INTERVIEW: Michael & the Rockness Monsters

Hi Michael, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I’ve been fantastic. Some wonderful things in the works for the Monsters and our parent company Rockness Music. It’s hard to stop writing – once one record releases one is on the rise. We are thrilled with the process of making Seeing Life In 2020 – we learned so much which is resulting in some really positive influence in our original music. Sometimes you lose track of what makes a song a ‘good song’ – covering all of these hits broke down any questions and made the distinctions crystal clear. 

From all the songs out there, why did you choose cover “Yes We Can Can”?

You are so on point with asking this. Just think about the 70’s – there are too many hits to choose from, as well as so many exceptional artists.  We wanted to make a statement with this record. It’s a fun and educational journey, but with the state of the global climate we felt we needed to stamp some goodness on this record as well. Yes We Can Can addresses many of the ideals we wanted to broadcast.  Respect Woman, Nurture Children, Embrace Unity and Equality.  Have a listen! “YES WE CAN CAN” https://soundcloud.com/therocknessmonsters/12-yes-we-can-can-1644-mp3?in=therocknessmonsters/sets/2020-shorter/s-Xrt61

What was the approach you were seeking with this rendition?

We wanted to reproduce the song without altering it too much. We wanted some more flourishes than the song delivered which we brought with some twangy funk guitar and horns. To give this song a classic feel it was performed live, bass, drums, and guitar with no click track. You can feel it and it feels good. 

How much would you say the 70s have influenced your music?

Three hippopotamus and four elephants worth :0)

 I don’t know what that means but I will tell you that this sound we have developed (which does not carry through this release but is prevalent in Monster’s Ball – our previous record) is full on 70’s. I’m a trained drummer, thanks to my dad, and funk is my favorite groove to play. The sound was slowly creeping into the band until one of my friends (Andrew Cowie) sat in with the band 4 years ago, we then added trombone, and the rest is history. I started writing songs FOR the band. In the past I had written exclusively with children in mind.  What I mean is, when accompanying the lyrical content and message I would compose whatever I thought they needed to feel when hearing the lyrics. Now that the monsters have been established and rocked many performances together I can hear the band when I am writing and it’s a huge benefit which drives that 70’s sound. 

The cover comes off your new album Seeing Life In 2020 – what’s the story behind the title?

This album is a retrospective of the last 100 years of music. A cover song from each decade from 1920-2020. The process was pretty organic like all good things.

 My parents always played various styles and time periods of music for me, and I now do this for my children. One day when listening to the radio, the song Choo’n Gum came on. I started brewing ideas of covering this song. My father and I started discussing other songs that would be great for children. My family listens to Sirius/XM religiously and toggles through the 40’s 50’s 60’s 70’s stations – at some point the lightbulb went off. We toyed with the title ‘Seeing Life In 20/20’ inciting vision, but went with ‘Seeing Life In 2020’ in the end.

I envision 2020 to be a very pivotal year. It’s up to us right now on what we want to see in 2020. Are we going to see 20/20 or are we going to turn a blind eye. The lyrics at the end of this tack say it all:  “Seeing Life In 2020, Hear We are in 2020, What we gonna do? It’s All Up to You, What you gonna do?” 

How was the recording and writing process?

Although these are all covers – we chose to recreate some of the songs which was a quite a pleasure. Discovering alternate melodies and various rhythmic accompaniment proved to be a really fun experience. The song itself was already written, so we basically just produced the tunes and put some spices, salt and pepper on there. 

Writing the song Seeing Life In 2020 was an epic journey of research and exploration. The song was a true challenge and I love a good challenge. 

Would you call this a departure from your previous musical work?

This record is the polar opposite of what one may expect from the Monsters. Actually I think I really shocked some people who I trust deeply with my art and my career.  Everyone has been so kind supportive of this album. In the end, it’s a great thing for us. We explored new territory and spread our wings which always good for arts sake!

How did you get to balance the vast number of influences and musical styles on this record?

Did we? Phew. Thanks for saying that – bahahahaha 🙂

This was a huge chore. We actually recorded 18 songs and trimmed it down to 11. Without trimming those songs we would not have been as successful with the process. Regardless, the balance would have been impossible without the tireless focus of Dean Jones. We could not have created this record without him. 

From what sources did you borrow inspiration for this album?

Discovering the songs to cover on this record took an enormous amount of time. Not all songs are coverable for children. Some of my favorite songs that I loved as a kid. Joy To The World; Loves Me Like  A Rock; Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. I could not cover these songs due to lyrical content. As songs came up they would get shot down just as easily. We thought about accessibility, inclusiveness, and fun! As we neared the end of the record 90’s, 00’s, 10’s – we transitioned to using songs from TV and Film to find the correct messaging. 

The title track ‘Seeing Life In 2020’ required so much research. What inventions to include? What was invented when? What sources are correct? What do children care about? I think we nailed it, but that is up to them! 

Any plans to hit the road?

Shorter trips and one offs is our typical plan. Some of us are dads, and we have jobs – I work daily with children in the field. It keeps me in touch with their needs and what the landscape of education and parenting. So going on long tours is a bit more difficult.  There has been some mention of international travel and some work in the east but we shall see!

What else is happening next in Michael & The Rockness Monsters’ world?

Thanks for asking – Believe it or not, I’ve already begun writing our next record. I’ve also composed a book for pre-teens on the origin of Michael & the Rockness Monsters. There is also a book in the works for preschoolers by Rockness Music. Lastly, we are in pre-production on a Youtube series which we will be filming this winter. I could go on. There are so many positive things happening but let’s keep it short. Thanks so much!

Listen to Yes, We Can

Where to find Michael & the Rockness Monsters:

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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