The fellas in Monster Truck just wanted to have a little fun.
It was all just supposed to be a side-project: Musicians with excess energy moonlighting together in Hamilton, Ontario while their full-time bands (The Reason and St. Alvia) were on hiatus.
But that magical chemistry was there, an undeniable mojo—the same rare rock ‘n’ roll ESP that inspired now-classic debut LPs by Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Thin Lizzy. So the guys stuck it out, dropping the eponymous Monster Truck EP in 2010 and follow up The Brown EP a year later, turning people on to its muscular brand of badass, organ-juiced bonhomie one audience at a time. And where songs like “Space Nebula” and “Lethal Weapon Cop Car” showcased the band’s snarky humor and ability to indulge protracted psychedelic jams on a whim, singles like “Righteous Smoke” and “Seven Seas Blues”—both surprise hits on Canadian radio—paid homage to American roots rock, early British metal, and fellow maple-leafed longhairs like Rush.
Monster Truck bulldozed across the Great White North with The Sheepdogs in 2011, then joined ex-Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Slash on a North American jaunt. Word of mouth spread quickly, and what began as a joke—a repository for discarded decibels and idle time—soon become a musical force to be reckoned with. And now the guys have a bona fide full-length under their belts.
Produced by Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Three Days Grace), 2013’s Furiosity is the disc Monster Truck fans were waiting for—an uppity, twelve-track blues rock tour de force whereon the Canadian quartet sprinkles a few extra pinches of its signature soul.
Making the album wasn’t easy—even for these indefatigable diehards. While some of the new jams gelled as naturally as those heard on the EP’s, translating them to record was a painstaking affair that culminated with an unplanned studio shuffle: Dissatisfied with initial tracks laid down in Los Angeles, California, Monster Truck relocated to Asheville, North Carolina (in between tours), enlisted Ratz once more, and started back at square one.
The false start proved a blessing in disguise. Initially the source of consternation, the botched L.A. session forced Jon Harvey (vocals, bass), Jeremy Widerman (guitar), Brandon Bliss (keys, organ), and Steve Kiely (drums) to rethink their approach. The final product reveals a reinvigorated foursome firing on all cylinders.
Monster Truck will be pounding serious American pavement over the next four months, pushing Furiosity with a run of support dates for Alter Bridge. They’ll revisit home turf in late June for the Scene Music Festival in Ontario, and in August will wind down the season with a slot at Heavy Montreal Festival (with Metallica, Slayer, Lamb of God, and Anthrax).
They’ll be opening for alternative rock superstars Alice in Chains all summer long. The two bands play Jacob’s Pavilion in Cleveland on Monday, May 19th, in what promises to be a loud, shaggy-haired guitar blowout on the banks of the Cuyahoga.
We caught up with Widerman by telephone over the Easter holiday to talk tour life and discuss the blood, sweat, and tears he and his mates poured into Furiosity. The rising guitar god spoke proudly of their resulting full-length debut. Widerman also sounded genuinely enthused to be bringing the music to larger audiences all across his country, our country—and around the world.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Hey, Jeremy! So you’re already on the road with the Truck. It’s coming up on five years now, no?
JEREMY WIDERMAN: The five year anniversary was two days ago, actually. Yeah!
EXAMINER: The story goes, each of you was involved in some other band before you came together to form Monster Truck in 2009 or so, just as a side project. When did you realize it was going to be a more permanent thing?
WIDERMAN: It’s funny, you know. One thing each of us realized was that each member of Monster Truck was kind of undervalued in whatever band they were in before. We were all kind of doing lesser roles in the band were in. And we kind of came together because those bands were all in down-time—for various reasons—and we wanted to start something that was kind of just a party band, for fun. It was just going to be kind of on the side for a while, to kill the time until those other bands got back in business. But in doing that, in just focusing on it being fun for ourselves, we really kind of hit a chord with people. The next thing you know, we’re getting show offers and label offers and management offers. And we kind of had to make that choice whether to make it a full-time thing and leave all our other bands, which we ended up doing about a year later.
EXAMINER: I wouldn’t expect that anybody feels “undervalued” in Monster Truck. I’ll bet those other bands feel sorry now. Or maybe they’re cool with it and wish you all the best. I don’t know.
WIDERMAN: Things were happening so well and so obviously for this group, and when something like that happens—everyone in the band felt like they’d never been in a group that felt “so right” before—there’s always people that have to pay a price. Whether it’s losing members or taking a back seat. And that’s what happened with this group. We’re so all-encompassing once things got underway. Something has to equalize on the other end!
EXAMINER: Can you tell us a little about the recording process for Furiosity? I know you shacked up at Echo Mountain in Asheville for a while. My wife’s out visiting her sister near there as we speak.
WIDERMAN: The actual thing was that we’d been there before; I’d been there with the other band I was in, previous to this one. And we really liked the vibe of this studio they had down there, called Echo Mountain. It’s nestled away in the hills of Asheville, and they’ve got all the best gear, and had everything that you could want for recording drums—they’ve got this big room they renovated from a church. So we went there to cut the drums, and then came home to Toronto to finish the rest of the record. The interesting thing to note about the entire process what that we actually went and did the whole thing a time before in Los Angeles at this place that used to be Sound City—the studio that’s gotten so much notoriety lately because of the DVD and everything. But things really didn’t work out there. We learned everything we didn’t want to do with the record, and we had to come full circle and realize it wasn’t what we wanted. So we had to convince everyone on board that we were going to record it again, which was a massive financial loss. Not just in the money we spent, but in the time we spent going there. We had to come to terms with the fact that we didn’t what we wanted and that we were going to do it again. And after we made that mistake, we realized we just had to go back to what we knew and what made us comfortable with Eric, and do it again. But because of all that time before in working the songs the first time at King’s and trying to get it right, it did make it easier.
Watch the official video for Monster Truck’s “Seven Seas Blues” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZFQXAgJhz0Q
EXAMINER: So the first go-around didn’t completely gel? What did you change in the process that made it all come together so well in the end?
WIDERMAN: There were a lot of things that went wrong with that first recording. There were songs that needed to be reworked a little bit, and we did have a couple things we needed to address from the song standpoint. But the majority of the problem was in the way we recorded it, and the method in which we were rushed, and not given time to fully work through each song and make sure everything was where we needed it to be. As soon as we went in to do it again, that was something we rectified immediately, by spending a good month doing pre-production and listening and re-recording and demoing, and just going over every song to make sure everything was where it needed to be. So when we went into the studio—where everything costs $80 an hour or whatever—you know exactly what you’re supposed to be playing, and you’re not wasting time standing around making mistakes or fixating or figuring out if this part is right or not. You do that stuff in the scummy jam space that doesn’t cost you anything; you don’t do that in the costly recording studio!
EXAMINER: I noticed some political lyrics on Furiosity. Not overtly political, but some galvanizing lyrics—as on “Power to the People”—that speak to what’s going on in America these days.
WIDERMAN: Yeah, man. I mean, the unfortunate part is that we’re not involved enough politically to make very specific statements, you know? And I think a lot of people feel like that, too—where they know that things aren’t really right, and that things need to change. And the other side of the coin is that we’re really just not that educated enough to make any grand accusations, or to be specific about what we’d want to see happen. That’s to our own fault, you know? We encompass ourselves with this band so much that we don’t get much of a chance to get at the issues [laughs]! But it’s more of a general statement in that we should be paying attention, and that change is coming, and that it is going to be up to us to go in the right direction when that happens. How and when that happens is the question, not so much if it is going to happen. Because it is going to happen. That’s the idea of the song, the optimism of it, and how we’ll find a lot of good to take from that.
EXAMINER: Sure. You got your Springsteens and U2s out there doing that, and that’s fine! But that doesn’t mean other bands can’t at least address the issues—or the emotions they stir up—in a broader sense.
WIDERMAN: Yeah [laughs]. It’s good and bad, because you feel a little guilty for not actually getting into whatever’s going on—the issues, and whatever is actually going on. But I think we’d feel a little phony if we did that, because we’re not really on that level yet to be making these specific this-or-that statements about anything [laughs]! We just focus all our energy on keeping the band going!
EXAMINER: There’s a funny kind of bell on the song “The Giant” that lends a cool Tolkien feel to the music.
WIDERMAN: That’s kind of funny, because that was one of the small things we actually kept from the L.A. recording! They had these big orchestra bells in the L.A. studios. That was one of the few things that worked out perfectly. It was played live, right off the floor, and sounded really authentic. There’s no synthesizer making those sounds. That’s me with a mallet, smacking those bells! If you buy the CD or the vinyl, there’s actually a picture of me playing them in the album artwork. We got hold of those tracks because that was something we wouldn’t be able to replicate back in Toronto! And it was nice—given the amount of time and money we spent in L.A.—to be able to salvage something from those sessions, these little tiny pieces of things. That was one of them!
You can download Monster Truck’s self-titled EP for FREE via their website: http://ilovemonstertruck.com/downloads/
EXAMINER: The album has high points throughout, but you guys really wrap it up powerfully with “My Love Is True.” It’s not your average love song. It borrows from some of the familiar guy-point-of-view thing, but Jon’s lyric helps preserve the narrator’s dignity and manhood. And there’s some terrific outro vocals going on there, the females, like a choir.
WIDERMAN: That was actually just one female, Amoy [Levy]. She did all the harmonies. Honestly, watching her come in—we gave her the lyric and gave her the melody—she just went crazy with it. We let her go, just let her off the hook with it. She did all that in about forty-five minutes. She would lay down the lead, and just went. We’re like, “Why don’t you add another harmony?” So she’d do the high harmony. And boom, she’d do another take for the low harmony. It was just so impressive to watch her do that. Because she’s a studio musician; that’s what she does. We’re just these rock and rollers who take as long as we need to do things! Man, she was just unbelievable. I have a video of it somewhere on my computer. I’ve been meaning to pull it up because people have been asking about it. She was the one extra person we brought into the studio because we wanted something special for that song, and it was really magical watching her take something that was only in our heads and putting it down on tape. She was like, “Oh yeah, I see what you want to do here.” And it was boom! She did it.
EXAMINER: Well, she did a killer job on an already killer tune.
WIDERMAN: The other thing to note about that song was that it was one of the songs we didn’t have for L.A. It came out of the process of doing the record again. And it was one of those songs that just added another dimension to the album. There’s always a bunch of rock and roll songs that are kind of in the same vein, you know? And then when you add one or two extra songs to a record that show a different side of a band, it really does help make the other songs “better,” too. So we were happy to put that one on it and have the time for it.
EXAMINER: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about “For the Sun.” It’s another highlight on Furiosity, and word has it you put in a lot of extra hours getting your guitar parts just right. I understand it got a little tense for you in the studio.
WIDERMAN: First of all, when Jon brought that song to the band, I sensed an amount of pressure immediately, knowing that it was the kind of song that needed a guitar performance, and it was really above what I was capable of at the time! He’s showing me this song, and I’m thinking, “This is an unbelievable song.” He was shooting for the moon with it, so we all had to up our game and levels of intricacy. We couldn’t rush it too quick or end it too soon. Or make it go too long—because one of the worst things you could do is let a song like that drone on too long, or make it feel like it should have ended a minute ago! So we spent two years going through it to make sure it built up properly, and had these ups and downs. We played it live for like, a year; there’s recording of us playing it like, three years ago. And you can tell we were still kind of working things out, but as time progresses, you just learn to get through it. And by the time we went into the studio it felt like it was there—but there were still parts missing for me, for guitar, that were past what my skills were capable of. That’s what happened. So I spent multiple days working on these various intricate parts, making sure everything felt right, so that I wasn’t stepping on the vocal or wasn’t getting too complicated or doing too little. It’s something I look back on fondly now, but it was tortuous for me at the time, matching the caliber of the song John had written. It eventually got there, and it’s a testament to everyone else that they allowed me to spend like, thirty hours to get two minutes worth of tape. It got to a point where I was happy listening back to it. It’s something I’m proud of—we’re all proud of. And it’s one of our favorites to play live, knowing how much work went into creating it!
EXAMINER: Sometimes it’s nice when you know a song is great from the start, but because you know how good it is, you’re then presented with the challenge of rising to the occasion.
WIDERMAN: Yeah. Again, that’s kind of the way it was presented to use when it was written. So it was throwing down the gauntlet again for the rest of us. Like, “We’re going to do this song, so everyone’s got to up their game.” And once we did that, it was really something special.
EXAMINER: Mind telling us a little about your equipment? I know a lot of gear-heads out there might appreciate knowing how you get that terrific tone.
WIDERMAN: That SG I was playing, that was the one I ended up using on most of the record. That 1972 SG Deluxe. And after I did that, I didn’t want to bring it on tour anymore because I realized how important it was to the sound. Because I’d had some bad luck with it; an airline snapped the neck in half right before that son, and I had to go get it repaired! It’s been through the trenches and back, so I leave it at home now and just use some newer SGs I got since the recording. As for amps, I was using these Soldanos and a Marshall JMP—mostly for the album recording. At any time I could’ve been using those live, but just recently I got an endorsement with a company called Morris. And I just received that yesterday, and just used it for the first time last night. It’s something I’m still getting used to. It’s a big change going from the stuff I’d been using to this hand-wired custom amp, but it’s something I’m excited about. I’m going to work on it again tonight!
EXAMINER: I heard a bit of wah-wah on the album, too.
WIDERMAN: Yeah, I use the wah to open and close the treble on some notes. But I think the real magic ingredient that ties everything together is the organ. Because you’ve got all these meat-and-potatoes elements with the guitar, bass, and drums—which we’ve all seen a hundred times before in a hundred different rock bands. But the special sauce, the thing that makes everyone turns their heads and realize there’ s something different, is that organ. When you’re playing single-note riffs on guitar, you’ve leaving a lot of room in that range, that range where it might be filled by you playing power chords or open chords. Now that’s gone because of the organ, and I’m playing in unison with the bass, and Randy fills things up with those overtones on organ. He adds that layer that people notice they hadn’t noticed before, that thing people kind of associate with Deep Purple and bands like that. It’s something that hadn’t been done in a while. Maybe somebody like Clutch will use it sometimes. But it stood out for us, because we’ve got it going all the time!
EXAMINER: We saw you with Clutch the last time around, at House of Blues. I think Lionize were on the bill, too. Great show. By the time you hit Cleveland in May, you’ll be with Alice in Chains. That’s a great match-up, too.
WIDERMAN: The tour we’re on now—we just started with Alter Bridge in Dallas—we just flew in from Amsterdam, and we’ve been a little jetlagged and screwy in the head with the time difference. But the show went well last night, and we’re playing House of Blues tonight, and we’ve got another six weeks before we head back home. So we’re in for the long haul now!
Alice in Chains / Monster Truck, Monday, May 19, 2014 7:30pm at Jacob’s Pavilion. Some tickets remain (see link below):