I came to know Mike McMonagle’s music through the world of Social Media, namely his brother Joey of the band Slimfit, kept bragging about him on Facebook. So when I got a chance to hear his stuff online and then hear a live set last weekend, I was already primed to love it. His music is a little Dylan, a little Drive-By Truckers, and a little Jelly Roll Morton. He strums the guitar like he’s going to break it and rolls his raspy, melodic vocals over top. His sound reminds me of a defunct factory in the purple twilight, all beauty where you might least expect it.
Here’s what he had to say when I asked him my standard questions:
Describe your music for folks. Who are your influences? The artists you don’t want to sound like at all?
I somehow always struggle with the genre thing, which is probably linked to my resistance to the whole concept of categorizing music (which is a Iâ€™m glad to discuss at some other time for the sake of not being too long-winded here). Typically, I default to describing it as something â€œfolksyâ€ or â€œrootsy,â€ followed by a quick explanation of my playing either solo, or as a duo, or as a trio, or a four-piece… Itâ€™s all actually quite confusing, even for me. But yeah, something in that folk arena, generally speaking.
As far as influences go, one that quickly comes to mind is the Avett Brothers. I first saw them in May 2007, the day after I graduated from college. Joey (my brother) called me up on my drive home from Baltimore, told me he had a ticket for me and to just come; at the time I had never heard of the band. I went on blind faith, and was affected immediately. They showed so much raw energy, and it was so natural and unforced. They really challenged me to consider the opportunities that abound when performing live. When youâ€™re on stage, and the crowd is looking at you, you have their attention. Why not do it as hard as you can, maybe give them something to talk about or remember.
Another obvious influence is Bob Dylan. I remember listening to Desire on my parentsâ€™ record player growing up. â€œHurricaneâ€ might have been my first introduction to swear words, I think. But yeah, like so many other singer/songwriters, Iâ€™m struck by just how easy he makes it look telling a story with your songs. He seems boundless in his recordings, and I think thatâ€™s a quality Iâ€™m trying now more than ever to emulate.
An artist I donâ€™t want to be compared to is any one that completely sucks. Music is a subjective thing, so I donâ€™t get offended when someone says I sound like John Mayer or Kevin Costner (who does, actually, kinda suck). I mainly find most of the comparisons interesting and humorous.
What do you love about playing music? What do you hate?
I love playing live. I think Iâ€™ve only turned down opportunities to play a handful of times, usually for scheduling reasons. Otherwise, I have no problem helping out a block party or some event even if no pay is involved, for the sole purpose of being able to do it (a promise of free beers, or at least coffee, is usually good enough). But donâ€™t get me wrong, I enjoy getting paid as much as anyone else and am not about going pro bono every other gig. That money buys new strings, or a new guitar which Iâ€™m looking into now. Ironically, however, the money thing is probably high on my hate list too. Money makes people and situations weird somehow. And in a town like Lancaster, everyone knows each other, so it gets tough asking for money or disputing a payment â€“ normal â€œbusinessâ€ discussions involved with providing a service or performance â€“ when youâ€™re talking to a friend. I guess thatâ€™s why bands hire managers.
If you were a spice, what spice would you be and why?
I thought long and hard about this, and even bounced some ideas off of a few spice-knowledgeable friends. Iâ€™m going with Cinnamon (which, you might have recommended to me at one point?). As for why â€“ cinnamon is a spice that is pretty popular and applicable to a lot of cooking situations and drinks. It can be really good in large quantities, and it can be the perfect final touch or garnish. Bottom line is that itâ€™s versatile and adaptable. I think I can be thrown into unfamiliar situations and quickly figure out what level of â€œmeâ€ is required and carry myself in a comfortable and fun manner. I think the two parallel?
What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever experienced?
Iâ€™ve noticed that Iâ€™m a very impressionable person, and so itâ€™s kind of hard for me to nail down and award one experience the Most Beautiful trophy. Iâ€™m pretty fascinated with nature, which has manifested itself in a photography hobby. In my life, Iâ€™ve been guilty of setting 4 a.m. alarms to see meteor showers, going for midnight beach walks to count shooting stars or going for a hike by myself just to look at the trees and flowers. I guess itâ€™s apparent that â€œnatureâ€ could be my answer in a general sense, seeing as how I subconsciously thought in that way when I read the question.
How do you feel about your brother Joey, putting aside that he is, of course, a god?
Joey â€“ and team Slimfit â€“ have been tremendously supportive of my musical endeavors. My first showing at the Chameleon featured Joey on bass and Pat (Kirchner) on electric, and Joey has played bass a few times since then. See, Joey and Pat have been best friends since high school, which means I’ve basically known Pat for more than half of my life. The two of them have been influential on my writing and have repeatedly served as sounding boards for new song ideas. I have had tunes shot down by them and whole-heartedly trusted their opinions; conversely, songs I was iffy on have been pushed and ultimately ended up as favorites. Slimfit is a remarkable group of people that go well beyond the bounds of “band mates” and really take a vested interest in each others’ lives. You can’t beat that.
If you could tour with any musician or band, who would you pick and why?
Iâ€™d probably have to say the Avett Brothers. Iâ€™m sure Scott and Seth Avett are a hilarious pair, with the brother bond and all. Bob Crawford (bassist) seems like heâ€™s good for an unsuspecting zinger now and again. Joe Kwon (cello) is the oddball, and I find that fascinating. He keeps up a tour blog with photography and dining experiences from the different cities they visit, which I find awesome. Sure, they are getting huge and the exposure would be amazing by itself. But if youâ€™re going to tour with someone, I think itâ€™s important to have an element of fun involved, just to keep yourself sane. I have friends whose bands broke up after touring; it was too much. I wouldnâ€™t want that to happen, ha.
Since my blog talks about books a lot, what are some of your favorites?
Iâ€™m embarrassed to admit that I am nowhere near as well-read as I would like to be â€“ and arguably should be. I do like to read, but a combination of undiagnosed-and-likewise-untreated A.D.D. and an admittedly undisciplined social life render me mostly incapable of finishing a book. That being said, I am happy to report that in my short lifetime so far, I have actually finished one or two and have favorites: Choke by Chuck Palahniuk (and most of his other books) â€“ the man is twisted, but crafts a hell of a tale nonetheless; The Prophet by Khalil Gibran â€“ a lot of awesome, beautiful language and metaphors contemplating some of the most commonplace aspects of life; Green Grass Grace by Shawn McBride â€“ Joey recommended this; the author is a friend of a friend, and this book is hysterical, irreverent and craftily written in the perspective of a 13-year-old in Philly in 1984 â€“ canâ€™t recommend it enough.
If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
Growing up, I was a huge fan of monkeys. I had at least three stuffed animals named George (should have mentioned Curious George in the favorite books question), and many more chimps, gorillas and apes. So for many reasons, a monkey is my first reaction â€“ theyâ€™re playful, goofy, able to throw thingsâ€¦all striking comparisons to myself.
Lately, however, Iâ€™ve taken more to turtles. I think Iâ€™m envious of their patience and slow nature. For whatever reason, Iâ€™m always in a rush; I think Iâ€™ve had 8 or 9 speeding tickets in my life so far. So in the last year or so of my life, Iâ€™ve tried to be more turtle-like. When I lived in Virginia, I co-adopted with a friend a red-eared slider that we named Babe. I say â€œco-adoptedâ€ because I was offered the turtle from a different friend who was moving and needed to shed the turtle, and my friend who was still local was ok with housing Babe and cleaning the cage, feeding her, etc. Anyway, we learned that the very domesticated Babe still had her primal instinct intact one day when we doubled the water level and bought some feeder fish. Almost immediately, the hunt was on. She was darting all over the place and before long had eaten all 10 fish.
Now Iâ€™m probably not there yet, but ideally, if you ask me this question again in six months or a year, Iâ€™ll be able to say Iâ€™m like a turtle who plays domestic and lives off of dried shrimp pellets because it has to (and can), but inside it never loses its identity as a wild creature, capable of fending for itself when the time called for it.
That was deeper than I expected it to be.
What’s it like to be a part of the Lancaster, PA music scene?
Interesting. To be honest, this is the only scene Iâ€™ve ever known on an active and (increasingly) intimate level. When I moved home from Virginia at Thanksgiving in 2009, I didnâ€™t know what to expect. I had a list of songs that I had written but never really played out during my two years in Arlington. So I was excited to try them out on what I had heard and experienced through attending many a Slimfit show to be a captive audience. Turned out, it was more captive than a newbie like myself would have liked at first and I was a bit nervous. The last name was recognized I think because of Joey â€“ for better or for worse, ha. But I just kind of dived right in and was pleasantly surprised by the support for local music, by both fellow musicians and the community. I always expected an area saturated with so much quality talent and a finite number of venues to be more cutthroat. But that was not the case. I made friends pretty quickly with many of the bands and would see them out at shows â€“ whether theirs or someone elseâ€™s.
The scene is pretty tight-knit from my perspective. Iâ€™ve been lucky to have other musicians share booking contacts and mention my shows on their Facebook statuses. I try to do the same too, using that Golden Rule mentality. And even if a booking person brings me on because they know Joey or think theyâ€™re booking Slimfit, I try to make sure they remember that thereâ€™s a new McMonagle on the block. Oh, and to say Thank You.
Make an ultimate mixtape (10-12 songs) for my readers. Pick what you’d put on there today, in the mood you’re in now.
Here goes nothing. In no order:
Bob Dylan â€“ “Girl From The North Country” (Johnny Cash version)
Fleet Foxes â€“ “Oliver James”
Karate â€“ “Original Spies”
Madi Diaz â€“ “Letâ€™s Go”
Joe Purdy â€“ “Ode to Sad Clown”
Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs â€“ “Beg Steal or Borrow”
Paul Cary â€“ “Angel From Heaven”
Sufjan Stevens â€“ “Sister”
Joe Pug â€“ “Hymn #101”
Bon Iver â€“ “Skinny Love”
Yellow Ostrich â€“ “WHALE”
The Low Anthem â€“ “To The Ghosts Who Write History Books”
The Avett Brothers â€“ “If Itâ€™s the Beaches”
(most taken from my iTunes â€œrecently playedâ€ list)
You can hear learn more about Mike and his music on Facebook and MySpace, follow him on Twitter, and even download a FREE copy of “Six and Four EP” here. Take some time to know this guy; you’ll be the coolest kid in school.