It's T-minus one day until El Monstero's first-ever summer show, and bassist Kevin Gagnepain is still receiving progress reports on what will be the band's biggest ever stage performance on Saturday at Jefferson Barracks Park. It takes about three hours to get him on the phone, and as we speak, he's getting photo texts every hour from the set of the 72-foot stage the band will take tomorrow night. El Monstero is a tribute band in the sense that its members care quite a lot about staying true to Pink Floyd's sound, but the more boring associations of the label end there: With a large roster, a focus on theatrics and a light show that could induce seizures, El Monstero is more like a circus than it is a greatest hits set.
Kelsey Whipple: What kind of persona do you have to adopt in order to be successful as a tribute band?
Kevin Gagnepain: Well, we don't try to look like the members of the original band, which separates us from other bands. It's not a big priority. One of our singers, Jimmy, always says we're like the monster-truck version of Pink Floyd, and he came up with a new description the other day. He said we're just like Pink Floyd if they had seen Van Halen in concert too many times. We're all St. Louis musicians, and we've had record deals in the past. We play other music, but this is our way of just trying to get those big concert situations to stay in our lives. I guess if we have a persona it's that we're trying to keep that big dream alive in our lives.
You are also involved in local band Shooting With Annie. How do the preparations for the two bands compare?
In El Monstero, we are pretty much sticklers on trying to get the music exactly right. The audience who comes to see Pink Floyd music the way they know it from records, we try to give it to them. It might not be 100 percent exactly like the records, but we shoot for the 90s. We try to get the emotional constant and background across more than that, even. With Shooting With Annie, there's less familiarity with our music, so we can take it in any direction we want as a band every night. Whereas with the Pink Floyd stuff, there's a history there that we are directly tied to.
What made the group decide to host a summer show this year in addition to the traditional winter holiday shows?
It's something we've talked about for years. We didn't want to cheapen the holiday tradition that El Monstero has become, but this year we had six sell-outs over Christmas, and we decided this was a great year to try something new, see if we can pull it off and see if it's something we enjoy doing. There's always a number of fans who come to us and tell us that they have family commitments and travel plans and other things during the holidays, which is understandable. They asked us to play a show they could go to, and that's part of the reason why we decided to put on the show this weekend.
Is there pressure to outdo yourself with each show?
I don't know if it's pressure as much as it is a fun challenge to try to outdo itself and find different ways to change the show up. Sometimes that means we strip down some of the theatrics and try to do some interesting stuff with the music, and sometimes that means we blow up the theatrical statement and really make that huge. We're always trying to do something new and different and surprise the audience. They're familiar with the music, but they come back to see what we'll do next. This new stage is huge. It's 72 feet across.For this, it's a big outside rock concert, and we want it to feel like a huge summertime rock concert. The setlist is more of a greatest hits because we want that fun festival environment. How are you going to outdo yourselves this time?
Let's just say that the fire marshal is less strict outside than he is inside than he is inside. I have to leave it at that.
How do you balance your roles in three local bands?
El Monstero only happens a few times a year, and it's kind of a holiday tradition for the people in the band. It's a time when we get back together, say hi to each other, enjoy each other, play and have fun. When we take a year break, we start practicing about a month before. For this, it was about three weeks before because we just did this six months before. Rehearsals usually have some part where we'll do run-throughs and blocking and we go through a small amount of that. The show is still presented in a theatrical way even when it's about the music. Pink Floyd albums are concept albums, so we do rehearse some of the emotional elements and the transitions between songs and the timing. It's not just remembering what notes to play. Shooting With Annie is more of a creative outlet. It's about writing music. We play around once a month and try to keep our creative outlet going. It's cheaper than therapy. EM is a chance to put on a big production. It's a whole different thing. I also play with Joe Dirt and the Dirty Boys, and that keeps me playing music each week and making a little money on the side.
Which of your musical lives is your favorite?
Shooting With Annie is my real creative outlet, my love right now, so I guess I'd say that. They all three provide different things to me, but Shooting With Annie is the number one. What's one thing El Monstero has done right in the past year and one thing it has done wrong?
One thing we've done right is we've really tried to honor the feeling that's present in Pink Floyd's music. Emotionally, we really try to connect with the music and deliver that to the audience. That means the staging, the instruments, the singing, even the time of year. The holidays provide happiness, and I really like that. One thing we've done wrong? We don't do this in every city in the United States, and I wish we really could. We should make it a national thing. How much of your success is tied to your connection to St. Louis?
I think that's entirely why we are successful. It's not a part of it: It's the whole reason. The fans have an equal stake in the show at this point, and that's what makes it great.