Interview: Monkey With… Vocalist Monkey on Debut Solo Release

Monkey, the flamboyant frontman of beloved punk veterans The Adicts, has released his debut solo release, under the moniker Monkey With…, on Dr. Strange Records. On this exciting and rollicking S/T four-song EP, he’s joined by an impressive crew of seasoned punk musicians which includes drummer Phil Rowland (Eater/Slaughter and the Dogs), guitarist Kevin Preston (The Skulls/Prima Donna/Green Day), and bassist Inge Johansson (The (International) Noise Conspiracy/Against Me!). Here, the vocalist delves into the origins of the project and the songs included, as well as his other latest artistic endeavor—painting and having his artwork displayed in galleries and sold on his site.

I didn’t know what led to the project. Was it during the lockdowns? Or what happened.
It actually wasn’t a band project. It was songs I had around for a long time. I had recorded them in a home studio with a friend about 20 years ago actually, a couple of songs and they just sat around forever. They can actually be found if you dug really, really deeply. [Laughter] Obscure German compilation from way back when. But anyway, some friends, particularly Kevin, who plays on the EP, always encouraged me to one day re-record the songs. So, that started to develop over a year ago I think we started talking about perhaps doing it again. And just so happens that the other two guys who play on it, Phil Rowland and Inge Johansson, were around. And I pitched it to them, and they liked the idea. It just sort of gained some momentum then. It just rolled along on its own, but then again, that was over a year ago that we recorded it with the desire to just put it out on vinyl is why it kind of took us a long time from recording it to actually getting it out because the vinyl back up is horrendous, really. It takes months and months and months to get vinyl pressed. So, it’s been a long process from reviving the songs and getting the people into the studio and doing that. That was real quick. The recording process was maybe like two days, and we did that locally. I’m in Ventura County, which is north of L.A. And as were all the other guys. Inge since then has gone back to Sweden, had some projects of his own over there. But at the time we were all local, so we did it close by, we did it quickly and enjoyably. Those guys contributed a whole lot to the process ‘cause I’m not a musician, I don’t play an instrument, so I can’t give much direction on that. But, having recorded the songs before, I had those demos that we could take off from. There’s no real goal I’d say. It was just a fun thing to do. And I’m sure I’ll perhaps do it again in one form or another with these guys or with some other people. I see it more of a collaboration and a collective project, not just me. The idea of “Monkey With…” is me and these guys and maybe next time those guys or other guys. Guys and girls. Different genres. It’s very open and fluid concept, I guess. So, we’ll see how it goes. 

I like that. The idea of keeping it open. That’s cool. The song “Jenny Zero,” you didn’t write 20 years ago…?
Yes, actually. 

I’d written that, I’m pretty sure that one we recorded in 2000. The lyrics are still relevant. Basically, it was about being disconnected because you’re focused on social media. So, perhaps it rings truer now than when it did then, I guess. 

Yeah, 20 years ago it was there, but now it seems worse.

And it seems more like you say relevant to the times.
I don’t really get too deep into the lyrics, I guess. I like to have a little story, some sort of back line, but some throwaway stuff in some ways. But yeah, I was surprised the lyrics are still relevant, but even more so.  

Even that one. It’s such a happy-sounding song but then the lyrics are kind of depressing… The juxtaposition.
Yeah. Always look on the bright side, maybe.  

That was interesting, though, you said all the guys that you worked with on this were close by. 
Kevin I’ve known for a long time, since he was a teenager and he played in The Skulls which were a reformation of a 1977 L.A. punk band. So, he played with them, and I have other friends who play in The Skulls. So, I’ve known him since then and he’s subsequently went on to form his own band, Prima Donna, and then he got himself a connection with Green Day, so he played in Foxboro Hot Tubs. And all those side projects that Billie Joe Armstrong had. Kevin was involved with several of those, and then eventually this year he joined Green Day as the second guitarist, so he’s been touring with those guys, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy and he’s just an amazing guitarist too. And then the drummer, Phil Rowland, who’s another old English guy like me, played in Eater and Slaughter and the Dogs. He ended up in San Fernando Valley, which is near me ,and I didn’t know he was close by until two or three years ago, we connected and we became friends and worked on this project. And then Inge was around then, and he was in The (International) Noise Conspiracy and was in Against Me! for a while. And he has his own project back in Sweden, but he had to return to Sweden shortly after we finished the recording, and hasn’t had the chance to get out here yet. Possibility we might play a show or two when he comes back in the summer. We’ll see about that.  

Oh yeah. That’d be cool. I didn’t realize you started this before all the COVID stuff had started happening. 
I can’t remember exactly the date. I know at some point we went into the studio last year just to do some finishing touches. It may have been some before and some during. The whole timeline seems a blur. You can’t seem to remember, what was that, 2020?! Because what the fuck happened to that year? [Laughter] I don’t know what we were doing then.  

And then I saw with your artwork, which is something so interesting that you have, after shows with your face paint, the makeup, you have imprints. I saw you have it from Tempe. That was the last show I ever went to last year [February 2020].
Yeah. That part of the artwork is something I obviously started when we were still on the road, doing those face imprints of the makeup, after the show. Most of the other art I’ve been doing lately is directly related to COVID and lockdown. I don’t have the opportunity to go out on the road and go crazy and express myself at the moment, so it all had to come out in some form or another, so I just started painting or whatever you want to call it, sculpting. Just being creative at home. Now I just have some things in some galleries and some shows and do some pop-ups and stuff like that. It’s been my main source of creative expression for the last year or so. More art than music, really.  

Had you dabbled in painting before this?
No. I mean, stuff for the shows—clothes, and props and all those kind of things, obviously directed for the Adicts shows and that framework, which is amazing in itself, and there’s a lot of freedom there. But it has to be a certain look, a certain vibe for that. But not being able to do that, it came out in different ways. But, no, I haven’t done painting. And I’m not sure what I do now is really painting. I’m just throwing things on the canvas. [Laughter] All kinds of different medium. I don’t really know where it comes from or what comes next. Just open up your mind and your heart and see where it goes. It’s satisfying and therapeutic in some ways. And it’s good to be able to have a chance to hang it on a wall now and again for other people to see. But it’s a very different experience than doing a show. Building up and doing a punk show, and, well, you’ve seen what an Adicts show is and what a party that is. So, you have all that excitement and the joy and the thrill and the happiness and all that. But you put your time and your heart into a piece of art and hang it on the wall, you don’t get quite the same payoff. [Laughter] It’s a different kind of gratification, I guess. 

What about getting with Dr. Strange for this EP?
I’ve known Dr. Strange, or Bill, for a long time. I moved to California in 1993. I probably met him not too long after then, so, we’re just friends, really. And it’s always easy to, when you already have an established connection. It’s probably the best record store in Southern California. The label does good stuff too, and just seemed like an obvious thing to do. And he was up for doing it. It’s a fun project. It’s probably not a huge seller—it’s not going to break any records, but it’s just a fun thing to do. And trying to stick with people you know and people you like.  

That’s why I like the idea of if you do keep up with it and maybe working with the same people or getting in touch with other people.
Yeah, maybe do something with Dr. Strange, guys he already has on the label. More ideas than I have time to execute, really.  

One other thing, your video for “Shark Bite” it looks really nice but super weird, which is awesome. [Laughter] 

Have you ever done anything like that before? Directing a video.
We had some creative input on Adicts stuff, but The Adicts didn’t really do a lot of promotional videos, maybe two or three. But no, so this one is just a thing I did on my own. Obviously, the song led to the look of the concept for the video. I just shot it with—I had a camera, my phone, and a couple of other friends had phones. Jumped in a friend’s pool and we went to the beach over here in Ventura, and just rolled around and did silly stuff. And then I gave all that footage to my friend Mary Sonic Woo, who did all the really good stuff and she really made it what it is. But that’s kind of the vision I had: fun, colorful, cartoonish, slightly weird.  

Slightly weird. Yes. I think it hits all the marks.
Thanks. [Laughter]  

That’d be great if one day you guys could play live. 
Yeah, I’m sure it’ll happen at one point, but it’s one of those open projects that doesn’t really have an agenda or look ahead. When it comes around it comes around and we’ll do it. We’ll see. 

But again, just that you were saying some of these songs were from years ago, are there any that were new?
I don’t have any new songs. Actually, when I wrote those songs, my friend Mark, I think there was 10 songs, so there’s still some from that session we had rehearsed with the other guys, but we ended up picking those four for the EP. There’s more of those songs that we could record. I’ve got ideas for some cover songs and some other ideas. But the frustrating thing about getting it pressed on vinyl and the time it takes, is that if we were to go into the studio and record another four songs tomorrow, it probably wouldn’t be out until late next year. Of course, you could drop it on digital and CD, almost immediately, but putting it on vinyl is still a drawn-out process. I don’t know what we’ll do next, but something will happen.  

Just about your artwork again, so you had the Viva La Punx and Punk Rock and Paintbrushes [exhibits in December], so I guess you’ll keep going with that…
Yeah. I’ll keep working on that. I’ve already got some ideas. I still have stuff up at the UMA Gallery, Destroy Art, those guys. Occasionally I just do a pop-up here and there, set up a table and sell prints and other things and all that. Again, there’s no real schedule to that either. What comes along. And I have the webstore, too, where I have a bunch of stuff there. I have some new stuff ready to go up there and I have some other designs at Destroy Art, where I have some of my designs on some clothing now.  

That just must’ve been cool, to be involved with the art exhibits, with other people and people in bands. It seems like a nice time.
Yeah, it is. You see what other people are doing and you admire their work, and you get to meet new people. Like just yesterday for example, I saw a photographer called Steve Rapport there, an English guy. He was selling some of his prints and we’d never met before. We started talking and a friend of his started talking and it turns out we had common ground. We were both at one point from the same county back in England. And Steve Rapport has this amazing portfolio of back in the ‘70s shooting The Clash and all the punk bands, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Damned, and shooting in London at the beginning of that. And then he went on to shoot Queen and he’d done a lot of work with The Jam and Paul Weller and Style Council. It’s just nice to meet people that are somewhat kindred spirits.  

Definitely. And I know you’ve probably talked about it a million times, but just you, it’s always so interesting to talk to people who have been in the scene for so long. How did you get into rock ‘n’ roll and punk in the first place? If you would.
Purely luck, really. Like I said before I’m not a musician, I had no idea about being in a band. But it was just because of the nature of punk rock. It’s like, well, you don’t really have to know what you’re doing or be able to play an instrument to a certain level. It was just like, if you wanna get up there and do it and make noise and jump around, you can do it. Which a lot of people did. I was lucky I landed with some people who had some talent. Pete and Kid and Mel back then, and then Pete and Kid and myself have been together for over 40 years now. I developed my style and my persona as a frontman, but it was those guys who had the musical talent that sustained, really. A lot of those fuck-it-let’s-get-up-and-make-a-noise-because-we’re-a-punk-band didn’t last very long because if you really can’t play your instrument there’s not really very far you can go as a band. But if you got people alongside you that do have that talent, then you’re very likely to have that longevity. I didn’t really have any ideas about being in a band or aspirations or even any talent, really, and then it was just something that evolved over time.  

But even getting into rock ‘n’ roll and the music at the time, how you found it.
I was a fan of music, more pop and glam, really, as a teenager. I used to listen to T. Rex and Slade, all those English glam bands from the ‘70s was kind of what I was into, and then that went into more rock stuff. But Bowie and Roxy Music and those more avant-garde styles. Lou Reed and that kind of stuff and that [segued] into punk.  

Do you see anything coming out with The Adicts?
I don’t know. Pete’s been working on some remixes of some older stuff I think, but my joy is just being on stage, so that’s really what I’d like to be back at. Hopefully that won’t be too much longer before we can get out there again.  

Listen to “Sharkbite” here:

For more from Monkey With…, find him on the Dr. Strange Records site.

Photo courtesy of Monkey With… and Marlena Khramov

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