This week, I had the opportunity to speak with MonkeyJunk’s lead singer, Steve Marriner, as they travel across Canada on their 10th anniversary tour.
I caught him on the phone just after the East Coast shows in Charlottetown, Halifax, and Elgin, before kicking off the Ontario portion of the tour, in their hometown of Ottawa.
MonkeyJunk will be making a stop to play in Sault Ste. Marie on May 10th at the Bridge View (Verdi) Hall, marking their 3rd time in our city.
It will be their first time in the Sault since 2011.
“We haven’t gone right across the country since 2011, so we are really excited,” Marriner told SaultOnline.
The first time I heard the name MonkeyJunk, I asked myself where a name like that could come from, so of course when I had Marriner on the phone, it was the first question out of my mouth.
He explained, “MonkeyJunk comes from an old Blues guy named Son House. There is this footage of him playing music, probably from like the 60s, and he’s talking to the audience about what blues is and what it isn’t, and then he says ‘I am talking about the Blues, I ain’t talkin’ about monkey junk!”
He continued, “I loved the idea and I held on to it. It is kind of a tip of the hat to Son House and the older Blues guys.”
Playful. Catchy. And an ode to the genre of music he is passionate about. I can see how MonkeyJunk would be the perfect fit for Marriner’s band.
Since MonkeyJunk has become known as a Canadian ambassador for Rock/Blues music, with 21 Maple Blues Award, 2 Canadian Independent Music Awards, a Blues Music Award, and 2 Juno Awards with a 3rd nomination, I had to know what inspired Marriner and his band when they started out in Ottawa.
“Well, Tony D, our lead guitarist, was the first guy to get me on stage. He was always sort of the ‘king of the castle’ as far as the Ottawa Blues scene goes, and Ottawa had a pretty healthy blues scene.”
He continues, “But I was also so inspired by movies. The scene from Back to the Future where Marty McFly is playing Chuck Berry and the Blues Movie just got me so interested in the music. I started doing my own work, learning about the Chicago blues and different kinds of Blues, it kind of became a musical adventure tracing back and learning about different kinds of Blues artists, and how it came from Mississippi.”
Blues is definitely a genre of music with incredible amounts of history, with dozens of different sub-genres all rooting back to different parts of the Southern United States and other parts of the country.
Marriner was lucky to live in a city that had a strong music scene, where he was constantly surrounded by music, specifically Blues music, so that he could continue to learn more about music and people that could help him play better.
“When I started playing gigs on the weekend I was maybe 13 or 14 playing with guys my dad’s age, but I got a lot of education on the music and how to play. It is a really tight-knit Blues scene in Ottawa,” he explained of his roots in music.
Hearing from someone like Marriner who was so strongly impacted by a supportive music scene gave me a greater appreciation for the work done by organizations like the Sault Blues Society, presenting MonkeyJunk in the Sault, for their efforts to keep the genre alive in our community and bring like-minded Blues musicians and lovers together.
Having already met Tony D at a young age, Matt Sobb, the band’s drummer, came into the picture a little later, through Larry Mootham, a popular Ottawa Blues artists who had taught Marriner how to play the harmonica before he passed away.
“Matt and I were closer in age and we crossed paths a lot. After putting out my own record and playing solo with Tony D hired as the guitarist, I knew I wanted to start a band. It was kind of a no-brainer with Matt, to have him on board. We (Tony D and I) literally called him and left a message saying ‘we started a band called MonkeyJunk and you are the drummer. Be there Sunday.’”
And he was. They practiced every Sunday from April to August of that year, 2007.
MonkeyJunk began rehearsing and playing, putting out their first album in the spring of 2009.
The rest is history.
Of the creation of music, Marriner told SaultOnline, “Creating music is a very collaborative thing. We get into a space and jam until the music feels right. Maybe one of us will have an idea or a riff or a beat and we will just build from there. It usually doesn’t take too long, but lyrics are more difficult for us.”
He went on, “It may seem backwards to some people, but we come up with music that feels good and then usually inspires a scene or vibe. The lyrics get written from that. We think of what the music itself makes us feel and how we can write to that music.”
With their latest album ‘Time to Roll’ showcasing their usual edgy Blues/Southern Rock feel, paired with intelligent lyrics, it is also progressive, being their first album including electric bass.
There is no doubt that MonkeyJunk has no need to second guess their creative process.
You can get a taste of MonkeyJunk here, or you can come and check them out on May 10th at the Bridge View (Verdi) Hall.
For more information on how to get tickets, click here.