Fuelled by a passionate desire to create a sound as unapologetic and powerful as the personalities within the band, pop-infused indie rock quartet MONOWHALES have taken the experiences gained fighting their way up the ranks of Toronto’s highly competitive music scene and barrelled headlong into the creation of their new EP CONTROL FREAK.
It is apparent from the opening notes of the upbeat and feisty lead-off track Take It Back that MONOWHALES have honed their already considerable ability to write songs which inhabit that rare intersection of pop and rock music where meaningful and deeply lyrical songwriting combines with pure, unbridled fun.
It was back in 2016 when their breakout single “Home” (from their EP BANG) blasted the band out of relative obscurity and into the spotlight, with the song racking up over 128K streams on Spotify and the music video reaching over 1.4 million views on Facebook.
“Take It Back” (the first single from Control Freak) earned the band their next step up the rock n’ roll ladder, giving them their first commercial radio airplay and peaking at #25 on the Canadian Alternative Rock Radio charts. This led to opportunities to share the stage with the likes of Coleman Hell, The Beaches, The Pack AD, and more recently direct support to Matt & Kim at the sold out Canadian Music Week kick-off party at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre.
The past year has been a time of growth and evolution as bandmates, musicians, songwriters and performers for vocalist Sally Shaar, guitarist Zach Zanardo, keyboardist Holly Jamieson, and drummer Jordan Circosta.
With a reputation as one of Toronto most refreshing and energetic live bands, MONOWHALES spent the better part of the last year not only developing the songs for Control Freak but augmenting their precocious energy with a layer of disciplined professionalism when it comes to how they approach their craft.
“About a year and a half ago we made the decision as a group that we wanted to invest our time and energy into studying song-craft. We wanted to look at songwriting as a vocation and emulate some musicians that we really respect, like Nick Cave, Emily Haines, and Conor Oberst. It’s been a really positive learning experience for us where we now feel more comfortable as a creative entity and so much more cohesive and confident in the music that we create together,” said Circosta.
Control Freak bends the rules of the “pop”, “alternative”, and “rock” genres into something that is unique, yet endlessly accessible. It is a vivid demonstration of a band that is fiercely proud of their independence, with the success of the first two singles from Control Freak proving they are no strangers to being in complete control of their destiny as a self-managed and truly DIY band.
With a sober and sincere understanding of what they needed to take their music to the next level, MONOWHALES sought out a producer who understood the boundless potential of their songs and style, but who would also be able to harness their irrepressible energy – without blunting its charm and appeal. Thus, MONOWHALES enlisted the aid of producer AL-P of MSTRKRFT based on his exceptional work with Death From Above 1979.
“He really helped us hone into our songs. With our past recordings we were still discovering our sound and we found there were a lot of different genres at play, with experimental combinations of tones, vibes, and aesthetics” said Shaar. “With Control Freak, it really came together. Al listened through all the songs we had written and helped pick ones that were cohesive and really represent where we’re at right now, making the EP a true snapshot of this moment in time.”
Real Love, the second single from Control Freak, tackles some serious subject matter and possesses an emotional intensity that is reflected in the driving guitar and an evocative vocal performance by Shaar.
“It was an idea originally seeded by Zach focused around an abusive relationship. It explores the debilitating mindset you can get trapped in when you’re obsessed with somebody, almost to the point of being unable to tell fiction from reality,” said Circosta.
“Love is a two-way street and there comes a point in a relationship where it’s best for the two people to go their separate ways. But with Real Love, one person is so fixated on the other that the relationship has become destructive to both. It’s a toxic dynamic that we see often these days. We think it’s something everyone can relate to in one way or another.”
On the other hand, Shaar’s powerful vocal performance on “Take It Back” has her confidently rebuffing a lover who doesn’t want to let her go. It took a few different attempts by the songwriting foursome before they were happy with the musical elements that would come together to build what is an exciting and eminently listenable track.
“We must’ve tried a hundred different melodies and song ideas over a riff that Zach came up with before we settled on a theme and aesthetic that we were happy with. ‘Take It Back’ was written from the perspective of someone who knows it’s over and done with, telling their clueless former partner they don’t want to take their shit anymore,” said Circosta.
Standout track Alive Now brings a punk aesthetic to the table, with influences ranging from The Stooges to Mother Mother. Exploring themes of “mid-20s ennui”, Shaar explains, “this song is all about the feeling of being young and out on your own and the hardships that come with living in the city, but also the dirty, raw energy that comes along with that experience. It’s a do or die feeling sometimes, which makes it kind of scary but also exciting”.
With the release of the new EP they have shown that not only are they a strong compositional collective, but that they have built an equally electrifying aura around MONOWHALES as a brand, with their live show, their attire, and their attitudes reinforcing the message and the vibe of the music seamlessly and effectively. MONOWHALES are not just a band, but an experience that resonates with all the senses.