TEXT BY LIZZIE NOONAN ('16), STAFF WRITER
IMAGE BY JULIA NOONAN, CONTRIBUTOR
On a Tuesday afternoon this spring break, I took the A train from Canal street to a brownstone in Cobble Hill. After climbing four flights of stairs, I reached the entrance to a modest, brightly lit, railroad apartment. There Dave Monks stood, waiting in the doorway. He is taller than your average human, but doesn’t hesitate to reach down, give me a hug and invite me inside. I follow him through the dining, living and bedroom until we reach the final room, where he’s put together a makeshift recording studio. On his laptop, I see he’s already brought up a new Pro Tools window in prep for the pseudo-session we’re about to have.
I have known Dave for almost four years now, yet I always forget how successful the lanky 28-year old is. That said, his demeanor belies any sense of arrogance expected of artists of his caliber. He has a gentle air that puts you instantly at ease and old-fashioned facial features emanating a notable kindness. None of these characteristics suggests that he just marked a decade with Tokyo Police Club, played Madison Square Garden, and is about to embark on a national tour to promote his new album, Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness. But then I remember that he is, in fact, Canadian.
As I settle in to my seat, Dave shows me the myriad of sample options we have for our track. We start digging through his folder of samples and pick a few as Dave patiently tries to explain to me musical terms like “EQ,” and “compressor levels.” After about an hour, it’s obvious only one of us should be involved in the making of the Billboard #1 hit single.
As the son of Irish immigrants, how would you describe your childhood in Newmarket, (a suburb of Toronto)?
Growing up with my parents so Irish, as they were, we never felt that Canadian. I also don’t feel that Irish because I got to pick and chose my favorite parts about what it is to be Irish. I didn’t have to deal with any of the hard stuff my parents talk about from Ireland. And now I live in America, and I don’t feel American either.
Both you and your sister, Katie, are professional musicians (see Katie's band Dilly Dally here). Was there something in your upbringing that attracted you both to music?
My parents are super nonmusical. They’re both total pop music fans. It’s not like some other people’s parents who like cool records and just have Talking Heads singles lying around. My parents had U2, The Wedding Singer soundtrack and the Beatles, which is all really great stuff, but definitely not the coolest.
In terms of my family, my mom’s dad is super musical. He plays flute, saxophone and violin and he sings—mostly traditional Irish music. He is one of those guys who just has music in his blood. He is getting old now so he doesn’t play as much. Whenever we would go home and visit my mom’s family that would always be a huge part of it. It’s interesting music too; it’s music with a different kind of melody and time than the music that we listen to.
When was the first time you played music?
I tried learning guitar in Grade 8 and after I took a few lessons I was like, ‘this is too hard, never mind.’ And then I went to high school and my friend and I got really into all the coolest music, from then, like Incubus and Mathew Good Band. I wasn’t that into Limp Bizkit but I was so into Linkin Park. He was like I’m going to get a guitar so you should get a bass so then we can jam and I was like alright cool, I’ll get a bass.
When I asked my parents, they said, ‘last time you did guitar you quit, so this time we’ll rent you a bass for Christmas.’ I got a bass and I needed an amp, too, so then I got both for a month and that was my Christmas present. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I have to like really play these a lot because I don’t have them for that long.’ I found bass to be a lot easier than guitar so I stuck with it.
When did you first start singing?
So Steve, who was my Incubus loving compadre, was like ‘oh this girl Lisa is in the school choir we should join, there are so many cute girls in the choir.’ So naturally I agreed. The teacher let us try out because they needed more guys. Steve could sing a little bit. She was like, sing this note, la-la-la and Steve was like la-la-la, and he was in. Then it was my turn and I really couldn’t sing for the longest time. I was like, LAH-La-LA. She still let me in, but put me at the back.
All of your bandmates are from Newmarket. How did you guys meet?
In Newmarket, I went through the same class with the same people because we were all “gifties,” meaning we were in the gifted program—“gifties” being the pejorative term. We were all in class together since Grade 4 but we actually didn’t always get along. They were my friends in Grade 4, but then I wasn’t cool enough. One day in Grade 7 I went to the lunchroom to eat with all my friends and they were like Dave, spell “Eminem” I was like I don’t know “m-a-n-d-m. They were like, “No! It’s e-m-i-n-e-m. You don’t like cool music you can’t sit with us.” I was like crap! But I did get into Eminem after that.
How did you first get together and start playing music?
My friend gave me Kid A by Radiohead. It’s timeless. So I got into that album and realized music isn’t just rad, it’s really rad. Then I got so excited and began to make new friends through music, like Graham (TPC keyboardist) and Josh (TPC guitarist). Then it was either that year or the next year, the Strokes’ Is This It? came out. When we saw the music video for “Last Night,” we couldn’t believe it because they played the song live in the video, so it’s different than the record version. We thought that was the most badass thing. So while Radiohead was super inspiring, the Strokes made us feel like we can do this: we can pick up guitars and make stuff that sounds like this.We started writing songs and calling ourselves a band. We were 16.
It’s been over a decade of TPC. The first official TPC rehearsal was January 2005 and this April marks the 10-year anniversary of your first EP, A Lesson in Crime. How have your relationships with one another have changed and your concept of what TPC is and can be has evolved?
I think TPC has been so elastic and changed so much over the course of being together. Whereas at one point it defined us, now it is this thing that allows us to all have the lives we want to have. Now it’s different because we are all our own people and we have our own goals outside of TPC. It actually ends up being a lot lighter and we can approach the music in a more creative and fun way. Also because we don’t all live in the same town, when we get together it’s like catching up with old friends. It’s starting to have a bit of a nostalgic feeling.
How have you transitioned into your solo project, Dave Monks?
I feel like I’m the new kid all the time. Every day I’m the new kid. Every day I have to wake up and be like “Who is Dave again? What am I about?” I have to tell everyone that I am Dave. I feel like there is so much identity wrapped up in it for me.
Since doing solo stuff, I’m trying to work with more artists and produce as well. I’m meeting so many more people and getting a better sense of what I’m good at. There are definitely a couple moments on this record where I can pinpoint what I took from a session with someone else.
But whether I’m me on solo record, or I’m me with Tokyo, or I’m me singing on someone else’s song, or I'm me writing with someone else, it always ends up sounding like me anyways. It’s like you can’t really escape being yourself. As I approach these different projects, it’s assuring to know that my musical voice is the same everywhere it goes—it’s not going to go away.
QUICKFIRE WITH DAVE MONKS
PERSONAL MOTTO... CRAZY WEEK
IF I COULD PLAY ANYWHERE... JAPAN AGAIN
I COULD LIVE WITHOUT... MY PHONE
NOW PLAYING... JUNGLE
I WISH SOMEONE INVENTED A...GARLIC PRESS THAT CLEANED ITSELF
I WISH I INVENTED... THE GUITAR, BECAUSE THEN EVERYONE WOULD BE LIKE, 'WOW THAT SOUNDS SO ORIGINAL'
FAVORITE THING ABOUT NEW YORK IS... THE TRAINS
THE THING I MISS MOST ABOUT CANADA IS... PEOPLE SAYING 'SORRY' (IN A CANADIAN ACCENT)