Published Jun 01, 2003Inside the diminutive Rivoli club in Toronto, crammed with people, Moneen plays as if their lives hang in the balance, delivering a continuously frantic performance at 2002's Canadian Music Week. The charged tunefulness of Moneen's songs resound in the audiences' ears, and the spectacle of band members repeatedly leaping through the air leaves the crowd awestruck. The group plays its intricate songs with irrepressible intensity, expertly balancing the performance with off-kilter humour and between-song banter. The club can barely contain Moneen's musicians as they literally bounce off walls. Before the night ends, singer and guitarist Kenny Bridges is stripped to his underwear, crooning a tune to his mom, who watches on with delighted amusement, and her grin spreads infectiously through the crowd.
Since Moneen's inception in Brampton, ON in April of 1999, the group has cut a swath across the Canadian musical landscape, establishing an edged repute among those who have witnessed the band's keen live performances. In a brief span of time, Moneen has established a prominent standing as a superlative live band, coalescing rowdy energy, compelling musicianship, and an outlandish sense of humour to create riveting performances.
Along with delivering a variety of antics, Moneen frequently provides performances that resemble a contact sport, occasionally resulting in a range of injuries. "I got dropped on my head once at a show," says drummer Peter Krpan. "It was the first time I decided to come out from behind the drum kit. We just jumped around, and I jumped off Hippie [Chris Hughes's] guitar cabinet onto Hippie and he picked me up on his shoulders and I fell backwards on my head. My head and neck hit the ground and it screwed up my neck for an entire summer."
Other members have been inadvertently hit in the head with guitars or have suffered nearly broken feet while leaping from tall speaker cabinets. While the band's penchant for wild shows may initially seem like sheer recklessness, Moneen holds a clear philosophy surrounding performances and the reasons for risking physical injury in order to entertain an audience.
"If we don't do something new whether it's improving something, doing a new little segue, playing a song differently, or finding something new to climb on or to break then it doesn't feel complete, it doesn't feel like we've put enough into the show," says front-man Kenny Bridges. "I think it's the best attitude to have, to always be pushing yourself."
The unifying feature of Moneen during the band's brief career is an ardent drive, a decisive intent to push forward, evidenced in the group's invigorating records, lengthy tours, and unchained live performances. Following the dissolution of their previous group, Perfectly Normal, Bridges and "Hippie" Chris Hughes, along with bassist Mark Bowser, set out to form a new band. Disheartened by their inability to secure a beat-keeper, the three almost considered abandoning music until Peter Krpan walked into a music store where Bridges worked. Krpan, wearing a T-shirt from Ottawa hardcore band Shotmaker, caught Bridges' eye and Moneen had found their drummer. (After several changes, their current line-up features bassist Erik Hughes.)
Almost immediately Moneen reaped the benefits of their strong, supportive music community. Brampton allowed the band to develop its frantic performance style and build solid rapports with audiences. "The Brampton scene is really crazy and incestuous," says Jason Smith, co-founder of the band's Winnipeg-based label, Smallman Records. "There are tons of bands and everybody is in five bands. For a long time there, they'd have shows every Friday and Saturday night. Moneen got a lot of mileage out of being from Brampton and being able to play to a very friendly and receptive, supportive crowd several times a month. A lot of their success and I think a lot of the success of bands that are from that area is rooted in how positive and supportive their community is.
"We actually heard of them through another one of our bands, Choke," Smith continues. "We had booked a number of shows in Brampton for Choke and a couple of other acts. Everybody came back saying that the opening band, and the kid who was putting on the shows was really amazing Kenny [Bridges] was the kid. They ended up doing a demo and the bands brought it back to us. It was incredible. It was probably the best four-song demo we'd ever received. Without seeing them, we immediately called them up and said that we were interested in working with them."
Smallman released the group's first EP, Smaller Chairs For Early 1900s, in 2000. The disc's four songs featured elaborate rhythms, dexterous transitions, and meticulous instrumentation, creating a spirited melodic basis, anticipating the expansive tunefulness of the band's later recordings.
Moneen released a debut full-length, The Theory of Harmonial Value, in 2001, also on Smallman. The disc confirmed Moneen's ability to design intricate tunes that shift impressively from a whisper to a roar, reverberating with sharp musical interplay and resounding melodies. Theory shows the group distilling elements from a vast assortment of contemporary genres, combining atmospheric pop, dissonant noise, rigorous hardcore, and intricate emo to create a rousing sonic edifice. The record also mirrors the sense of humour evident in their live performances. On The Theory of Harmonial Value, songs feature exceedingly lengthy names, which even they are occasionally unable to recall. Tunes such as "Why Bother Wondering When Wondering's All You Got" and "The Start To This May Be the End To Another" could be the titles to graduate papers at a conference on existentialism, but the band's decision to use lengthy song titles is prominently comedic, an attempt to push monikers beyond common confines.
On The Theory of Harmonial Value, Moneen took their humour to a new level with the invention of Dr. Lozlo Pronowski. The disc's booklet features fabricated theories and autobiographical pieces from Pronowski a Russian who in the 19th century postulated an obscure mathematical theory related to melody. Excerpts from Pronowski's autobiography detail a variety of comic wisdom, an extension of the band's inventive weirdness.
"It's kind of silly, but it makes that record more special," says Bridges. "It gives it a different character than just being a record with music on it. There's a man's life captured on that disc. Even though he doesn't really exist, I actually feel for Lozlo. The bad thing is we had the thing mapped out before any of the songs were even frickin' written. I remember right before the recording wanting to back out of the idea and then I was like Who cares? We can't take everything so seriously.'"
Despite Lozlo's implausibility, many critics and fans were duped into believing that he existed. "The first interview I ever did when Theory was released was about Lozlo," Bridges relates, "and I wasn't ready for that at all. I had to make up everything on the spot. From then on, I was ready for it."
Moneen's music has also served as the inspiration for a couple of Brampton sports teams. "Some of our friends started an ice hockey team and called it Moneen," Bridges says. "They had orange jerseys just like our old van, a big M' on the front, and they started whooping ass at first. They were so good that the organisation bumped them up into a league where the teams had been together for ten years. So they kind of started getting annihilated." Moneen also motivated a successful paintball team that used the band's moniker.
Moneen's positivity takes a darker turn on their new album, Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now? It moves away from examining relationship woes to more permanent forms of loss. "There are a couple of girl songs, and there are a couple songs about band stuff, but for the most part, a lot of the record has to do with death," Bridges explains. "I had someone pass away recently, my grandmother, and I had never gone through anything like that before. The record was a good place for me to get a lot of that stuff out.
"I hate writing lyrics, it's so hard for me," he continues. "I can't sit down and write lyrics. Most of the time, I'll start singing melodies lines and have to put words to it, whatever words work and then I fit those words to some kind of a meaning. This time, I actually sat down and wrote some lyrics. I didn't have to try that hard things just kind of came out. I'm really happy with how they came out 'cause they actually mean something."
Lyrical content came relatively easily, but the overall songwriting process required additional focus. Despite the album's stunning impression as a complete whole, Bridges concedes that the songwriting process was originally difficult. "I was really confused at first. I had total writer's block. With the first song that [new bassist] Erik [Hughes] and I wrote together, we were just hanging out and he said Let's just write some stuff that's fun to play live.' And that's totally it. A lot of the new stuff is just stuff we knew we'd have fun playing."
This unifying thread might seem simplistic, but it sticks close to the band members' keen philosophy of maintaining a robust enthusiasm for performing. Positive energy runs all through Moneen's history, from the band's first practises and tours, to the subsequent writing and refinement of songs for the group's latest record. Are We Really Happy illustrates a band that runs on an almost constant sanguine current.
Krpan and Bridges both convey a clear sense of contentment with both Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now? and the band's recent signing to Vagrant Records home to the Get Up Kids, Rocket From the Crypt and Paul Westerberg. A copy of Moneen's The Theory of Harmonial Value fell into the hands of Vagrant's Rich Egan and the label signed Moneen soon after. Vagrant will be releasing Are We Really Happy? in the U.S. and overseas while Smallman keeps the Canadian release. It's clear that Moneen maintains a fierce devotion to the label for its support throughout the band's career.
"That was the most important thing that Smallman got to keep the record in Canada," says Bridges. "Aside from the fact that we, by contract, were bound to them for one more record, they were just our best friends because they've been helping us out since the start. I would never want to take the record away from them because they deserve it more than anyone."
Vagrant has already proved very beneficial. Trevor Keith, front-man of Vagrant band Face To Face, produced Moneen's latest disc. "When Rich [Egan] first said, Trevor really wants to work with you guys,' I was like, well I've always been a huge fan of Face to Face and it could be cool, but I didn't know if he'd really be into our kind of band," according to Bridges. "Because we're not really punk rock and we have some artsy, spacy parts. I wasn't sold on it right away. Then I talked to him on the phone and all it took was five minutes and I was totally sold. He was just so into a lot of artsy things with lots of crazy delay totally into creating new sounds."
Moneen recorded their album early in 2003 after venturing to Audio International Studio in Ojai, California and it's a discernible leap in the band's sound. Moneen's ever-present intricacy has reached higher levels of sophistication, while the band's ability to sculpt riveting songs has achieved newfound incisiveness. Cyclonic melodies, dense vocal harmonies, and imaginative song progressions join with lulling drones, complex rhythms, and flawless dynamic changes to form a spellbinding album. The disc's songs swell with shifting, effusive tunefulness, delivering jagged melodies that ascend to impressive heights, offering inventively textured pop.
Moneen appears on the verge of pushing beyond many more boundaries with an extensive tour itinerary on the horizon. In the midst of the band's upcoming Canadian tour and extensive forays into the U.S., one concern the group expresses is the need to continue balancing Moneen's intensity with levity.
"That's what we're battling for these days. Now that we're going into a new country and we're going to be playing for lots more people, we have to maintain and be ourselves," says Bridges. "Some people don't get the goofiness at first what I've always thought was unique about Moneen is that we do play these songs but we don't take ourselves so seriously. We really play for the moment and if we're at a show and something funny happens, we're going to go for it. I think we've found a good compromise these days between our bad sense of humour and wanting to have a good, tight show and for it to really be about the music."
Straight Outta Brampton
"There is definitely a community in Brampton," says Andrew Hercules, guitarist for the End. "You have all these 16- or 17-year-old kids that don't always have access to shows in [Toronto], but at the same time who want to play in bands and want to start bands. If you want to do that, you end up knowing the same people, which then becomes a community."
Brampton, ON about an hour west of Toronto hasn't been known as a bastion of Canadian musical talent. But with recent signings of Moneen to emo rock titans Vagrant Records, and the End to one of the metal underground's biggest staples, Relapse Records, heads are starting to turn towards Brampton and its current happenings. As it turns out, there's been quality coming from this suburb for years it's just slipped under the radar.
"In 1988, when I first started going to shows, there were the Epileptic Brain Surgeons, Curious Mold and Beyond, although I'm not sure who predated them," says local artist Matthew Daley, who along with being an ex-member of Brampton's infamous metal mockers Demon Barf, has done artwork for Brampton bands such as Wheels on the Bus, Grift, Ten-Speed Hero, Moneen and Friendly Rich. "[In the early '90s] there was Demon Barf and Grasshopper, then the Wiggaz, Three and Pass, Black Belt Jones, Grift, [pre-Moneen band] Perfectly Normal, Novacain (featuring Chris from Moneen and Andrew from the End), and Idioalla [another pre-the End band]. More recently, there was One More Dream, who were supposed to be the big thing before Moneen, then Moneen and the End, Soul Phoenix, Dilan Dog, the Vulcan Dub Squad, who've been a fixture for years, and Friendly Rich. And Harpoon Missile, the rap group, they're from Brampton."
While there have been bands representing Brampton for years, it's been through both the End and Moneen's efforts, that has led to its resurgent underground scene status. "There weren't a lot of shows, there weren't a lot of venues, it was hard," says the End's Andrew Hercules about the last couple of years. "It would have phases of bands coming in and out, but in the punk and hardcore area specifically, there really wasn't a lot and it's perhaps as our bands have grown, the scene has grown equally."
"Moneen and the End have a lot of bands forming in their wake," Daley echoes. "I think they were instrumental in building the Brampton scene. People really latched onto Moneen they were the first local band I've ever seen that was able to draw 400 people and bring people from around Brampton to Brampton. And it's the same with the End. Sound-wise, you can see Moneen's influence on a lot of the new Brampton bands."
Brampton hasn't been tagged as the "next big thing," at least not yet. "There's been a generation of people that have grown up," says Moneen's Kenny Bridges. "A lot of people went off to school and didn't do the band thing. Now there's a new group of people coming up. As much as you want to build something, when certain people leave, you have to start new and fresh again."
"It comes and goes," Daley says. "Neither the End nor Moneen play around here much anymore; it's rebuilding. It's a new batch of kids. Bands like Fallen Year, Wheels on the Bus and Ten-Speed Hero are sort of the new apex." Andrew Hercules feels that despite its biggest bands spending more and more time away, it will survive. "I feel like we were the previous generation and now there are so many new bands coming up and new people putting on shows in Brampton. There is something still going on."