Bringing garage out of the desert

If you’ve heard of Monotonix, you know that their name is synonymous with rollicking, crazy live shows, raw sound and unbeatable energy.

If you’ve heard of Monotonix, you know that their name is synonymous with rollicking, crazy live shows, raw sound and unbeatable energy. If you haven’t, then get ready to have your socks blown off your feet and your shirt covered in beer.

Monotonix is made up of singer Ami Shalev, guitarist Yonatan Gat and drummer Haggai Fershtman. The trio is based out of Tel Aviv, Israel, where they all grew up and later met.

“We knew each other for a long time back home in Israel,” said Shalev. “Everybody played in a band and we’ve always been really good friends from the past. We always said that if the right time would come we would try to do something together. And then the time was when everybody’s band broke up and we decided, all right, let’s try and do something together.”

If you think Israel doesn’t seem like it would be the best breeding ground for grungy garage rock, then you’d be right. The band members had to fight hard to play their music and make a name for themselves in their home country.

“The mainstream in Israel is kind of between Eastern Greek music and kind of a rock music or pop music, so there’s nothing really big going on in the underground music,” Shalev said. “There’s not a lot to tell about.”

While Monotonix has found wide international success in the last couple years and has toured extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe, the band has had a hard time playing in Israel. As a result of that and several other factors, the members have made a conscious decision not to play in their homeland.

“We made a choice not to play there because, you know, we are spending our time touring the U.S. and Europe and so when we go back there we want to chill out and not work,” Shalev said. “In the beginning, you must understand that the music scene in Israel is very conservative.”

It’s easy to see why Monotonix would have trouble fitting in to a conservative anything. Though the band is small, it is known far and wide for bringing down the house with onstage antics including, but never limited to, swinging from rafters, lighting things on fire, removing many articles of clothing and consistently leaving the stage to perform amongst the crowd.

In 2008, the band’s set at Bumbershoot in Seattle was shut down after 15 minutes because the crowd had gotten too wild. Shalev also recalls a particular show when it was the audience that ended up outdoing the band’s wild act.

“[There was a] guy who lit himself on fire while we were playing because he was so excited about the show and we had to pour beer on him to settle the fire.”

Monotonix is more than just a group of crowd-surfing guys, though.The band has consistently put out compelling, raw music, with live recordings matching and often surpassing the energy they bring when they perform. Their music even caught the attention of David Berman, best known as the lead singer of Silver Jews. Berman later introduced them to Drag City and helped score the band a spot on the label.

“[He was the] person that opened that door for us,” Shalev said. “[Silver Jews] played in Israel and we supported them and he saw us. He liked us and he told Drag City about us.”

The band later got the opportunity to record with Tim Green of The Fucking Champs, a band that Shalev said he had always admired. He credits Green with helping shape their sound as they recorded.

“He’s a great guitar player and a great engineer and he’s had a great career. It was really fun, really good experience for us.”

Set to play Mississippi Studios this Thursday, it will be interesting to see how this band comes to life in such an intimate, elegant space. Their sound is pure garage, layering reverb-heavy guitar over Shalev’s punk-rock vocals. Solid drumbeats and balanced arrangement bring the whole package together. Fans of the group can expect new material soon, with an album called “Not Yet” set for release sometime this January. Until then, grab a beer (or 20) and hold on to your hat because Monotonix live is a show not to be missed. ?