Ask the average American music fan what they know about rock bands from Australia, and, chances are, they’ll shoot a four-letter word back at you: AC/DC. Well, there’s a rising force in music from down under, and you will need considerably more vowels and consonants to identify this band: Monks of Mellonwah.
It’s Wednesday, February 8th. Mid-winter Southern California, but temperatures are pleasantly warm, in the mid- 70’s. The Monks of Mellonwah are in Los Angeles, direct from Sydney, Australia. They’re here to participate in the 2012 Artists In Music Awards, to be presented at the Key Club on the Friday before the Grammy Awards. I’ve been invited by the band to a rehearsal studio in Hollywood to hear them practice, before conducting an interview with them. I get to the studio at the appointed time, and meet all four band members. They’re young–only one is old enough to legally get into a 21-club. Joe de la Hoyde picks up his guitar. His brother John straps on the bass. Josh Baissari sits down behind the drum kit, and Will Maher steps up to the vocal mic. And they begin to play.
Instantly, I know I am witnessing something very special. 48 hours later, a lot more people will know it, too. At the awards ceremony, the Monks of Mellonwah will walk away with the award as Best Indie Rock Artist for 2012.
The music of the Monks is difficult to categorize. It’s definitely hard, but not hard rock in the traditional sense. Maybe hard alternative? Then there’s that name. Being not that familiar with the geography of Australia, aside from the big cities, I’m wondering if Mellonwah is a suburb they all grew up in. I ask the guys about that, and they all have a good laugh at the expense of the American journalist. Baissari explains “When I was in school, I used to play a Super Nintendo game called ‘Hocus Pocus,’ and there was this little wizard guy, and you had to get him through different levels of wizarding school. The level of each episode had a boss, and one of the bosses was the Seven Mad Monks of MellenWah, and we adapted our name from that.”
For those of us who live in Southern California, we tend to become blase that the opportunities for musicians here are virtually unlimited. Sitting at a table at the Hard Rock Cafe on Hollywood Boulevard, the four band members were a little in awe, taking in the scene. “In Sydney, for the most part, it’s pretty heavy rock bands, and a bit of metal as well, and indie music is like folk music,” said Joe de la Hoyde. ” There’s not a huge market for the kind of music we’re playing. We have some support from local radio, but it’s really hard to break out. You could call our music mainstream, but it’s really not….more of a hard alternative.” Maher continues, “During the day, a radio station might play folk rock, then at night they’ll play heavy metal. It’s like we’re between the folk and the metal. Our music has elements of metal in there, but you would never call us a metal band. We like a bit of that folk stuff, but we’re not that either. That’s why it’s been difficult for us to get a break in Australia.”
All four band members met when they were in school. As one might imagine when listening to the group’s songs, there is a wide variety of influences. The de la Hoyde brothers, Baissari and Maher all chime in. “We all love the Chili Peppers. Then there’s Pink Floyd, Queens of the Stone Age. There are a few bands that connect us together, but we all have very, very music different tastes and influences. Indie stuff, jazz and classical, bits and pieces from everyone. That automatically makes it eclectic, makes it hard to categorize genre-wise. We’re not punk, not really alternative, not metal…we are a rock band.”
The conversation then shifts to how excited the guys were when they found that Aerosmith was rehearsing in the same studio complex. “It’s not everyday you walk into a rehearsal studio and have Aerosmith there,” Baissari says. “That was cool. I felt like a little schoolgirl. We’ve heard their songs on the radio in Australia for years, and to be in the same building as them…pretty amazing.”
It’s refreshing to see four musicians, so talented, with so much potential, but still fresh enough in their career as to not yet become cynical and jaded by the dog-eat-dog nature of the entertainment business. Monks of Mellonwah. Catchy name, right? Remember it–you may be hearing much more from the four guys from Sydney in the very near future.