‘Our hope is that people feel fidgety when they listen to us & want to move in both an emotional & physical sense’
Anyone my age will remember the spectacular live scene in Melbourne in the 80’s. Pubs covered the city and there was so much happening you could literally walk from venue to venue and catch some brilliant live music. The same bands would play a few times a week and you never tired of seeing them smash out the familiar tunes. Music was loud, venues were packed and oceans of humans moved to the same rhythm under a cloud of smoke and sweat. Ahhhhh that sweet sweet music nostalgia.
Flash forward to a recent gig, Smashfest at Bombay Rock in Brunswick, where I caught Melbourne band DevilMonkey. The same energy filled the room and it could be attributed to the fact that these guys are veterans in the Melbourne music scene. Together they bring an almost clean punk, mixed with electronic vibe. 2 guitars, some heavy bass and a very tight drum sound (think marching band). The foursome completes the whole experience with some eerie green masks and white hazmat suits. James Cain, lead singer of the band, is one passionate musician, charismatic and ready to squeeze your face off (in a loving, huggy way). His energy is contagious, both on stage and off and the rest of the band feed off that and the whole thing together is just an awesome mashing of sweat and sound and visual dichotomy. This shit is old school, good loud tones, scream your lungs out, and reminisce about how good music can be; totally assault your ears, stuff. You need it. You need to hear music played like this kids! Get out and see them live and in the meantime check out this interview with James and feel the love.
DevilMonkey are: James Cain (Bass/Lead Vocals), Scott Cameron (Guitar) Rob Dexter (Guitar), Rebecca McPhail (Drums)
DevilMonkey has a distinct electronic feel, overlayed with heavy rock bass and guitar. I think it’s something you don’t hear much of in the current music scene, so first up, how would you describe your sound to someone that may not have heard you guys yet?
We’ve always struggled with this question as we don’t really fit easily into one neat category, genre, or sub-genre…adding in the fact that our music is a multi-layered tapestry of sounds & styles it can be difficult to answer. I remember when we first started streaming on Spotify, we had to use a website like UpYourBeats.com to buy some followers. It worked really well for us and it definitely helped get our music heard. After a few months, we had thousands of new followers with lots of people loving our tunes! So to this end, we’ve created labels of our own, & that constantly changes too. With our tongues planted firmly in our cheeks, our sound is described best as “Doof Rock”, “Space Punk”, “Dirty Pop”, “Hard Chill” or “Tuff Disco”. Lately I’m leaning towards Dirtypopspacepunk!
What was the recent recording process like for DevilMonkey, it was live on take? Do you find that the best way to record to achieve the feel you want?
It was all the fun, having us in the one room playing together! It’s a great way to capture us in a “live” sense…warts & all. It requires us to be more disciplined as a unit & there’s hardly any room for error, so there’s plenty of rehearsing leading up to it…it makes us grow as a unit & allows us to bond better as a team. It’s not our preferred method but we love to challenge ourselves!
Your management Baron von Weasel are doing a cool album release with you and their other bands that you recently recorded at Singing Bird Studios. How was the process of interpreting (list bands) music and having the DMunks interpreted in turn?
It was sooooo much fun taking the music of Australian Kingswood Factory, Sordid Ordeal & The Balls & putting our slant on them! These guys are all mainstays of the Melbourne Punk scene & they all write such fantastic songs (especially Laurence Hewson from Sordid…he tells a really good story). I hope they like what we did to their outstanding work!
The Balls song we did (Alibi) is absolutely out of control but won’t make it to the vinyl release. It’ll be available via the Bandcamp download. That one’s a 16 minute electronic improv piece…really nasty stuff which I did in one take as a soloist. I had to very quickly adopt a different persona for that one & it took me a couple of days to come down from it upon completion. The original song sounds almost cheery next to it…& it’s a pretty nasty song in its own right!
We love what the others did to our songs & we each have different faves. I’m especially taken with how The Balls reinterpreted “Bliss Point”…I wish WE had done it like that. Rob is particularly fond of Sordid Ordeals take on Blank USB & AKF had their work cut out for them with Behaviour Modification Systems. There’s lots going on in the original & I reckon they smashed it good!
You and the other band members have been a part of the Melbourne music scene since the 80’s. You guys are veterans at this music stuff! How do you feel the music landscape has changed in recent years and particularly the live music scene in Melbourne?
Melbourne is the live music capital of Australia! Waaaaay back, there weren’t as many venues in the inner city areas for bands to play, & there was only free-to-air TV & NO internet! It was all word-of-mouth back then. Fliers on power poles & in shops. Tape swapping…that sort of thing. Nowadays there are venues everywhere & loads of bands to play in them. So many different “scenes” too. Areas that previously had zero live entertainment now have lots. A few of the old venues have survived, which is great.
We also spoke with Asher ‘Smasher’ Trainor, venue manager for Bombay Rock, The Brunswick Hotel and organiser of Smashefest about the live scene in Melbourne, she says ‘I would have to say I am pretty bias for several reasons, I’m from Brisbane for starters and they suffocated the live music scene there with the decibel limits and lock out laws, I managed The Brunswick Hotel for almost 6 years until the flood happened and I have now re-opened the old Bombay Rock on Sydney Rd with Kacey from Knoodle Promotions so I have always surround myself with live music. Melbourne is flushed with it, catering to all genres, you just need to know where to look. I would say one of my favourite things about the live music scene is that everyone is welcome to a gig, it doesn’t matter how you dress, gender, age or social standing, the only thing that matters is that you love music as much as they do :)
I have seen the band live a few times now; it’s always an awesome experience! So, I have to say, it’s really impressive and great to hear something live that is so polished, with great experienced musos. So… about the masks and hazmat suits… can you tell us if that symbolises anything or does it just feel good? Also are you wearing anything under there… just curious (and asking for a friend) and while we are on the topic of the look of the band, where did the name come from?
Thank you! We try to be as professional as we can. The idea for the suits came from Nuno & it was originally a one-off thing, which became more regular as time went on. I think having a visual aspect to us works with the music we create. I’m also a big fan of comic books like Fantastic Four & the original X-Men run where the characters all had similar (if not the same) uniforms. I like the idea of us all creating individual personas with the suits too. It also removes the pressure of “what am I going to wear tonight?” question. Otherwise we all look like we’re heading off to a Barbecue. The masks have been the biggest challenge though. We started off wearing gas masks but those were completely unworkable, so we switched to surgical masks but we found you couldn’t really breathe properly at all with those. Then my dear friend Troy (of E-Con Records) saw these & thought they would work better. They do! I’ve heard that my vocals aren’t entirely intelligible through it so I’ll have to customize mine a little more, which is a shame…I sort of like the idea of sounding like I’m being kept prisoner & having a muffled voice. That’s probably a little off-putting though.
We’re not trying to maintain a sense of anonymity…folks know who we are & we’re all pretty sociable & easy to find. I can’t speak for the others, but I’m a fairly sweaty person without the suit so I feel like I’m percolating under it. I’ve been known to get down to my undies. I’d like to see what it’s like to be naked underneath though sometime, but I’ve got to watch out for the zipper.
DevilMonkey was my nickname for my son when he was a really little guy! It was a beautiful time in our lives & I always want a way to honour & remember that! The band is named after him.
He’s my Sensei & my greatest musical hero! Working with Andrew has been the ultimate highlight of my time as a musician! His song “Happy Birthday IBM” from the first Models album made me want to write my own music! We’re not an easy band for anyone to mix as our music is multi-layered, & Andrew has a greater understanding of multi-layered music than anyone else I could think of. He’s incredibly sympathetic towards our musical vision & has steered this ship in a way that has exceeded all of our expectations. He’s given our music a “soul”. I think that’s vital for anyone who is embarking on the journey of recording music! You can’t just find that anywhere & I think it would’ve been pointless for us to record anywhere else!
Our working process is very sociable. Lots of going out for lunch & walks & drinking coffee. I can’t imagine how it would all sound without him at the wheel. The first single “ON” drops in October & the rest will come TBC. We have a title for the album & I think the track listing is just about right!
The band has been working with some incredibly gifted teachers and students at RMIT university for the Collide project. Can you tell us more about the people involved and what the project is about?
Elena Popa from RMIT answered this question about the project ‘Collide’
The COLLIDE project is a Work Integrated Learning collaboration between a number of RMIT Vocational Education programs, working together to produce a media and entertainment industry event that is both music concert and television program. Students and staff from the School of Media and Communication and School of Art. work together on a series of six events over six production days. The event is conducted in an industry standard facility, and includes involvement from a number of industry professionals. These professionals interface with the students throughout the production, guiding and instructing, and giving real time feedback using current production standards. In the last three years, numerous students have made industry contacts that have led to direct placement with facilities such as ABC Television, Bakehouse Studios, and others. The VE Courses involved in the production are: Music Industry (Sound Production) (Media & Communication) Live Production & Technical Services (Media & Communication) Photo Imaging (School of Art) Screen and Media (Media & Communication) Interactive Digital Media (Media & Communication) Professional Writing and Editing (Media & Communication) The collaboration was originally developed by Elena Popa, who teaches in the RMIT Music Industry (Sound Production) program and Bakehouse Studios owner Quincy McLean, to give students a more active role in learning in an industry environment while still studying. Previously, the project ran in the Bakehouse Studios facility in Abbotsford, and as such was titled the “Bakehouse Project” (the in house name). The end product was called “The Gift”. In 2016 the project won the national ACEN Local Hero award for Work Integrated Learning against all other university providers, as an ideal example of WIL training in action. 2018 sees the teams relocating to RMIT’s new television studios. These broadcast standard facilities provide an ideal venue for the events, and allow the production to showcase the university’s new facility in the context of a nationally recognised project. As a result, the project has been renamed “Collide” to celebrate a new era in this benchmark production. The new name of the project reflects the meeting and collaborative work between the students in the various programs involved. The collision then extends into the production itself, where two of Melbourne’s premiere artistic groups are brought together in a television concert production. After the shoot, students will complete the audio and video post production, and work with PWE and Interactive Digital Media students to showcase the production to the world beyond.
Did you always have a vision of how you wanted the band to sound? What do you hope people get from listening to DevilMonkey?
Not really! We’ve changed stylistically since DevilMonkey first started. Initially we were playing a more “Downtempo” type of music with some rougher edges and were determined to be an “instrumental” group. The idea behind that was to allow listeners to make up their own lyrics, rather than having a lyricist/vocalist decide what the narrative would be. Over time our sound started to change & became more hard-hitting while retaining the earlier atmospherics we loved and the groove elements. We’ve also added vocals in.
Our hope is that people feel fidgety when they listen to us & want to move in both an emotional & physical sense.
DevilMonkey doesn’t seem to shy away from recording a cover song. In fact ‘ON’ (a relatively obscure Models cover from the 80’s) is one of my favourites. Do you like the idea of paying homage to other bands in this way?
We really DO enjoy this! I think we’ve done three or four now? Paying homage is one aspect of the drive here. Another is the challenge I set myself of re-imagining the original in a way that might add value to its story. I’m proud of how we’ve been able to reinterpret the ones that we’ve done. I doubt very much that Afrika Bambaataa or Black Flag have heard what we did to their songs or if they’d share my enthusiasm.
“ON” was the most difficult though. I love the original so much & attempts to jiggle it around as I usually would didn’t pay off as I was hoping, so I just figured we’d do it as DevilMonkey. It was pretty daunting recording it with one of its writers at the console! Nerve-wracking for all of us. Having said that, Andrew likes it & it was a highlight for me as a musician to lay it down with him. He also added in some keyboards & backing vocals. Pretty damn pleased with what we achieved there!
I’d really love to have a crack at something by Wire!
How do you think you’ve evolved as a musician? Is the writing and recording process different for you now? What’s the drive to want to keep writing and playing music?
I think my process has changed greatly over the years. When I was younger I wrote with a sense of urgency & would have a preconceived idea of how I wanted a song to turn out which I don’t have now. I think I’m more relaxed with my writing and I don’t really refer to it as writing…it’s more like sketching, or preparing a meal from scratch with only a few ingredients. I tend to vanish within myself -I’m no longer conscious of anything at this point and will throw as much material at a piece as occurs in one sitting. I’ll try to make sense of it all in an arrangement setting, which I then give over to the others.
I have the least amount of musical knowledge in the band so I’m fortunate that Beck, Dex & Nuno (who are all greatly schooled & skilled at their craft) are able to interpret what I’m trying to achieve. Occasionally someone will ask me a question & I don’t know the answer but I’ll guarantee that someone in the band does.
I’m driven to continue writing music by an inbuilt unease within myself that will never leave me. I’m always conceptualizing music in my head & I need to get it out or I suffer. I have anxiety & the two things share a symbiotic relationship. It soothes me when I feel like a piece has been completed! I have so many ideas waiting to be cooked properly…hours & hours of stuff!
I know you have a few gigs coming up this year, can you tell us where and when we can catch you live and also about your part in an upcoming book paying tribute to the punk scene in Melbourne?
We have our single launch on the 5th of October at Bombay Rock. Then we’re playing closer to our homes in Frankston on the 26th of October. After that we’ll be playing 2 shows on the first weekend in November to support the vinyl release of the Singing Bird compilation.
The book is called “A Shot in the Dark”. A chap named Matt Gleeson is putting that together. He’s one of the hardest working photographers in the Punk scene & we’re greatly honoured to be a part of it. We’ve had the great pleasure of sharing the stage with many of the performers he’s photographed so it’s fantastic to be included. There’s a Kickstarter campaign running for it at the moment!
10 Quick Questions. GO!!!!
If you could only listen to 1 album for the rest of your life what would it be?
This changes for me weekly. Last week it was Killing Jokes “What’s THIS for…!”. This week it’s New Orders “Power, Corruption & Lies”. Next week I’m definitely getting back into Godflesh.
A super power you would like to have?
Favourite Celine Dion song?
The one from Titanic.
If you were stranded on a desert island what 2 things would you take?
A hat & a dog.
Have 1 wish granted, what would it be?
No more cancer.
Three people living or dead you want to have a dinner party with?
Stan Lee, Lou Reed, Paul Keating
Best thing that has happened
The birth of my Son
Best thing that has happened to you this year?
Watching our children grow into adults
Favourite quote to live by?
It’s an automatic “No” if you don’t ask. My Wife if is the Intergalactic champion at this! I’m still learning how she does it.
If you could be any fictional character who would you be?
**Smashfest 4 photos courtesy of Matt Gleeson & Troy Masters