MonstrO Bassist Speaks on Debut Album, Ending Bloodsimple, and Kyuss Lives! Tour
Heavy rockers MonstrO released their first album earlier this year. On paper, the group is a newcomer. However, each member has a long resume, playing in numerous, recognized metal bands such as Danzig, Torche, Bloodsimple, Skrew and Jerry Cantrell. The group has a long-standing relationship with Alice in Chains. MonstrO used Chains vocalist William DuVall to produce their debut, self-titled album. Kyle Sanders opened for Alice in Chains on his tour with Bloodsimple, and drummer Bevan Davies sat behind the kit for Jerry Cantrell and with William DuVall in Comes with the Fall.
The vast experience each member brings surely played a role in MonstrO’s myriad sound. The group displays elements of stoner rock, psychedelic, heavy metal, hard rock and grunge. In an effort to describe the band without boxing it into a single sub-genre, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Kyuss are bands that come to mind. The group lists Kyuss as an influence, which makes their current tour with the renamed and revamped Kyuss Lives! all the more sweeter.
Before treading a path to the stage for The Sword and Kyuss Lives! (reviewed here ), arguably the stoner rock tour of the year, MonstrO founder and bassist spoke with Metal Underground from Stubb’s subterranean dressing room in Austin, Texas. The dreadlocked, deep-toned provider enthusiastically stated how grateful he was to open for a band of such admiration, while recalling the closing of a chapter in his life in Bloodsimple, and the opening of a new chapter with MonstrO.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): How did you come up with the name MonstrO? What is the significance of the capital "O?"
Kyle Sanders: We went through the whole process of coming up with band names, just the words. Every name we came up with sucked. (laughs) Juan [Montoya] came up with MonstrO. To the Portuguese, it means “monster.” That one just stuck. As soon as he said it, we just knew that was the name it would be. As far as the “O,” I started a Facebook page to get the ball rolling, and I’m not sure of the significance, I just thought it looked cool. I incorporated the big “M” and the big “O” into a moon, and it just fell into place. It started out as a cool thing for the band page that I started, and we just stuck with it the whole time.
Cowan: Does it have anything to do with girls saying “MonstrOOOOO?”
Sanders: Yeah, that’s exactly right!
Cowan: Did this band form after the demise of Bloodsimple?
Sanders: Bevin [Davies], our drummer now, was in Bloodsimple toward the end. He was on the last few tours. We went through a lot of drummers, but he was in. We finally solidified that. Once all that happened, Bloodsimple took a break and started falling apart. We definitely wanted to stick together. We were going through the process of finding…jumping into a situation of a band that needed a rhythm section or starting over from scratch. That’s when I met up with Juan from Torche. He went through the same kind of thing with his band. He was looking for a fresh start. We were both on the same page for what we wanted to do. I told him, I have a drummer. Let’s get together and see what happens. Bloodsimple turned into a month break, and then two months, three months—I could just tell it wasn’t looking good. You can’t sit around, stagnant. As bad as it is to start over again, I pretty much had no choice but to move forward.
Cowan: Is Bloodsimple no longer a band?
Sanders: Yeah, we are definitely no longer, as far as I can tell. At first, I thought we would just take a break. We could take the summer off and people could work out their issues. Then, too much time went by. When we were apart, things were crumbling and falling apart. After a few months, I just knew it wasn’t… I had faith we could get back together, and get things going again. I could just tell that wasn’t going to happen, so I just had to face the facts.
Cowan: When you formed this band, did you form it with a style in mind that was different than Bloodsimple?
Sanders: Yeah, we definitely wanted to do something different. That’s where me and Juan were on the same page. We wanted to so something heavier, but something melodic and psychedelic, have real melodies and a lot of singing. We knew what we wanted to do; we just weren’t sure how we were going to put it all together. We had a vision of where we wanted to music to end up. We just had to go through the process of finding our way.
Cowan: When you wrote your debut album, did you write the album by committee or did just a couple of your members do most of the writing?
Sanders: We mostly started out jamming. In the beginning, it was just the three of us: Bevan, Juan and myself. We started writing music. Juan had so many riffs that it was just genius. He just started playing something, and then we all jumped in and saw where it went. We would just get in a room together, start jamming and the chemistry started flowing. When Charlie [Suarez] came into the picture, he just started laying the right kind of vocals over it. He also has ideas of his own. He would send over some music. He lives in Miami and the rest of us are Atlanta. So the majority of it was written starting out with Juan playing, the three of us forming the songs and then when Charlie came in, we finished writing what ended up being our first record. It’s a group effort, completely. Charlie writes all the lyrics. We just pitch in and do everything else together.
Cowan: Bands don’t like classifications, but how much of the modern stoner rock sound has rubbed off on you coming up from Atlanta with bands like Mastodon and the whole southern-fried kind of sound?
Sanders: I don’t know. We all, individually, have our own kind of styles. Juan is from Miami. He came up a couple of years ago. I’ve lived there pretty much my whole life. I’m sure it has rubbed off. I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think it’s more about the chemistry between us. This is a stoner rock kind of tour. We’re not a stoner rock band. We have a lot of jams, and there is definitely some stony, kind of dreamy moments and it gets straight down heavy, then it gets really trippy, dreamy and melodic. Thankfully, nobody has been able to categorize us, yet, so hopefully it will stay that way. People can pick up different elements, here and there, and hear some similarities to other genres and bands. Thankfully, nobody has pigeonholed us into “this is what they are.” It is what it is. That’s good.
Cowan: William DuVall, vocalist for Alice in Chains, produced your album. What was it like working with him? Was he a hands-on type of producer?
Sanders: He was fully hands on. He’s a really cool, trippy, vibey kind of guy, so he fit in perfectly with us. He was basically the fifth member of the whole project. He was there from the first pre-production, rehearsal, all the way to the very end of the mix. He was there every step of the way. I’ve never had a producer who was there for every bass line, every guitar note—everything! When something was recording, nothing was done with him not there. He was definitely hands on. He’s awesome! He’s an awesome guy. I’ve known him for a little while because Bloodsimple toured with Alice in Chains when they first decided to get back together and tour again. Bevin has a long history with him because they played together in bands in Atlanta. It was definitely meant to be. We didn’t set out that way. We didn’t plan on using him to produce the record, it just happened. We were looking for someone to produce it. William was interested. He liked the music. He came in and everything just sort of feel into place. It was awesome.
Cowan: How did you get signed with Vagrant Records?
Sanders: A lot of people wanted to see the band. Of course, nobody was going to come out and see us. We had to go to them. We booked a few shows in New York. We booked a few shows out here [Austin], and a few shows in L.A. We said here’s where we’re playing if you are interested in seeing us. Come out and see us. Vagrant were the first ones to the table, and then a lot of people followed, talking about they wanted to sign us, but everyone was hesitant about it. Vagrant, from the beginning, were the first one to make an offer. They’re real passionate. They get the band. It just worked out. They were the first ones up, we weeded through a bunch of others, and at the end they were still the ones standing strong and standing behind what they said they would do for the band. Up to this point, it couldn’t be any better. Those guys are great so far.
Cowan: Vagrant features some big artists such as PJ Harvey, Protest the Hero and Thrice. How do you feel about being part of their roster? Do you think your band fits well with the other artists?
Sanders: I think their roster is great! I really don’t care what bands are on the label. They have really diverse styles, which is great. They are just a metal label, punk label or whatever. Personally, it’s the guy who is behind the band, how passionate he/she is about us. Wayne from Vagrant really loves us; he gets our music, so he is the reason why we signed with them. He was really passionate about the band; we could tell he was going to be behind us. That’s all that I could really ask for—stand behind our band and do what you said you’re going to do. It just so happens that they are really great label with a bunch of cool bands. I’d love to go tour with some of those bands. A PJ Harvey tour would be amazing. It’s so diverse, if something were to come up and we could fit the bill, we could make some interesting packages.
Cowan: Has anyone ever told you that Charlie’s voice is similar to Chris Cornell?
Sanders: Absolutely, dude, which is amazing. Charlie is someone with raw talent. We knew he was good and he had it in him. We just needed someone to bring it out. That’s where William really stepped up, took him under his wing and showed him the way. He showed him how to really use his voice. Charlie is doing things he didn’t even think he was capable of. The way he sang on that record is just amazing! I definitely hear some Cornell. We’re really flattered to hear things like that because it don’t get much better than that.
Cowan: How has the tour been, so far? Do you feel MonstrO is a good match with The Sword and Kyuss?
Sanders: The tour has been low drama, low stress. It’s just easy. Everybody is on the same level. It’s great when you are happy to see the same people every day. It’s not like, “Oh god, here comes so and so.” Everybody’s band and crew is just awesome. For us to be the first band out of the gate to go on tour with Kyuss Lives! is just awesome. I couldn’t really ask for much more. The first song that we wrote [“Fantasma”], which is the first song on the record, right when Juan started playing that riff, I said, “Man, that sounds like a Kyuss riff.” That was our first rehearsal and now that is the first tour that we’re on, which is kind of cool. Put a record out and go out with Kyuss—man, that’s just awesome! The Sword are great dudes, too. We’ve gotten to know them on this tour.
Cowan: You mentioned Kyuss. Were you a fan of the group before their split?
Sanders: Absolutely, I was. Back in the early nineties, I damn sure was. I never saw them, either. I’m not sure why. I must not have been in the same town where they were playing or whatever. I never got to see them live, but now I get to see them play every night. We played their first show back in the States since their last show in the States, which was 1995, I think they said. This tour started their first show back in North America. Listening to them every night brings back some cool memories.
Cowan: They didn’t seem to do many tours.
Sanders. No, they didn’t. I asked them and they couldn’t even remember the last time they played in North America. Where was it and when was it? I don’t even know or it could have been something I didn’t know about.
Cowan: What’s next for MonstrO? Do you have another tour planned?
Sanders: We’re going out with Black Tusk for a couple weeks. They’re from Savannah, some southern boys. It’s mostly East Coast and some Mid-West. We’re trying to solidify an international deal so we can start spreading our wings and get over seas. That’s [Black Tusk] definitely the next tour, and there is some talk about other things going on. I hope something will come up before the holidays hit, which are basically already here. Something will come up. In the meantime, we’ll keep working, writing and touring.
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