By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 1998
There’s a lot of current music that brings together elements of old film soundtracks and dance music, but luckily the bands involved are not all taking it in same direction. Mono’s debut album, “Formica Blues,” showcases a bright, extremely tight sound that relies as much on catchy melodies as it does on sweeping strings. The group is comprised of Siobhan De Mare and Martin Virgo. They were introduced through management and hit it off as musical collaborators. At times reminiscent of St. Etienne, Mono truly succeed at weaving together musical elements of the past and present. The following is an interview with Siobhan.
Were you looking to join a band when you were introduced to Martin?
Siobahn: “I wasn’t at all, actually. It was the last thing on my mind. It was more like a neccessity, really. I was working on different projects and had been offered a situation living out in Paris for a while, which I wanted to do just to make money to buy some equipment and set up my little studio and then get some producers in to work on some of the ideas I had. Then I met Martin in between all that happening, and we started toying with some idea. Within, it felt like hours or weeks or something, we had major labels phoning up to say they wanted sign us. At the time we weren’t a band. We were just two individuals toying with some ideas. It was quite bizarre, really. We had to be a band, because they wanted to sign us and we didn’t want to sign as two individuals. We decided to form a band at that point.”
Going into the project, did you have any preconceived notions as to what it would sound like?
Siobhan: “I think we sort of had our own ideas of where we wanted to go, individually. But we didn’t have a sort of overall idea of this concept. We hadn’t thought of it at the time. I think Martin was more into film music, so that element of Mono was sort of already in his mind, and the rest was a happy accident.”
What type of music were you doing before?
Siobhan: “Just really kind of underground stuff. Background vocals, writing, recording, helping out friends on demos, touring, stuff my brother was doing – he’s a drummer, so if they needed a singer to come fill in or do a couple of tracks with someone. A lot of white label stuff.”
Did the fact that there were many people in your family in the entertainment industry influence you to get into it, too?
Siobhan: “I would say it kind of made me not want to do it. It made me think that I want to have a different kind of job. But it didn’t work out, because I got kind of drawn towards the music business and it felt comfortable.”
Where did the name Mono come from?
Siobhan: “There was a Phil Spector album, ‘Back To Mono.’ When we were in the studio, that was up on the wall and we really liked it. It just kind of sprung out; it seemed like the right name at the time.”
Is their a particular creative process that you follow in making music?
Siobhan: “It’s never the same. Sometimes it starts with a lyric, sometimes a drum loop, sometimes a sample, sometimes it’s an idea from a conversation we’re having and a line will come out of it where we both start laughing and say, ‘Hey, we should put that in a track.’ There’s no consistent formula — It’s just whatever. I was just in Italy, and when I was there, I came up with loads of ideas of melodies and hooks and lyrical idea. I’m sure Martin’s got loads of stuff in the studio that he’s put down. So it’s just sort of a happy merge of ideas.
Do you use live instruments in the studio, or is it mostly electronic?
Siobhan: “It’s both. We use a lot of live stuff, and a lot of it is technology. It’s a complete merge.”
Are the songs usually fairly complete musically when you come up with the vocals?
Siobhan: “Sometimes that’s happened. If there’s a track that’s kind of far down the line, then I’ll put stuff on top of it. But sometimes it’s not quite that easy. Sometimes Martin’s sitting in the studio twiddling his thumbs and can’t think of anything. Then I’ll just leave maybe a drum loop rolling and I’ll start writing over that and then he’ll write stuff to go around what I’ve done. There’s a track on the album, “Penguin Freud” that kind of happened like that. It went more Latin than we were thinking of just because of the way I was singing it.”
How does your live sound compare to your studio work?
Siobhan: “People have said that they’re quite shocked at how similar it sounds. We didn’t want to take it too far away from the album’s sound. We have a drummer, a guitar player, a bass player, Martin on keyboards and me doing vocals. We have an ADAT as well because we don’t use any backing vocals, as I did all my own on the album. We have all the samples running off the ADAT, and the rest is all live. It works quite well. We did a gig in Paris a couple of months ago and it just went down a storm and they hadn’t heard us from adam, so it was really flattering. All the gigs we’ve done have been received brilliantly. We’d never planned really to go live; it wasn’t designed to be a live thing, but we just felt that since everyone was asking for it we’d take it live, and it worked really well.”
Was it difficult adapting your music for live performance?
Siobhan: “I think it was. At the time we just didn’t know it was going to work. It was trial and error.”
Do you think the experience will affect how you write material in the future?
Siobhan: “I think we will, definitely. I think we will be thinking more in that direction now, because we’re obviously doing loads of live work.”
Would you ever want a full live band, so that you wouldn’t need any type of backing tracks?
Siobhan: “Not really, because the whole object of our music is that way it is. So we don’t suddenly want to become some big band on stage, with a horn section and a choir and all the rest of it. It works the way it is, and we kind of celebrate the ADAT rather than feel embarrassed about it. It’s part of the sound of Mono and a lot of contemporary music now. I’ve done a lot of stuff without, and that’s great as well. I mean, we’ll probably try all different things, really. There will probably be tracks that don’t need it so much and tracks where we really want to use it.”
How did you end up on the soundtrack to “Great Expectations”?
Siobhan:“Good question. I think we were kind of asked if we were OK with it. But we hadn’t seen the film and didn’t know anything about it. I suppose at the time we were just really flattered that someone wanted to use our music. We agreed to it, and hopefully it will work well for them and work well for us.”
Are you comfortable with that track, “Life In Mono,” being American audiences’ introduction to the band?
Siobhan:“Yeah, it’s a really strong track, so I think it”s quite a good example of what we’re all about. To us, we’ve lived with the track for a year now so it’s not big news. But I think so far it’s been really flattering, the press we’ve received on it. It works well in the film apparently. So, yeah, I think it’s a good example. There’s other tracks that I like as well, so hopefully they’re get released here as well.”
What have you been up to lately?
Siobhan:“We’ve shot two new videos, one to go with the film that we shot in New York. It’s one of those doggy videos that cuts into the film and then to the band and back to the film. We shot another video in London, which we just saw a cut of and are really pleased with. We’ve been working on some new ideas for the new album and have been touring.”
The term “retro-futurism” keeps coming up in describing your sound. What do you think of that?
Siobhan:“I think it’s kind of quite accurate, in that it’s the past and future merged together. So I don’t really mind it all because I think it’s very hard to describe new bands, especially this kind of music. So, yeah, I’m quite happy with that.”
Do you have any problems with people labeling music in general?
Siobhan: “I don’t really mind. People are going to find something to attach to you, a genre. Hopefully, the next album will have moved on and they’ll have to come up with another term, which is fine.”
Do you have any ideas regarding how your music will evolve in the future?
Siobhan: “I’m one of those people who is quite spontaneous, I try not to have preconceived ideas. I just kind of go and do what I feel like doing on the day. I’m a bit like that. So not personally.”See all interviews →