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Exclusive interview with Monks of Mellonwah

Monks of Mellonwah-slide0
Billy Pasco

On a rare, perfect Seattle summer day in July, Sydney-based Australian band Monks of Mellonwah found themselves back in the city for only the second time ever. After performing at the Crocodile back in June, they returned this time to open for Saving Abel at El Corazon as part of an extension of their summer U.S. tour. On a sunny day in a city that reminds them of Melbourne, two members of the band were gracious enough to sit down for an exclusive two-on-one interview.

Vikram Kaushik, lead singer and guitarist, and John de la Hoyde, bass guitarist, are two members of the alternative rock quartet. Along with Joe de la Hoyde on lead guitar and Joshua Baissari on drums, the band originally released their album “Turn The People” as three separate EPs throughout 2013, but compiled them for their first full-length album in March 2014. They have been touring the U.S. opening for Scott Stapp before they take three weeks off to work on new music, finish up the tour and head back to Australia.

Vik and John sat down to talk about how the band came together, working with legendary producer Keith Olsen, and their plans for the future.

Michelle: How did the band come to fruition?
Vikram: We all went to high school together. We all knew each other and there was a benefit concert for one of our teachers who passed away, so we just put this band together. There was this kind of magnetic thing and we just kind of clumped together and we started straight out of school. Joe and John are brothers so we would rehearse at their house.

M: Did you start touring around your hometown?
V: Yeah we just started playing pretty casually. We got our first gig and were so excited, we couldn’t believe it. The one thing is that we were never a cover band. We might have played one or two covers in a 50-minute set. We would always be writing our own stuff. We would be writing two days before and it would have no words and we’d just go and play it.

M: Were you all writing even before you came together as a band?
V: I think it really came when we did the band.
John: I even sort of messed around a bit on guitar … I can say for myself that I think the first time I really felt like I’d written a song was as the four of us.
V: That’s the thing about being in a band — you can sit and write in your bedroom all you want on your own, but until you have people to play it with it’s not like it can go all the way. It’s like having the blueprint but no building blocks to kind of put it together with.

M: What do you think about shows like “The Voice” and “X Factor”?
J: It’s funny you ask that. There is a lot of press going on about that.
V: I don’t think we’re as antagonistic about those things as a lot of people…just kind of indifferent. It’s different to what we’re doing.
J: If you want to sign up for that stuff, be my guest, it’s just not something for us.

M: I think they’re looking more for pop stars.
V: Yeah. We like doing this because even though we’re not playing to ten million people on a TV broadcast, you play 20 shows and you start, like… It’s like forging your sword in the fire. This is how we build up who we are. This is how we get good at what we’re doing. This is how we become the band we want to be when we’re ready to be presented to that many people.
J: We played one show on the first leg of our tour in Reno and it was probably the biggest flop of the tour in terms of the crowd…there was just no one there. The response wasn’t what we had received in Portland and Seattle for example. There were only five or six people in the crowd, but out of those six people, we won someone. Someone came up to us afterwards and bought our cd, so it was worth it to get that one person.

M: Tell me about the recording process for your albums. You’ve got some EPs that you’ve released, and then this is your first full-length album.
V: The first EP, we really were green hornets at that point. We’d never done anything like that before.
J: We went into the studio with eight unfinished songs. We were writing verse parts in the car on the way into the studio. It was a very unproductive way of recording, but on the other side of it, it allowed us to explore in the studio. We had a producer where we didn’t necessarily agree upon everything he suggested, but he pushed us, which is good.
V: It was really like … we’d gone in with these six-minute, really floaty, noodley things. It kind of showed us that you take the important bits of it and you arrange them in a way that it’s three and a half minutes, four minutes, and you present them in a way that people will want to hear again. It showed us what a producer’s role is. With the album we recorded half of it with Keith Olsen.

M: How did that collaboration come to be? You guys and Keith?
J: We met him the first time we had come to the States. We actually went to his house and he had us there for the afternoon and then the next time we came over we recorded with him.

M: And which tracks did he produce?
V: “Downfall,” “Ghost Stories,” “Pulse,” “Vanity” and “Escape From Alcatraz.” For the other half we came back to Sydney and Joe, our guitar player … he’s been learning to record and doing film soundtracks. He’s great, and he did the rest of it. We had both ends of the spectrum.

M: What artists do you find yourselves listening to these days?
V: We’re nuts about a few of them.
J: We spend a lot of time just listening in the car. At the moment we’ve got Arctic Monkeys, the album “AM,” which is incredible.
V: It’s amazing.
J: We’ve got a lot of Strokes stuff on [the iPod] … We just actually bought the new Coldplay album, which is unreal. If Josh is ever in the front seat he puts on K-pop. He’s got a playlist that he puts on sometimes.
V: All of that music sounds like ‘90s R&B, like R. Kelly, “Ignition,” but with all the different [Korean] artists.

M: How has [touring with] Saving Abel been?
J: It’s been good. A different experience. We had our first show in Centerpoint, IA, in the middle of nowhere for 4th of July. We just expected to come to a venue … we drive up to a town, about 1,200 people, just surrounded by cornfields.
V: GPS was like, “You have arrived.” But we’re just out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cornfields …
J: Then we just see this big sign that says “BANDS” and we figured we must be in the right place.
V: But it was amazing. It was this private property and they run these events a couple times a year. So they had about six or seven bands on this big stage and they had a barbeque going, bonfire, drinks …

M: A classic 4th of July party here.
V: Yeah. The people there were so welcoming. It was really nice. That’s one of the things where we would never have had that [experience] if it weren’t for music. If we’d come to America on a holiday we would be sitting in L.A. somewhere.

M: Are you working on songs for your next album or just concentrating on the tour for right now? I would imagine it would be a little hard to write when you’re on the road.
J: Yeah it is. We’re itching to do it, so if we get a little time during sound check we’ll take advantage of the opportunity. We’ll jam out ideas and annoy the sound guy.
V: You have bits and pieces that you play in the back of the bus or in the hotel room but you never get to flesh it out with the band. So when we have sound checks … I remember one sound check we were just playing some new stuff and a guy came out of the bathroom and said, “Man, your sound check sounded awesome! I love your songs.” And it’s like, “I hope you like our actual songs!” But that’s why we have these three weeks off in L.A. after this tour. I think our plan is just to go in to [Swing House Studios] and record.
J: That’s the thing with the album … those songs have been recorded for a long time.

M: Well you guys had them in three different EPs [originally], so they’ve been recorded for quite a while.
J: Yeah we recorded the five songs with Keith Olsen in 2012.

M: Yeah it will be exciting for you to get into the studio for new stuff.
V: It’s kind of like rebirth. You can kind of reinvent yourself every time you have a new release.
J: We love the album but at the same time we feel like we’re a different band now. We have a different idea of the sounds that we want and the production we want to go for. We’re eager to explore those influences … to put together something that’s more of a representation of us now.

M: You want to show evolution.
V: All of the bands that we really like have done that. The Chili Peppers, Muse, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys …
J: They’ve all evolved. So we’d like to take the next step toward that.

The Monks took the stage later that night, performing a short but satisfying set that included their singles “Ghost Stories” and “Tear Your Hate Apart,” and finishing with one of their first singles, "Swamp Groove." The influence of the different bands that Vik and John had mentioned during their interview was apparent, and yet the sound was pure Monks. Impressive riffs were turned out by Joe on lead guitar; Vik and Josh showed off some great harmonies that will only get better with time; and John, though he may say he’s ready to move on to performing more evolved stuff, did a terrible job hiding the fact he truly loves playing their current songs.

Time will tell which country the Monks of Mellonwah will pop up in next, but be sure to check them out if they show up near you. Tour dates and new music updates can be found at their official website.