"All We Have Is What We Leave Behind": A Conversation With Muenster
“As soon as I got introduced to Bay Area hip hop, it was over for me,” Ian Harrison (aka Muenster) says. He’s referring to the moment he knew that he had to stop just listening to hip hop and start making it. The Austin native, who has lived in Denton for about fifteen years now, grew up on the genre and doesn’t plan on quitting the game anytime soon. In April of this year Harrison released Radio Dogpile, a full-length record, on Gitmo Music; he’s already about three or four tracks into the next big thing.
Some of Harrison’s earliest memories are of the tapes he stuck into his Walkman as a kid. He started by listening to countless classic artists like Run DMC and Rakim, but he was also drawn to stranger and more abstract things—he names Weird Al Yankovic and punk rock as other influences. “Words and word-driven music were always what I was more inclined to follow,” he explains. As a drummer, the interest in percussion came naturally to him; he is drawn to jazz as well. His work as Muenster marries all of these interests together.
Harrison was born in Austin and grew up there (after some early-in-life moves to Maine and Virginia.) By the age of 21, he felt a sense of stagnation living in the city—nothing was keeping him there—and a friend convinced him to consider a move to Denton. “My buddy up here was in a band at the time, and he said, ‘Dude, beer’s cheap…there’s jazz twice a week. Come and go to community college, get your feet wet. Denton’s great,’” Harrison recalls. So he did. He joined Doctopus, a jazz-funk fusion group, before forming Muenster Emcee and the Skeleton Crew, which was a nine-piece “jazz-hop” band that included horn players, percussionists and more. Harrison eventually found his way to Vortexas, a Denton group whose successes sent them on tour (including a stint with Vans’ Warped Tour.) In the middle of all of this, Harrison and friends managed to find the time to begin laying the groundwork for a unified hip hop scene in Denton, one that grew organically alongside the Southeast Denton scene already rooted within the city. “We built kind of a weekly hip hop option [at Andy’s Bar] for Dallas and Denton hip hop artists,” Harrison explains. The idea was to get people in the area with this shared interest connected to one another. Tons of local acts got their start at the weekly at Andy’s: Fab Deuce, Ghetto[Box], The Neighborhood Allstars, Ritchy Flo, and more.
Harrison attributes much of his personal success—and the Denton scene’s success—to the cooperative nature of hip hop itself. “Hip hop at its root core comes from a mixture, a melting pot” of cultural forces, as he says. The artist points out that the genre fuses countless discrete art forms and social rituals—the Beatnik movement, funk music, and Jamaican culture have obvious influence, but Harrison argues that hip hop wouldn’t exist in its current state if not for community action and even the simple block party. “When you’re doing something grassroots or community-driven...you’ll always be able to do more as a ‘we’ than as a ‘me,’” he says. And as many artists have noted, that spirit has never been more important than it is now that Denton has lost several venues. “It has to be a merger of the house party scene with [the scene that started at] Andy’s,” Harrison explains. “Without Andy’s, I don’t think we’d have a platform for hip hop in town.”
If all of this sounds a bit like a crash course in social science, consider Harrison’s background. The artist received a degree in anthropology from UNT in 2008, and his academic work focused on sociocultural anthropology and the effects of modernity. This has given him a deep interest in what drives culture and people—the consequences of the Industrial Revolution, humans’ access to media of all types, and the contemporary influence of social media are all topics that interest Harrison. “Everything that I write is my contribution to the anthropological record. All we have is what we leave behind,” he explains. This is not a job he takes lightly, but a passion and a perspective that worm their way into what he creates. The anthropological interest may also account for the wide swath of genres he’s fond of (fusion, electronic jazz, and 90s-early 2000s L.A. and underground hip hop, to name a few.)
How does a musician with this many interests settle on hip hop as his chosen genre? It’s easy, Harrison says: the premium hip hop places on the spoken word. “I think you can look at the crowd for Rae Sremmurd at Oaktopia after it poured down rain as an example…it was a beautiful thing,” he tells us. “You could see all those people standing, soaking wet, waiting to hear what these two dudes had to say. There it is right there—waiting to hear what people have to say. That is what rap music and hip hop can create that no other genre can create for anyone else.” Hip hop artists and rappers aren’t just spitting into a microphone; rather, they’re doing the same work that “the master orators of our time” (as he so eloquently puts it) have done. Where his work as Muenster is concerned, Harrison’s goal is not to speak at people, but to people. He routinely interacts with his audience during his sets, and sees the marriage of live music with the standard beats as a way to pull of something truly transcendent.
Harrison has been spending lots of time playing with Denton jazz-hop band Wax Logic (“A whole project with them would be cool,” he says with a smile.) He’s also planning some more studio work to build on the new tracks he has under his belt. Harrison looks forward to working more with Gitmo Music, as he’s truly enjoyed his efforts with Keldrick Scott and everyone else at the label. His next scheduled show is with King Magnetic in Dallas on Sunday, October 9th—the bill includes a huge list of notable local acts, including Guillotine and X-Calibur.
Though he stays busy, Harrison prioritizes human connection over all else. His efforts have been to unite rather than divide scenes in DFW, and he is quick to offer some sincere advice: “Be good to each other. All we get is one time around the rock we’re on, and all we have is each other.”
Header image design by Kristen Watson
Header image by Kody Pryor