The Bonk Interview: “Because of the focus on improvisation, nobody noise what will happen.”

the bonk
Photo by Chloe Brenan.

The Bonk Seems To Be A Verb is out now.

Just a few weeks ago, Waterford based improvisational group The Bonk released their latest record. Titled The Bonk Seems To Be A Verb, it is an exotic and exciting exploration of what can be achieved when there are no boundaries. To celebrate the release, the band are going on tour with FIXITY around Ireland. It will be an adventure.

We recently were lucky enough to grab some time with Philip Christie (member of O Emperor and ringleader of The Bonk) to chat about the tour, Bovril, and the process of writing through improvisation.

Check out The Bonk with Fixity live!

Oct 26th The Sky and The Ground, Wexford (w/FIXITY) 8pm, 10e
Oct 27th Bello Bar, Dublin (w/FIXITY) 8pm, 10e
Oct 28th Rogue Gallery, Waterford (w/FIXITY) 8pm, 10e
Oct 29th The Roundy, Cork (w/FIXITY) 10pm, 12e

Overblown: Your new record is called ‘The Bonk Seems To Be A Verb’. Where did that title come from?

Philip Christie: I enjoy the titling of things so I’m always writing word formations down when I think of them or come across them. At some point last year I became quite interested in R. Buckminster Fuller who was an architect, inventor and all-round decent skin. He is quoted as saying ‘I Seem To Be a Verb’ which I thought was a great thing to say and also very accurate.

Overblown: The first song is called ‘In Praise of Vril’. Vril is the name of a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Any connection?

Philip Christie: There is, although I came at it from a slightly oblique angle. I had read that there used to be an imposing neon sign that used to hang from one of the buildings on Westmoreland Street in Dublin advertising ‘Bovril’. For whatever reason, that struck me as kind of interesting and I began to be curious about the word – it struck me as a very exotic name for what has become a very everyday yoke.

Bulwer-Lytton’s novel deals with a supposed subterranean civilisation whose access to the power source Vril gave them all sorts of preternatural abilities. Vril, in the book, referred to a kind of life force. And weirdly, I discovered that the venture capitalists who launched this beef product in 1886 called it Bovril (an abstraction ‘Bovine Vril’) having been influenced by the book. I was amused. So I wrote it as a hymn for devotees of Vril.

Overblown: Who created the artwork for the release? What is the inspiration behind it?

Philip Christie: The artwork was done by my fiancee Chloe Brenan. It was done using simple enough monoprinting techniques in Blackchurch Print Studios in Dublin. We had some basic ideas about the kind of colours/textures we might use but it was largely improvised over a couple of days experimentation.

Overblown: You have an upcoming tour with Fixity on the horizon. Excited to play with them? Why?

Philip Christie: Yes. I’m a big fan. With both groups, every gig is different because of the focus on improvisation so nobody noise what will happen x 2. Jugotta!

Overblown: Where did the name The Bonk come from? It is somewhat odd, to say the least!

Philip Christie: I don’t know where the term came from but I heard it used by Tim Pat Coogan in reference to Republican prisoners who had become psychologically exhausted during their internment in The Curragh during the Second World War II. Rock Bottom n’ Roll.

Overblown: How do you go about writing your music? Is it mostly improvised in band practice?

Philip Christie: All of the pieces are improvised to some extent but some have more structured frameworks than others. A couple of pieces that are featured on the album are one-off improvisations that were played for the first time in the studio. But there are also some pieces that have been more sketched before I bring them to the players in the studio. So far, I have focused on making rhythmic decisions first and then allowing more freedom in elaborating melodies.

Overblown: What inspires you to write music?

Philip Christie: Empty space and all that.

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