With the release of their first-ever DVD, It All Started With A Red Stripe, earlier this month, Canadian emotional-rock quartet MONEEN have officially re-entered the consciousness of thousands of music fans. Brian Shultz caught up with frontman Kenny Bridges to discuss some of the more uncomfortable moments of the documentary, the band’s strange parallels to a defunct labelmate and the all-encompassing power that is YouTube.
The "film" part of the DVD basically revolves around the demo sessions for The Red Tree and how Rich Egan basically wanted you guys to write and record some more before officially recording the album. How frustrating was that at the time?
KENNY BRIDGES: At the time, we didn’t really know what was going on in the world, and it’s funny when we think back to those times now. We were just like a bunch of whiny, stupid losers. If we had gone and recorded the record when we first thought we were going to, the record would’ve been completely different and completely garbage, probably.
So at the time, yeah, it kinda freaked us out because up until that point we’d never had anyone ever tell us what to do or…not even tell us what to do, but suggesting. We kinda did everything on our own. We worked really close with a lot of friends. Even when we recorded [Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now?] with Trever Keith and Chad Blinman, they were really good to us as far as letting us do our thing, where this time it was kinda, like, more people had invested a lot of time. Rich invested into us and we were really lucky for that. So at the time, we were frustrated, but we were never pissed. We were never one of those bands who were like, "Screw everyone! You don’t know who we are!"
I think more than anything, at the time maybe our pride would’ve been hurt. We were really proud of the fact that we do a lot of things ourselves. But in the end, we thanked everyone for the fact that they [pushed] us around and opened our eyes up to the reality of that. We, at the time, weren’t ready to write that record. We were writing a different record, which wouldn’t have been what we really [wanted].
But it’s funny how time goes by and we can look back at that now. Like, have we really grown that much in the couple years or three years or whatever it’s been? And I think that’s the funny thing. We’ve learned so much, and I don’t think we’ll ever repeat the stupid mistakes of a dumb, naive band, like [starts chanting] "We want fun! We want fun!" and then not think about what we’re actually doing… If that makes any sense.
I think that relates to the part in the film where Brian McTernan is asking you about the meaning to the lyrics for "The Politics Of Living And The Shame In Dying." You seem pretty caught off guard.
Oh, yeah. No one’s ever asked…[Laughs.]…before that, no one’s ever asked, "What does this song mean?" That’s funny that it’s just the caliber of producing that Brian’s at that we weren’t used to. [He’s] not just trying to record sounds; he wants to figure out what the song’s about and where it’s coming from, and that’s really cool. That’s another thing we learned.
Pretty much, I guess the whole movie’s about, “watch how dumb Moneen is and then–[Laughs.]–see how they’ve learned from it.” Here’s the funny thing about that movie–it catches a time, but it’s a very specific time. Other than, obviously, the flashbacks to the past, hovering around us doing pre-production for The Red Tree. That’s what it was all about. There’s two weeks of pre-production, and the movie focused around the first week of it [because] Alex Liu, the guy who directed it, went home the second week. The funny thing is how much change within the second week there is to see. All the songs come together, we’re all having the greatest time ever the second week. We all went up to this little lake house and did vocals up there and got really creative. That’s all the stuff you don’t get to see, but I guess that’s not the stuff you want to see because [it’s not] people friggin’ getting angry at each other and rolling around on the ground screaming, and [that makes] for good TV.
During one of the flashbacks to 2003, you say that if anyone ever left the band, that would be the end of it. I find it interesting that when you guys were jamming, Peter says he doesn’t like this one song–I think it was listed in the credits as "Kenny’s Shitty Song"–and it creates a lot of tension between him and you. And, of course, this past March, Peter left the band, but you guys didn’t break up.
That’s the ironic thing about the timing of it all is the fact that right when this DVD finally comes together and is gonna be released, us and Peter have to go our separate ways. At the time, "if any of us leave the band, it’s not gonna be the same," but in the end, that’s not the case. Basically, life has his own timeline and doesn’t–[Laughs.]–care what you say. Probably, at one time we thought, "This band could never be a band without these four," but I guess the sad truth is that’s not the case. Life will always evolve, people always grow. That’s the one part of the movie I–not that I wish it wasn’t in there… I wish that was true, but I guess in the end it’s not true and it’s [no one’s] fault. It’s just some irony we’re going to have to live through. Like, "What were you talking about, man? I thought you said if anyone was gonna leave the band, it would be no more. What’s next? Hippy gonna leave? What’s happening?" But I can assure you that Hippy’s not gonna leave.
But you probably wouldn’t say that again today. In 2008.
No… Well, I guess we’ve learned so much that… People grow, things happen, and you just have to find your goal that you’re trying to get to and make it happen. We realize we don’t want this band to stop and we don’t want anything to stop it so things had to go the way they went. But it’s better for everyone in the end. Peter’s got a solo project now, and it’s going really, really well, and he’s really, really happy doing that. Obviously, we all would’ve loved to keep playing music together. We knew it wasn’t the most positive environment to be in, so we had to sit down and say, ‘What do we all need to do to make sure we’re all happy and [can] achieve what we want to achieve?’ And [we] just realized, ‘You know, this band’s great. There’s so much life left in this band.’ Maybe just not with the four of us together.
So how many Easter eggs are actually on this?
More than zero…and less than 100.
You know, I actually really like the simplicity of the cover and how it correlates with the album. I think Steve Jobs is the only person on earth who really seems to know the power of whitespace.
[Laughs.] That’s true. I really, really like the design side of it and I’m really, really proud of it. It’s funny; that picture, I don’t know if you ever saw it, but there’s a bio picture we did early on. Just kind of a ridiculous, fun thing to do. In that exact same room, we took a picture and we basically painted a red stripe across it, that room. So years go by and we’re putting this DVD together and trying to think of artwork for it. I called up the photographer who did that original bio picture and said, "Hey, listen. Do you have any pictures of that room we used for it?" And he goes, "Why do you need pictures?" "Because I want to set up the original red stripe that I painted on this canvas. I want to set it up and take a picture of it, but obviously we don’t have the room." And he says, "I do have the room. I never changed it." I was like, "What?" "Yeah, I never changed it back."
He basically took a corner of his apartment and painted it white, and painted the floor white, and then when he painted the red stripe… I thought he would have put it back in order after that. So I just went over there, and we set up the canvas on this easel and took the picture. And he only took one picture. He only took one, and we looked [at it] and [said], "That’s perfect." It’s so simple and without it being weird and artsy and hippy. To me, that picture says a lot about the whole concept of this band and the DVD itself. It’s all there in one place but there’s so much more to it. I really, really like the imagery of it.
How long ago did you say you’d taken that bio photo?
We did it pretty much right before The Red Tree was released.
I haven’t seen the picture, but from your description of it, it reminds me of that Tegan And Sara promo photo from 2007 where they have a marker drawn across their faces.
Oh, really? Well, that’s 2007…
So I think you just barely beat them to the punch on that one.
They’re all like, "Yeah, we need to do something, too… We looked to, of course, Moneen." [Laughs.] We influence nobody.
So you worked on some new demos recently?
Yeah, yeah. I’m actually mixing them right now. As you called, I was listening to vocals over and over.
Was it the band’s decision to demo this time?
We’re just in the regular process of a band getting ready to record a new record. Vagrant, or management, or no one’s really heard new songs other than people that come in and out of the house or the one new song that we played on MTV Live recently.
So we just had to get some demos together to send to the label and then send out to producers and send them to Brian [McTernan], and just different people we know that we’ve recorded with in the past. Just to see who’s as excited about the new stuff. Just normal “we just gotta get these songs recorded so some people can hear them and make sure they know we’re still a band.” [Laughs.] And hopefully they’re not crap.
So you recorded them yourself this time?
Yeah, we just did it in my basement. It’s [going] really good. I’m actually really, really hard on myself usually when we record and we have a really hard time doing a rough job. Like whenever I’m saying to the guys, let’s do some rough demos, it turns into this two-month-long endeavor of me just, like, sitting alone in the basement at night [doing] weird keyboard parts and anything I can think of. I was the kid that would try everything you can. Like, don’t even bother arguing about it–just try it.
Brian was always good about that, too, on The Red Tree. “There’s no point in arguing.” It takes more time to talk a band out of doing something than it does to try and see if it works or not. But you don’t understand how stoked I am to be stoked on our own stuff. I’m so stoked for these new songs, I’m not ashamed or afraid–I’m not even ashamed, that’s the wrong word, but I’m not afraid to show them to people. Or be afraid to send them to Rich and everyone at Vagrant, because [I’d be] worried that they wouldn’t like them. We feel so good about these songs that I actually cannot wait for them to hear them.
Are you planning on recording with McTernan again?
We’d like to, but at this point we’re not really sure. It’s not really like my personality to be like this because I’m pretty OCD when it comes to things, but… We [like] to try something different on every record–every record a new experience. We’re only gonna be in this band once; we’re by no means the Rolling Stones, so we might as well just get as many different experiences out of it as we can. I think The Red Tree turned out really, really good and I cannot imagine recording this [next one] with anyone but Brian, but we’ll see what happens.
It’s funny how you mention "we’re only gonna be a band for so long," because I was going to mention a [career] comparison to the Get Up Kids…how they put out their first album on a tiny label and then released three for Vagrant and that was it. So by that pattern…
There was a lot of parallels to the Get Up Kids.
And [one hopes] this isn’t another one.
No. [Laughs.] I’m not getting that feeling, at least. I don’t feel like this record’s gonna be a huge jump to a totally different sound, like maybe On A Wire was for the Get Up Kids, which, really, is still a great record…
Oh, I love On A Wire.
It’s just not the record that Get Up Kids fans wanted to hear.
For the most part.
But it’s funny, actually. I think back to when we started. We always joked how ironic it was, how close we were following what the Get Up Kids [were doing]. Really, that’s a great band to follow.
I think the only difference is The Red Tree didn’t alienate most of your fanbase.
That’s exactly it. We always made that joke when we were recording it. We both have EPs and move on to really awesome but smaller labels, and then we both end up moving to Vagrant. The biggest difference is the Get Up Kids actually have a lot of fans where we didn’t. [Laughs.] That is the biggest difference, really.
It’s funny that you mention the Get Up Kids, because in this last week I’ve been really nostalgic about music. I somehow ended up finding this band, Cap’n Jazz… I was really surprised that Cap’n Jazz ended up on YouTube…
Yeah, every [band] are on YouTube now.
Some bands I just think wouldn’t have made it there, and I found pretty much every obscure band that I was looking for. There was a time when I know exactly when and what music changed my life pretty much. I just got really reminiscent about it and lately I’ve been thinking about all I want to do now is play hall shows again. I just really want to get back to that place where music meant so much to me. And it still does, but it’s different now. It’s different because punk rock is way too big and there are too many bands and it’s just not as special anymore. It’s just not the same.
I remember the first time I ever saw Jimmy Eat World was in this tiny little club, and they were opening for the Promise Ring. I remember that show changed my life because I’d never really seen bands like that in a small place treat it the way they did–play the same way there that they would play in front of 15 people or 15,000 people. People didn’t care back then. [The band’s] so happy to be playing and now I think, like, not for us…our perception hasn’t changed, but I think the perception for a lot of young bands has changed. I think things are a lot different now. [Younger bands] are thinking you need management…
…100,000 fans before you even go to record a note into your four-track. It’s just so different now. I think this next record we’re gonna take things much differently, as far as getting back to the headspace we were in when were just so proud to do as many things as we could on our own. I’m not saying alienating the people that are helping us, because without Vagrant, and without all the people that’ve helped our band in the past on the business side we would be nowhere. We’re truly lucky for that. At the same time, there’s all this good stuff that I used to be so excited about back in what we call the scene. I want to get back to there. I want to get back to the headspace where there was nothing else you could think about other than the fact that you’re getting to play music in front of 20 people and just not take anything for granted.
You caught me on a weird week. I actually found on YouTube…I didn’t think I was gonna find any old Jimmy Eat World footage, because they’re so popular now and there’d just be all this new stuff but I typed in "Jimmy Eat World 1999" and in 1999 I brought my girlfriend, Lisa, on a surprise trip to Arizona to go see Jimmy Eat World play in this place called the Green Room, and there’s like 300 people there. And I found that show on YouTube and I can hear myself screaming things in between songs. It was tripping me out. Of all the shows I could’ve found, how is that the one? Weird, weird parallels of the universe, my friend. alt