Published Jan 25, 2019Earlier this January, Moneen celebrated the 15th anniversary of their breakthrough album Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now? with three nights at Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theatre. The venue was packed with adoring fans, some reliving their youth and others catching up on things they missed the first time.
For Moneen, it was a celebration. Hordes of special guests (Dallas Green and Tokyo Police Club among them) joined the group on stage to play out the tracks and open the shows, a fitting tribute for a band that helped define the Southern Ontario music scene of the early aughts. On a personal level it felt a bit like coming home. Moneen were the first band I saw live, the third band I ever interviewed. Shouting along to the songs this January I realized that I'd been writing about Moneen for over half my life.
I was 15 when I first spoke with the band's singer/guitarist Kenny Bridges. The interview was conducted for a long-defunct punk zine called Cake or Death that had maybe a dozen readers. The fact that Moneen were willing to talk to us seemed both generous and insane. Having already solidified their legendary local status with an aggressively energetic live act and a signature sound that blended elements of indie rock and technically precise second-wave emo, they were rewarded for their hard work with a Vagrant Records contract, and just two months prior to our interview, they'd released their biggest album to date: Are We Really Happy with Who We Are Right Now?, an album that took the band from a regional to a national act.
Yet, Bridges was extremely polite as I stumbled through my amateur questions about Moneen's influences and the singer's favourite Simpsons episodes. He even let me stick around the venue and watch as the band sound checked. Later that night, I snapped photos as Bridges writhed on the ground with his guitar, screaming emotionally wrought lyrics to a horde of adoring fans.
14 years later, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Bridges again, this time to see them play the Phoenix — a venue as big as they'd ever played. I arrived early to the interview with Bridges and watched with a handful of the band's friends/family/colleagues as the group sound-checked.
As he got off stage, the singer came directly over and thanked me profusely for covering the event before offering a hug. It was a welcome, if unexpected, greeting that would define the tone for the conversation to follow. Bridges was stoked to chat, stoked that people still cared a decade-and-a-half later.
Exclaim!: Moneen has a special place for me and for a lot of other people. Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now? was a soundtrack for so many moments. Can you talk to me about the decision to celebrate the record's 15th anniversary?
Bridges: Our good friend Travis, who is promoting the concerts, had been bugging us to play shows but to us there needed to be a reason. It needed to be something special. Travis thought and pointed out that this year would mark 15 years since Happy came out and I was like... you know what? Sure. Fifteen years is a long time. Fifteen years is worth celebrating.
We were planning on a one-off. We had celebrated our album Red Tree at Lee's Palace a few years back, and the shows went really well. We thought a show at the Phoenix might do well, but we were very, very, very surprised when we had to add dates. That's crazy! Three shows at the Phoenix at this point of my life!?
I had this goal: when I turned 40 I wanted to still be making music and rolling around on the floor like a maniac. Then I turned 39 and I realized, 'I'm still going to be doing this. This is going to happen.' But that I can do it with Moneen? I mean most people don't get to meet goals at all. People are going to be super stoked to see us, but onstage we'll be just as stoked - more stoked - to be performing.
Moneen has been very successful — the fact that you're playing these shows is a testament to that — but at the same time, you never reached the heights of some of your contemporaries. On a personal level that would drive me insane. Is that something you ever think about?
To me it wouldn't be right if we blew up as big as other bands did. Here's the thing: we've been a non-functioning band for so many years, and we can play the Phoenix for three nights. That means, 'Wait, we did accomplish more than we thought we did.' We might not be a band that got played on the radio or got videos in rotation. But we did some cool shit. We pretty much got to play with every band from our genre that you'd want to play with. And there are so many things that make us feel those accomplishments more than how many records we sold. For us it was enough for our van to get to the next show. And if there were 50 people at that show? That was the best. We were so self-deprecating. I'll always make fun of myself way worse than anyone else can. We never thought we were a great band, it was just the only thing we knew how to do.
That's so interesting because to me, and to many people at the concerts, Moneen was a big deal. They're still a big deal. The band was so important to us. There was never a moment where you thought you'd be bigger?
When we got signed to Vagrant they thought we were going to blow up. We had been doing well in Canada and they expected us to do well in the States. We did okay in the States, but they thought we'd be up there with Get Up Kids, Saves the Day and all those bands. When we didn't they were like, 'What is going on?' But it didn't surprise us. Things like that don't happen to us. We're just not that type of band. We're catchy, and we write good songs, but we're also weird. We're genuinely weird people. Not in the sense that you can't sit down and have a conversation with us but... I don't know. We didn't really think of that kind of stuff.
Did this level ever seem achievable? Three nights at the Phoenix?
No. Never. And it's cool that we are. Especially at this age. Forty! And I'm getting to do this! Two of our favourite bands are playing with us tonight, Choke and Trigger Happy. It's an amazing reunion that's happening over these nights. We do so many things for ourselves now. And I know by doing things for ourselves we're doing things for other people too. But when it comes down to it, we wanted to do this because we thought it'd be fun to do, to revisit this record. We'll be playing the songs better now than we ever could have then. I'm so happy to do it.