There’s traditional 12-bar blues, and then there’s MonkeyJunk.
The Ottawa trio that performs on Sunday, April 19, at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer, keeps distinguishing itself by not being typical. Among the illustrious hardware that MonkeyJunk has earned over the last seven years is a Juno Award, 20 Maple Blues Awards, two Canadian Independent Music Awards and a U.S. Blues Music Award.
Singer and guitarist Steve Marriner said he has “all due respect” for traditional blues, but his band explores a wider musical territory.
“We take some of the flavour of the blues, but we don’t limit ourselves to writing music in a particular format. … We like soul, rock ’n’ roll, punk, all different kinds of music, so we try not to have boundaries.”
MonkeyJunk’s new album, slated for a fall release, will contain influences from a couple of special guests: Big Sugar frontman Gordie Johnson, and singer/guitarist David Wilcox.
Johnson played Hammond organ on Love Attack and also helped arrange the tune, which will have Big Sugar’s “very reggae-ish” stamp, added Marriner.
He believes the spontaneous energy generated between musicians in the recording process will be very evident to listeners. “We joked and it was a very joyful experience. I think the song will (showcase) the positive vibe that was in the room.”
Wilcox contributed to MonkeyJunk’s cover of one of his own songs. The new version of Wilcox’s Hot, Hot Papa was recorded at about half the tempo of the original, said Marriner. “It was a very up-tempo number and we slowed it right down,” yet he believes the song retains its unique elements. “It’s very Wilcox-ian.”
This is the only cover on the yet-untitled album of original material, which Marriner hopes pushes MoneyJunk’s sound further, in musical quality and direction. The upcoming release has “some of the most interesting lyrical stories we have ever written,” he said, and shows a progression from the band’s three previous albums.
The only ballad will be Learn How to Love, which is very personal to Marriner. He described the song’s inspiration by saying one of his relationships has changed since the last album. “I don’t want to get too much into it, but I think everyone can relate to the idea of love and loss at some point in their life. …”
The new tunes are creative collaborations with other MonkeyJunk members, Tony D on lead guitar and Matt Sobb on drums. Marriner also did some co-writing with “one of my favourite people,” blues artist Paul Reddick.
MoneyJunk was formed in 2008 after the musicians, who often played together on Ottawa’s music scene, began regularly jamming at a pub called Irene’s and developed a fan following.
Marriner recalled that he and Tony D decided to make their arrangement official. “We called up Matt and told him we just made a band and he was the drummer.”
The trio soon recorded the critically lauded Tiger in your Tank, “and the rest is history,” said Marriner who credits hard work and playing at prestigious events for increasing his band’s profile. One of MonkeyJunk’s first big coups was placing third in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
“We have a really strong work ethic and we’re making a presence. We’re out there in people’s faces. You always have to bring your band to the forefront of the public mind. It’s an important part of the music business.”
Conquering new territory is another crucial factor — so Marriner is very happy to play for the first time in Red Deer, where he has relatives. “They’ve been wanting us to come to Red Deer because they’re tired of having to drive to Calgary or Edmonton to see us play.”
Marriner feels he found the right venue for a MonkeyJunk show; “We’re very excited to be coming to Fratters.”
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show are $20 in advance from the venue.