South Florida is home to the four-piece rock group Monaco Slim. Their unique brand of rock ‘n’ roll is created by fusing classic blues with psychedelic elements, which makes them stand out from other modern rock bands. Their ability to write memorable hooks and keep their lyrics straightforward have allowed them to appeal to a wide range of listeners. Each one of them brings something different to the table and has years of experience performing live. Check out the excluisve interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
MONACO SLIM: It all began when our drummer, Anthony Hall, was introduced through a mutual friend to our frontman, Scott Crain, at an arcade bar where Scott was working as a bouncer at the time. Our sax/harmonica player Michael Floyd was also a regular there, and he ended up joining the band along with Mike Ortiz, who’d worked with Scott in a couple of projects prior to Monaco Slim. Floyd is from New York City and Anthony is from Virginia; Scott and bass player Mike Ortiz are both from Florida. South Florida is kind of famous for being a melting pot and bringing people together.
2. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
MONACO SLIM: We’d like to think we maintain a realistic set of expectations when it comes to our music, and we find it fulfilling to write, record, and perform our music for people. We realize it’s a competitive industry and that there’s a process to all of this. Obviously, commercial success would be nice; one of our goals is to get our music into television and movies. Individually, we have milestones we’re looking to achieve, but as a band, we’re content with where we’re at and the work we’ve put in so far.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘MONACO SLIM?
MONACO SLIM: Each of us draws inspiration from different genres and have different musical influences, and I think that makes us unique as a band. Our drummer Anthony was inspired by Neil Peart of Rush (naturally) when he was growing up. Floyd’s favorite band is the Rolling Stones. Ortiz incorporates elements of jazz, funk, and blues into his basslines. We went without a name for quite some time when it was just Scott and Anthony jamming together and figuring things out. It was only after Scott traveled to New Orleans at the end of 2019 that the idea for a blues-inspired band came to be, drawing inspiration from artists like Junior Kimbrough and the Black Keys, and that’s when we started to find our sound. Floyd really gave us a lot of direction when he joined the band later that year, and we eventually landed on the name Monaco Slim. It seems to fit with our sound.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
MONACO SLIM: We wanted the drums to be very compressed and sit closer to the front of the mix in our songs than most traditional blues music to give it a modern, heavier sound. We’re not trying to be another “guitar band”, and that’s why we’ve chosen to layer our songs with horns in the mid-range, instead of three or four guitar tracks. Additionally, the “call and return” elements we use with the sax and guitar parts, like in our song “Baby’s On Drugs”, create a conversation that’s happening between the two instruments. The focus is more about building hooks than it is about guitar solos, and we think that’s how we landed on this psychedelic blues sound.
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as POP?
MONACO SLIM: If you listen to our first single “Other Man”, which we recorded and released in March 2020, you can get a feel for how our approach to songwriting has evolved. That song is straightforward and derives a lot of its sound from traditional blues music. Our sound really took on a life of its own when Scott and Floyd began working on hooks and writing songs together. They sent each other voice memos during the 2020 lockdown to share ideas with one another. When they were finally able to bring these concepts into the rehearsal studio in 2021, Ortiz helped with arranging the songs and adding transitions and key changes. It was kind of the perfect storm.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
Our views on music as being a vessel for social and political commentary differ from one band member to the next, but there’s no denying that music has been a critical aspect of counterculture movements throughout history. We like to tell stories with our lyrics, which are mostly fictional narratives that are frivolous in nature. “Ain’t No Good” was our first song with heavy subject matter, and even still, the message isn’t overt or being jammed down your throat. The song is about a crooked cop, and it was written in direct response to a culture of police brutality. Our listeners might have a different interpretation of the song, and that’s fine with us. If we’re able to remark about these things and still create something engaging, we believe we’re checking off the right boxes.
7. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
We all got started in music at a fairly young age. Floyd played alto sax in his high school band up in New York, then played guitar and sax in a couple projects up there, before moving down to Florida. Scott started taking guitar lessons at the age of ten, then went on to study classical guitar in college, where he acquired formal training in vocals through the choir program. He ended up quitting his job as a door guy to pursue teaching at a music school. Ortiz and Hall are both self-taught.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
MONACO SLIM: The creative process looks different for each of us. Floyd is great at coming up with hooks; that’s how we wrote “Ain’t No Good”. He had this awesome sax riff that he’d sent over to Scott, and the two of them rented studio time, killed a six pack of beer together and wrenched out most of the song. Floyd came up with the title of the song, and Scotty spring-boarded off that line to pen the lyrics over the next six months. Ortiz assisted with the arrangement of the song, shaping out the intro and verses. That formula has seemed to work best.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
MONACO SLIM: The CoVID pandemic really took a toll on us as a band. We recorded our first single “Other Man” the day everything shut down here in South Florida, and the release was kind of drowned out by the hysteria that was occurring on social media. Scott had been working as a full-time solo musician, and he was furloughed for a year. We also lost some prominent original music venues in Miami, like Las Rosas and Churchill’s Pub, which was heartbreaking to see. We used the time between spikes of the coronavirus to rehearse and write more songs, but it was difficult to maintain our momentum creatively as a band. It was remarkably discouraging.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
MONACO SLIM: After two years of writing and rehearsing our music, we played our first show on October 23, 2021. It was our drummer Anthony’s birthday, so we rented out a venue here in Fort Lauderdale and blew the doors off that place. Anthony’s friends and family flew down from Virginia to attend the show, and we brought on some killer local bands to support us. We honestly couldn’t believe how packed it was in there, and the reception from the audience was unbelievable. We weren’t sure how our music was going to be received in a live setting, and it couldn’t have been a more encouraging experience. We all left with the same sentiment: keep going.