Helper Monkeys theorem
Give them 10 years in the scene and a little while in the studio, and they’ll produce a CD
Awareness of the Helper Monkeys is widespread in Sacramento, even if some people here may have gone as long as 10 years without knowing what the band sounds like or what it’s called. That cigarette-smoking, vaguely-put-upon-looking monkey-face logo, often rendered without any identifying text, seems to have become ubiquitous.
Singer Jaz Brown designed the logo and, as drummer Craig Hancock says, “It really lends itself to making stickers and posters and stuff like that.” As for how, over the years, those stickers and posters have been plastered everywhere you look in the city, bassist and singer Jeff Valentine says, “We can’t take any credit for what some of our crazy, deranged fans will do!” Fair enough.
But sometimes the logo will be appended with a taunting phrase, like, “We are watching!”
They’re not. Not really. Mostly, Brown, Hancock, Valentine and guitarist Mac Ryan are just playing music together, as they have done since they were 12. A decade ago, they were Panda Bear Greens. In nature, monkeys tend not to evolve from bears, but that’s what happened here.
The closest thing to a Helper Monkeys mission statement may be found on the band’s MySpace page: “With poor social skills, an unquenchable thirst for smokeables and a devoted attention to any and all music that sounds ‘wicked sick,’ these four lads had no other choice but to stick together and rock ‘ass.’”
“We’re basically running on fumes,” Brown jokes. “It’s not like there haven’t been moments where we hated each other. We’re just better able to cope with that than some bands are. But if any one of us quit or couldn’t be in the band, that would be the end of it.”
This week, instead of an ending, the Helper Monkeys have a new full-length self-titled CD, released by Green Door Records. If enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters for enough time will produce the plays of Shakespeare, four in a recording studio with their instruments producing an album after 10 years isn’t unreasonable. They recorded the basic tracks in town at EME Studios, then finished up the vocals and guitars working with Ted Angel from the Mr. T Experience. Everyone in the band credits Angel with helping them achieve an outstanding sound.
So what does Helper Monkeys music sound like? Brown wants to make one thing clear: “I just want to say up front that we are not a punk band!”
Oops. Too bad about that recent Sammie nomination. But he clarifies: “I think we’re just not technically proficient enough to just be a rock band, so it kind of lends itself to the punk sensibility.” Fine, fine. “There’s not much that we don’t like,” Valentine says, “and that all finds its way into our music.” When asked if that includes new country, the band passes around a collective shudder.
The Helper Monkeys also have been described as buttrock meets punk rock, and they consider that acceptable. They have dared to record songs that clock in at more than three minutes long, even if it means bewildering their punk-inclined fans.
“This album has a lot of firsts for us,” Ryan says. “It’s the first time we’ve used keyboards, the first time we’ve had longer songs. We really pushed ourselves in a lot of ways we hadn’t before.” Also noteworthy: Brown and Valentine do a dual-vocal thing, singing the lead part together. “It’s better like that because neither one of us is very good,” Brown says. “Yeah, there are no Michael McDonalds in this band,” Hancock adds.
Let’s call it tightly wound rock, offered up with a ton of sass and cojones and an irreverent punk attitude. And stickers and posters and stuff.