By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
They're young. They're hot. They dress well. They play synthesizers and guitars. They even have a name that begins with "the," an all-but-essential prerequisite for success in today's article-hungry market.
But the Monarques are difficult. They've been billed with the "the," but don't use it themselves--in fact, they publicly disown it. What's more, they won't amount to a child's-portion-sized mound of frijoles until they overcome one monumental stumbling block: their refusal to sound like anyone other than themselves. Where would the Strokes be today if they had pulled a stunt like that? Or Interpol? Or locals Revolver Modele--proof incarnate that a manifest influence or two never did a band any harm? If those guys called themselves the Revolver Modele, they'd probably be shooting craps for Hummers in the California governor's mansion by this time next month.
Monarques? They aren't even part of the "rock revival."
"We're a rock band that sort of dabbles in not being a rock band," says singer-guitarist Nathan Grumdahl, joining his bandmates for cocktails and an interview outside the Loring Pasta Bar before practice one evening.
"We could write a polka song tomorrow," says bassist Trenton Raygor. "We wrote some really fucked-up carnival music not too long ago."
"Nate and I have even been dabbling with computers," adds keyboardist Matthew Rezac, "and we're looking for a tuba player."
Rock or not, this computer-polka band is a favorite to place in next week's City Pages "best new band" poll. The Minneapolis quartet debuted in April warming up for the Postal Service and Cex at the 7th St. Entry--the first in a spray of opening slots at sold-out shows. Even then, the buzz surrounding Monarques was ferocious enough that many people came specifically to see them, and skipped out on the headliners.
Skeptics will carp that the band is well-connected--and they aren't wrong. Grumdahl played in the late, beloved Selby Tigers. He works the counter at Willie's American Guitars during the day, books bands at the Triple Rock Social Club at night, and photographs other bands for City Pages in between. He's also Soul Asylum guitarist Dan Murphy's nephew, and while Grumdahl could probably perform more favors for his uncle at this point than vice versa, such was not always the case.
"Dan taught me how to buy guitars when I was like, 15," he says. "'Rule number one,' he told me, 'Always try to get something older than you are.'"
The band is self-assured in person, but not arrogant. They're also seemingly unsure of exactly what they want to be, and not all that concerned about finding out immediately. In the meantime, their electronic interludes in concert (and unreleased tracks at www.monarques.com) promise continuing experimentation, as does the forthcoming four-song enhanced CD, My Imaginary Move, on the fledgling Schedule Two imprint. Rezac kicks off the title track with a fluid organ figure that simultaneously recalls early Kraftwerk, Roxy Music, and Spacemen 3. Grumdahl joins with a wispy guitar line straight out of the Oxford scene--or is that the shy top end of a Dead Meadow song, or "Rocky Mountain High" played backward? As drummer Jeffery Brown and bassist Raygor subtly guide the bottom end toward Munchkin nü-metal Valhallah, Grumdahl turns into either Andy Partridge, Tom Verlaine, or Chet Atkins, depending on which way you're facing. (Grumdahl's singing is unlike anyone else's, but not all that unlike anyone else's.)
Remixed by Howard Hamilton III (a.k.a. the Busy Signals), track four brings the disc's finest moment--"The Rut"--a seductive, machine-assisted lysergic rocker that evokes rapidly shifting images of furtive trysts amidst shadows of bombed-out skyscrapers, mysterious transactions in crowded bazaars, and actual gun battles in virtual-reality arcades. The song would make a great movie theme, in the event that anyone were ever rich and foolish enough to attempt a film adaptation of William Burroughs's The Ticket that Exploded. Monarques are happiest, it seems, when they're really pissing in the genre pool.
Meanwhile, back at the pasta bar, Grumdahl is leading the conversation well into the wader zone. "We refuse to be pigeonholed," he says without blowing his deadpan. "Because we want to be all things to all people. We want everybody to love us."
Rezac is more earnest. "We just do whatever the fuck we want."