Friday, October 24, 2008

Interview: The Monolators

The Monolators make upbeat songs of longing... Sort of like a modern Buddy Holly act with both punk and pop influences. Their music is smart and infectious, and they themselves are one of the main reasons the Highland Park music scene is such a friendly, familiar atmosphere. (Their bbqs are great.)

We caught up with lead singer Eli Chartoff last night as the band gets ready to celebrate the release of their new album Don't Dance on Saturday night at Spaceland.

monolator (9:53:25 PM): Hey, Joe. This is Eli. Are you there?
RadioFreeSL (9:54:20 PM): Yes, I am. How are you doing tonight?
monolator (9:54:44 PM): I am just fine. We were just practicing with Jillinda, who's sitting in with us for the release show on Saturday night.
monolator (9:54:52 PM): How are you?
RadioFreeSL (9:55:02 PM): Excellent. Looking forward to the show.
monolator (9:55:07 PM): Me too!
RadioFreeSL (9:55:09 PM): Who is Jilinda sitting in for?
monolator (9:55:30 PM): Well, she's not replacing anyone, but we don't normally have a keyboard player
monolator (9:55:41 PM): So she's more of an addition to the regular lineup
RadioFreeSL (9:55:43 PM): Ahhh.
monolator (9:56:01 PM): We have a lot of keyboard parts on our new record so it's wonderful to have them live too.
monolator (9:56:19 PM): She also played with us at Detour and Pehrspace and quite a few shows now.
monolator (9:56:24 PM): She's a genius.
RadioFreeSL (9:56:33 PM): Cool. What other surprises do you guys have planned for the night?
monolator (9:57:36 PM): Ah ha ha, well, there are some surprises, but they'll have to remain under wraps for the moment--errrr--well, actually one thing I can talk about is that on our last song, We Fell Dead, we're doing what we call Bass Attack--as many people onstage with basses at the same time as possible.

monolator (9:57:49 PM): You yourself are welcome too if you like!
RadioFreeSL (9:58:15 PM): I don't think you want that. I'm like that guy on Lost that short circuits all machinery.
RadioFreeSL (9:58:27 PM): (Was that Lost? Some TV show...)
monolator (9:58:36 PM): Lord, I don't know...
monolator (9:58:56 PM): You know, for our kind of aesthetic, actual technical skill is not absolutely necessary.
RadioFreeSL (9:58:50 PM): Tell me about recording the album!
monolator (9:59:20 PM): Recording the album, well, it seems like it was a very very long time ago
RadioFreeSL (9:59:25 PM): (Sorry, I should've put that into question form.)
monolator (9:59:31 PM): No problem.
monolator (10:00:00 PM): It was back in the spring. We did it at Red Rockets Glare with Raymond Richards and Wendy Wang, just like we did the last couple of records.
monolator (10:00:20 PM): We sort of knocked it out in about a week and a half or so, manic speed.
RadioFreeSL (10:00:27 PM): Really?
monolator (10:00:43 PM): Yep, I would have loved to spend some more time on it, but budget got in the way.
RadioFreeSL (10:00:58 PM): You had some great results.
monolator (10:01:04 PM): Oh, thanks!
RadioFreeSL (10:01:24 PM): I'm guessing that you went into the studio with the songs pretty well formed already, then?
monolator (10:02:08 PM): Well, for the most part, yes. We're not one of those write-it-in-the-studio type of bands. We pretty much have the song worked out prior to recording.
monolator (10:03:00 PM): But -- because I'm a bit scatterbrained and distracted, I didn't actually start writing a good chunk of the songs until about a week or two before we went in to record them, so that was kind of silly on my part.
monolator (10:03:34 PM): But the ones that were written last-minute, those are some of my favorites on the record...
RadioFreeSL (10:03:51 PM): Why do you think it worked out that way?
monolator (10:05:04 PM): Well, just because I'm so busy all of the time, I have very little free time typically to devote to writing, and then when we have a deadline coming up I have an excuse not to do anything else but sit down and finish up a bunch of half-baked ideas.
monolator (10:05:43 PM): So I kind of need the deadline to clear the decks and concentrate.
monolator (10:06:18 PM): It's not ideal at all. I suppose if I didn't have to work a regular job I'd get a lot more done.
monolator (10:06:35 PM): Or, on the other hand, I might just spend all of my time asleep
RadioFreeSL (10:06:24 PM): What do you do?
monolator (10:07:44 PM): I work at Occidental College, which is a small private college in Eagle Rock. I work in the library, although I'm not technically a librarian (don't have a degree). I am what's called a Preservation Assistant, which means I get to repair books and things like that. It's actually a pretty fun job, but it's, you know, a day job.
RadioFreeSL (10:08:09 PM): That sounds pretty cool.
monolator (10:08:17 PM): It's kind of an artsy craftsy type job, which I'm grateful for.
monolator (10:08:26 PM): Not very remunerative, but it's satisfying.
RadioFreeSL (10:08:48 PM): I will not play Scrabble with you now, Eli.
monolator (10:08:53 PM): Plus I get to walk to work, which, after commuting for years to Venice every day, is AMAZING.
RadioFreeSL (10:09:03 PM): Oh, that's brilliant.
monolator (10:09:09 PM): I am very lucky.
RadioFreeSL (10:09:36 PM): So, let me ask about one song in particular on the album.
monolator (10:09:48 PM): Okay, sure.
RadioFreeSL (10:09:50 PM): Don't Dance. The title track. How did that come together?
monolator (10:10:55 PM): Ok, that one started off as a riff (the little instrumental hooky part) on my bass. I came up with it noodling around, and I thought it sounded Zepplin-y, which is always a plus, although we don't have much of the Led Zep sound.
monolator (10:11:04 PM): So I was kind of fooling myself there.
monolator (10:11:50 PM): Anyway, I had that part, and it needed a song to go with it...and Mary and I were complaining about how nobody ever dances in the clubs here.
monolator (10:12:38 PM): So I tried to write something that was kind of a gentle reprimand to Los Angeles.
monolator (10:13:20 PM): Basically complaining about people not dancing--the typical east side "we're too cool to dance" type of scene..
monolator (10:14:05 PM): It's vaguely addressed to a person, the idea was that it's addressed to a girl who's hanging out with a guy who's kind of gross, the bullethead guy
RadioFreeSL (10:14:03 PM): Does pogoing count?
monolator (10:14:13 PM): Pogoing is more than welcome.
monolator (10:14:18 PM): Nobody pogoes either.
monolator (10:14:25 PM): I'd even settle for the hokey pokey.
RadioFreeSL (10:14:26 PM): The bullethead line is pretty damn catchy.
monolator (10:14:52 PM): "Bullethead" is a catchy word.
monolator (10:15:16 PM): It's like "pudding." One of the great words.
RadioFreeSL (10:15:22 PM): So you guys recorded a dance remix of that song.
monolator (10:15:28 PM): Yeah!
monolator (10:15:43 PM): The idea was, originally, not to be a remix, but rather a reprise.
RadioFreeSL (10:15:58 PM): I played that when I was djing at Pehrspace one night and people danced!
monolator (10:16:05 PM): OMG.
RadioFreeSL (10:16:12 PM): It all comes around.
monolator (10:16:13 PM): Wait, I was there, wasn't I?
monolator (10:16:21 PM): Weren't they making out, too?
RadioFreeSL (10:16:31 PM): Yes. I think so. (Blush.)
RadioFreeSL (10:16:23 PM): How did the reprise come together?
monolator (10:16:52 PM): Okay, well, Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" album is a big favorite in our household.
monolator (10:17:08 PM): (I almost wrote "horsehold," which doesn't really mean anything.)
monolator (10:17:28 PM): And at the end of side 2 he's got a reprise of the title track, but done in a totally different style.
monolator (10:17:41 PM): And we thought "if it's good enough for Marvin," know.
RadioFreeSL (10:17:56 PM): "What would Marvin do?"
monolator (10:18:09 PM): Exactly, which is the answer to pretty much everything.
RadioFreeSL (10:18:11 PM): Didn't it get some radio airplay, too?
monolator (10:18:40 PM): Yeah, Kat from KROQ has played it a couple of times, which is kind of amazing!
monolator (10:18:58 PM): We were listening to KROQ and she played it right after System Of A Down.
monolator (10:19:12 PM): Isn't that what they're called?
monolator (10:20:07 PM): Anyway, I can't quite remember when the "reprise" idea changed into "disco dance mix" idea, but Mary and I are huge fans of 70's disco, and Wendy and Ashley kind of made note of this.
monolator (10:20:27 PM): They produced and remixed the track themselves, mostly at our house.
monolator (10:20:50 PM): They had us record some extra bits and pieces, and then they played like nine billion synth parts.
monolator (10:20:56 PM): I love it so very much, it makes me happy.
RadioFreeSL (10:21:21 PM): It's a guilty pleasure without the guilt commonly associated to guilty pleasures.
monolator (10:21:52 PM): It's kind of ridiculous and over the top, but at the same time we wanted it to be genuinely awesome.
RadioFreeSL (10:21:52 PM): That is to say that it's really fun.
monolator (10:21:59 PM): Yeah, exactly.
monolator (10:22:12 PM): I think if something is really fun, you don't need to be ashamed of it.
monolator (10:22:46 PM): We're not trying to be all dour and mopey.
monolator (10:23:22 PM): We want our stuff to be fun, even if (sometimes) the lyrics are about personal and serious things.
monolator (10:24:26 PM): On the other hand, if "fun" to you is, I dunno, being a big old jerk, then we don't endorse that.
RadioFreeSL (10:25:25 PM): I think it's alright not to have a completely all-inclusive idea of fun.
RadioFreeSL (10:25:44 PM): (I just wanted to write that sentence out...)
monolator (10:25:55 PM): It's very impressive!
RadioFreeSL (10:26:04 PM): I’ve watched Bottle Rocket a lot.
RadioFreeSL (10:26:16 PM): So, you guys tend to make some great videos. Any planned for this album?
monolator (10:26:54 PM): *deep sigh* We'd like to, but we're sort of stretched a bit thin on the resources and time side at the moment.
monolator (10:27:21 PM): It would kind of need to come down to someone approaching us, I don't think we'd be able to make one otherwise.
RadioFreeSL (10:27:51 PM): That guy who did Western States Motel's video for free would be great.
monolator (10:28:04 PM): All of our videos were done for free.
monolator (10:28:16 PM): The effort that went into them was pretty astonishing.
monolator (10:28:51 PM): The Strawberry Roan video had something like 60 extras, 20 costume changes. It was amazing.

RadioFreeSL (10:28:57 PM): You guys seem to have a lot of friends.
monolator (10:29:08 PM): Well the key is to have friends who know college students.
monolator (10:29:18 PM): College students will do anything for free. ANYTHING.
monolator (10:29:37 PM): They're quite the resource.
RadioFreeSL (10:29:50 PM): Aw, man. I was going to lead into the Highland Park music community and you went in the other direction.
monolator (10:29:58 PM): OH YEAH.
monolator (10:30:02 PM): Those friends!
RadioFreeSL (10:31:04 PM): What's going on in Highland Park?
monolator (10:31:12 PM): Right now?
RadioFreeSL (10:31:28 PM): Well, you know, there are all these great bands there.
RadioFreeSL (10:31:37 PM): Or in the immediate vicinity.
monolator (10:31:46 PM): Oh, I thought you were talking about taco trucks and stuff.
monolator (10:32:04 PM): Yeah! Well we always kind of thought of ourselves as part of the Mr. T's scene.
monolator (10:32:34 PM): And there are tons of great bands from there.
RadioFreeSL (10:32:38 PM): Yeah.
monolator (10:32:47 PM): Seasons and Manhattan Murder Mystery.
RadioFreeSL (10:32:50 PM): Bodies of Water.
monolator (10:32:55 PM): Bodies of Water.
monolator (10:33:00 PM): Ooops, you beat me to it.
RadioFreeSL (10:33:04 PM): Fol Chen
RadioFreeSL (10:33:07 PM): Amnion.
monolator (10:33:09 PM): 8-BIT!.
monolator (10:33:15 PM): (dearly departed 8-Bit).
RadioFreeSL (10:33:27 PM): (They departed?)
monolator (10:33:32 PM): Yeah, they broke up.
monolator (10:33:40 PM): It's a tragedy.
RadioFreeSL (10:33:58 PM): That's a disasterbacle.
monolator (10:34:03 PM): Our other band, Cobra Lilies, played at T's on Tuesday
monolator (10:34:09 PM): So we're still there.
monolator (10:34:20 PM): We played with this guy called Featherbeard.
monolator (10:34:30 PM): He performs beard made of feathers.
RadioFreeSL (10:34:40 PM): That sounds like something from The Mighty Boosh.
monolator (10:34:47 PM): Yes, precisely.
monolator (10:35:04 PM): He has this wonderful song about animals eating all of the movie stars.
monolator (10:35:10 PM): I have a musical crush on the guy.
RadioFreeSL (10:35:45 PM): Speaking of The Cobra Lilies...
monolator (10:36:02 PM): Aye.
RadioFreeSL (10:36:11 PM): When you write a song, how do you decide which band gets it?
monolator (10:36:43 PM): Well. Sometimes I'll write a song and ask Mary "is this a cobra lilies song or a monolators song?" But usually it's fairly obvious.
monolator (10:37:15 PM): In the sense that monolators songs are generally about things that happen to me in my daily life, and childhood experiences and my general inability with girls.
monolator (10:37:42 PM): And Cobra Lilies songs are about vampires and mermaids and stuff.
monolator (10:37:54 PM): So the themes are kind of easily distinguishable.
RadioFreeSL (10:38:09 PM): Ahh.
RadioFreeSL (10:38:24 PM): So, if there's a song about a unicorn... Cobra Lilies.
monolator (10:38:34 PM): Yes exactly.
monolator (10:39:45 PM): Also, I tend to write song titles before the actual songs themselves, and generally when you've got something written out like "Let," it sort of lends itself one direction more than another.
monolator (10:39:52 PM): "LET"???
monolator (10:40:04 PM): Sorry, I meant "Let's Go Into The Woods And Be In Love."
monolator (10:40:15 PM): You get the idea.
RadioFreeSL (10:40:34 PM): So, I don't want to keep you up too late.
RadioFreeSL (10:40:42 PM): Just one more question for you:
monolator (10:40:45 PM): Okay!
RadioFreeSL (10:41:14 PM): Who else is playing the release show at Spaceland with you on Saturday night and why are they particularly cool?
monolator (10:41:28 PM): Mmmm, that's a good question!
RadioFreeSL (10:41:42 PM): I'm cheating b/c it's a two-parter.
monolator (10:41:49 PM): I can handle it.
monolator (10:42:07 PM): One side of my brain will tackle the first part and the other side will do the second.
monolator (10:42:19 PM): Probably the part that's responsible for itching and drooling.
monolator (10:42:23 PM): ANYWAY...
monolator (10:43:39 PM): First up is Correatown, which is Angie Correa's band, and she is a wonderful songwriter whose work we adore. And, also--she sings on our record! And Raymond and Wendy play in her band, so it made a lot of sense to ask them.
monolator (10:44:19 PM): Next is You Me and Iowa, who we like because they're big poppy fun.
monolator (10:44:26 PM): And we aspire to be poppy and fun.
monolator (10:44:34 PM): Not "poopy" like I almost wrote.
monolator (10:44:44 PM): And then it's us.
monolator (10:45:49 PM): And finally we have Summer Darling, who are dear friends of ours that we've known for years and years. They've been around as long as we have (six years!) which is essentially forever in band years. And they're incredibly good! And Ben and Heather also sing on our record too! So it's kind of perfect.
RadioFreeSL (10:46:29 PM): It's a nice line-up.
monolator (10:46:30 PM): I will say that the show on saturday will be a bit on the spectacle side.
monolator (10:47:08 PM): We're having a lot of friends onstage helping us out, pretty much everyone who is on the record in fact.
monolator (10:47:18 PM): I am very much looking forward to it.
RadioFreeSL (10:47:20 PM): Excellent.
RadioFreeSL (10:47:24 PM): Me, too.
monolator (10:47:31 PM): Thanks, Joe!
RadioFreeSL (10:47:45 PM): Thanks for your time. See you on Saturday night.

- The Monolators’ I Must Be Dreaming MP3
- Mini-Interview: The Monolators


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