Photo by Marcos Molina
Monahans are an Austin-based quartet named for a region of desolate West Texas sand hills. Consisting of studio engineer/producer Britton Beisenherz, Roberto Sanchez and Greg Vanderpool (all former members of the band Milton Mapes), and bassist Joshua Zarbo, Monahans balance thundering rhythms and atmospheric “landscape rock-and-roll” with urgent pop anthems and spiritual campfire balladry. Think Explosions In the Sky + R.E.M + Neil Young. The band’s promising debut release, ‘Low Pining’ (2007, Undertow), found its way to various year-end favorites lists thanks in part to the sweeping, glossy pop anthem “Undiscovered.”
Misra Records released the band’s second album, ‘Dim The Aurora’ in 2009, which showcased the band’s strong instrumental leanings. 2010 was another year of evolution for Monahans, as they also welcomed a new band member in longtime Spoon bassist Joshua Zarbo. Further pushing their creative envelope, the band recorded and released a new song each month exclusively through their website, documenting the songwriting and recording process along the way. Some or most of these songs will comprise their forthcoming album, expected to be released sometime in 2011.
Do512 Lounge Sessions: Monahans – “A Memory Of God”
In addition to having Monahans perform, we were able to ask band leader Greg Vanderpool a few questions about the history of the band and where they are headed next:
Do512: How did the four of you come to know each other?
Greg: Britton, Rob and I all went to Lake Highlands High School in Dallas and played in different bands at various times. We played together in Milton Mapes before forming Monahans. Joshua, whom we’d known from his days as the bassist in Spoon, joined the band in 2010.
Do512: Why did you choose the name Monahans for your band?
Greg: The name is taken from the white sand dunes at the State Park in west Texas. We were looking for an empty canvas and a fresh start musically. Monahans is a desolate and unforgiving landscape, but beautiful and spiritual in its own way, which we felt was a good description of the music.
Do512: You released a new song each month in 2010 for free. What was that experience like?
Greg: Our ultimate goal was to record a new album, but we chose that method as a way to keep our audience engaged and hopefully make some new fans in the process. It proved to be a productive and more cost-effective substitute for touring. We had some sketches and demos to reference as a starting point, but many of the songs were created under the pressure of fulfilling our monthly release. It was challenging at times, but overall a very positive creative experience. Plans are still being discussed for a new album release sometime in 2011, consisting primarily of those recordings.
Do512: I noticed you guys collaborated on the track with Sinead O’Connor, how did that come about?
Greg: I guess because we’ve made a habit of inviting guest artists to sing on our previous records, we were kicking the idea around, trying to determine what kind of voice would be a nice complement on this song, “Seabirds”. Sinead’s was the first name that came up, and we decided we didn’t have anything to lose by asking. Lucky for us she liked the song and graciously agreed to it. She delivers such a wide range of emotion in her singing, and she added a universal quality that tied in well, thematically.
Do512: And I heard that a Milton Mapes song found its way onto Robert Plant’s latest album. What’s the story there?
Greg: He was compiling songs from various sources for his last record “Band Of Joy” and a friend of his somehow had “The Only Sound That Matters” in his collection and recommended it to Robert. I got to thank him personally last time he was in town, which was a great honor. The whole thing is still quite surreal.
Do512: Who are some of your musical influences and what are you currently listening to?
Greg: Well besides all the obvious names (Neil Young, Springsteen, etc), there are some records from more recent years that have made a big impact on Monahans. Califone “Roomsound”and Chris Whitley’s “Soft and Dangerous Shores” come to mind. Others from my formative years would be Peter Murphy “Deep”, and New Order “Brotherhood.” The Police, REM and U2 are the other big ones.
Do512: What band either past or present would you love to play a show/tour with?
Greg: I’ve been blessed enough to have toured several times with Cowboy Junkies and I’ve opened for Willie Nelson twice so it doesn’t get too much better than that. At this point, I’d have to say Radiohead.
Do512: Are you playing during South by Southwest, and if so, where can people see you?
Greg: We have 4-5 shows in the works but details are still being hashed out. We’ll have it all posted on our site in the coming weeks.
Check out more Do512 Lounge Sessions on Austin Music Weekly’s Youtube page