The Continuing Mutations of Dana Monteith
Dana Monteith is perhaps best known for being cofounder, guitarist and songwriter for the cult favorite jamband the Ominous Seapods. The Seapods spent most of the nineties crisscrossing the United States, spreading their unique blend of music, mayhem, and lunacy. After the Seapods decided to take a break in the summer of 2001, most of the members continued on in other rock bands (most notably the Lo Faber Band which contains three Seapod members). Monteith however decided to continue his musical journey on a totally different path. Monteith forged ahead with an old passion of his, that of a singer songwriter. He began writing new material, and hosted his own acoustic workshop and open jam, at valentines in Albany N.Y. Over this time period he developed a new batch of songs described as "truck stop love ballads". In 2002 he entered (former Conehead Buddha front man) Chris Fisher's Easter Island Studio, to begin recording his debut solo CD titled Afterglow. Afterglow is due to be released sometime this year. I sat down with Monteith to discuss, his CD, as well as next month's reunion with the Ominous Seapods.
Matthew Shapiro: After the Ominous Seapods went on hiatus, most of your other band mates went on to play in other bands. You decided to take it in the opposite direction by performing as a solo acoustic artist. Why did you decide to take that route?
Dana Monteith: I like the rawness of it. I think that's what I was going for, a completely striped down approach to the music. It's really pure.
MS: How is the process different writing acoustic songs, as opposed to writing songs for an electric band?
DM: Well I think for solo acoustic you really have to think about how you're going to flesh it out. Where the melodies are going to be more apparent, the guitar parts have to be more than a few simple chords, you have to create the band basically. So there's a bit of a different approach to it. I've been doing a lot of alternate tunings, especially at home. I'll just pick a tuning and play, and you can get some bass parts and some melody parts all on one instrument, and I've been using a foot board, so I'm getting the drum thing on there. You really have to see how one person will flesh out the piece. Where with a band you can have everybody write their own parts, everyone can be creating it together.
MS: Do you miss that type of collaboration?
DM: Yeah, sometimes, and with the CD it's been kind of fun because we put a band together. We've had people come in and play, so it's been interesting to hear the songs go from solo acoustic guitar and vocals, to these other type of parts that maybe you didn't even realized existed before.
MS: Your new material has been described as "truck stop love ballads". Can you describe exactly what that is to someone who has yet to hear it?
DM: I would say it draws off that traditional kind of roots thing. I associate with a gritty kind of moving type sound. A real driving sound. A lot of the tunes are your classic love ballad type tune. You know that's kind of the universal theme at times in popular music. So it's got all those things tied together.
MS: Do the songs on Afterglow explore different themes then your Seapods’ material?
DM: Yeah, I'd say so; they're a lot more introspective in nature. I think from the last Seapods' album there was a lot more of that going on. I think over the history of the Seapods, we went from being this really out there kind of concept, and then as we experienced different things, and grew older we became a lot more introspective. We were being influenced by different artists over the ten year period of the Seapods, and influenced by different experiences. I think with Afterglow that there were a lot of songs from the Superman Curse, which quite possibly fit together with some of these tunes. Some of the songs on the Superman Curse begin to show that there's a progression in my writing to more introspective themes and Afterglow is where they really seemed to bloom.
MS: So the songs have been written since the Seapods went on hiatus
DM: Some are old ones that I wrote, and were maybe played by the Seapods but never recorded. Most of them have been written since the hiatus though. It's like a mixed thing, but it's like an organic progression over the past few years, where some things carried over through to fit in with what I'm doing now. A tune like "Unmarked Trunk", which I wrote three or maybe four years ago, that was like the beginning of the sound that I'm going for now, that type of approach both lyrically and stylistically.
MS: Chris Fisher is producing the album, tell me how did you two get together, and what has your working relationship been like?
DM: We were at the Larkin (in Albany) one night, and he mentioned to me that he was getting his studio together and he said "come on down and lets make a CD together". He knew that I already had a bunch of songs that I was looking to record, so it worked out. It was kind of a chance meeting. He expressed interest in producing it, and I thought that would be an interesting thing. We've got a similar sick sense of humor at times, so it's a good relationship. There's a certain level of dark sense of humor that works there. I think it's interesting for him, because he's never done a roots record or an Americana record, which is what this definitely is. It draws from that Americana edge. He had done the Conehead Buddha stuff, and that ran into more of a pop oriented type thing. So it was interesting for him to learn about the Americana scene and the Alt-country thing. It's been a real learning experience for the both of us; he's got great production ideas, and song writing ideas. So I've let him pretty much produce it. To me it's always exciting to hear someone else's take on your songs, and to hear an idea you might not have thought of, come off. We worked on some arrangements that have taken some good songs and made them great songs.
MS: While recording with the Seapods, you worked with a wide gamut of producers. So I wonder how you like working with a producer who is known primarily as a musician and a songwriter?
DM: I like it. I appreciate another set of ears. I'm a really raw type of person, or writer. I have a feeling or an emotion musically that I'll put out, and I like to move on to the next thing. If I can get to the next thing I like to start it. I wouldn't describe myself as a meticulous craftsman. I have concepts and ideas. So I appreciate the person can come in and fine tune that.
MS: Tell me a little about the musicians who have put together on the album. You have Kevin Maul, Bob Buckley, and Ted Marotta. Besides Ted, how did you find these guys and put the band together?
DM: Ted obviously is the classic example of calling on your old comrades. Bob Buckley, I met Bob when I was running my acoustic jam session. He started coming down with some of my friends, and some people I knew, and we would play together every Monday night. He's a phenomenal musician. He's got a great sense of timing, great note choices. Chris actually wrote most of the bass lines, and Bob came in and learned them adding his own flair, and his own ideas to the parts. So it was a real collaborative process with Bob and Chris on the bass parts.
MS: With Kevin Maul it looks as if he’s bringing some different types of instrumentation to the mix.
DM: Yeah we got some petal steel which I really wanted on some of the tracks, and dorbo on a track, which was great. Kevin's a real interesting cat to hang out with and talk to. When he started playing I almost fell over because he's such a great musician. He's got that thing, when he puts his hands on a pedal steel he transports you.
MS: Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about the upcoming Seapod reunion. How did these two shows come about?
DM: Brian (Mangini, Ominous Seapods keyboardist) called me up one night, and said that he talked to the other guys, and he asked if I'd be into doing it. I think what happened was, Brian was talking to Billy Allen a friend of ours who owns the Watering Hole #3, and they were talking about the possibility of bringing the Seapods up there to do the Winter Carnival. This was something that many years ago was an incredible gig. This place was frigging jammed to the rafters with people and was just a real sick, sick kind of thing. So we were like lets just do it. Let's get back together and play a show there. That would be absolutely the most mutated place to do it. Valentines was Tom's (Pirozzi, Seapod bassist) idea, he was like if we're going to play one show, we might as well play Albany. Then Brian called Max (Verna, the Seapods' original guitarist) and he was into it, so we figured we'd do it as a six piece.
MS: One of the more interesting aspects of the reunion is that both original guitarist Max Verna, and Todd Pasternack are taking part in it. I’m wondering do you feel the band changed once Max left and Todd stepped in? If the band did change how do you think Max will fit in with that?
DM: The band definitely changed. I think we became more song oriented, and more of a Rock-n-Roll thing. I really loved that version of the band, I really loved it. It was a totally different thing. Everybody's roles changed, and it was really cool, and everyone had a good time with that version of the band. I think as with Max coming in he'll do fine. He played with us once in New York City. Actually Max and I played together once in the city.
MS: Right before the Wetlands closed, right?
DM: Yep, yep, so I think it will be an interesting dynamic. You know Todd had sat in with us with Max, a long time ago, a couple of years before he joined the Seapods. He'd been sitting in with us on and off in Albany. So it's almost natural in a way. It's a version of the band I'd always joked about existing. It's almost like reaching an orchestral level, with so many instruments going on. I think it will be a lot of fun. It will be interesting at least.
MS: What has your relationship with Max been like?
DM: After the end of his tenure it was pretty rough. After the end of the Seapods though, I had a bit more empathy from were he was coming from, cause I think I was coming from a similar level. When you're burnt out on something, you're burnt out. It doesn't matter how great it is, or how much you love it, you have to step away from it, to have any sort of appreciation for it. You need to step outside of the box you might be in. So whatever that frustration I might have had, or anger I had towards Max dissipated. It seemed like as the Wetlands was closing, and the Seapods had rolled up the sidewalk, so to speak, it seemed like a great thing to do to get the band back together and play there. It was great we had a real good time together. I haven't really spoken to him that much, because we've both been busy living our lives, and doing our own things. He's in Brooklyn and I'm in the Catskills, so we don't speak much. But I think it's like you can't not be close to someone, in some sublime way, after you spent that many years of your life playing music with them, and having shared all those experiences.
MS: What should fans expect from these shows?
DM: I think a loose mutated explosion of sorts. I think it's going to be fun, it's going to be lively, and it's going to be loose. I think with three guitars there's going to be a whole lot of exploration going on because we haven't been playing. I think that will be fun. Since we haven't played as a band together, we're going to want to see what new boundaries we can take it to, especially as a six piece. We'll have our core songs that we love to play, that we always have a lot of fun playing. We will probably just freak out from there.
MS: Do you see any more Seapods shows down the line?
DM: The bill is open, we left it where the door will always be open, the light is on. We'll see how these shows go, see if we're still friends when it's over.
MS: What does the rest of the year look like for you? Once the disc comes out do you plan to hit the road with it? Finally if you do tour for the disc will you put together a band for it?
DM: I'd like to get a band together with it. A small band, maybe just bass and drums, to give it that extra dimension. I think it still maintains its rawness, but it also gives it a bit more then just one guy up there. I like the band thing. I think it would be fun to have a flexible thing, where you can do any kind of show. You can do it as a duo, a trio, or solo. So I'm looking to put something like that together. Once the CD gets done, which I hope will be in the next couple of months, we'll take it out on the road. We'll probably start in the Northeast and expand it from there. So I'm excited to see what happens with it.