El Paraiso Records has a talent of finding incredible bands. One of their latest releases is Two Isles by San Diego outfit Monarch. There are lot’s of great bands in south side of beautiful California; Earthless, Joy, Brian Ellis Group, Astra and they are all making wonderful releases. Monarch adds a special warmth to the scenery.
Who’s in Monarch and what do you all play? Have you all made any changes to the lineup since you started or is this the original lineup?
Monarch is Dominic Denholm on guitar and vocals, Thomas DiBenedetto and Nate Burns on guitar, Matt Weiss on bass, and Andrew Ware on drums. We’re all part of the original lineup. We had a few jam sessions before we properly formed, but we only really had one song at the time, and by our first show we were the same bunch of turkeys we are today. Every once in a while we’ll play a show of cover tunes if a member is out of town, but it just never feels the same without everyone here, and it wouldn’t be nice to promise our fans the full experience without everyone.
You’re San Diego’s native sons. What is the local music scene like there? Do you feel like the scene there played an important role in shaping your musical tastes or the way that you play at this point?
The music that has come out San Diego has been the primary source of stoke and inspiration, the scene was and still is very eclectic. We were exposed to a wide variety of highly creative music, such as surf-jazz twins The Mattson 2, math-rockers Japandi and Privet. You can almost always find a show to go to no matter what kind of music you like. A lot of diversity going on. The Hard rock/Psych/Prog/whatever you want to call it scene was a huge influence on us. Growing up seeing bands like Earthless (interviews here), Joy, Astra, Psicomagia (interview here), Red Octopus, Radio Moscow (interview here), Harsh Toke, Loom, Ocelot and many more amazing bands definitely influenced our taste and helped shape all of us as players. The Che Cafe, which is a vaguely communist, student-run cafe and venue on UCSD campus, was host to all sorts of weird music through the years, some of it amazing and some of it less so, but always with an independent spirit. Its existence is frequently challenged by the university, but current and former students always end up saving it from the constant threat of destruction.
What do you consider to be your first real exposure to music?
Thomas DiBenedetto: For me my first introduction to rock n roll was my sister bringing home a Detroit Rock City soundtrack from the library. It had Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Kiss, all that stuff on it. I was probably 8 years old or something like that, and it changed my whole world!
Dominic Denholm: 1st exposure was my first CD player when I was 7 and my Mom bought me a Baha Men CD which I listened to over and over again, but a few years later I started watching skate videos and becoming obsessed with the soundtracks. That’s when I became really excited about music.
Matt Weiss: My first true music experience would be when I was exposed to all my friends that played music in High school. Though I had been to shows and seen large acts I didn’t really grasp live music or a depth for it until I saw what people my age were writing and playing. I give a most of the credit to my close friends for cultivating my first real exposure to music
Andrew Ware: As a kid I got pretty into Weird Al Yankovic, especially his cover of Micheal Jackson’s “Beat It”, called “Eat It”. When my buddy convinced me to drum for his band, I started to enjoy music in a more nuanced way, I developed a now-shameful obsession with Linkin Park, but as I got older and listened to more music, I fell in love with Led Zeppelin and Nirvana, especially John Bonham and Dave Grohl’s drumming.
When and how did you all originally meet?
We’ve known each other for almost 10+ years now. Most of us went to the same high school in Encinitas, so we met through mutual friends and started playing in bands together in various garage jams, known at the time as “Yar”. These jams soon morphed into actual bands, among them Color, Sacri Monti, and Monarch.
When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music?
We all would jam together with all of our friends all the time for years, but never really wrote songs for some reason. Eventually Dominic started playing in a band with Andrew and our friend Brenden (from Sacri Monti (interview here)) called Color. Brenden on guitar and vocals, Dominic on bass and Andrew on drums, just a straight up good ol’ fashion power trio. Thomas started playing in Sacri Monti in December 2012 and in December of 2013 Dominic, Matt, Andrew and Nate started writing tunes. Thomas worked with Matt and Dominic at the time at a cafe, and Thomas joked that he should join as well, and we would have 3 guitars. Pretty soon though Thomas showed up to practice, learned the song they were working on, and it was just all together somehow. That was the beginning of Monarch. We wrote our first songs in early 2014, and immediately booked a show. We wrote a few more tunes and learned a cover by the ‘70s band Felt (interview here), and somehow were fortunate enough that the venue was psyched on the music. We spent the next year writing more songs, playing around San Diego, and playing up the California coast up to San Francisco and back.
What does the name “Monarch” mean or refer to in the context of the band name? Who came up with and how did you go about choosing it?
Matt came up with it the night before our first show, while driving past an apartment building called “Monarch Apartments”. We couldn’t agree on a name and it seemed to fit more than anything else we came up with. Coincidentally the name worked because of the swingy, floaty nature of the tunes, so it ended up being perfect.
Are you very involved in the local scene? Do you help to book and or attend a lot of shows?
We all play in multiple bands and we do our best to support each other by making it out to everyone’s shows. If we get asked to do a show and can’t do it, often we will refer the booker to our other groups, so in that regard we help to book shows and build relationships with bookers. Andrew runs a studio called Ursa Polaris Records which hosts all of our respective bands (Sacri Monti, Monarch, Ocelot, among others) and gives us all a place to record, rehearse, and hang out.
Two Isles was released by our much beloved label El Paraiso Records.
We have been a big fan of El Paraiso for years. Pretty unreal that we are a part of it!
What’s the songwriting process with Monarch like?
It changes from song to song … always a democratic process though. One person will come up with a part or idea and we will go from there, we usually just jam it out until it’s together and then we start working around it, writing several different parts until we all agree on one that feels just right. The music is always written first then Dominic will write a vocal melody/lyrics that he feels fits the tune. All the tunes on Two Isles revolve around the same ideas and feelings, so they sound as natural as they were written, without having to be forced together.
I’ve been enjoying Jakob Skøtt’s (interview here) concept and artwork ideas behind El Paraiso Records. His artwork goes very well with the vibe on your album.
Yeah he is very good about capturing the vibe of whatever release he is working on, I’ve always been a big fan of all the artwork for El Paraiso releases. For the Two Isles cover, a very close friend of the band Max Killigrew took the photo, and Jakob later added his magic touch. I talked to Max for awhile about taking some photos of beautiful places around where we are from, in Encinitas, and he knew what we were going for, and has a great eye for photography. We took a day and hiked around the beaches of Torrey Pines, and after scouting around we saw this really pretty rain gully full of daisies leading to the ocean right below a sandstone cliff. So we snapped a shot and kept hiking. Later we developed the photos, sent them to Jakob then he sent back a bunch of versions of the photo with different alterations. One version of the cliff and gully stood out, it really captured the feeling of the record and that one ended up being the cover.
Can you share some further details how Two Isles was recorded and released?
El Paraiso is interested in a lot of Southern California bands, and they had heard of us and knew that we were friends with Brian Ellis of El Paraiso’s Psicomagia and the Brian Ellis Group. They asked Brian to produce the record and, after a demo recording in Brian Ellis’s studio, we went into Ursa Polaris to record drums and vocals. We recorded with our amps turned down almost all the way to isolate the drums to get the best drum sound. We then deleted the scratch tracks of the guitars and bass, then went to Matt’s 500 square foot studio with a half-functional toilet in Encinitas, drank dozens of La Croix flavored sparkling waters and fine-tuned the bass and guitar sounds in three 10-hour sessions. Then, after five all-night mixing sessions in Brian’s Escondido studio, we presented El Paraiso with the finished tunes. Brian Ellis engineered the whole thing and did 99% of the mixing, and played Mellotron and Wurlitzer electric piano on some of the tracks. Jonas Munk then mastered using the same process he uses for all the El Paraiso releases.
Do you spend a lot of time out on the road?
We’ve done mini tours through California with Sacri Monti and Golden Void. We haven’t gone out on the road as much as we would like to, but we have been talking to a booker about a festival in Denver, Colorado, and either way we’re planning a tour of the western United States for mid 2017.
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years?
We’ve been fortunate enough to play with Once & Future Band, PUSHY, Earthless, Birth, Psicomagia, Feral Ohms, Ocelot, Crypt Trip, Buffalo Tooth, Astra, Brian Ellis Group, Babylon, Banquet, Sacri Monti, Harsh Toke, and we did a brief tour with Golden Void last year. We were also fortunate enough in summer of 2016 to jam / record with Jonas Munk of Causa Sui over at Brian Ellis’s studio in Escondido.
What are some future plans?
We’ve been working on tunes for the next record, have a handful written and writing more. We also plan to get out and tour all around, ideally we’re trying to get ourselves over to Europe!
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Dominic Denholm: Been recently listening to Once and Future band’s new record, Feral Ohms, Gum, Pond. During the writing and recording of Two Isles I was ( and still am) obsessed with Howlin Rain’s Magnificent Fiend, Aphrodite’s Child 666, Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound!
Andrew Ware: I’ve gotten really obsessed with this band called Hop Along, kinda like a gritty version of The Replacements with a girl singer. I also think Tame Impala’s use of rhythm is very subtle and interesting, like using some of the tricks of jazz drumming without actually playing a jazz beat. Also I’ve been listening to way more Jimmy Eat World than I used to, not sure if that’s a sign of deep unresolved teenage angst or just nostalgia for catchy pop-punk tunes.
Thomas DiBenedetto: Man I could go on forever… the last few albums I listed to were Fuzzy Duck debut, Two Quid Deal? by Skin Alley, Crazy Mabel debut, Wedge by Orange Wedge (interview here), Space Rangers by Neil Merryweather (interview here), Armageddon debut… but one of my favorite modern bands that you all HAVE to listen to are: Once & Future Band, Corima, PUSHY, Crypt Trip, Astra, Golden Void, Howlin’ Rain, Artifact, Ocelot, Mother, Dirty Streets… I could go on forever!!
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Y@R! Thanks Klemen for having us for an interview, we are big fan of It’s Psychedelic Baby, so it is an honor and pleasure for us! HUGE Thanks to El Paraiso. And of course to our family and friends and to everyone that cares about what we do and supports us… RIP Greg Lake.
– Klemen Breznikar
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