Ahead of their performance at the first Park Acoustics of the year, we interview MonArk to chat about commercial success, being signed to a major label and what we can expect from them this year.
Tell us about your origins. Where does Monark come from?
We have been friends for many years, and musicians in our own right, involved in various projects outside of MonArk before we came together as a band. Things really started clicking when Ewald recorded some material for Eugene and realised there was something special there. He suggested that Eugene put a new band together for the songs he was writing and that’s when Monark was born – Deon joined on bass, and Ewald, having worked with Graeme for the past 10 years prior to MonArk called Graeme in on drums.
After the commercial success of your first single “Smiling”, released in May 2013, did you guys feel pressured to live up to that standard or was it business as usual?
Absolutely, there was pressure. We thought we had something good with ‘Smiling’, but the approval it got from the public caught everyone a little by surprise. Deals were signed on the success of Smiling and we now had to come up with a full album that met the standard of one song – being a one hit wonder is a real fear for most bands starting out with a good song, I think. Maybe living up to that pressure was business as usual for Ewald and Eugene, because they delivered – as we knew they would.
In the middle of 2014 your debut studio album, Negatives was released worldwide through Universal Music and peaked at number one on the iTunes Album Chart on its release day. Following that surge of success, what kept challenging you most as a band?
Trying to maintain the momentum that came with the release. There are so many good songs and albums being released every day that to stay relevant is a continuous challenge. It’s also a big goal for us to get people who like our music and know the songs to make the connection that it comes from an SA band. We want fans and the public to know, not just the songs, but the band as well. It’s surprising how hard it can be to get people to make that connection.
While working with a giant label such as Universal Music, which challenges became easier to manage as well as maintain?
Universal made it possible for us to record the album we wanted to record. It also helps having them behind you when you want your albums in stores around the country – they have the distribution process already in place and it’s great having them pitch songs to radio stations rather than a member of the band running around to all the various radio stations. Having said that, the radio stations still have the last say and they can be picky – rightly so.
Having recently finished the JustMonark tour, how was it sharing the stage with one of South Africa’s greats, Just Jinjer?
We all grew up listening to Just Jinger so to join them on stage was fantastic. They are very professional and there was a lot we could learn from them. It’s great to see how guys with so much experience, who know what they are doing and what works in action – both on the stage and behind the scenes in preparation for a show. Definitely a couple ‘write that down’ moments.
Being no stranger to performing in front of large crowds, is there a secret to regulating the energy between the audience or does the music speak for itself?
Playing to the bigger crowds is actually easier. The energy is already there and you are along for the ride. It’s the more intimate shows where you really have to make sure you are giving the performance the crowd deserves. It might be quieter, but that doesn’t mean the audience is not enjoying your music just as much, if not more than when in a big crowd. Those intimate, attentive audiences often get to see the band as it really is – all the little nuances and personalities. You have to regulate your energy in that you need to make sure they get your best.
From being one of the main acts at the New Years Vic Fall Carnival to being commissioned to play at the first Park Acoustics of 2016, it seems like the year is either running away with you or you with it. With that said, could we possibly expect the release of new material?
If this is start is the way the year is planning on treating us, then let it run. 2016 is going to be an exciting year for MonArk, we think. But we aren’t sitting around hoping things fall in our laps. There is a lot of good energy in the MonArk team right now and were are being really pro-active to make our goals happen. Regarding new material, we released ‘Falling’ towards the end of 2015 and we think there are still some legs in the song – but we already have the next single lined up, and we are excited to share it with everyone. We are in talks about a new album/EP but we can’t give definite dates yet. We are aware of the need, and will do our best to keep a steady stream of songs coming your way though.
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All images courtesy Teresa Cervinkova