When Jason Matthews of the Monads shows up at MoKaBe's Coffeehouse for an interview, he's sporting an impressive mustache. Which wouldn't be a big deal — except his facial hair is the sort normally seen on, say, a bartender slinging up sarsaparilla at a saloon, or a regal distant relative from a yellowing photograph.
This old-tyme moustache certainly fits the Monads' antique, sepia-tone sound (even if Matthews grew it because of a hair-growing competition). The quartet's use of guitar is almost an afterthought: Accordion, banjo, upright bass and especially nimble fiddle dominate songs on Ornery, the Monads' excellent new CD.
Released by the local label Big Muddy — home to kindred old souls Casey Reid and the Vultures — Ornery falls somewhere between whiskey-soaked bluegrass, traditional country stomps and scorching twang-punk. It also nearly comes close to capturing the band's incendiary live gigs.
Since becoming a four-piece in September 2006 — when fiddler/accordionist Matt Shivelbine joined guitarist/vocalist Pat Eagan, upright bassist/vocalist Jenna Schroeder and banjo player/vocalist Jason Matthews — a Monads show has evolved to become a hoedown infused with punk energy and rabble-rousing attitude. It's reminiscent of the gypsy-punk of Gogol Bordello and goth-twang of O'Death — and certainly one of the most unique concert experiences in town.
A spirited, hourlong interview with the Monads reveals a band that's equal parts happy-go-lucky, liquor-liking and proud of what it's achieved with Ornery. Just beware when they come to a town near you.
Jason Matthews: I'm thinking mischievous is really what we are. We just get in stupid trouble every-fucking-where we go.
Jenna Schroeder: We're always surprised when we get asked back.
Indeed, the Monads' road-trip adventures have included stealing golf carts and off-roading in total darkness. The band recalls a particular trip to Madison, Wisconsin, where things didn't go so well.
JS: We drove all the way up to Madison — this was when it was just us three. We had to borrow a car.
JM: A Toyota Corolla.
JS: Yes, a station wagon, with the bass. We crammed all of our stuff in there, drove it all the way up to this show at some college party. And we ended up getting paid $16.
Patrick Eagan: Mostly in mixed change.
JS: And we stopped in Chicago on our way back, and everything was stolen from our car. Except for the upright.
PE: I lost everything, Jason lost everything. That was a really angry ride home. We made much better gas mileage, though.
Despite such hardships, the Monads have amassed an impressive concert résumé both locally and regionally: They've played with Split Lip Rayfield, Reverend Glasseye, the Hackensaw Boys and Jay Bennett, among others. In fact, the Monads recorded Ornery with their "idol," Mike West of the Lawrence, Kansas, band Truckstop Honeymoon in late September 2007.
Matt Shivelbine: We saw them come through town, and we knew Mike recorded a lot of other bands that we really like. So we went to their show and talked to him. And he said he'd be happy to do it. It was great. We stayed in the studio, it's like the third floor of his house. We just slept on the floor of the studio.
JM: We ate, slept, worked all in that one room. Somehow we can still talk to each other. It's really kind of odd.
MS: We did the whole thing in what, about three and a half days? Four days?
Eagan: Four days, and the fifth day was just laying down extra percussion and going back in and re-doing harmonies.
JM: A lot of the whoo-whoo-whoo-whoos, those were done on the last day.
MS: The frying pan was on day five.
There's a frying pan?
MS: Yeah, there's one song that has a clanging in it. We picked up one of their cast-iron skillets and just beat it with a stick.
Where do you guys feel like you fit in the St. Louis music community?
JM: I guess we're more in the rockers scene than the jam scene.
I would never use "jam" to describe you...
JS: Our songs are a little too short to jam.
MS: Most of our songs wouldn't take up the same amount of time that one guitar solo would in a jam band. On the record, when we had the song "Bones," the slow song on there, what is it, like, four and a half minutes long? It's the longest song we've ever played.
How did you guys get hooked up with Big Muddy Records and [label owner] Chris Baricevic?
JM: We started playing a bunch of shows with all those bands — Johnny O & the Jerks, the Vultures, Casey Reid...
MS: We played a lot of basements with them.
JM: Chris and I were really drunk one night and I told him, "Whether you like it or not, we're getting on your label. Deal with that, you're putting out our record." And he said, "Well, I think that was kind of already in the works." There you go. [Laughs]
MS: He's been great.
JM: And it's cool, because he's pestering us every other damn day to make sure we're doing stuff. He's always meeting with us. It's cool dealing with somebody who really frickin' cares.
What are you guys proudest of about the record?
MS: Mike has a great studio, and he really knows how to record acoustic bands. We probably passed 40 or 50 studios on the way to Lawrence to record there.
PE: He would just yell, "Do it again! Do it again! Do it again!"
JM: Oh, man, he was so hard on us, and it was so good.
PE: It was exactly what we needed. The record wouldn't have come out half as well if he wouldn't have been cracking the whip on us.
JS: He's like, "Well, usually I let bands think that they have control over what's going to happen. But I don't have time for that, so I'm just going to tell you straight what to record."
JM: I agreed with every single decision he made.
MS: Except for the one, where we had to sing falsetto on that song. That was hilarious.
JS: He's like, "Try this line, for just backup vocals."
MS: Jason and I went into the booth and we're like [imitates a crackling, high singing voice]. Mike fell out of his chair laughing, it was so bad. [All laugh]
MS: The thing I'm really proud of, is that most of what you're hearing is us all standing in a room playing together. We didn't go in one at a time and play our parts. It's all of us together. There's some takes that aren't completely perfect, but as a group it sounded great.
What are the biggest misconceptions about you guys?
JM: One thing that's nice is we've finally gotten to the point where people will start telling us, "Nice show." Whereas before everyone would just come up to us...they'd never hate the show, they'd always be like, "Man, that was something!"
PE: Yeah, I remember getting a lot of, "That was interesting!"
JM: That was something. Well, what's that supposed to mean? Now we're to the point now where no matter what, people will react to our shows — whether you like it, hate it, I don't care.
JS: Just feel something.
JM: Just react to it.
JS: Just remember us.
8 p.m. Friday, March 28. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $7. 314-773-3363.