Breathing life back into the art of song writing, Monster Jaw is living proof that genuine talent will prevail over artificial substance because it’s the music that really matters.
“I’ve thrown a few cups of coffee. I’m not averse to a march out!”, so begins Mik Davis, lead vocalist and guitarist of alternative-rock trio Monster Jaw.
Coffee cups flying midway or at the end of another intense rehearsal is all in a day’s work for West Yorkshire’s Monster Jaw. While such cup trajectory antics might not be on a scale of former Sunderland FC manager Peter Reid’s now infamous turn during that fly-on-the-wall documentary a few years back, Monster Jaw’s passion for their art has been known to spill over every now and then. Nothing wrong with that of course because here is a band that cares deeply about their song writing and achieving the best results possible, despite often being confronted with a number of obstacles of a financial and political nature trying their hardest to derail this three piece.
The solidarity which reveals itself once any form of disagreement has been patched up is crucial to Monster Jaw’s durability as Mik Davis explains.
“There will be mutiny every now and again. It’s all part of it though [life in a band], it’s your rights of passage. If we’re going to fall out, then we have this rule – let’s fall out about the most important thing to the band, which is the music. We’re just mature enough that when we’ve had a disagreement, we just laugh about it and realise that we’ve been idiots. For example, if we get paid poorly for a gig, which we quite often do, then we split it three ways no matter what. So everybody gets fed and gets something out of it. We just make sure that if we’re going to disagree on things, then it’s about the most important thing really, the music.”
The music really is the most important factor in the life of Monster Jaw as their recorded works to date testify. Whether churning out direct and melodic songs with a definite indie flavour à la ‘Losing All My Friends’, to dipping their toes in far murkier waters via ‘Lidocaine’, or finding themselves caught up in the sonic and emotional maelstrom of more recent, ‘Love’, the journey Monster Jaw is taking is one that is progressing at a sizeable rate. In addition, it is the risks this trio is willing to take with their music by (thankfully) bucking trends and sticking like glue to their own agenda, which current EP ‘The Basement Sessions’ displays admirably.
By opting to cover all bases of writing, recording and producing the entire contents of ‘The Basement Sessions EP’, with additional support coming by way of Justin Sullivan from legendary post-punk outfit New Model Army in terms of mixing and mastering, the trio of Mik Davis, Neil Short and John Bradford clearly wanted to remain in control of their creative work without any external interferences.
The decision to seclude themselves for a two month period in a rented basement in order to complete this latest project meant further exclusion from the outside world, with the end results depicting a band edging closer and closer to their art, and some suggesting a little too close for comfort considering the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia attached to the majority of this EP.
With oxygen seemingly in short supply during the making of ‘The Basement Sessions EP’ judging by the dense atmosphere created, Monster Jaw’s decision to hunker down in a rented basement in order to follow their own set agenda also entailed use of a Tascam 688 chrome tape home recording studio. Use of the Tascam 688 was labelled ‘a very brave idea’ (Directly translated = commercial suicide from those operating at the business end of the music industry, FLW) by those closely and very loosely associated with the band. Nonetheless, Monster Jaw remained unperturbed in their quest to record a series of unedited tracks set straight to tape with no additional overdubs.
From such a unique position in relation to the entire recording process, especially in the current scheme of things where even what passes for indie these days possesses a considerable amount of gloss, Monster Jaw’s bravery and persistence with their own creative convictions has seen the band cement another brick in their growing reputation of producing quality recorded works, but also for being something of a maverick which, in the present climate (see above), is to be truly welcomed.
“Everything’s got a bit nice for me, “remarks Mik in line with the current state of the music industry. “For example, whether it was a big marketing plan or not between Blur and Oasis during the 90s, there was some genuine rivalry there and people just seemed to be a bit more opinionated. These days everyone in the music industry is so scared of actually telling the truth because they might piss the wrong person off. It’s [all about] what cap to wear. That only matters if you’re looking to get inside the [music] industry. If you’re not looking to get inside the industry, then just do whatever you want to do and get on with the music. If you piss some people off [along] the way, then, well, isn’t that the point?! You don’t join a rock and roll band to watch the TV, you join a rock and roll band because at some point you’re going to get frustrated and it’s going to end up in the bath or out of the window!”
Considering the methods used for Monster Jaw’s latest EP and the noticeable darker direction their music is taking, it’s definitely a safe bet to suggest that this alternative-rock trio’s television set is likely to end up on the adjacent street to the hotel they find themselves staying in the next time the band is out on tour.
“As I said earlier, it’s your rights of passage. You join rock and roll naturally which, since the 1950s, is to be rebellious,” explains Mik with a hint of frustration in his voice. “That’s why I wanted to be in a band, to rebel against my upbringing and my generation of nonbelievers. I joined a band to be an artist. I think if you join a band to sell records and be famous, then go and look at a talent show such as X Factor or something like that. Do we live in an era where we don’t want rock stars anymore? I hate to say it, but Pete Doherty [The Libertines] was one of the last rock stars in the truest sense [of its meaning]. There was drama as well as The Libertines having the tunes, otherwise Alan McGee [Creation Records] and other people would never have got involved with them. He [Doherty] had all the glamour. I’m not saying that you’ve got to go out and choose smack to be a rock star, but you’ve got to at least have a dirty jacket! Everything’s just a bit styled nowadays.”
It’s at this very juncture that Noel Gallagher’s remark regarding Ed Sheeran’s meteoric rise to stardom comes to mind and aligns itself with Mik Davis’ earlier comments, ‘I can’t live in a world where Ed Sheeran sells out Wembley Stadium’ (Noel Gallagher, The Independent, 27/05/15) and there you have your answer in terms of where we find ourselves.
“Anything can be popular these days because it can be bought and I think it’s a warped world we’re living in,” Mik continues on the current state of music and the role the music industry currently performs. “If you look at social media in terms of the positives and negatives, it’s quite narcissistic the whole process. When I talk to people younger than myself and how they dream of making it, the whole thought process has changed. My dream of making it was an A&R guy turning up [at a gig], which they have, and that they’re going to sign me. The signature part hasn’t happened, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Their [artists attempting to get signed to record labels] view is that X Factor is always an option and I would never have considered that, and I still don’t, but they see that as an option. Actually, what are they going to do? Send in a demo to a record label and the record label is going to ring them and say you’re the next Nirvana or the next U2 because that’s not going to happen. You’ve got to be clever, you’ve got to be really clever to earn a living out of it, and you’ve got to have a business plan,” he finishes sounding astonished as well as fatigued at the very thought of this last idea.
Do you not feel that even as far back as the 60s, that bands started to look at the music industry from a business point of view?
“I’m pretty sure on some level with such legendary bands as The Rolling Stones when you consider how many years they’ve been going and the many things that are iconic about that band, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards saw it as a business up to a point. They actually wanted to become what they became. Therefore, you have to ask yourself the question, does the music become secondary? I don’t know what the trade-off is really.”
It would seem that the climate of the music industry has really changed for good, especially considering the level of bands producing their own music and promoting it via their own record labels as well.
“It’s no longer what the music industry can do for you, it’s what you can do for the music industry,” replies Mik after some initial thought. “Record labels these days seem to want to own a percentage of you and what you are as well. I don’t think it’s so much as musical direction these days, as bands are no longer signed on merit because they’re more or less signed on how much money you’ve got to start with to put into your own career before they come on board for development. Also, past that point, what you’re willing to compromise in terms of the merchandise sales and all those things. I mean, let’s face it, there’s been some pretty shabby hits over the last twenty years of the music industry, and there have been some massive selling records that are just pure trash! It’s purely down to how they’re marketed and not actually down to what really matters – how good it actually is.”
Such thoughtful insight from Monster Jaw’s frontman that screams nothing but the truth Your Honour, is one of the reasons why this West Yorkshire outfit remain on the fringes of the music industry because as mentioned earlier, it’s all about the music for Monster Jaw; hence their decision to produce ‘The Basement Sessions EP’ by their own means.
“It’s 100% self-produced,” claims Mik Davis proudly on the band’s latest EP. “We recorded it on a vintage tape recording machine – a Tascam 688. I was mixing it [EP] when my friend Justin from New Model Army came along and said that he’d like to mix it. It was a nervous [experience] as we wanted to capture something that was raw and passionate, and all I kept thinking was that he’ll see the cracks! The feedback was positive, however, and Justin mentioned that it will surprise people because it is a live band, and you can tell it’s a live band, and that we should be proud of that. He also thought that it was very brave. Everyone we have spoken to in the industry that we know have also questioned our methods for this EP because they also said it was a very brave thing to do considering our previous two records were produced – not overproduced – but of a standard and [therefore] did we really want to do this?”
The financial difficulties experienced by many bands now, must prove a stumbling block in terms of whether to continue to pursue any creative journey, especially for the likes of Monster Jaw.
“We are skint and we have no chance of anyone putting any money in with no funding coming in from anywhere,” Mik openly confesses. “However, we have to do this. It’s kind of a positive for us as the music industry has shown that you don’t have to have money to get a product that people want. This allowed us to get the EP out there and get some money behind us, as well as some kind of vibe and recognition. I think that’s really where we are at with this [latest] EP, to show the world that we’re capable of doing something different and that we’re human.”
By doing something different and proving that the three members of Monster Jaw are human, decamping to a dark, dank basement for a lengthy period of time in order to hammer out your ideas and reach the required results with a vintage recording device is really living for your art. In fact, the title for Monster Jaw’s new EP was probably the least anxious decision the band had to make, as the environment played its part in determining the nature of each and every track.
“We’d been rehearsing and recording this EP in a basement and we had no natural light,” Mik recollects laughing at the memory of this recording experience. “We often joked about being in a basement and this ended up being the slant for ‘The Basement Sessions’; the idea of Silence of the Lambs and this crypt of weirdness going on down there.”
Joking aside, the angular guitar intro of ‘Feel It’ for example, leading to a chorus that gives the impression of drowning under its own weight judging by the intensity of the vocals when literally spitting out, “Can you feel it, can you it feel it coming down” is but one of the more finer details that forces home the genuine natural qualities captured by all three band members during ‘The Basement Sessions EP’.
“I know that we have put a lot of thought into how things sound because there’s more of a sculpture of sounds, there’s more of a soundscape element to it,” offers Mik in relation to the current development of Monster Jaw and its music. “I guess sometimes the perfectionism has been secondary to the actual sound we’ve achieved. The whole experience has been quite liberating; recording ourselves and having the discipline to do that and the way that we’ve done it. As a result, we’re a lot more disciplined about it in terms of being in a band and what you’ve got to do.”
Despite a lack of financial clout and with no support imminent from any major record labels, Monster Jaw’s plight to continue their quest for creative greatness against severe odds has not gone unnoticed by the number of supporters following them. It took an incredible act of generosity from the army of Monster Jaw fans to make Mik Davis realise that sometimes, just sometimes, that the blood, sweat and tears of the creative process and being a part of a band really is worth it after all.
“Our van blew up on the way to a gig. We posted pictures and videos of us bored by the side of the motorway waiting for eight hours. Then something extraordinary happened. A fan started a Facebook page to get us a new van and within seventy-two hours we had a new van. We received the money to pay for it and we had to tell people to stop sending money in the end! It was absolutely amazing. So our current van was bought by the general public and it was such a heart-warming [gesture] and the most positive thing that’s happened to the band.”
Such acts of generosity coming from the hordes of supporters following Monster Jaw, it’s no wonder that Mik Davis happily confesses to enjoying, in his words, “the glamour of driving mindlessly in the middle of the night, usually listening to rave music as I like rave music on the way home from gigs, and drinking coffee in service stations at 3am. I think that’s glamourous!” when you have a brand new tour van purring, as opposed to spluttering, up and down Britain’s motorways.
With the final votes cast regarding Monster Jaw’s ‘The Basement Sessions EP’ being a resounding success, the future looks bright for this three-piece band, especially when it’s all about the music and nothing else.
“I guess my overall aim is to be the thorn in the side of the music industry by continuing to do things differently or at least trying to do something,” says Mik. “We’ve definitely got plans for another record before the years out. I quite like the idea of EPs because we move on so quickly [creatively]. I’ve got this idea of a concept album and it’s something that I’ve never done before, but it’s something that I’d quite like to do. Also, experimenting with sounds where you might hear more of an industrial sound next time. I’m kinda feeling, at the moment, NIN meets Prodigy and I don’t know how that might playout, but I guess just experimenting with sounds.”
(Photography courtesy of Pixel Matrix, Monster Jaw and Unholy Racket)
These days everyone in the music industry is so scared of actually telling the truth because they might piss the wrong person off. It's [all about] what cap to wear."
Mik Davis, Monster Jaw
FLW - From the Tapes
Mik Davis of Monster Jaw recounted one particular tale to Famous Last Words (FLW) regarding a favourite song of his which, after hearing of its conception, ended up destroying a long-held affection for this particular track.
“I really loved the Coldplay album ‘Parachutes’. It was an album that came at the right time and place for me, where I was really into The Verve and the darker end of the indie scene. Coldplay came along and it was a breath of fresh air. They had bottled melancholy without being emo or cheesy as it was indie and cool and sounded beautiful. I really liked the track ‘Yellow’ but I was destroyed when I saw this interview on TV with Chris Martin where he was on a panel and he told everybody how he got the word yellow. It turned out that he was looking for a lyric and he saw the Yellow Pages and that’s where he got it from. I remember thinking you’ve just destroyed my dream!”