The rise of Monarques
Portland seven-piece puts together throwback sound and lands on National Public Radio in one year’s time
Chico, CA 95928
Josh Spacek looks like a cross between Buddy Holly and Axl Rose—horn-rimmed glasses are met by the singer/guitarist’s long, straight rocker strands. His band Monarques definitely lean more toward the Buddy Holly end of the spectrum, playing music that captures rock ’n’ roll’s squeaky-clean beginnings—simple, high-energy and endlessly fun.
“There are so many serious rock bands in Portland,” says Spacek of starting the new project last year. “A big part of it was playing in an indie rock band for so long.”
Monarques came together surprisingly quick—in about a month—and not as a simple power trio, but as a mighty seven-piece with backup singers. Over the past year the band (which makes its way to Chico’s Café Flo Saturday, June 5) has released an EP (recorded in that first month), and in a surprising turn of events even landed a spot on the radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion in April.
Spacek spent the past few years as guitarist in Portland’s Oh Captain, My Captain, but felt the itch to form a band whose shows were more of a party than a place for hipsters to cross their arms and stare. It also didn’t hurt that he was delving into those olden days of rock and R&B.
“At the time I started Monarques I was listening to a lot of Roy Orbison and Motown records, and reading about Holland-Dozier-Holland,” he explains. “One thing I was impressed by was that Motown had this serious songwriting regimen.”
Spacek had agreed to play Portland rock summit Musicfest Northwest. He didn’t have a single song, or a band. While he wasn’t cranking out multiple songs a day in the spirit of Motown, Spacek did manage to assemble a seven-piece band through a Craigslist ad and record a five-song EP—all in about three months.
“I got calls from a lot of people,” he says with a laugh. “Mostly older guys, who would send me their résumé.”
Spacek finally got the core band together, consisting of drummer Corey Ciresi, keyboardist Lee Ellis, bassist Richard Bennett and guitarist Jonathan Preston. Vocalists Christine Busacca and Talia Gordon joined the day of the recording.
The songs from Monarques’ self-titled EP sound readymade for crackly 45s and degenerate sock-hops. “Cold Cold Heart” was the first tune Spacek wrote for the band, a breezy rock gem that recalls The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” with the memorable line: “I traded in my soul/ For a bag of cocaine and some rock ’n’ roll.”
Monarques’ shows were quickly gaining a reputation for being short, sweet, sweaty dance parties, attracting young indie crowds, surly garage rockers and handfuls of woodworks-inhabiting music aficionados. Local press swooned.
Of course, that was nothing compared to what the band would experience a month and a half ago. Spacek recalls being slightly inebriated and entering a video of an especially lively Monarques performance to NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, which was to hold the 10th annual Talent Tee-Off, its annual battle-of-the-bands competition, on April 17 of this year.
“I kinda forgot about it,” he admits. “One day I saw an e-mail and I thought it was ‘Thanks for the submission,’ and I opened it and was like ‘What?!’ ”
Within days all seven members were being flown out to New Jersey, getting wined and dined by host Garrison Keillor and rocking out along with four other bands at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in front of 3,000 people.
It was an exhilarating and surreal experience for the band, but they’re not resting on their laurels. Spacek already has eight new songs in the can, and the band will put them to tape this fall. If he maintains the workmanlike approach of those legendary Motown songwriters, there’s no telling what Monarques might accomplish in 2011.