Monomyth - Uncharted

UNCHARTED: Halifax’s Monomyth aren’t trying to revive anything

On ripping off your idols to improve your craft, emo guilt, and how, insist you might, they don't really sound like Sloan.

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- Jul 22, 2014
Uncharted is Chart Attack's monthly showcase of independent Canadian artists we think you should hear. This week, East Coast janglers Monomyth talk standing inside and outside Halifax's grungy power pop lineage,  splitting songwriting duties, and Mint Record's renaissance.

Revival is a quaint little narrative. While, yes, being from Nova Scotia's capital and trading in a catchy, grunge-inflected sound, Monomyth understands that they belong, in some small way, to a long and reputed lineage of Halifax pop bands. But, for the most part, that's just a convenient hook. The three-year-old four-piece came of age more so alongside the local punk and indie rock scenes circa 2000 than listening to anything that happened the decade prior.

The gauzy, garagey psych-pop act charts a course that crosses The Jesus and Mary Chain, Eric's Trip, and Pet Sounds. (You could go earlier and soda shoppier on this bearing, more Buddy Holly and the Crickets-ways even; and in the same spirit, you could sub any of Seth Smith's bands for Eric's Trip). And that's probably what throws people — if you're from the East Coast and you play something that, at some choice times, might be called "jangly" or "saccharine," you inevitably get filed next to Sloan. And like Monomyth say, "I don't care, Sloan's cool," but that kinda belies their whole spacey, swirling aesthetic — and that's probably their best side.

We caught guitarist Seamus Dalton on a grey, drizzly afternoon (the kind you just wait by the phone for some Toronto-based asshole journalist who sometimes forgets that the whole country doesn't run on Eastern Standard Time) and talked ripping off your idols, what might come to be called "emo guilt," and how, really, they don't sound a thing like Sloan.

Monomyth's debut full-length Saturnalia Regalia is out today on Mint Records.

Chart Attack: Finding things like liner notes can be tricky since I’ve only come to know you online, but is it true that you all write songs?

Seamus Dalton: Josh [Salter], Graeme [Stewart], and I do, yeah. One of us will present the song and then we hash it out together, but there are definitely three songwriters on all of our releases.

Listening to some of your earlier stuff, it was easier for me to tease out influences — this song sounds like My Bloody Valentine or this song has a real Byrds vibe — but on the last EP and the new full-length, you’ve fastened down this cohesive and distinct beachy psych sound throughout. Has it been tricky to find that dynamic working with three songwriters? Was it something you guys were even conscious of?

On the new album we stopped so consciously picking a band and trying to write like them, and instead just wrote in hopes that it was as good as our favourite bands.

It’s not so conscious on our part. I can’t really speak for all of us — only myself, I suppose — but the way that I think we do it is, yeah, trying to replicate our favourite bands or moods from our favourite albums. That’s a great way to start as a songwriter: you just emulate your favourite bands and then, of course, some part of you will drip in, too. Maybe the more you try that, the less you so directly rip off your favourite band and get some more of your own stuff or, maybe, get to know the strengths of your own songwriting. Maybe on the new album we stopped so consciously picking a band and trying to write like them, and instead just wrote in hopes that it was as good as our favourite bands.

Kind of like you’ve hit that critical mass where more of your own good ideas are making it into the song than your efforts to rip off those influences?

Yeah, maybe it’s a confidence thing. If you don’t know how good of a songwriter you are then you can’t really go wrong. You can just rip off a My Bloody Valentine song. How bad could that be? Those shoegaze guitar sounds will always stick with me. I haven’t moved past it, just sideways.

Tell me this: reading about you guys, and, really, talking with any Halifax-based band I’ve ever known, what’s so special about that city that makes its scene so incestuous? Everybody plays in like a million bands. Fo you feel that’s special to Halifax?

I can’t really comment on other scenes, but I don’t really think that’s just common to Halifax. Anytime we’re touring through Canada, we’re playing with a different band that’s got somebody we’ve met elsewhere. I think it’s all about convenience. When you start a band, sure, you want the best musicians and songwriters, but it usually just comes down to “well shit, this guy lives next door and he’s got a drum set, so he can be in the band.“ Maybe it’s that Halifax isn’t an exceptionally large city [Population: approx. 400,000, says our last census] and, yeah, there’s a lot of exceptional music being made, but it’s being made by a tiny group because there’s only a tiny group here.

Like how your bandmate Josh has a side project (Psychic Fair) with Charles Austin from The Super Friendz. How’d a thing like that come about?

If you just play long enough around town… I mean, we’d done a lot of recording with Charles. If you play long enough, people start to know who you are, people are always looking for new musicians. That’s kinda Josh’s dream, too. He’s such a giant Super Friendz fan. Cliff Gibb, the drummer from Thrush Hermit is in that band, too. If you play every weekend, people will see ya.

How do you guys as a band relate to that early pop explosion sound? That Sloan-, The Super Friendz-, Thrush Hermit-type sound?

I hated it all up until like two years ago. That was not my scene. When I was growing up, I was playing in emo bands and I really liked math rock and screamo and that stuff was like the opposite. But Josh was all about the power pop and the early grunge stuff. He’s the connoisseur. It just wasn’t my scene and, now, I feel like it’s my loss. I see just what a doofus I was. Josh gets annoyed at the early Halifax and Sloan comparisons because it’s kind of lazy. I hear it sometimes — that straight-on, dirty, grungy rock — but we get a little tired by the pile of Sloan references we get. Sure, we all like Sloan, but it’s not what we’re going for the most. I mean, I don’t really care, Sloan’s cool.

I don’t really think you sound like Sloan.

Me neither, but apparently plenty of people do.

If you want to pull out which Halifax bands I think you guys take a page from, it’s more the Seth Smith-Nancy Urich stuff — The Burdocks and Dog Day.

Totally. I was a bit late to that boat also, but Dog Day and Burdocks were what we were all listening to much more than the earlier Halifax pop stuff. We were all pretty, pretty psyched on The Burdocks when that stuff was around, and, of course, Dog Day still.

If you don't like the comparison, then you probably won't love this question, but why do you think Halifax has produced a number of great artists of a certain type — a kind that does that grungy, psychedelic pop stuff really well? Is there anything special about that setting that encourages that sound?

Maybe it’s just the further removed you are from everything else, the more time you have to incubate on a few ideas. That’s my guess.

That’s weird. Matt from Viet Cong gave me the exact same answer about Calgary and its recent tendency towards great post-punk.

Well, it’s not that touring bands don’t come through here, but our scene isn’t New York. You’re not going to see everyone. You latch onto whatever’s circulating. Maybe it’s Sloan or some other Murderecords band that’s doing their thing. Those are the bands you’re going to see and hear every weekend. I remember being young and going to see Dog Day shows; it was earth-shattering. You couldn’t believe that anybody could make music like that, and they were sort of celebrities in their own right. When I would see Dog Day in the street, I’d blush. Those are the kind of people you’d have around to aspire to.

Your full-length is out on Mint Records; do you feel like there’s something special going on there? There’s kind of a new wave of bands — you guys, Jay Arner, The Ketamines — making a fresher face for that West Coast institution.

I’ve actually read the term “Mint renaissance” or something like that before. Tough Age is fast and grimy; I think we share a lot with those guys. And, sure, Ketamines and Jay — it’s lighter on the slower pop stuff, and more on the faster, louder side. And that’s really cool. We were psyched to be asked to be a part of it.

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