INTERVIEWS DJ MONKEY|
JOEY ALKES OF DJ MONKEY
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
THE NEW CD '3RD WORLD WAR'
PAINTING WITH SOUND
AND BEING HUMAN
The 3RD WORLD WAR is now available on CD!!! (Funny that DJ MONKEY never made ROCKWIRED their publicist - Thats a hell of a campaign slogan!) DJ MONKEY returns with a collection of tracks that prove that music can mean a damn(...for a s long as we've got anyway.) This time around, the balance between hope and chaos is tipped more towards chaos. Whereas their debut CD ANOTHER EVOLUTION painted the picture of a mad society coming together and coming apart, 3RD WORLD WAR takes a series of snapshots of the disintegration. It's devastating and beautiful all at once.
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
The opening track is the pulsating rocker HARD TIMES, a pean to NYC. The title track 3RD WORLD WAR is a dark tribal chant and just when you think that the band has abandoned that sort of beatnik-meets-Hip-Hop formula that proved the selling point for their debut ANOTHER EVOLUTION, the band finds their old familiar grove with LOVE HAS NO COLOR only to break away from it just slightly with the plaintive country gospelof GOD IS AN UNDERACHIEVER. At turns ambitious and at others humorous, 3RD WORLD WAR is no mere cute title for a clever CD by an innovative bunch. 3RD WORLD WAR is the war on banality in pop music to end all wars on banality in pop music.
his is ROCKWIRED's second chance to catch up with DJ MONKEY. This time we got a chance to to speak with co-founder JOEY ALKES, a proliifc songwriter whose most noted contribution to power pop is co-writing the song A MILLION MILES AWAY by the PLIMSOULS with PETER CASE, as well as writing songs with Seattle cult rocker, JIM BASNIGHT (another ROCKWIRED subject.) Here is how it went.
What's up? The heat getting to you?
The heat is getting everyone! It's massive! I'm supposed to be going to New York for two weeks and people are telling me not to bring clothes. Come naked!
The east coast is always that way. I don't know how I lived their for twenty years.
So did I and I don't know how any one lives there and I'm a little sorry that I said that I'd be there for two weeks. It's my oldest buddy. We go back a long way. He's a jazz bass player and a tremendous guy. He's built this beautiful studio totally on the basis of love for the music, not even business. He's paying for my time. He wants to play and practice and push every knob and make sure that everything works, and I could use the trip to New York for business for us (DJ MONKEY). We're talking to WFFU and possibly playing for them.
The new CD 3RD WORLD WAR is out now. Is it everything that you wanted it to be? How does everyone in DJ MONKEY feel about it?
Everybdoy is a little different, but we're excited because this CD took a long time from the realease of the first version of ANOTHER EVOLUTION, we started writing and recording and playing live to back ANOTHER EVOLUTION, we started making this CD. We recorded over 22 songs. And you're hearing 12. You can imagine the politics of those songs and the changes and remixing. This is the third mix of the album (3RD WORLD WAR)and it's finally been released. So, we're relieved. I think that everyone in the band will say that they are relieved. That's the best way I can put it. Of course we're excited but that's because we believe in what we do.
When I spoke to MICK McMAINS the last time, he said that putting the first CD together was an organic process. Was that the case this time around even though the roles and the personalities in the band are already sort of established?
This time around was very different. MICK and I , when we were doing ANOTHER EVOLUTION and the brothers McMAINs would come in and do background vocals on JERUSALEM, or whenever the original horn player would come in nad record, the whole thing was very personal and we really didn't think of ourselves as being good or bad or successful or not. We were just doing a project that we loved and enjoyed. It was different and we accepted that. Very often, we'd kid ourselves and say that no one is going to pay attention to this kind of a project "Where does it fit?" With the success of the first one critically and even the sales of the first one being pretty good considereing CDBABY calls one the top 5%, it changed. When you play live and flesh out those parts in a real way, people become more invested in it . It was a harder album to do. It wasn't as organic in some ways and in other ways, it was more organic. For instance the song LOVE KNOWS NO COLOR came out of us messing around during rehearsal for a show we were going to do at Occidental College. It was a week before the show and MICK's son started to play some changes and I started to sing over them, out of nowhere. So that 's pretty organic, but in a different way. I had poem that I thought would work with the track, and as the whole thing grew TIP (JAMAL "LIL' TIP TOE" CRYER) says "...Listen to what I've been writing for the last three hours while you guys were jamming. It's all about diversity and oneness. Like TIP's daughter and my grandaughter. She was the inspiration for the refrain verse. She's black and she's white. She's a Navajo with green eyes. So it was very organic. THE HUM was written a year and a half after the album was supposedly finished. It was a very late song that got added, but it's one of the nicer ones in some ways. People seem to be liking it. Also, we've got a different horn player this time around.
I was about to ask. You've got two new members.
Yeah. One of them came aboard because we felt that a part of our diversity was being left out a little bit.
What do you mean?
A DJ MONKEY composition is more like a painting than a song. We were missing the brush strokes of a woman and it turned out to be CYNTHIA CONTRERAS, who adds a little bit of latina to the picture. She's from New Mexico and she has a certain sound. It's kind of a cross between latina and JERRY BROWN's ex.
Yeah. She's latina with a pop sound. We've also added a new horn player and a violin player. So we've actually added three people. Actually CYNTHIA sang a little on ANOTHER EVOLUTION. She sang the native sounding parts on RAINDANCE. There's no instrument we can't use. For the thrird album, we'll probably go totally world music. I have a friend who is the Director of the SOUTH CENTRAL TRIBAL CHOIR. His name is EMIL DWYER , he's West African and French and I'd love to get that choir onto the next album. I don't know what the songs are going to be yet, but that's our thinking. We think of the sounds first and build the music from that. I'd love to combine violin with West African chants. If your painting, you have to evolve. I even feel that our albums are like paintings. Our releases are more like gallery shows. We don't worry about contacting the massive corporate distribution network. We just put it out. We live it. We play it. Every part of our composition is painted that way. It's like "Wow! A violin would add this feeling about the emotions!" or "let's add some chanting here!" or "I'm angry about this war! This war is ridiculous. All war is ridiculous. It's always the poor that die!" So you start with a chant. 3RD WORLD WAR started with me kidding around with MICK about "...If you were a fascist, you'd be chanting "yeah, let's kill everybody! Let's go to the 3RD WORLD WAR!" It was a joke that turned into a ral atatement. that's how we do it.
And it's turned into a great CD. The first track HARD TIMES is a powerful opener. Wanna talk about it?
It's an old one. CHRIS RACKETT, who co-wrote A MILLION MILES AWAY with me and PETER CASE and all of those other PLIMSOULS songs wrote it with me. It's a song that comes out of the eighties. It's a throwback to the power pop that I used to write.
Another track that stood out for me is GOD IS AN UNDERACHIEVER. Talk about it.
It is the most important song on the album. I'm glad you liked it. The song is a debate. Me, CHRIS and MICK are debating God in the music. Everybody joins in on the chorus. We did it like an old country-gospel song. My son-in-law TIP doesn't like the song. He and his family come from this strong Christian faith. TIP's a gangsta rapper who has worked with SNOOP DOGG. He's extremely gangsta and raps about things that I'd never sing about, but if you listen to him on that track, I think it's one of his finest moments and competes with KANYE WEST anyday. We call that rap of his the bridge. It's as deep a rap in faith as I've ever heard and so pure and honest , it's amazing. My part of the track comes from LENNY BRUCE; in the opening, th whole thing about hiding under a desk in a nuclear attack. It's from a LENNY BRUCE soliloquoy. It's not paraphrased or nothing, but it's of that nature.
I remember me and MICK having this conversation where he asked me if I believed in God and I told, "I don't know what I believe, but I believe in love and i believe in Justice." and MICK said "I believe that God made this planet, but then he got tired of us and left. It's funny! TIP didn't want the song on the album at all but in the end he gave in.He recognized that it was fair to have the debate. it's a passionate debate.
In keeping withthis misunderstanding about "GOD IS AN UNDERACHIEVER", does that sort of conflict happen often within DJ MONKEY?
It does happen, but we pride ourselves on being democratic. We pride ourselves on not squelching anyone and welcoming other points of view. Obviously if your going to give us some nazi skinhead fascist rap-thing, it's not goint ot happen here. Amongst well-meaning human bings, we will take differences of opinion within one song.
Is it always easy to have that democratic view? Each of you looks like you stepped into the wrong band!
I don't care what the differences are. One of the things I have found with DJ MONKEY is that among equally well-meaning people, no matter wat the differences are, we will find a way. There was a time whne me and IAN (McMAINS) clashed a little over the original horn player. Bands have fights like that all of the time. If there's anay constant clash, it's between me and MICK. We fight alot. We've got differences of opinion all the time and we're the closest in age and race. I know that you probably know that SYD BARRETT just died. It's amazing how PINK FLOYD used to fight with each other. Such a brilliant band! Such a unique band!
It seems like fighting is a part of the chemistry that is often times elusive in a lot of bannds, I was reading that DEBORAH HARRY and CHRIS STEIN fought all of the time.
It's interesting that you should say that. When CHRIS came down ill, with whatever that disease was (Pemphigus Vulgaris) DEBORAH stuck by him. She wasn't a person who had to. She's a good looking lady. I always used that as an example of DEBORAH's soul. I knew DEBORAH even before BLONDIE. As a matter of fact, I knew the guy who wrote HANGIN' ON THE TELEPHONE. His name is JACKIE LEE from THE NERVES and this song COMEBACK AND STAY was a hit for them and it was a song he had written for ths girl that I was dating at the time. It always pissed me off that he had a big hit with it. But you know what? We're human We're very human and that's the problem with being an artist and the key is to forgive oneself to forgive others. To go back to the first CD ANOTHER EVOLUTION, there was this track called JERUSALEM and I'll never forget this one programmer at this radio station who said " Theres this big discussion going over this song we're playing here. A lot of peope consider it very naive." And I said " You know, it probably is. We're not political scientists. We'd like to see abetter world and that was what we wrote. We didn't say that it could be done. I don't have an answer for the contruct
But it does seem to me that peoploe expect way to much of songwritiers. Look at JOHN LENNON and all the things he said about "...ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE" and someone threw in his face that factthat he left his first wife and his son JULIAN.
JESUS on the cross say "..Father, why have you forsaken me?" We are human. We are faulty. GHANDHI was shot by a hindu. The human race is faulty and we have a big ego that gets in our way of seeing a higher power. But, the effort has to be there. there has to be the willingness to love, the willingness to change and the willingness to forgive. Perfect humans we are not LENNON was hardly a perfect human being but the fact that he spent so much of his life trying express his hope or his vision of a better worldis what matters. I don't care where you go from SHAKESPEARE to DYLAN THOMAS or painters like PICASSO who was a letch and KING DAVID in the Old Testament was an adulterer and a murderer and it's probably true but that doesn't excuse us from the effort to try to grow into something better.