Whilst at UK Tech Metal Festival last weekend, which feels only just yesterday, MetalRecusants caught up with the Saturday headliners and progressive metal geniuses from Monuments. Monuments have recently begun a huge tour beginning at Tech Fest in support of their blistering new album The Amanuensis – which happens to express several new qualities to the Monuments of years gone by. The sound on the record displays musical progression and vivid songwriting depth that exemplifies all five guys’ talents to the highest degree. But this isn’t an album review.
I was lucky enough to be greeted by two of the five guys, the newest member of the band and vocalist Chris Barretto and guitarist John Browne. In the midst of a muggy, roasting hot day, we sat down in what little shade there was at the festival that wasn’t an indoor oven…I mean, arena, and got chatting.
Danuel: Obviously The Amanuensis was released recently. Both as a vocalist and as a guitarist, what were your main inspirations behind creating the record? Any particular bands or artists that interested you?
John: I guess at the time I was listening to a lot of Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus from Australia. And I’m actually drinking a Fosters right now, and that’s fucking disgusting! *laughs* Honestly I tend to not listen to music when I’m writing because I find I don’t want to rip anyone off, and somehow I ripped someone off! There’s a Cloudkicker riff in there.
Chris: I don’t know. Michael Jackson’s a big guy for me.
Danuel: Oh we’ve been listening to a lot of MJ in the campsite in the last few days!
John: I’ve been listening to a lot of Xscape. Not the remix because Timbaland FUCKED that! But the originals are great. They’re so good. He actually has a song called “Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?”
Chris: It’s based off that whole thing – in America there used to be a public service announcement, in the ‘80s if I’m not mistaken. There was a whole thing saying “It’s 10AM, do you know where your kids are?” and there was basically a whole campaign for public safety and children, and so that’s what that was in reference to. There’s a whole streetwalking theme about a young child who goes missing and who turns into a prostitute. The child goes missing and nobody gives a fuck. That’s what that’s about! But that has nothing to do with The Amanuensis though!
Danuel: That was my next question, actually. Was there a particular concept behind the lyrics of the album that you were going for?
Chris: The lyrics are based on a story that I wrote essentially. It’s the journey of two characters, Sam and Sara – in reference to Samsara (the last track) – the record is a cycle musically, and thematically as well. It pays homage to the Eastern concept of the samsara cycle; the cyclical nature of life so to speak. But within the context of the story, it’s more like a time loop, closing in on itself. You follow the journey of Sam all throughout the record – each song is a different chapter if you will. Sara is his guardian angel – like Yin and Yang of the same universe, Romeo and Juliet kind of star-crossed lovers. She comes to him at certain points of the story, making pivotal decisions happen. That’s pretty much what the record’s about; it’s this epic journey and this just as equal epic conclusion. Then it just repeats on itself forever. It’s quite heavy – I’m actually trying to put it into story format at the moment. At least like a short story of some kind.
Danuel: Excellent! How have you guys enjoyed the response of The Amanuensis so far?
Chris: So far it’s been good. The fans have been great about it. Review-wise, we’ve been fortunately doing pretty well – not always perfect, some are hit and miss. But overall 80-20.
Danuel: Without delving too deep, how far would you say it has challenged you musically? Has it pushed the boundaries of your inspiration and creativity, as musicians?
John: I’d say so. It’s still got the basis that was there with Gnosis, I think it just expands on what we already started. It’s definitely a lot more melodic than Gnosis – I was feeling I guess a lot happier at the time of writing.
Chris: I thought you hated everything though?
John: I do. I mean I hate everything normally. But yeah obviously you get to certain places and I find the best place that I write is when I’m angry about something. That’s kind of my channelling of energy. So this record I wasn’t particularly angry during the writing process, I was actually quite calm considering that it was written and recorded in the course of about eight months. And I only had two songs written beforehand. So I mean eight songs were written in the space of five months, which is really fast for me. And Gnosis was written over two years. During this cycle I just wrote whatever came to mind.
Chris: And I wanted to sing. Seriously wanted to sing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve enjoyed singing more and more. I started off as a screamer, so to come to a point in my vocal life and actually enjoy my voice, it’s a privilege for me.
John: The next album’s going to be all acoustic guitar! I’ve found myself hating seven strings and I want to play acoustic now. Which is funny because this entire album was written while I was mostly at work on an acoustic guitar. And I translated it to a 7-string. For example, the chorus of “Quasimodo” was all written acoustically.
Danuel: Well you learn something new every day! So Tech Fest itself, it’s become sort of an annual event for Monuments. Does this year feel any different to previous years, other than the venue change obviously?
John: I mean, we’ve been here for about an hour, so I haven’t even walked around the ground yet. So I can’t really tell you that!
Chris: It seems great!
John: It seems to be people that know each other – almost like a little family. Everyone knows each other.
Chris: Kind of like all dorks of Download came together!
John: I mean there’s more men than women here, which is really disappointing.
Danuel: Would you consider Tech Fest to be one of the more innovative festivals in the UK in recent years?
John: In the UK definitely. There’s only really two festivals worldwide that do this kind of thing, Euroblast and Tech Fest. It’s actually humbling to have a festival that’s dedicated to a style of music that all of us here helped create. It’s just a great atmosphere. Everyone’s here for the music, and everyone’s here to have a great time.
Danuel: Does it hold any special significance to you guys as a headline band, and as a band who has played every single year?
John: Yeah we’ve played all three years. It’s just one of those festivals – and for the style of music we actually play, the festival is perfect! It’s kind of weird to see Jon Gomm on the bill because it’s kind of out there a little bit. But it’s good to break up the tech theme, with a different type of tech. Because if you actually listen to Jon Gomm it’s incredible. I can’t stop talking about Jon Gomm, I may have to give him a hug! I met him in the shop I work in, he had no idea who I was – I didn’t introduce myself or anything. It just kind of panned out.
Danuel: Retrospectively speaking, we’re getting a variety of opinions about this across the weekend, how important is social media to music?
John: I think it’s important on a lot of levels. It’s given a lot of people the opportunity to listen to our music. Without the internet, it’s practically impossible to have someone listening. Back in the day, you had to be in the right place at the right time, whereas now, if you’ve got a good track and it’s online then those people will spread it. And the more people that spread it, the more people that will listen. It’s like a domino effect.
Chris: I’m pretty sure this generation is shaped by social media. It’s safe to say.
John: In some ways it has killed some things about music. For example when I was a kid I didn’t know anything about a band. The only thing I ever had was a picture of them and a CD. Didn’t know anything about their personal lives. I think that sometimes plays a wrong part in peoples’ perspectives on music.
Chris: You’ll just hear things about us and it kind of ruins the mystique of a band. In the digital age, an upgraded society – well the more privileged ones anyway – we are a product of this time. And so, now everything is easy to access. If you want a particular kind of sound all you need to do is a bit of Google searching or even a bit of Facebook searching and you’ll find what you need to find. Everything is so instant gratification-based now. If it serves your media purposes and you can get whatever it is you want right now, you can satisfy that immediate craving. I feel like you find yourself wanting more. I do agree with John. Back in the old days, Deftones was a huge thing, in my childhood. Four years between a record and the only thing you get is maybe just a picture. You know what I mean? And even when websites were being developed, it was just so much more enchanting. Now we all have profiles on Facebook so people have immediate access, I guess it gives the impression that we’re somewhat more accessible. The truth of the matter is we’re still private people and do appreciate privacy. It’s this weird middle ground now, we’re in an age where everything is accessible but at the same time we’re trying to maintain that rockstar mystique – it’s faded in the wake of our generation.
John: Smokescreens definitely disappear sometimes. People, if they want to find out something about you they can. My phone number got printed on Facebook once. I actually had some people calling me. That’s the only negative aspect I can think about it. If you think about the Vik Guitar scenario. His guitars are incredible – nothing wrong with them – but because he said one thing that pissed off an entire internet full of people, he has ruined his career. You say one wrong thing and you’re fucked.
Chris Barretto – Vocals & Saxophone
John Browne – Guitar
Olly Steele – Guitar
Adam Swan – Bass
Mike Malyan – Drums & Samples