Friday, January 30, 2015

Interview: Monterey Talk NB, AP. Playing The Court Tavern TONIGHT, January 30th, with Semiotics, Deal Casino, Dollys, and ROMP.

Monterey at Asbury Lanes for Deal Casino's EP release at the end of last year.

There's No Place Like Home, Wherever It Is

Monterey got their start in New Brunswick and have since relocated to their new home on the Jersey Shore. Since the release of their latest EP, Sailors, the band have seemingly played non-stop from the seaside and boardwalk venues of Asbury Park to the basements of their old stomping grounds in New Brunswick. They've also been taking things further afield on a tour whose first leg brought them to Ohio and West Virginia and whose second half will take them as far south as Savannah, Georgia.

I ran a few questions by guitarist Matt DeBenedetti and guitarist / frontman Carter Henry as the band prepared for a show this Friday night at New Brunswick's Court Tavern with their friends in Semiotics, Deal Casino, Dollys, and ROMP. The guys talk a little bit about the connection they feel to both Asbury Park and New Brunswick, their experience at Asbury's Lakehouse Recording Studio, touring, and more.

You can check out Monterey's sounds over at their Bandcamp page, and you can see them live at that Court Tavern show on Friday, January 30th.

Monterey started in New Brunswick, but I think you’re starting to develop a close association with Asbury Park. I’d even go so far as to say that -- along with bands like Dollys and ROMP -- Monterey are playing a big part in bridging the gap between Asbury and New Brunswick. Do you feel that way? Are you making a conscious effort in that direction or are you just kind of riding the wave?

Matt: It’s awesome to be a part of two scenes that are thriving so much right now, and awesome to have friends that are doing the same. And, yes, I guess you could say that we are making a conscious effort to be a part of both of them. We started out in New Brunswick just because that’s the way things worked out. Two of the guys in the band went to Rutgers, and when we started we were so young that we honestly didn’t even realize that there was such an amazing scene in New Brunswick. By the time we were taking advantage of what was there and playing house shows in New Brunswick regularly, those guys graduated, and we all moved down to the shore area, which was also extremely welcoming to us. So now it’s really cool that we’re able to call two different places “home”.

Carter: I've actually been noticing that myself. Before this year, I never really thought the two cities were tied together. They were always separate scenes in my mind. I think recently musicians have realized that these two cities are the best places to play in all of New Jersey. I think we are making a conscious effort to do so. Last year we left New Brunswick and there was only one place to go in my mind and that was Asbury Park. New Brunswick is a great scene, don't get me wrong; but we wanted to live somewhere new and experience a new environment. It's great that the two are close enough that we can play both regularly.

You recorded your latest EP, Sailors, at Asbury Park’s Lakehouse Recording Studio with Tim Pannella. I’ve heard you refer to Sailors as “more mature” than your previous work like The King’s Head. How did working with Lakehouse and Tim help you realize that maturation in your sound?

Matt: The whole experience of working with Tim and just working at Lakehouse in general was amazing for us. Between the time that we released TKH and Sailors we had a lot of stuff happen to us, as a band, that just made us realize a lot about who we were, who we wanted to be, and what direction we were headed in with our music. When we committed to recording at Lakehouse, we knew that it was a top of the line, no BS studio; and that was kind of like saying, “Alright guys. This is the next step for us. We know we have to do this. We know if we work hard the music will come out great,” and Tim really did an awesome job of keeping it simple and making the recordings sound exactly the way we wanted them to.

Carter: I think it's a more mature sound because we've matured as people and our music hopefully reflects that. I think it's also more mature because Tim understood our vibe quickly and didn't try and change it. Past producers have wanted us to be a much different sounding band than we are when we play live. At Lakehouse, we were able to capture our live sound and give listeners music that is exactly the way it sounded when we wrote the songs in our basement. It was all very easy and natural at Lakehouse. It was a pleasure working there, and we are planning to do it again soon...

I’ve always kind of associated New Brunswick more with punk; but, lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of bands coming out of that scene whose sound is, like yours, a little more melodic, even pop-oriented. The punk influence is still there in something like the group vocal that closes out your song “Sailors.” There’s still a punk attitude with a strong commitment to things like DIY shows, but the music has evolved. Is that something you see as well? How does growing up as a band in that environment -- whatever your sound -- prepare you for life as a band outside of it?

Matt: That’s really true. New Brunswick has always had really strong punk roots. A lot of huge name punk bands have been fostered in the area from The Bouncing Souls to Gaslight to The Scandals. So punk is definitely a living tradition in New Brunswick and probably always will be. But what’s changed is that now there are so many different basements and venues that are so much more inviting to music other than just punk, that it’s attracting a more diverse audience. Last night, on a Sunday night, I went to an acoustic show at one of our favorite New Brunswick basements, the Banana Stand, to see our friends in Cold Weather Company, Cachabacha, and Semiotics. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that stuff like that was really a thing 5 or 10 years ago in New Brunswick. So, in that respect, things are changing; but one thing that will definitely remain is the DIY punk mentality.

This question is for Matt.  You have a side project with Lucas Dalakian of ROMP called Toy Cars. Monterey played the Deal Casino record release a few months back, and I noticed that you were up front on guitar instead of behind the drums. Has that been going on for a while? Has Toy Cars helped you hone your skill on guitar?

Matt: Yeah! I do. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve always played the guitar, but the way Monterey developed we just needed a drummer, so that’s where I ended up; and I loved it. But I always like to think that things happen for a reason, and around last summer my friend gave me this old crappy acoustic guitar and I started writing songs on it, and at the time I didn’t really have any outlet for these songs I was writing because we had two great songwriters that played guitar; so I started working with Lucas because he’s a great musician and one of my best friends. And that’s how Toy Cars came about. Then, recently, we lost one of our members in Monterey. Around the time that happened, I was helping out with a lot of the guitar writing anyway, so we kind of all agreed that it might be a good thing for the band if I just played guitar since I already had some sort of chemistry with the other guys. And it’s definitely been a positive so far, and we have a new drummer now named Chris Giannino who has really stepped up and is doing a great job of helping us to keep moving forward.

You’re all just back from a short tour that took you to Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. How has it been playing outside of New Jersey? Any good tour stories?

Matt: Playing on the road has been awesome. We’ve definitely been wanting to hit the road for a while, and recently we kind of just said, “Well, what’s stopping us?”, and just started booking stuff out of state, and now we’re going to be playing in Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York all in a span of like 30 days or something. So it’s really cool to look down at a sheet of paper with all the dates written and see that it’s a real thing.

Carter: Tour is always an eye-opening experience. This time we went back to a few familiar places that we had played during the summer but also went to West Virginia as well.

One moment that really sticks out in my mind from this last tour was in Ohio. Right before we go on Chris and Matt come up to me and ask if I am good to play "I'm On Fire" by Bruce, a song we haven't rehearsed or played in the past six months or more. I thought I knew it well enough to do it and we asked the acoustic performer that opened for us called My Brother The Bear, to play harmonica on stage with us. When it came time to play I told him the key and we jumped into it. To my amazement the audience loved it and almost everyone in the crowd -- from young kids to biker dudes -- was singing along. It was one of those moments where you just felt everyone on the same wavelength, and it felt like time was standing still. Made me realize that sometimes you need to adjust the set or add in a song if it feels right. Have to credit Chris and Matt for that idea, and it worked out really well.

I know you’re just a couple of months removed from the release of Sailors, but is there any new music on the horizon? Maybe an LP?

Matt: Yes, there’s some stuff on the way. We’ve been working really hard to keep writing new songs and incorporating them into our sets, so if you’ve seen us in the last month or so, you’ve heard a few songs that aren’t released. We try to do that to get a feel for what could be better or worse in the songs, and use the audience as our sort of “test." We don’t exactly have a date set to release anything, or even record anything for that matter; but we are working hard behind the scenes to make new music, and I know that we’re all really stoked about what’s being written and we think it’ll be another big step for us when the next release happens, which probably isn’t too far away.

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