Grand Rapids' Monroe Moon are one of a new breed of bands that excite me, doing everything upside down and back to front. Their musicality compels them. They're all the more rivetting for their disregard of the rules. They won't even acknowledge them. That's part of the thrill... They are not cosetted by convention. Who knows musically what they will do next?
Monroe Moon are led by the big, yearning voice of Heather Monroe, and the educated indie rock stylings of guitarist, her partner, Theo Malkin. Imagine, say, if Fiona Apple had sang better and made better decisions, say if she worked with the Jesus and Mary Chain... Or something and that wouldn't even capture what's happening here, barely even at all... Heather's voice is insidious, it seeps into you and never leaves. Theo's from the UK, and this is an entirely international conglomerate. You can hear that musical-cultural mish-mashup for sure.
More recently they've been joined by bass player Justin, and drummer Tim as they begin to venture out of the studio and into the light...
OUTSIDELEFT: Let's begin with... With some turismo una località stuff... For a visitor, what must be seen in Grand Rapids, what's unmissable? In Warwickshire, I'd say Inigo Jones' Chesterton Windmill; Oxfordshire, The Rollright Stones... Grand Rapids, Michigan?
MONROE MOON: The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel lobby during prom.
OL: Does Iggy Pop have a blue plaque at his birthplace in Muskegon? A Museum? It's short hop to there right?
Monroe Moon: Most people who live in Saginaw, MI don’t even know that Stevie Wonder is from there, so I’m going to guess “No.” We don’t have a habit of making physical "note of" like the English do with their blue plaque system. Which is a lovely thing for you and a sad thing for us, until we get on board. But I also think we view things differently, as in the case of Iggy Pop and Stevie Wonder, they may have been born in those cities but they didn't grow up there or even identify themselves as "from" there. It would be a good reminder of what a wonderful musical history Michigan has, it shouldn't be forgotten. Theo and I are going to plan an Iggy day trip to see North Muskegon now.
OL: When you're out looking for inspiration at Ray Charles Dodds records (great name), do you ever bump into Grand Rapids Grandee, Anthony Kiedis ever? (My friend Walt Disney sat next to him on a JetBlue flight once, he was way more interested in my friends Apple stock than music. Perhaps as he has been his whole career.)
Monroe Moon: We’re Vertigo Music patrons. I always thought Dodd’s Records was a party store?
I don't think Kiedis has been spotted in the city since 1997. Although his step father owned the most wonderful thrift shop, "Scavenger Hunt". I had one of the best "first dates" there with an employee after hours playing dress up. He wasn't my type but it was a lot of fun. Sadly the shop is no more.
OL: Have you seen Julian Temple's Requiem For Detroit... Is that true that for a while nature was taking Detroit back? At one time at least, Detroit was America's fastest shrinking city... I won't diagnose that in a sentence although you know I want to...! Do people leave the state, head west or what... Do you think for Grand Rapids the major musical metropolitan gravitational is Chicago or Detroit.
Monroe Moon: No, we haven’t been to "Requiem for Detroit". When you grow up in middle America, as I did, you don't feel a need to seek out (sub or) urban decay. Although that’s probably just lazy (or busy) of us. I'm not sure about the population statistics currently, but I do know it's still very alive and I am always happy to have a reason to go there. Detroit has a wonderful energy and I love to catch a gig there, Morrissey at the Filmore or local Jazz at the Cliff Bells. They aren't in competition as they are both distinct in experience and feeling, but I would chose an evening in Detroit.
Ps. I like to think of it as a “cleansing”.
OL: Ever take the ferry across the lake to Milwaukee?
Monroe Moon: No. Who would go to Wisconsin? Just kidding...
OL: I read somehow that Monroe Moon happened by accident. You'd wanted the kids to form some sort of Partridge Family band and they left all of the music equipment lying on the floor, so instead of tidying it up, you just kind of took it over and began writing, late at night?
Monroe Moon: Yes. It was Theo's master plan, less Partridge Family dreams and more just hopeful to inspire the children to explore music. Maybe it was just an excuse for Theo to collect guitars.
I also remember it as happening one night before the fire on a dark winter’s night, that his heart asked my heart, without words, to make music, and mine answered, “Yes.” Either way I am thankful it happened. Making music is more fun that tidying.
OL: Are you from musical families... I mean...
Monroe Moon: My father, a Vietnam vet, didn't allow us to "make noise" and that included playing or listening to music. I took piano lessons when I was 8 years old and had to quit a few months in because my practicing bothered my father so much. My mother has an absolutely beautiful singing voice (thankfully). She rebelled against the silence of our house by collecting records and CDs. She rarely listened to them, but my siblings and I did when my parents weren't home. That's as musical as my history gets, that I know of. My eldest daughter is very musically talented, so I suppose there's someone somewhere in the family.
Theo taught himself guitar at 16 and formed a school band, enjoying the 90s teenage dream. His family is quite musical.
Tim and Justin both have great talent and musical family histories. Tim’s father is a fantastic jazz drummer and Justin’s grandfather performed vaudeville.
OL : What do the kids think about mum and dad rockin' out?
Monroe Moon: I think that’s a Multi-faceted thing. Firstly, our band mates each have one child and their children have grown up with them making music from infancy. Music making will be internalized and normal for those two amazing kids. Our mixed five come with different histories, personalities, and stories. Their feelings and response to our fully adult musical beginnings is complex. Our eldest three have a love and hate relationship with it, all for their own personal reasons, but probably unifying in it's “distributive annoyance”. We’ve got lots of that around our house. Our youngest two will and have begun to internalize it as a way of life. Something I know the older three will do. It just takes more time the older you are. Ultimately it’s a family lesson on self acceptance and I can’t wait for everyone to let go of an outside view in on themselves and us as a family. Thank goodness for music.
OL: Once Theo got more involved, it sounds like there's a sssstretchingggg, your sound is epic and minimal all at once, a dichotomy between the guitars and the voice a great creative schizm... The guitars owing something maybe to a mellow reticent, affected shoegazing era, and the voice so soulful and powerful so contemporary, if you like... A mash-up of machines and... if I have my chronology correct, Cannot Sleep at Night has a cool rockist Interpol vibe, but your sound seems to be evolving at lightspeed. The newer See Yourself, whilst retaining those signatures is way more soulful, richer, with much more in the way of open spaces, with much more in common say with Moorea More's beautiful and amazing "I Can't Tell". I think there are antecedents there, in some respects, it seems like your songwriting is Evolving. Fast...
Can you talk about your connection with famed nottingham producers hook up / your international background...?
Monroe Moon: I was just whinging and whining until Theo picked up the guitar with me.
Theo went to school, was in a band, and worked in a record shop with Ian Glover in the 90s, in Stoke-On-Trent, UK. Ian went on to Soul Savers. Theo reached out to show Ian with what we were doing and they had the pleasure of working together again when he remastered "When I cannot sleep at night". We love the results and are grateful for his time and talent.
OL: I have an interest in older people making new music, an interest in adults writing fictional accounts of things... Maybe less so in America but there can be a resistance to adults suddenly deciding to create something new. Getting a guitar is one thing. But not playing Beatles medleys on it is entirely something else...
Monroe Moon: I believe there is a mainstream resistance to mature people making art and asking to "be seen", but I find as an adult suddenly making new music, I can say more than half of that mentality was owned by myself. I mean, how was I viewing myself based on age? What subconscious limitations had I set for myself and others in my younger years based arbitrarily/ immaturely on age? I credit greatly our study of Buddhism for revealing myself, to myself and allowing me to breakdown that programing and rewrite it. That's a work in progress of course, as are all things about the self. I am reminded of something my late grandmother would say to me often about her aging, " I am always surprised when I look in the mirror to see how old I am. I feel young (*taps head)". We feel young too.
OL: I am always interested in what happens to married people when they create together in music. I was in a band with my now ex. We worked a lot, made a lot of noise. Like an indie Lyndsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks from Sante Fe Springs. If you're going write in any meaningful way, it's likely at some point someone is going to get hurt?
Monroe Moon: “When I Cannot Sleep at Night” was the first song Theo and I wrote together and I think it answers this question best. We are ultimately honest and loyal to one another so no unearthed emotion, thought or daydream can shake that. We both understand that feelings and thoughts can be fleeting and intrusive and that if kept secret in the spaces inside, can grow more dangerous than if shared and sorted out, together. I'm not ashamed of my mind or heart and I truly trust Theo, so I can invite him inside.
OL: When you begin to write words and music, I think you just get immersed in it. It's like some blood-borne joyous but unrelenting sepsis... Shopping lists get weird notes scribbled on the side of them. Suddenly it's 5am and you have to do something for a living and it's the artistic equivalent of Fortnite or Football Manager!? How do you start and stop?
Monroe Moon: I do personally have a lot of notebooks. With adult lives and 5 children we have to place-mark music. We begin, develop, and finalize music in pieces, as life allows it. It allows for a subconscious element to speak, for example; I have started humming counter melodies in the bathtub randomly and ran to the piano to see if things really do work together. Our minds chew and spit things out at different times. It also speeds up the end processes. We have gone into the studio and in one or two takes; call it good. We end up spending so much time birthing songs we don’t have the patience to clean them up and diaper them. We are conscious of this and will be giving the final stages more of ourselves on our forthcoming album.
OL: You recently showcased your stuff at a semi-secret show in a photography studio, right. Can you talk about that? Talk about the expansion of the band to incorporate more musicians. And so on...
Monroe Moon: The show was great. It was in a stunning space with terrible acoustics and we still sounded great. And we had a great time. It was our first time playing live all together for an audience so it was special for us. We made a lot of friends that night. It was amazing.
Circumstance has been our fortune in finding our other band mates. Tim our drummer (who funnily enough was our first bassist) and Justin our bassist, are fantastic musicians and we have the honor of working them. They are a big element of our fast evolution and expansion. We are all enjoying the ride. The first time Tim came over to our place and played music with us I freaked out and couldn’t play or sing for a minute. I couldn't believe and I had never imagined another person would play my music. It was such a moment for me. It bears repeating, how honored I truly am to work with Theo, Justin, and Tim.
OL: So far, some work is available from dig.distributors, I'll put a songwhip link on here. What is your immediate plan as a band and what is the plan after that?
Monroe Moon: We took a breathe this August after the show, while Justin was in Japan. We begin clicking away on recording our album in September. We hope to start playing shows like the last one maybe once every 3 months. We don't have much more in the ways of plans. We just want to have fun, and we are.
Stream Monroe Moon here