Sunday, September 17, 2006
I first heard about Monsterbuck when they were mentioned in an article in Esquire that discussed the great music to be found on MySpace. I checked them out because of the fact that they were from Upper Jay, NY., since I grew up in the Adirondacks and I was frankly surprised that anyone would think that a band from up there could be any good. Plus, the article spoke of their songs' "gorgeous melodies," and I'm a sucker for gorgeous melodies.
Not only are the songs great, but there are a couple of fascinating back stories going on with this band.
One is that these guys are not your typical Williamsburg indie-pop types. They've been around. Chris Kowanko, the singer and songwriter, first came to New York City in the mid 80's, and actually put out a Lenny Kaye-produced solo album in 1991. From then until he settled in Upper Jay a couple of years ago, he moved arounf the country a lot. Probably had a lot of jobs. But he never stopped writing songs. He put out another fine solo album a couple of years ago, produced by Seattle's Steve Fisk. He moved to Upper Jay with his wife and daughter because the bass player from his New York days, Scott Renderer, and his brother Byron (who happened to be a drummer) had moved there and opened an furniture upholstery business. When Chris arrived, they started Monsterbuck.
I've always admired songwriter/musicians who didn't know when to quit. It's part of that romantic idea that the music is so important that you would starve, you would neglect your family, you would give up everything as long as you could keep playing music. Kowanko seems like one of those guys. And the fact that the music he and the Renederer brothers is creating now is so cool just makes it that much more amazing. And in a town like Upper Jay, with a population of a couple of hundred people.
The other interesting backstory concerning Monsterbuck also concerns Upper Jay's most famous resident, Arto Monaco, who, in the '50's and '60's, was kind of the Walt Disney of the Adirondacks. He designed and built amusement parks, including Storytown, Gaslight Village, and his pride and joy, the Land of Make Believe, which he built in his backyard in Upper Jay. All these places were familiar to any kid growing up in the Adirondacks. Land of Make Believe was perhaps the most truly amazing. It combined fairy tales, and cowboys and pirates and other kid-centric fantasies and made them all come to life, often interracting with each other in ways that, in the real world, would have made no sense. (A cowboy saloon next door to a medieval castle, next to a paddle wheeler docked on the "Mississippi River.")
The members of Monsterbuck have adopted Arto Monaco as a spiritual forebear. The name of their ep and first album-to-be is "Land of Make Believers." And one of their best songs is called is "Arto Monaco."
The Land of Make Believe was destroyed by a flood in 1979, but you can still see the shells of some of the buildings in Upper Jay, along the banks of the Ausable River. Arto Monaco died in 2003, but his spirit lives on in Monsterbuck's quirky, beautiful songs.
Monsterbuck's first ep, "Land of Make Believers," is available at http://www.monsterbuck66.com/.
The song "Arto Monaco" isn't on the ep but you can download it:
Monsterbuck - Arto Monaco.mp3