Thursday, December 16, 2004

Interview with Red Monroe

ooored monroe

What are the Ronettes, Dylan, U2, Pink Floyd, and Radiohead? If you said the influences of experimental band Red Monroe, you’d have found the only likely answer. Honed at the Opolis in Norman, Oklahoma and just breaking onto the Deep Ellum scene, this is a band to be experienced. With their first release Meeting on a Train coming out in days and a show this week at the Double Wide, Red Monroe are starting 2005 hot.

DMG sat down in the dining room of bassist Neil Wadley and guitarist Andrew Snow’s Lakewood home/recording studio/rehearsal area for a humorous, tongue-in-cheek interview with one of the most articulate bands in the Metroplex. The members of Red Monroe don’t take themselves seriously, but do their music. New to Dallas, except for their exceptionally well-connected drummer, Jeff Gilroy, the band is finding their footing in the music scene here. Vocalist Eric Steele and keyboard player Matt Moffitt cite influences as diverse as the Ronettes, Dylan, U2, Pink Floyd, and Radiohead –most barely apparent in their first album, Meeting on a Train. Red Monroe has fused their listening library into experimental rock with the potential to revolutionize how we hear music. Studio-produced tracks are dumped for ambient recordings, freeform drumming is celebrated, and the experience of listening to music is what drives this band. Red Monroe melds rocket science and folk singing into one interesting group of musicians. And if you want to call them babies about their art, well, that’s OK, too.

Dallas Music Guide: Tell me a little bit about the band, who’s your songwriter?
Eric Steele: We’re all songwriters, I guess. As a band, there’s two ways we write. One, all of us will be in this room behind me; we’ll drink some wine, couple bottles, someone will start an idea and we’ll just play around with it, see where it goes, all of us writing. The other way is I’ll have something that I’m working on and I’ll bring it to the guys and then everyone will take it from there, add to it, and see where it goes. There’s not a main writer, it’s just all of us.
Neal Wadley: Most of it’s freeform, we start with an idea of some sort, Andrew’s got a guitar riff, and we start building layers on top of that.
Andrew Snow: Most of the songs on the album, Eric came in with an idea, a cord progression and lyrics and we used that as a skeletal structure. We’ll change little tiny things but probably eighty percent of the songs started with Eric. Two of them were old songs, one of them Matt wrote back four years ago.
Matt Moffitt: You can hear it on the album because it’s a jazz song, and it starts with the piano.
AS: “Our Love” was Eric and I drunk one night, two years ago. Those are the only two songs which were the oldies. (laughing)
DMG: When did you form as a band?
ES: That’s a long, weird response; (pointing at Neal) you’d probably be best to answer that.
NW: As the format of the band is right now, February of last year (2003). But some combination of these members has been going now since three years.
ES: Andrew and Neal have been playing together for a long time, they grew up together.
AS: And then we met Matt our freshman year at college, and we started playing.
ES: And I was just playing, doing my own thing, embarrassing myself by playing folk songs. And then stumbled upon this, via a response to a ‘singer wanted’ ad.
NW: We’d been playing for about a year and a half with another lead singer and he left to move out to L.A., and so we put out ads for a singer. We were kind of a cover band then.
ES: I was a Woody Guthrie-Bob Dylan cover folk artist.
MM: (laughing) We were a U2-Pink Floyd-Radiohead-Rush cover band.
AS: (imitating a stoner) No man, we were a trippy band.
MM: As soon as Eric got in, we started writing all original stuff, and we just quit the covers, almost completely. The band really took off from there.
NW: A couple of choice U2, maybe some Bruce Springsteen…
AS: We did what we had to do in Norman.
ES: I was doing some stuff with Oddibe back in the old days, prior to Red Monroe in the Dylan-Guthrie-folk-writing era and was opening up for them. That was actually the show where Jeff, our drummer, had his appendix removed. The night before our big Dallas debut show. We had just moved down from Norman.
NW: We had to take Jeff to the hospital because his appendix almost ruptured. My little brother is a drummer and he drove down the next morning. Andrew put the songs up on the website and he burned a copy of the CD and my brother learned the songs, in the car, on the drive down from Oklahoma. We rehearsed one time and it was a disaster!
ES: Yeah, we had one run through and it was a train wreck.
NW: We set up and played and closed our eyes. We actually turned our backs and looked at each other in a circle and played so we could communicate and it was amazing. It was a perfect show.
AS: Jeff is our red-headed Irish drummer. (laughing) He’s true to the stereotype! Don’t put that in…
ES: Jeff’s role in the band has been huge. When we came down from Norman, we lacked any real connection with anything musically in Dallas, we didn’t know where to play, we didn’t know who to get shows with, and when Jeff became our drummer, he was plugged in. He played with Ethic and they played a lot of shows with Course of Empire, back in the day. He’d been in a couple of other bands, really early in the Dallas scene.
NW: Ethic was the big one, though, an industrial band.
ES: So Jeff started helping us get shows at Clearview and at Curtain Club and that’s how we started to play, and Jeff also is a producer. Even before he was playing music, he was engineering it.
AS: He’s at Alamos Studios, which is his sound studio and he’s done that for years, too.
ES: And he’s a real fiery, passionate lad. (laughing)
AS: He’s the icing on the cake, I mean, can you imagine? We really tried to hold onto our ties to Oklahoma when we moved to Dallas, our drummer, Brian, was a great friend of ours, he had a family, he had ties to Oklahoma, he couldn’t make the move with us and we did our very very best to hold onto him because we knew that moving to a city where we didn’t know anybody, if we lost any band members, the band would die. Because Brian was married and he had another kid on the way, we had to let him go for his own good. I don’t think he wanted to, but we had to be like ‘Brian, it’s OK man, just step away from it.’ We put up an advertisement at Guitar Center and and that’s where Jeff found us. And he was the first one?
NW: He was one of about seven people that responded.
AS: We knew right off that he was the guy.
NW: Once he showed us some of the stuff he had done, we were pretty certain.
ES: We love his drumming style, it’s really freeform. We have a tendency to just go for this real beautiful big thing and what Jeff did with drums is that he just created this separate raw, shredding drumming style.
AS: He never plays the same drum line twice.
NW: But it works.
ES: It’s helped us writing-wise. It’s been a great backbone for us because it keeps us constantly changing and evolving what we are doing.
NW: Songs like “Meeting on a Train” especially, his drumming on that song is so unconventional.
ES: And if he was here, he’d be talking about it, too.
AS: It’s different every time, yet it always does exactly what it’s supposed to, always. It’s consistent, yet freeform. He loves it, too. It’s a funny thing, he’s always grooving along to it when he’s listening to the recording. But we knew Jeff was the one, too, because the first time we met him, he was playing for us some of the things he had worked on, and I asked him, just out of the blue, so what have you done to our stuff? It was the first time we had met him, and sure enough, he had downloaded some of the MP3s off the internet and he had messed with them. He had rearranged some of the songs, put in effects, mastered them on his own, and played them for us. The ideas he was doing, they were brilliant. And he was saying, ‘My wife and I can’t stop listening to this song, which is the piano song that Matt wrote…
MM: “Green Light.”
AS: We knew right then. The thing about the band that has worked so well, is that we’ve been absolute best friends and we’re oversensitive, overanalytical, babies. We’re a bunch of babies.
NW: We fight all the time.
AS: We fight all the time, but we fight in a way that’s like …
NW: brothers.
AS: We fight, but we don’t want to upset. I would venture to say that Matt would be the most sensitive person in the band… Matt or Eric.
ES: I don’t know about that.
AS: You’re the most worrisome. We’re always afraid of hurting Matt’s feelings.
ES: I’m neurotic, I’m not worrisome. (everyone laughing)
AS: I’m serious! ‘What’s Matt gonna think? I don’t know!’ See? We’re just a bunch a babies!
MM: I think my skin’s a little thicker than that.
ES: I think the drinking has something to do with it, too.
AS: But anyway, I don’t know what my point was with that….
ES: For some reason, as far as drummers are concerned, they’re always married and have children. It’s our grounding.
MM: We’re pretty fortunate; Jeff has an awesome wife, too. He’s over here all the time.
AS: We have to send Jeff home to his wife, like, ‘Go! Spend time with your family!’ But she’s totally cool about it. She hears the stuff and she’s like, ‘Go Jeff, go do what you gotta do.’ God, we all want to have a girlfriend like that.
DMG: Matt, you live in Houston, right? You spend a lot of time in your car.
MM: (laughing) It’s a four hour trip each way. One of these days I’m gonna do a gas calculation in money, see if I get anything back. But I love driving anyways, so it’s not the big a deal. Every time I come up here I have such a great time. Eventually I’m gonna move up here. I’m trying to find a job; I have a good job there.
AS: Matt has his dream job there. That’s the thing.
ES: He works on the rocket ships. He really does.
AS: The space shuttle!
MM: (shrugging) I got an engineering degree and I always wanted to work in the space industry and you’re kind of limited with that. You either go to California, Florida, or basically, Houston. I was taking great steps toward a good career there, and then the band came along, and screwed up everything… (laughing) It’s a battle of my two passions. I’m young enough to know the music needs to happen now, and engineering can wait. My priorities with the band.
DMG: You’re hanging out, not being a rocket scientist to do this?
AS: Matt’s the brains.
ES: Whereas with the rest of us, if the band doesn’t work out, we’re fucked. (everyone laughing)
DMG: When is your CD release coming up?
AS: We’re shooting for January 18th. We’re going to do Ft. Worth, Dallas, Denton, Austin, Houston and do CD releases in all those places.
ES: We’ve basically just stayed in Dallas and played shows in Norman, but we haven’t really branched out to Ft. Worth, to Denton, to Austin, and that’s something with the CD, we think we’ll be able to start doing. We’re definitely excited about doing that.
AS: We’ve got it ready to go.
ES: We’re playing the Double Wide on January 7th. We’ve wanted to play the Double Wide for a while. That place looks so cool and a band we love, at least that I love, the Strange Boys are like the resident band at the Double Wide. They played there every Friday in August and September; love, love that place. Playing there, drinking some Lone Star beer.
DMG: What are your favorite songs of all time?
NW: ‘Where the Streets Have No Name,’ that’s my favorite song, unabashed.
DMG: OK, so we’ve got U2 covered, who’s got The Cure?
AS: Crap! We can only do U2 once? (to Neal) Why’d you have to say that one?
NW: And I’m gonna put a stipulation on that: it’s live. Live. ‘Cause it’s awesome live.
ES: For me it’s just Dylan or anything by the Ronettes. “Be My Baby” or any Dylan anything.
MM: I like a lot of British bands, like Elbow, and Doves. Of course Radiohead is one of our biggest influences. Any song they produce is pretty much beautiful, take anything out of those.
AS: Now that Neal has taken U2, I would have to say the song I could listen to over and over again is “The Great Gig in the Sky,” Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. I could listen to
that for days.
NW: Jeff would probably say some industrial band you’ve never heard of, or Pink Floyd, Aphex Twin, maybe Celine Dion.
AS: Sidenote: if I could say any U2 song, I’d say… ‘Zooropa!’ That’s my favorite song! But I can’t say U2, Neal took it.
ES: There’s a big split in the band as to who appreciates the post-Achtung Baby era and who doesn’t. There’s a chasm.
AS: (to Matt) Are you on board? You liked Pop better than I did, didn’t you?
MM: Yeah, but anything else, I’m not really sold on.
AS: You guys are assholes. I’m the only true-blue fan here.
DMG: What are some other local bands that you like?
ES: Really like the Strange Boys and Timeline Post.
MM: Timeline Post.
NS: Pilotdrift is a good band.
ES: We just played a show with Coma Rally. Those guys are really good guys and we like their sound, too. The Ills.
AS: I wish they were a local band. They’re a band from Norman called The Ills and they are our favorite band.
ES: Those guys are just brilliant; they play progressive rock, jazz.
AS: There’s nothing in Dallas like them. What’s cool about the Norman scene is the Opolis. ES: It’s the best place in Oklahoma to play, one of the best places in the region. People experience music in Oklahoma, and at the Opolis, there was no booze, just coffee, just cash, just Coors Light, and it was just about the music. There’s no venue here to just hear music, to hear what’s created that’s new and off the beaten path.
AS: There’s an artistic crowd in Oklahoma.
NW: Which is unexpected in Oklahoma.
AS: The Opolis is about music, and they promote a band because they believe in them. Deep Ellum is obsessed with bringing back Deep Ellum. The bars are worried about keeping themselves afloat. But I do love to play at clubs. Chad at Clearview makes us sound like a rock band. He’s our favorite sound guy.
ES: Gene Coleman’s a genius at Liquid Lounge.
DMG: You have two versions of the song “Althea,” tell me about that.
ES: We threw the studio version away and in its place, one night, we were on the porch, trying to catch the moment of songs, trying to capture when you’re in the moment, when you got it, when you get it, you know. Jeff set up the ambient mic near the porch and one-taked ‘Althea.’ It was one of those really good takes, and I just played through it, sang it, and we took that and compressed it enough where it sounded really good, the guys went around and came up with this beautiful, ambient, really unique background.
AS: We played the title track of the album backwards, in another room, and let it seep in. Noises in the kitchen.
ES: So that’s track 4 (“Althea”), which is my second favorite song on the album, after track 11 (“I See San Bernardino”) and those are the two that we did at our house.
AS: Eric wrote “Althea” at a time when we thought the band was going to fall apart, and he came in and brought that song and we were wasted and started writing parts to it. And it sounded great at the time and we loved it because we were sentimental…
MM: and drunk…
AS: … and putting all that stuff in the studio totally cheated the song. That song should be played as if Eric was at an arena with just him and the acoustic guitar and it sounded so big, that if we made it any bigger with other instruments it would diminish the whole song. It was kind of fun to just tear it down.
ES: One of the things all of us finally learned is that a song is a song. If a song can stand on its feet with an acoustic guitar and vocals, then that’s a song. Parts of songs are not it, all the other shit, the effects, layers and layers. Just the simple stuff.
AS: When we rehearse, we just make sure the instruments sound as they’re supposed to sound, how we want them. We have rhythm mistakes, we have a lot of personality, a lot of character. The whole album was recorded in four days. We just captured and simplified the songs. We could have slaved months more over the mixing and the tonal placements, but ultimately we just had to let it go and say the art is there. If people like the song, then they’ll like the song. We like the song, and that’s really all that matters at the end of the day.
ES: The happiest, most pleasing thing is that everyone is really pissed off that we didn’t put the other version (of “Althea”) on the album.
AS: Maybe in a year, though, when we could have had money for that song, we’ll be like, ‘Damn it! Why did we do that?’
ES: Yeah, maybe it’ll be on the box set. But anyone who listens to track 11 (“I See San Bernardino”) and that’s their favorite song, that person will be a Red Monroe fan forever. (laughing) Those are going to be our true fans.
MM: That song is a true moment. If someone gets it, they get it, but otherwise….
AS: It’s their loss.

This month, you can experience Red Monroe at the Double Wide and pick up their first release, Meeting on a Train.

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