Exclusive Song Premiere And Interview With Instrumental Rock Innovators Monotrope

Monotrope says their complex rhythms feel like "unlocking a new ability and leveling up before you fight the final boss"

monotrope band interview

Photo by Jay Divinigracia

Today we’re excited to premiere the song ‘XLIII’ from the instrumental hard rock band Monotrope. The complex beginning of ‘XLIII’ invites the listener to listen closely; later in the song, Monotrope charges head-on into passages that simply rock. It’s a composition that brings an arresting sense of dissonance to an ambitious pattern of overlapping rhythms. ‘XLIII’ is the opening track on Monotrope’s forthcoming LP, Unifying Receiver, which is due via New Altantis Records on November 10th.

Monotrope is Edward Ricart (guitar), Dan Wilson (guitar), Matthew Taylor (bass) and Joe Barker (drums). Guitarist Ed Ricart is owner of New Atlantis Records – which is the label handling the release of Unifying Receiver. New Atlantis Records boasts an awesome range of acts from the experimental fringes of jazz, rock, and noise. Bassist Matthew Taylor worked for years as art director for Touch & Go Records, designing iconic album layouts for the label’s revered roster of bands.

Listen to ‘XLIII’ here and read an interview with Monotrope’s Edward Ricart and Matthew Taylor below:

Culture Creature: ‘XLIII’ is an ambitious and intricate composition. Can you describe the writing process and the inspiration behind this song?

Edward Ricart: Awesome. In general, I made a conscious attempt not to overthink things here. I found a pair of tunings that I really like, and just used them for everything I wrote on the record. It allowed me to be really economical with my playing. In Monotrope, I’m making basic structures from a few passages that contrast or resolve in some way that satisfies me, charting a course to make a landscape, and then leaving space for Dan, Joe, and Matt to flesh things out, breathing in dynamics and additional tensions. I’ve been in bands where the compositions can feel blocky, or parts can seem tacked on, or where there is infinite space to fill up with notes, and this is totally not that. Monotrope has been a great opportunity for me to focus more on creating a sturdy framework to work around and then collectively reinterpret. I get really excited writing and imagining where things might turn out, even from something simple. It’s worked really well, because I really know and love how everyone plays.

Matthew Taylor: When I originally received these songs from Edward, ‘XLIII’ was the song that made me want to be in this band.

How would you describe the musical function of polyrhythms – or their effect on you as a listener or player?

Matthew: If you think of a song as a dynamic path over a period of time with rhythmic structures and recurring patterns, a listener’s brain generally figures out those structures and patterns and anticipates what will happen next musically. When that happens it’s either a reward for some or predicable for others. Polyrhythms introduce a level of complexity with either conflicting or overlapping rhythms that lessen the listener’s ability to predict what sounds are likely to occur next. They also offer a choice of separate paths for the listener to follow.

As a player it’s killer because it’s like unlocking a new ability and leveling up before you fight the final boss.

Edward: That totally nails it. Polyrhythms, counter rhythms, and odd time signatures can all function a lot like pitch or harmony, in that they’re additional colors to work with and explore when you’re layering or putting ideas together. I generally don’t count things out or shoot for any meter in particular when I’m writing – I just find where things feel right. Joe Barker (Monotrope’s drummer) and I played in a band together years and years ago when I was 19. He asked me to rework a part I was playing and try it in 7/8, and at the time I no idea what he was talking about. Once I figured out how it worked, that was it – it really is a whole new world to not be tethered to one specific meter. I have to credit him with totally unlocking the whole thing for me.

What is one element of a song that has to be absolutely perfect before you’re satisfied with it?

Matthew: Because of our geographic separation, Monotrope has very little time to work together in the same physical space. We all look at the song as a whole and try not to overwork every single part. Very little is actually talked about in depth; instead, we use our ears and play what makes sense for the part. Obviously, we work on the parts that seem like they need the intervention or repetitions for performance. But once the song reaches a place where all four of us are super-stoked, we move to the next song or shape. There’s not much second guessing. That being said, individually, I feel we work as much as possible to have everything we do completely locked down from a rhythmic and harmonic (or counter-harmonic) place. There is a lot to explore and I believe we feel compelled by that.

Can you give us an overview of how Monotrope formed?

Edward: My last band, Hyrrokkin, brought me to Ohio from Washington DC. We were playing challenging music, but towards the end of our run, we were running out of opportunities to practice and generally just moving in different directions. That band went on hiatus, and I decided to just play, write, and engineer a record myself. I really encouraged by what Joe did with Unraze, his awesome one-man recording project. I’ve known Dan and Joe for years, essentially since I was a teenager, and I’ve known Matt for a good while now too. I was sharing ideas for new music with them, and they just started picking things up organically and writing more.

Matthew, what are some highlights of your Touch and Go design portfolio?

Matthew: Slint, Spiderland; Girls Against Boys, Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby and Cruise Yourself; The Jesus Lizard, Goat, Liar and Down; Shellac, Live At Action Park, The Rude Gesture: A Pictorial History, Uranus, and The Bird Is the Most Popular Finger; Don Caballero, For Respect and Singles Breaking Up; Killdozer, Uncompromising War on Art Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat; Polvo, Today’s Active Lifestyles; Rodan, Rusty; Tortoise, Lonesome Sound / Mosquito and Lee Harvey Oswald Band, A Taste of Prison. I could keep going…

Is there an album cover that was particularly fun collaboration process?

Matthew: As the Art Director at Touch and Go Records, I generally worked with one band member to achieve what their vision was for their album artwork. Because I usually worked with David Yow on the Jesus Lizard artwork, every single one of those releases was a blast to work on.

Another was the Big Boys – The Skinny Elvis / The Fat Elvis reissues. I worked with Tim and Biscuit directly. I reached out to people all over the United States who formed the early punk rock movement for input as well as people like Bill Daniel who photo-documented it. Growing up in Texas as a punk rock skater, it was pretty killer.

Royal Trux were always killer, super sweet people to work with. Also, David Landis who I worked with on all the Didjits releases is a genius.

What’s one album cover design by someone else that makes you wish you’d designed it?

Matthew: Bellini, The Precious Prize of Gravity.

Ed, what inspired you to start New Atlantis Records? Were other independent labels like Dischord Records a major source of inspiration for you?

Edward: Certainly Dischord was a huge deal to me growing up, and labels like Slowdime, Art Monk Construction, Touch & Go, Saturn, Homestead, SST… There’s so many great ones. I’ve tried to be more aesthetically diverse than some of those other labels, but certainly SST and Homestead covered an amazing amount of ground and blurred the lines between the punk scene and free jazz, and so on… I really envisioned New Atlantis as more of a cooperative model than those labels. I thought that if I could just set up infrastructure – like a network for manufacture, publicity and distribution – then everyone on the label could pitch in and help drive things collectively. It didn’t necessarily become quite what I was expecting, in that the label has essentially remained a one-human entity, but it has grown far beyond whatever I’d anticipated. I’ve somehow put out roughly sixty records, and most of my favorite records from recent years, from amazing bands like U Sco, Stern, Die Trommel Fatale, Upsilon Acrux, tons of others – music that just blows my mind. Just from a creative guitar nerd perspective, releasing records with players like Brandon Seabrook, Ryan Miller from U Sco, Elliott Sharp, Scott Fields, Ava Mendoza, Nick Millevoi, Joe Morris, Henry Kaiser, Mary Halvorson, and so on – it’s frankly nuts how much has gone down in about six years.

Obviously, the record business has changed a great deal in the last few decades. What do you see as the most interesting opportunities for bands in the music industry of 2017?

Edward: It is really interesting to consider that bands are no longer dependent on the interest of labels to get their music out into the world. That means there are no contingencies or qualifiers. Even with super limited technical skill or means, anyone can make the record they want to make and forever document a moment in their lives. So it’s really inspiring to see the landscape shift, and access increase.

Growing up, when I saw an album was on Touch & Go or whatever, I would buy it without needing to know what to expect. A record coming out on a particular label came with this fantastic power to make disparate segments of the underground music community seem unified, as if some totally parallel structure was being created for good music to exist, entirely beyond the bounds of the mainstream. So messages of isolation or rebellion could come with this subtext of community and strength that was really multidimensional and enriching, and archival in the sense of like a snapshot of the culture at large.

It is exciting to think labels that have been around for years now, like Thrill Jockey and Southern Lord continue to do an amazing job growing their catalogs, and broadening their audience without compromise. They demonstrate that it is actually possible to stay afloat in a really weird climate, and they’re also these cultural juggernauts, in a sense. I do think labels can still serve a really great function for listeners, as aggregators of stylistic veins that might otherwise not be clearly linked together, but now more than ever, literally anyone can accomplish whatever their vision is without being dependent on anyone else.

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