"We're all music nerds at heart," MONOWHALES on their new EP and the DIY ethics of an indie band
The Toronto quartet discuss the new EP 'Control Freak', the pressure and restrictions that indie bands have to deal with, and how they ended up with their unique sound.
Toronto's pop-rock quartet Monowhales have been taking the North American indie scene by storm. Fuelled by a passionate desire to create a sound as unapologetic and powerful as the personalities within the band, Monowhales are without a doubt one of the most exciting up-and-coming bands to keep an eye out for this year.
Last year, Monowhales unleashed their infectiously hooky single 'Take It Back', giving them their first commercial radio airplay and peaking at #25 on the Canadian Alternative Rock Radio charts, making the indie world stop and take note of the potential of the quirky quartet. 'Take It Back' served as the first single from their latest EP 'Control Freak', which the band self-released earlier this month, staying true to their indie, DIY ethos.
'Control Freak' showcases the band's unique sound wedged between the outer lines of pop and rock, blending Holly Jamieson's blaring synths and guitarist Zach Zanardo's groove-driven riffs with Jordan Circosta's organic percussions and Sally Shaar's high-energy vocals. Layered impeccably by producer AL-P (MSTRKRFT, Death From Above 1979), the six-track EP unleashes track after track of highly danceable tunes, juxtaposing silky pop with themes of alienation, love, and the complexity of human relationships.
This is best exemplified by the second single 'Real Love', which was also accompanied with a pop-art inflected surreal music video that sees the quartet in a sticky situation, buried under a blanket of pink latex - something that's strangely relatable in our modern lives.
I had the chance to interview Monowhales recently and in our brief email exchange, we discussed the new EP, the band's weird name (What in the world is a Monowhale?), shooting the music video for 'Real Love', the pressure and restrictions that indie bands have to deal with while recording, and how they ended up with their unique sound among other things. Read the full interview below.
Meaww: Congratulations on your brand new EP ‘Control Freak’. The lead single ‘Take It Back’ has been gaining massive radio play and streams and I can’t get it out of my head. Could you tell us how you came up with the song?
Monowhales: Thanks! 'Take It Back' was a collaborative effort, but all started with a guitar riff Zach brought in last summer. We were about to play Yonge and Dundas Square with The Pack AD and really wanted to play a new song, so we all piled in and started trying different ideas to see what would stick. Once we got the arrangement down Jordan started singing t-t-t-take it back and everything sort of came together after that. The song tightened up quite a bit once our producer AL-P got involved, he trimmed the fat and made sure everything was hitting the way it should.
Meaww: I bet you get this a lot, but what’s the story behind your name MONOWHALES?
Monowhales: We TOTALLY get that a lot. I guess we shouldn't be surprised since our name is a made-up word. To be honest, everyone in the band has their own story about where the name came from. Sally still says it's a play on a Simpsons reference (monorail, anyone?), but Jordan thinks it came from a mural near our old rehearsal space of a whale wearing a monocle.
Meaww: You worked with producer AL-P of MSTRKRFT fame on the EP. What was it like during production?
Monowhales: Working with Al was a great experience. We had never worked with a producer on a record beginning to end before, including parts of the writing and arrangement. He taught us a lot about keeping arrangements lean, making sure everything was "hard and modern" since that was the vibe we were going for on this record. We recorded "Take It Back" and "Real Love" in one week in September of 2017 and then the rest of the record during April of this year. Graham Walsh of Holy Fuck engineered a lot of the guitars and vocals, and we got to record drums at Union Sound which is a beautiful room in Toronto. A lot of peanuts and beer were consumed and I think we got a pretty sweet record out of it!
Meaww: How many songs did you totally record and how many made the cut to the EP?
Monowhales: We cut six tracks and those are the songs you hear on "Control Freak". There wasn't really time or money to record anything more than that. The nature of being an indie band is everything is always down to the wire, there's very little room for error because you're often working on very short timelines with very limited budgets. To be honest, I think that's what makes us strive for perfection. We knew if we were going to invest in a radio campaign for "Take It Back" then it HAD to hit on radio, so we worked to make that happen and it was awesome to see that goal achieved. We had no way of knowing if people would like it, but we're really glad they did!
Meaww: The lyrics of the EP closer ‘Wrong Way’ features the phrase ‘So It Goes’ prominently. Is that a reference to Kurt Vonnegut by any chance? What inspired the song?
Monowhales: Ah we wish it was a reference to Vonnegut because that would be super slick of us, but it actually comes from a different place. The song is about two people who have been in a relationship for many years, one of those ’high school sweethearts’ scenarios. But in this story, it’s not a happy ending, as they are both realizing that who they were when they were young is not the same as the people they have become, and they just aren’t a good fit. It’s not a song about a messy breakup or love story gone wrong but a content mutual understanding that it’s better the two of them go their separate ways. The lyric “So it goes” referenced twice in the verse is intended to put the listener in a storytelling mindset. The lyrical themes of two people changing over time, friendships or even relationships slowly fading and having to sometimes face these realities are things we can all relate to. An acceptance that sometimes that’s just the way it goes.
Meaww: You seem to have perfected a sound that dances on the edge of pop and rock with precarious balance. Tell us where this sound was born from.
Monowhales: Trial and error, mostly. We're all music nerds at heart and come from very different backgrounds in terms of our personal tastes. You can hear that in the older material that we put out before we changed our name. Over the past year, we've made an effort to try to consolidate all these different influences into a sound that we think is unique and representative of who we are as a unit, which is why it made sense to shorten our name to MONOWHALES and start fresh.
Meaww: Tell us about the music video for ‘Real Love’. What’s that pink stuff the band is trapped in?! What was it like to shoot the whole thing?
Monowhales: It's pink latex from a local sex shop! We had a strange collection of props and sets for that shoot that our production designer Mercedes Coyle and her team worked tirelessly to create. The shoot took one full day of set up and a 20 hour day of shooting, starting at 9 am finishing at 5 am the next day. It was a really tiring and intense process and there were other scenes we were hoping to include that ended being left out of the final cut due to time constraints on the day of the shoot. We're always trying to take things above and beyond but we absolutely love the product we ended up with. Working with Phil Kluba and Dan Slater is always a blast and those guys really know how to make us look good.
Meaww: You just wrapped up a small co-headlining trek with Secret Broadcast and FXRRVST. Any more dates coming soon?
Monowhales: We have a couple things coming up over the summer. We're headlining Rock The Coliseum in Mississauga on August 4th, and Markham Craft Beer and Wine Fest opening for Reuben and the Dark on August 18th. We're hoping to get out on the road again in the fall but no dates to announce just yet.
Meaww: When can we expect a full-length studio album and what’s next for Monowhales?
Monowhales: We're already working on new material, and debuted a new song on the tour you mentioned above. We're hoping to get back in the studio as soon as possible and start working on a new record, but you might get a new single from us before you see a full length. Time will tell!