Preparing for the Debut of his Sophomore Release, Joel Monroe Reflects on 'Box Elder' June 07 2014, 0 Comments
Joel Monroe began his musical career as a young songwriter from Leon, Iowa. Picking up the guitar at age 12, by age 16 he was writing and performing in and/ around Des Moines, Iowa. Making friends with a drum machine he dubbed 'Gene the Machine', he eventually recorded his own release ‘Box Elder’
which debuted in March 2013 and features a blistering array of raw, rocking tunes. Singles ‘Black Cat Blues’ b/w ‘Weatherman’ were subsequently released via Grimtale Records as part of the labels' 'raw series'.
Seriously, this 'kid' is so talented you might be tempted to think he's made a deal with the devil, but I can assure you it's all hard work and dedication on his part. Joel recently took a few minutes out of his day to answer some questions regarding his Box Elder LP release, his Grimtale single and upcoming 2014 plans.
You began playing music at a fairly young age (12?)- What prompted you to first pick up a guitar? Has your family been supportive of your endeavors?
I believe it was Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine whom inspired me to start playing guitar. Rage Against The Machine was probably the first band that I began listening to religiously on a daily basis. Tom Morello is very creative with the guitar and his playing automatically caught my attention. My family has been very supportive of my music. They are always encouraging me to go further. I'm very thankful for that.
When did you start writing your own material? Can you describe a bit about your songwriting process?
I think I wrote my first song at age 16, which was "Black as Hell." I don't usually write the lyrics and music together. The lyrics come first most of the time, and then I will write the music to the lyrics. I never plan to write songs either, I just get this feeling telling me that I need to write something down.
Your first full-length album, Box Elder, was reportedly self-recorded in a fairly small space. How did that come about? What type of equipment did you use?
Yes, I believe the room was 10x7 ft. It was a spare room at my mother's house which I used to store my equipment. It did give it a good sound though. It was my first time recording something that would actually be released, looking back, I can think of a couple things that I could have done differently to make a better production, but what's done is done. For the equipment, I used a solid state guitar amplifier, a 90's Alesis drum machine (Gene The Machine), both my guitars (Loretta & Black Betty), a few simple dynamic microphones, and a 100 watt 4 channel mixer going into a laptop. I strayed away from any effects on the laptop, I used only a touch of reverb on my vocals.
Your Grimtale Records single ‘Black Cat Blues’ b/w ‘Weatherman’ came out on vinyl a few months following your digital LP. Considering you’ve grown up in, primarily, the digital/ MP3 age, what has it been like to progress from a home-recorded, self-released (primarily) digital artist to having a tangible product?
Well, I never really liked digital. At school, kids would have Ipods and at home my father would have records, so I had a choice to make. Obviously I love records way more than anything else, nothing can compare to the feel of vinyl. I never imagined at all that I would have my music on an actual record, and I can't believe it happened this early in my life. I love it.
I was duly impressed with the b-side, ‘Weatherman’. Can you share the origins behind it?
Weatherman is a profound political song if you listen closely. A "pop" inspired song as well. I think the drum beat was created before the guitar. I really liked the way it grooved. Overall it's a song describing what a mess our economy has become and the big problems on Wall Street. But that's only my description, you can interpret the song however you please.
You’ve named Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters as some of your musical influences yet your own style is very guitar driven and I gotta say, I see a lot of Jack White in you… that said, who have been other primary influences in your guitar playing and overall sound?
Lyrically, I'd say Bob Dylan is the main influence. Guitar-wise, there are so many that have inspired me. I love Hendrix, he was the first ever to put guitar up front in music, he always had an upfront, "in your face" sound. As stated earlier, Tom Morello is who first caught my attention, Gary Clark Jr. just recently came about, he's absolutely amazing as well. The Black Keys and The White Stripes have also been some of my many influences. The list could go on and on. I often get compared to Jack White, mostly in looks haha! I don't know, maybe I'm a long lost brother? I can see the facial similarities. People sometimes think I'm trying to rip him off or something, but no, it's a genre of music that I love and live for. Johnny Depp is supposedly my other twin as well...
Some might say you are more vocalist than singer due to the spoken nature of some of your lyrics. Was that a conscious decision or just a natural style for you?
That came natural to me. I never really realized it until someone pointed it out. Lately, I've been trying to open up my voice more, we'll see how it turns out later on haha!
What is your guitar of choice?
I honestly don't have a preference. I don't have the money to try any top-end guitars, so I mostly stick with the cheap ones, and they're getting the job done. My main guitar (Black Betty) is a Jay Turser 220 with a few modifications. Tell us a bit about your new project, The Crash Pilots Just a little college band for now. I don't see it going anywhere unless we get a good opportunity. I really like playing with a band behind me, it gives the songs a great sound than what I'm used to. It also allows me to solo a little bit more. Hopefully in the future we will be releasing a 7" with Grimtale Records.
Any tour dates in the near future? What does 2014 have in store for Joel Monroe?
I try to get a gig anytime I can, it's hard being underage because a lot of the venues don't allow minors in. Financially I don't have enough to create a tour, but someday I will do that. April 7th I'm playing at a variety show in my hometown, Leon. Other than that, I'm waiting for summer to get here so I can play some small festivals perhaps. I am also releasing my second album titled, "Soda Splinters." I can't let you know too much about it yet...
Thanks so much to Joel for participating in this Q&A! And now Joel answers our Official Top Five WaxO's Gotta Know Questions.
1) First vinyl memory?
Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
2) What is an album you regularly spin for your own enjoyment?
Miles Davis - Live-Evil or Paul McCartney - Ram
3) What was the last album you added to your collection?
Ty Segall - Twins
4) What was your favorite album or new artist from last year?
Favorite album from last year was Jimi Hendrix - People Hell & Angels
5) What artists are you looking forward to hearing more of this coming year?
Gary Clark Jr., Jack White, and Bob Dylan.