Published on June 26th, 2015 | by Craig Silliphant0
Interview: Viet Cong
Craig Silliphant chats with Calgary’s Viet Cong before Jazzfest and Sled Island about the nature of their music and this fucked up world at large.
I catch up with Scott “Monty” Monroe from Viet Cong on tour, as he restrings his guitar in a parking lot in Connecticut. I’ve been instructed not to ask him about the recent controversy with name, which I’m cool with. As I said in the original Planet S Magazine article for which this interview was conducted, I don’t really understand what the hubbub was all about. I’m more interested in their music and to some degree, their worldview, which we do end up getting into. He’s a really friendly and thoughtful guy, and it’s a pleasure talking to him.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Congratulations on making the Polaris Music Prize Long List.
MONTY MONROE: Oh, yeah, thanks! I just saw that yesterday! Is that when they released the list?
TFS: It was.
MM: I’ve kind of been off the Internet for a little bit but I just saw that and I was pretty stoked. I’ve always liked the Polaris Prize. I think they’re doing a good thing.
TFS: For sure. I mean, it’s like any subjective list, people like to bitch and moan about it, but for me, I’m a juror, and it probably clues me into a ton of Canadian albums each year I may not have found otherwise. It’s a starting point for conversations about good Canadian music.
MM: Totally. My only complaint ever with it was that there seemed to be a stretch of a few years there where it was just men singer/songwriters winning all the time. But they’ve bucked that a little bit. It’s good. I’m happy to get on the long list. I hope we get on the short list. I played the gala once with Chad VanGaalen and it was super fun. We got in a food fight with Patrick Watson’s band and got so drunk on vodka, Grey Goose, I think.
TFS: I don’t want to dig too far into this because it’s a thing people ask you about all the time, but I want to talk about Women. My question isn’t about you and Women, it’s more like, do you feel like people are still comparing you to that band in an annoying way? Or has that kind of passed now that Viet Cong is a thing. I know the music press couldn’t mention one without the other for a long time.
MM: For the most part it’s passed, I think. Like, we still get questions about it, but it seems like [Viet Cong] is more kind of the focus now. You know what I mean? I don’t know, I never minded it. I wasn’t in Women, but I thought they were good. We toured with them a bunch with the VanGaalen band. And they were like my friends forever. I was always stoked that they were doing good when they were doing good.
TFS: It must be funny for you to get asked about it all the time considering you weren’t in the band.
MM: Yeah, exactly. But it’s fine. It’s okay; I don’t really care one way or the other. Everybody needs some kind of reference point for things.
TFS: In terms of Viet Cong’s music, how do you maintain a semblance of melody and organics while playing around in the idea of noise and dissonance? How do you find that balance?
MM: Honestly, I don’t know. We just kind of jam. I mean, we all like pop music, all kinds of power pop and that kind of stuff. We’re into writing pop tunes, but you get bored and start playing around with things, keep it interesting.
TFS: You’ve got pop influences, but what keeps brings things in on the more dissonant scale?
MM: Me and Danny come from that school a little bit more. Me and my friend Chris run a record label that puts out free improved and experimental and noise records. I’ve played that kind of stuff forever. Played in all kinds of drone bands. Dabbled in power violence, proper electronic noise, those kinds of scenes. There’s plenty of noisy rock that I like too. Like Hairy Pussy or This Heat. Which is the best one for finding that happy medium between it being totally insane and still having something that you can grab onto pretty easily. Growing up, most of the other guys were into punk and stuff. I listened to a lot of metal growing up too. Plenty of like, dissonance. My favourite ones had all sort of double kick and low frequency…bbbbbvbvbvvvvv….no riffs or anything like that. Harsh and crazy.
If we have a pop song and we’re jamming and one of us gets bored with it, then we’ll talk about why we’re bored with it. Then we’ll try to figure out something more interesting.
TFS: I note that people are always writing about how bleak Viet Cong’s music is, and sure, I can see that. But honestly, I guess I hear a lot of irony and humour in some of the songs. Am I out to lunch?
MM: Uh uhn, no, you’re definitely not out to lunch. I think it’s ‘cause you’re Canadian though. Nobody else gets it, I don’t think. It’s like, if you can’t laugh at a situation you’re in, then things are probably really bad. (laughs) You know what I mean? Like, things have to be pretty bad before you can not laugh at it. It’s just something that humans do, I think. You have to be able to laugh about your life.
TFS: How does that thinking transfer from the album to the live show? Do you find you’re more intense and hardcore at the show, or do you try to keep it lighter in terms of the overall vibe?
MM: Vibe-wise, we keep it pretty light. We’re always being stupid and like, playing Jimi Hendrix-style Happy Birthday for someone on their birthday. Taking the piss out of it a little bit. But I guess when we’re playing the songs it’s more serious or whatever. I don’t think we’re trying to take it too seriously, but it is kind of a dark and serious sound. So there is that aspect to the live show. But the surrounding mood is light usually.
TFS: Are you in it to show the audience a good time, even if the songs are on the darker side of the scale, or is it like, you guys are happy when everyone is bummed the fuck out?
MM: That’s a good question; actually, I have no idea. It could be that. But if that’s the case then I’d kinda feel bad. Everybody seems to be having a good time. This is the first band I’ve been in where there’s been a mosh pit at most of the shows. I’ve been in some punk bands and stuff, but not where there’s been people thrashing around and getting kind of crazy. In this band, we’ve had a pretty consistently rowdy crowd. I hope they’re having fun.
TFS: I have a question that touches on lyrics, but maybe you’re not the right guy?
MM: I’ll see what it is. I don’t write the lyrics, but depending on what your question is, I might be able to shed some light.
TFS: It might be a good question for you even if you didn’t write the lyric, in a roundabout way. The song ‘March of Progress.’ I guess I’m reading that as being about consumerism, or relationships, or a combination of both, one thing being a metaphor for the other, the throwaway nature of both. Would you say that’s true?
MM: I’d say that’s pretty true.
TFS: I know I rail on about the state of the world all the time, but I have to say that when I look at it, I’m pretty much as guilty as the next guy of living in a consumerist society. I buy things — books and records. I’m sure some of my clothes were probably made in a sweatshop. I try to avoid it, but it’s hard. So the question is — do you live differently than that?
MM: No. Of course not. I’m like any other reasonably conscientious person too. [Laughs] I like try to do things when I can, but it’s not really like…I’m not like some eco-crusader. Like, we fly everywhere. Not everywhere, but a lot, as far as a job goes. Which is horrible for the environment.
On the bleaker side of that though, I truly believe that things gotta get a lot worse before they’re gonna get better. I don’t think anybody’s gonna do anything until things are actually…until there’s actually a city on the coast that’s completely gone and we have like 20 million refugees from something crazy, and then, that’s when action, probably too late will be taken. Maybe being a worse human right now is actually being a better human in the long run.
TFS: [We both laugh]. I agree with that, actually. That humans wait until it’s too late. And the point of the question, by the way, wasn’t to try and point out the hypocrisy of the band.
MM: No, no, no, of course not. I totally know what you mean. Same with the second track, I can’t remember what we named it on the record.
TFS: Pointless Experience?
MM: Yeah! That song has some of the same ideas. We kept reading about things in Hurricane Katrina where they’d have people staying in the community centres, and they’d be like, “okay everybody, you gotta get in line, the buses are coming to get you, blah blah blah.” And then everyone would go outside and get in line and wait and wait for like 12 hours and then no buses would show up. They’d be like, “oh the buses are going to come later, everybody go back inside for awhile.” They’d be back inside for 12 more hours, and then they’d rally everybody again. It was that kind of…I dunno…I dunno where this story’s going. But I feel like it’s the same kind of thing. We have some problems. People have some problems right now.
TFS: I get what you’re saying.
TFS: Do you guy have new material coming soon?
MM: Yeah, we’re going to record a record, a few days after we’re in Saskatoon actually. We do that Jazzfest thing, then we go to Sled Island, then we have a few days off, then back to Ontario to record again.
TFS: You’re touring pretty solid through to December, so how long do you take for the record?
MM: 12 days.
TFS: Do you hope to crank it all out or will you just get some recording done and see what happens?
MM: I think we can pump it all out. When we did the last one, we did it in four days. But we’d toured those songs a lot.