Headed up the West Coast for Badass Band 39, more specifically to Portland, Oregon. This next band does funky, psycho, groovy rock and roll better than just about anyone else. Their name is Rare Monk, and their sound is definitely something I would categorize as rare, which is exactly what you will love about it.
A co-worker of mine suggested Rare Monk to me, this being a bit of a special band because one of the members is a former graduate of the High School we teach at. She brought the CD to me as soon as she found out I ran Badass Bands Blog and said I would definitely want to listen to them. I listened on the way home that same day, and by the end of the first track, ‘Shoot Me Down’, I was immediately grateful she thought to give it to me. Her judgment on their music was spot on. Their debut album is titled ‘Astral Travel Battles’ and it definitely does take the listener on quite the musical ride. The seven song album starts you off, as mentioned, with ‘Shoot Me Down’ a funky, violin infused rock n roll tune. Many of RM’s songs, while varying the tempo, satisfyingly incorporate a good amount of violin and saxophone and these uncharacteristic to rock and roll instruments, help make their songs so alluring. Pair that with fun metaphorical/refreshingly straightforward lyrics, and RM wins over any listener real quick. I realize it may sound odd of me to say that their lyrics are both metaphorical and straightforward, but it’s true, they combine these mediums flawlessly to create their unique tunes.
RM is comprised of a group of musicians whose range is what makes their synthesis of funky, jazz inspired rock and roll so damn successful. Rare Monk is: Forest Gallien -Bass, Synth, Issac Thelin -Violin, Saxophone, Jake Martin-Guitar, Rick Buhr-Drums, Backup Vox, and Dorian Aites-Vocals, Guitar, Synth, Violin.
The guys of RM where kind enough to take the time to answer some questions for BBB, so check out what their first instruments were, what bands they would feature on BBB and why their music will challenge your conceptualization of what rock is.
F- Forest Gallien (Bass, Synth)
I- Issac Thelin (Violin, Saxophone)
J- Jake Martin (Guitar)
R- Rick Buhr (Drums, Backup Vox)
D- Dorian Aites (Vocals, Guitar, Synth, Violin)
When and why did each of you start playing?
F: I started playing bass in 6th grade after five or six years of piano, I remember my dad made me learn piano before I picked up any other instrument.
I: I started playing violin in 4th grade. My middle school didn’t have a string program, so decided to continue violin on my own and picked up the tenor saxophone in 6th grade.
J: I started playing on whim, really – early high school. I bought a guitar from some dude and started playing. It just felt right.
R: Decided to play drums after hearing the drum intro to Dire Strait’s “Money For Nothing”, which at the time blew my little 7-year-old mind. Became really obsessed with music in high school, spending about 90% of my time in marching band, jazz band, concert choir and countless numbers of rock bands ranging from really shitty to exceptionally decent.
D: When I was 6 parents gave me a 1/16th size violin for my Bday. I’d been asking them for some time about it and they supported the idea.
First tune you learned?
F: The first tune I learned on bass was probably Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, it was standard issue for anyone taking lessons.
I: My first tune on violin—as is common for most violin players—was twinkle twinkle little star.
R: First song I really focused on learning was Green Day’s “Brainstew”. That song was pretty much created for the sole purpose of teaching kids how to play bass drum eighth notes.
D: Just like Isaac, I was raised on Suzuki for violin, so Twinkle Twinkle in various hellishly scratchy iterations.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? How does that differ from what you listen to now?
F: I grew up listening to mostly modern rock; The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, Linkin Park (Yes, Linkin Park), but when I got to highschool I was exposed to all different genres that blew my mind; Sigur Ros, Massive Attack, Air, Modest Mouse, A Tribe Called Quest, Radiohead, Jaco Pastorius. Now I listen to a bit of everything from Jazz to Metal.
I: With my mom’s side of the family from the Democratic Republic of Congo, I listened to a lot of central African music and world music growing up. My dad grew up in the states and is a big fan of Zeppelin, the Beatles, Eric Burdon and The Doors. I was exposed to classical music in my youth symphony and jazz and blues in my high school jazz band. I current favorites are as varied as the genres I grew up listening to: Gogol Bordello, Prince, The Strokes, Devotchka, Modest Mouse, Robyn, Destroyer and Django Reinhardt, to name a few.
J: My dad listened to a lot of blues, and old dad rock growing up… John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Tom Petty, John Hiatt, Grateful Dead, etc. I connected with a lot of this music from an early age, especially the blues stuff. I don’t think this music differs from what I listen to now at all – my palate has just broadened.
R: About the same; pretty much only listened to modern rock growing up (System of a Down were basically gods to me). Really started forcibly expanding my musical palate after high school. Still rock out to the guilty pleasures every once in a while, respectfully.
D: Growing up, my parents music choices influenced me heavily. Classical, celtic, and eastern European folk tunes were my starting point. Discovered the Beatles in middle school, then various shitty post-punk bands I won’t mention in early high school. Proud to say at some point mid high school I stopped thinking Linkin Park was tight and discovered Modest Mouse, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, of Montreal, The Mars Volta, Flaming Lips, iow/ better music than Good Charlotte.
Which musicians do you admire? Why?
F: Jaco Pastorius, he changed the way electric bass was played, Flea (Chili Peppers), was one of the most influential bass players for my development as a bass player. Musicians I’ve admired in recent years are artists like Bjork, MF DOOM, Thom York, people who’ve pushed the boundaries of their respective genres and aren’t afraid of taking risks.
I: My favorite tenor saxophone player is Dexter Gordon. The guy had incredible melodic phrasing and his articulation and tone are what I try to emulate. For violin I enjoy listening to Jean-Luc Ponty and Stephane Grappelli. Listen to them and you will understand.
J: John Scofield and Eric Krasno for their soulful guitar prowess. Jack White and Daniel Quine (The Black Keys) for keeping the roots of blues pulsing through the mainstream. And Sam Cooke cuz… duh.
R: Stanton Moore (Galactic, Garage A Trois) and Dave King (The Bad Plus) have definitely been the most influential drummers that I’ve obsessed over during the last few years.
D: Isaac Brock for his songwriting, guitar lines, sick humor, guitar lines, lyrics (actually, everything he does), Kevin Barnes for his fluidity with the English language, Wayne Coyne for his relentless optimism.
What is the significance of the name Rare Monk?
F: It came from an inside joke between friends, but it’s origin lies somewhere in the brilliant film “Zoolander”.
D: I guess its from Zoolander, but to me its significance lies in what we’ve made of it.
Do you get nervous before a show?
F: Not as much anymore, we have beers for that!
J: Not usually
R: And full-body masseuses on staff 24-7
D: Nope. Used to, not anymore.
Any rituals before a show?
F: Usually have a beer, a smoke, and sit down to write the set list about an hour before the gig.
R: I usually survey the gear to make sure we didn’t forget anything. And by “we” I mean me.
D: I like to take at least one shower to clear out the vocals, then generally fuck with my bandmates until it’s time to sit down for a beer, smoke, set list sesh.
Describe your show visually & musically for those who have never been.
F: We are a five-piece so there is always a lot going on. A lot of our songs end in epic crescendos where all five of us are locked in playing interweaving lines. We try to play songs live that really gets the crowd going, we like our fans drunk and rowdy, we like feeding off that kind of energy.
How does your creative process typically work?
F: We write mostly by structured jamming. A lot of times we’ll bring in a riff or loose strong structure and we start jamming it, allowing people to explore different parts in a loose jam structure. A lot of songs start with just a riff or vocal line and everyone starts filling in the spaces, which is why I think we get such unique sound. Everyone puts their signature sounds and influences into the mix, so no one person is writing entire songs. That’s what gives Rare Monk character, the chance for everyone to write and add their influence to a song. Once we get a loose structure, then we start sitting down and refining specific parts and structure, until we reach a place where we are all happy with how the song turned out.
What do you think you biggest break or greatest opportunity has been in your career so far?
F: Playing SXSW 2012 was a great break for us. Playing at one of the country’s biggest independent music festivals was a great experience and we made a lot of connections that will hopefully help us in the future.
J: SxSW 2012. Great shows. Thanks to rethink pop music and ninkasi beer.
D: SXSW for sure. Playing alongside so many other awesome musicians was a really cool experience for us. So much music in one week!
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
F: The biggest challenge so far has been doing this with barely any money, while maintaning jobs and relationships. It can be discouraging bringing your tour van into the shop for the third time this year and racking up credit card debt so you can get to the next city, but we all know what we signed up for and we still love it.
J: As Roger Waters so poignantly pointed out: Money, it’s a crime.
R: Scheduling also gets pretty exhausting. Constantly having to have the next 6 months planned out starts to make your head spin after awhile. Not to mention getting band practices and shows to fit into five different work schedules. But we make it work.
D: Money has been our greatest foe so far.
What are you working on now, and what can we expect from you in the coming year?
F: Currently we are working on our new album. We are going back into the studio this June with producer Skyler Norwood (Blind Pilot, Talkdemonic, Horsefeathers) at his Miracle Lake studios. We are fortunate to be working with a great producer and we think this batch of songs is going to be our best yet and represent the sound we’ve evolving over the last 3 years. We are also going back on the road once we get the album done, doing 30 dates on a east to west coast tour. We also have a couple more music videos in the works for this year.
Why should people listen to your band? What makes you unique? If your band had a slogan, what would it be?
I: People should listen to our band to our band because we will affect you. Whether the type of affect we elicit is what we wanted… Our varied musical backgrounds and musical loves are what make us unique. We write songs in a way that allows everyone to put a piece of themselves into the tunes—we are all involved in the creative process.
D: We are not a derivative of a copy, cloned from the shadow of a reflection. Our music does not pander; it will challenge your conceptualization of what rock is.
If you had the opportunity to change something about the music industry, what would it be?
D: It’s time for a regime change. I would like to see the legacy gatekeepers in the industry disappear, giving control back to individual musicians. I would also like to change the rampant cliquishness that permeates the music scene here. “How’d you guys get that awesome show at ***?” “Ah, well, you know, my sister’s boyfriend’s brother works at *insert anally retentive venue name here*.”
One song you never get tired of.
F: “Helicopter” by Deerhunter, never gets old.
I: “Young American” by David Bowie.
J: Katy Perry “Teenage Dream”
R: “Another Morning Stoner” by Trail of Dead, with The Decemberist’s “The Gymnast High Above the Ground” and Charlie Hunter Trio’s “Balls” as close contenders
D: Modest Mouse – Tundra/Desert
What is the best live show you have ever gone to?
F: Sigur Ros is incredible every time, but Massive Attack, M83, and Jeff Mangum are up there.
I: Earth Wind and Fire was pretty incredible. I also enjoy watching the Flaming Lips.
J: Chris Thile, quite possibly one of the best musicians on this planet
R: I saw Andrew Bird right after the release of “Armchair Apocrypha” and was thoroughly blown away. I’ve always loved his recordings but that man is a natural born performer.
D: Flaming Lips 2006 @ Sasquatch induced brain hemorrhaging levels of joy.
Favorite things to do NOT musically related.
F: Backpacking in the great Northwest wilderness.
I: Basketball and making meals with friends.
J: sports, beer, meat, sleep
R: Rereading “Cannery Row” for the hundredth time.
D: Sci-fi, fireworks, throwing shit at wasp nests, Magic cards, long walks on the beach.
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be?
F: Superman, hands down, but maybe without all that responsibility.
I: The Incredible Hulk. Hulk smash.
J: A professional musician.
D: Fucking Luke Skywalker
What kind of jobs did you have before (or currently) you were in the music industry?
F: I’ve worked all kind of jobs from carousel operator to cleaning zebrafish tanks, but I’m fortunate to be working at a Music Licensing company, Rumblefish, that works with my touring and band schedule.
I: I worked at Fred Meyer grocers, Foot Locker in high school, tutored math in college. I currently work at a center for teens recovering from addiction and or getting treatment for psychological issues.
J: Am I working in the music industry?
R: Professional dog walker (no, seriously)
D: Professional bounty hunter.
If you ran Badass Bands Blog, what is one band you would feature? (Exempting yourselves of course.)
F: A great band out of Portland right now, Lost Lander, they are a new band that you’ll be sure to her about in the coming months.
R: The Courtesy Tier, rad little duo from Brooklyn. We got to play a couple shows with these guys at SXSW and they put on a hell of a live show!
FIND RARE MONK HERE: