Plugged In: Moneen
Plugged In is an ongoing feature on Fender.com, highlighting Fender artists who we strongly recommend you “plug in” and give a listen.
Canada-based rock band Moneen has been relatively quite in North America the past few years, leaving their fans to wonder if they were even still together. Well, news flash, they’re back, and from the sound of things, better than ever. Self-described as an “angrier Jimmy Eat World” type of band, Moneen has a new drummer in Steve Nunnaro and are making a return to the North American scene this fall with a tour to promote their fourth studio album, The World I Want to Leave Behind.
Before supporting headliners Say Anything on the fall tour, Moneen planned to headline a few acts of their own. Unfortunately, the band’s van broke down in St. Louis, causing them to cancel shows in Nashville, Tenn., and Norman, Okla.
“In our 10 years of being a band, we’ve only had to cancel two shows,” said singer Kenny Bridges. “So to have to cancel two in the first week of this tour kind of freaked us out.”
But with the help of some friends, the band quickly put together a “Stuck in St. Louis” show, making the most of their three-day confinement in Missouri.
Fender News is happy to report the band made it all the way to Flagstaff, Ariz., for a headline show on Oct. 12, and then over to Scottsdale, Ariz., where they paid a visit to Fender headquarters en route to Anaheim, Calif., for the start of the tour with Say Anything. But before they drove off into the sunset, Fender News sat down with Bridges for the following Q&A…
FN: When did you start work on the new album, and how long did it take?
KB: The recording itself was probably a couple of months long. The actual writing and pre-production and preparing was about a year and a half all said and done, from writing the first song to Steve joining the band, and then having the actual album mastered was about a year and a half. It was kind of a long time and we felt bad for fans because a lot of people didn’t really know what was happening. We just kind of dropped off the face of the Earth. It was funny though, because we would go over to Germany and Australia and do all of these overseas tours, but we just didn’t do anything in North America for a long time. So people were wondering what happened to us.
But with Steve joining the band, we didn’t want to throw him right into recording.
We wanted him to be able to grow with us. Erik (Hughes) and Hippy (Chris Hughes) and I all know each other so well as players, so it’s very easy for us to play together and I didn’t want Steve to just be thrown into the studio. We wanted it to be organic and so we took a lot of time. That’s what we needed to do to test out these songs and let them grow. We kind of became a better band for it. When you tour all the time you get caught up more in the shows. We wanted to tour less and focus on the songs. I think it’s worked for us because this tour is not even two weeks into it, and I feel like we are ten times better band than we’ve ever been. It’s not about the stage antics as much as making these songs sound as best they can. I kind of feel like we are a real band now.
FN: You guys have said you tried out a lot of firsts on this album. How is it different than your other three studio albums?
KB: There are definitely way more intense moments and then a lot more kind of beautiful, quiet spacing than we’ve had on other records. Before, we kind of always balanced between those two worlds where I think now I got really into Sound Garden and just wanted to play riffs, which is so weird for our band because that’s not really what our band is all about. Hippy would come to jam and I would just talk about wanting to riff all day long. So this record, compared to our other records, we are definitely exploring a lot more areas of what we are personally into, which I think is cool. You can totally hear on this record that we tried a lot of different things. I guess every band says this, but it’s really our favorite up to this point.
Since we just released it a couple of weeks ago, we’re now in that stage where we are getting to play the songs live finally and kind of rediscovering the songs. We definitely had our favorites when we recorded the record, but now playing them live, some songs have become way more intense than they were even on the record.
FN: So what are some of your new favorite songs to play live?
KB: There’s this one called “The Monument” that I wrote on a baritone guitar. We’ve never had a song like this and we started playing it live, and it’s just really fun to play really low, especially because I usually play Telecasters with a really jangly sounding low gain. This is just so much gain; really low and thick. On the other side, there’s this song called “Believe,” which is this really stripped-down simple, more of like a straight-up songwriter kind of song with vocals woven in and out of real simple guitar parts. It’s kind of neat because depending on the mood we are in that day, we can tailor our set list completely different from show to show.
FN: How often do you change things up in your set list?
KB: We do a lot more these days. We got stuck for a while playing the same five songs throughout North American tours over and over. We were doing 30-minute sets opening up for other great bands that were bringing us out on tour and we got to the point where we were stuck on the same songs. Then we started seeing familiar faces at the shows and recognizing kids who were at the last two shows and felt like, “Oh no, we’re still playing the same five songs!” Now we have so many songs to choose from that it almost gives me a nervous breakdown prior to shows. There’s really too many songs to pick from. I basically start making a set list with the first songs to start with, then pick the ending songs and try to figure out the middle. Sometimes there’s a lot of gaps in there and we’re like, “What kind of set list is this? It doesn’t even make sense!” But it comes together eventually. We have done a few headline shows lately, playing for an hour to an hour and a half, and that’s fun because we just play any song we feel like and it’s been great.”
FN: Moneen’s been known for lengthy song titles, but The World I Want to Leave Behind is noticeably different, with pretty concise titles. Why the change?
KB: It’s nice isn’t it? I mean, when kids yell song titles to us and we have no idea what they are talking about, it’s pretty bad. Or you go to introduce a song and you can’t remember what the song is actually called because you have your own name for it. We would have set lists that kids would grab after, but they’d have no idea what the songs were because we’d have jam titles on there. Our song “Don’t Ever Tell Locke What He Can’t Do,” we’d call “Donkey” because it was this weird reference when we started jamming it at the beginning. So I don’t even care what the joke is anymore; we are going short titles because I can’t remember our freaking song names. Still though, I started looking at the track listing and realized there were so many “the’s” on there (“The Long Count,” “The Way,” and “The Monument”) and I was like, “Wait, are we a ‘The’ band now?” But I just had to get over it. I over-think everything, pretty much.
FN: Are there any songs on the album that have a cool back story?
KB: Yes, the song “Waterfalls” is unlike any Moneen song we’ve ever done before. It’s like real stripped down. It started off with just me on acoustic, and I was just going to record my own version and make a solo song or something. On Halloween every year my girlfriend and I throw this big Halloween party, and Erik was dressed as Spider-Man. I was dressed as an inappropriate thing we probably don’t want to mention in here, but we were sitting there in our costumes and I was playing this song and Spider-Man was blown away; he was speechless. So I thought maybe it could be a Moneen song even though we’d never done one like this. A really good friend of ours, who we call “Friendly Rich,” wrote these beautiful arrangements for it. In the studio we had a harp player, and I was sitting with my acoustic going through the song when it dawned on me, “Wow, 10 years ago when we started this band and I was rolling on the ground with my pants off and jumping off speaker stacks; I would never have thought I’d be sitting in a room with a harp player.” It was beautiful. It was incredible.
Overall, there were more moments on this record where we did things like having a string quartet come in and having this glockenspiel player freaking out on a glockenspiel. I’m a huge Beach Boys fan and I’ve always loved how diverse Pet Sounds was, as far as so many layers of sounds. We’ve always wanted to do that, but it’s tough, especially if you are a rock band. It’s so easy to just muddy it all up and just make clutter. This time we were real focused on leaving space. We were always noodling and playing way too much, so it was almost more difficult to be more simple, but it just gave us all of this room where we could fill in these little spots with nice string arrangements or piano parts. As musicians, it was probably the best experience we’ve ever had recording. We learned so much by how to use those little spaces and realized we don’t have to fill them up; you don’t need noise there all the time. Then of course there are still moments where it’s like, “Yeah, pile every delay pedal together. Is that feedback? Cool, record it, let’s go, smash that over there.” We didn’t care about anything at times; it was just going with the moment.
FN: When you’re doing all this noodling, what’s your go-to guitar, or do you use an assortment?
KB: I play Telecaster®. All Tele. For a long time I’d go and find used Japanese ‘60s reissue Telecaster guitars. I just thought they were the best guitars I could ever find. I had three of them, but it got really hard to find and I was really rough on guitars for years. There was one guitar I had on one tour that I had to fix the neck 13 times. Mind you, it was great for the audience, but not so good for me gluing and clamping. I always liked single-coil pickups but I always wanted a little more gain, so when I first met Billy (Siegle, Fender artist relations manager) and we were just talking guitars, he told me, “We’ve got a dual humbucker Tele; you should try it.” I didn’t even know it existed. I tried it and ever since I haven’t looked back. I do miss playing my single-coil Telecaster guitars, and there are certain songs that it will work great on, but my guitar now is this one monster just kicking people in the face. The other guitars I used to use didn’t feel balanced enough for our set, so I’ve just gone humbucker-humbucker all the way now. Recently though, I got a baritone guitar—a Jaguar® baritone. That guitar is so much fun to play. I immediately started writing songs with it. It’s the first guitar I’ve played in this band that’s not a Tele.
FN: What are your thoughts on the upcoming tour with Say Anything?
KB: Yeah, can’t wait. It’s a couple of months long. It’s in great-sized rooms and it’s our first States tour that we’ve done in two years; maybe more, so I can’t wait. I can’t wait to play every night. It’s going to be short sets because we are just second on the bill, but we are excited about that. We’re just going to try and hit people in the face as hard as we can. I think it’s going to be good. The record just came out, so there’s no better way to get in front of people than by going and playing the House of Blues room and some really nice rooms with a great PA so that the music comes through really well. I love playing big rooms, but I also like playing tiny rooms. We’ve played, like, somebody’s dorm room kitchen before, so we’re all over the place. We’ll play anywhere.
For more information on Moneen, including tour dates, click here now!