeye’s Garage. Finally, drummer Ross Menze (Headroom/Estrogen Highs/Iron Hand) joined in and our permanent line-up was set.

Kryssi: Rick and Dan are a little bit older than me and Ross so I would see them at shows but didn’t really know them too well. But we had enough mutual friends to encourage us to get together when Mountain Movers needed a guitarist. Ross played in Estrogen Highs and when he heard Movers were looking for a drummer he asked me about it. 

One thing I love about the Mountain Movers stuff is the combination of the more song-oriented stuff and then some tunes feel a bit more free form and improvised, perhaps. When you all start thinking about working on something new – like a new record or whatever – is there a conscious effort to include both those sides or is it just a natural thing?

Dan: It’s become a natural thing. In 2016, a shift occurred when we spent our “practice” time that year improvising rather than working on songs. We jammed so much, we said we should just do some of this live in the studio. Our s/t record became a mix of songs and free jams. Our other records followed suit. 

Kryssi: That is accurate. I think we just evolved from our weekly practices. 

Photo by Ethan Miller

How have those ideas and approaches evolved over the 10+ years y’all have been together?

Dan: The more we bonded as friends, the more we started to listen to each other better both as people and as musicians. We encourage each others’ creative powers and try to let everyone explore on their own in the context of the song or jam. This supportive, collective sense has inspired us to continue to evolve by allowing ourselves to play different instruments, get freer, devolve. Currently, we are recording and making music that is completely new to us.

Kryssi: Oh ya our next record is so weird! It was great to play without having anything, in particular, to work towards. As far as how we have progressed, I think it is thanks to our friendship, it’s unconditional! we are very supportive of each other. so when we play we can be ourselves and try any idea.

So who are some of your favorite fellow guitarists? I’m always curious, and especially with you all… as someone with a deep love of Japanese psych bands and especially the guitarists in a lot of those bands, I feel like I hear some of the same elements I love about that music in the way you all play.

Kryssi: I love a lot of Japanese underground guitarists.. too many to mention.. but some are Michio Kurihara, Rinji Fukuoka, Takashi Mizutani, and Jojo Hiroshige… I also love Neil Young! and a lot of free-form bands from the Northeast have crazy shredders like all those Twisted Village bands with Wayne and Kate shredding.. also Sunburned, and Burnt Hills. So all that has probably been influential.

Dan: My list includes guitarists that I’ve seen play live in the recent past: Anthony Pasquarosa, Mdou Moctar, Neil Young, Danny Jhonston (Los Mirlos), Wayne Rogers/Kate Biggar (Major Stars), Salmou “Doueh” Baamar (Group Doueh), Charlie Saufley (Heron Oblivion), and Kawabata Makoto (Acid Mother’s Temple). 

What’s it like for you all, as guitarists, playing together and how do you think the way y’all approach playing and writing songs complements each other?

Kryssi: We’ve been playing for a really long time so I think my playing has probably been shaped by playing with Dan .. and Rick and Ross too. We have I guess a pretty free approach and we just encourage each other to play however we want.

Dan: When Kryssi is soloing, I switch from playing rhythm to playing structured, simple solos. But when her lead starts to carry me away, I solo blind. I’ll often come in with an idea for a song that I have a two-minute demo for, and after playing it a few times, Kryssi, Rick, and Ross turn it into something far more expansive, thoughtful, and beautiful than I intended. 

I usually don’t go down gear rabbit holes, but I’m curious what your favorite guitar you’ve had or played is? I’m also guitar shopping right now so maybe I’m just looking for recommendations – ha!

Kryssi: I have a Fender Telecaster and I feel pretty attached to it. I’m not really a guitar person. I’m a little jealous of this fake telecaster Dan got at a garage sale called The Stinger. I recommend it.

Dan: I also play a telecaster in the band. For years, I played a Guild semi-hollow body from the early ’60s, but as we got louder, the Guild began to get lost in the mix. I got the telecaster to cut through. I like that me and Kryssi play Fender guitars into Fender amps. I also always own a Guild acoustic— love the 70’s ones. 

Y’all have been getting back to playing shows again lately. How’s that felt? What did you miss most about playing live? 

Kryssi: We played four shows this year and I was very grateful that we were able to do that. I missed seeing my friends the most and I hope we can play more next year. I was also really into the space that we had last year to record tons of weird music together with nothing but nothing on the horizon, and I hope we can somehow keep up with that too.

Dan: I really enjoyed playing outdoor shows this year. When you play music outside it feels timeless like you could be playing in any era. 

Couple of specific questions for each of you… Dan – what prompted those two home recording/duo releases last year on C/Site? I’m a huge fan of both and especially appreciate how different they are. Any plans for future editions?

Dan: Oh, thanks. I have a back catalog of solo home recordings, but with those two C/Site releases, I started collaborating with my friends. Currently, I’m working on new songs with David Shapiro, but in the future, I’ll be looking to make collab recordings with the rest of our dirt pile family in New Haven. 

Kryssi/Headroom by Ethan Miller

Kryssi – any new Headroom recordings (or a new album!?) on the way?

Kryssi: Nothing in the works yet

Also, can you tell a little bit about how you ended up doing that record with Kawaguchi Masami? Sonically, it really is a match made in heaven. 

Kryssi: In 2016 I went to Tokyo for a week with a friend and got to see New Rock Syndicate play. I gave him a cd and we became friends. I was really glad he wanted to make an album but also was intimidated because I have a deep respect for him and his playing. 

So what’s on the horizon for Mountain Movers? That’s super exciting about the new stuff getting into even weirder zones! I can’t wait to hear it. 

Kryssi: We are going to finish mixing most of our backlog of recordings and then eventually we are going to try and get a new van. Maybe by that time we can go play some more shows.

Dan: Right now we are focused on mixing a ton of jams and a handful of songs we recorded at our practice space in 2021. Looking to turn this mess into a new record as well as other potential releases. 

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