“All we really hope from people is that they enjoy the album and listen to it. I feel like, with this album, we really spent a little more time trying to make sure it’ll grow as you listen to it more, whereas with the last record it was like candy, and you’d eat it, you liked it, but it may have been harder to come back to. With this album, it may not have the impact on the first listen, but as you listen again and again it might become part of your life.” – Jeremy Widerman, 2016.
With ‘Furiosity’ Monster truck touched down with an almighty, multi-coloured bang. An album that was as bold and vivacious as you could want from a modern rock ‘n’ roll effort, ‘furiosity’ saw the band win awards and tour the globe with a number of high profile acts, not to mention embarking on their own headline outings. One of those rare, very genuine bands that you come across, there’s no artifice with Monster Truck, just good time rock ‘n’ roll that takes the listener out of the mundanity of everyday life and transports them to a brighter, bolder world where anything is possible. A band content to live day by day, Monster Truck brought that sense of spontaneity and excitement to second album ‘sittin’ Heavy’ and, remarkably, outdid their debut in the process. We were lucky enough to catch up with Monster Truck guitarist Jeremy Widerman for this exclusive interview in which we talk about the inspiration behind the band, the recording of the new disc and the excitement of touring with the likes of Rival sons and Alice in Chains.
To start with, different people play music for different reasons: there are bands that are very innovative and are pushing to create something that’s completely new and there are bands that are very passionate about the music that they love and they play from the heart and, in doing so, they take something familiar and make it sound fresh and exciting once more. I think (and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way) that you fit into the latter category – would you say that’s a fair assessment?
Sure, I mean, we really just started this band for fun. Really just to satisfy our own urges to play this kind of music and it just spiralled into something else. We never really expected it to be a serious project.
The new album has a huge amount of variety, and it sounds like it was a lot of fun to play and to record. What would you say is the motivation that underpins your writing?
I don’t know! We really just love to play live. The albums that we make are kind of a tool to get back on the road and play live concerts. It’s nothing really… It’s hard to say man, it’s nothing really deep down, we just love playing music and we love being on the road and playing live shows. It really is as simple as that.
In terms of recording, you did the record twice I think because you weren’t too happy with the way the first sessions came out. Did this recording go more smoothly?
It did, but there were still certain issues – getting to that completion stage where we felt we had everything we needed. We got to the end of our scheduled time and we felt that we could do a little more, add a little more to the album. So we had a meeting and decided to add another session to the album and write some more songs. That was where songs like ‘power of the people’ and ‘another man’s shoes’ came from.
I think you recorded the first album live in the studio – is that how you recorded the second album?
That’s not how we recorded the first album, actually we recorded both albums the same way where we sat down, went through the drums and the best and then overdubbed everything else on top of it.
In terms of the second record, there’s a very varied approach. There’s some heavy, stoner type rock, and there’s one song that really stood out for me which was ‘black forest’ which has this lovely, slow blues vibe to it, who was responsible for the songs – do you divide the material up or jam on material together?
It’s a little bit of all those things. John actually wrote the entire bulk of that song on his own. A lot of times, with a song like that, John writes mostly… I think he pretty much wrote all the fundamental parts and then we sat down to arrange it a little bit. That was one of the songs on the record when he had the large majority of the track written when he came to the band and showed it to us.
That’s a lovely song and it really stands out. It slows the pace for a moment and it’s a great moment.
Thanks. It’s an awesome one to play live too.
On the flip side, ‘song for the people’ stands out because it seems like you had a lot of fun with that one. Was there a strong southern influence on that one?
Yeah definitely. I actually… it’s funny to say (and I don’t know if it sounds ridiculous to say) but I took a lot of inspiration… that was a song that I kinda wrote a lot of the parts for… I took inspiration from an older song of ours called ‘run in’ that was off our very first EP. That was a song we wrote at the very end of the session and it was added… I kind of felt like that song ‘run in’ from our very first EP, didn’t get enough attention because we were just a brand new band at the time and no one really knows that EP or that song, and I always liked playing that song live and I always liked the different kind of country vibe that that song gave up. So I wanted to do another one like that with the popularity of the band being a lot higher now, so we can have a song like that in the set that would be new again.
It’s good to keep it varied, for me any way, when you’ve got a couple of slower songs then you get that dynamic and when the heavy songs come back in they feel that much more potent.
Yeah, that’s basically the idea behind the whole record. We wanted to keep the ebb and flow of the record so that the heavy songs seem heavier and the slower songs seem slower and also, being able to add that kind of element into our set so that we can have an hour and a half long set where we’re not just beating you over the head for the entire an a half and we’ve actually got a few different places we can take people.
When you did the first record you were using detuned guitars, is that still the case and is that to give the band a heavier groove?
Yeah, that’s still the case. We’ve got a couple of songs in standard tuning, but 95% of all our music is in D standard.
And for you personally, what sort of guitar and equipment do you like to use to get your sound?
I like using a lot of SGs, I have a bunch of different SGs with Humbucker pickups in them and I’ve also got a Les Paul with a P90 in it for a lighter song like ‘Black forest’. As far as guitar amps go, anything that resembles a Marshall JCM 800. Even though I don’t have a JCM 800, it’s a really standard rock sound. I’ve got a Marshall JMP and a couple of custom amps, but it’s all about searching for that classic Marshall tone.
Humbuckers and a Marshall always give you that sort of Cream-esque, Claptony sound…
Yeah, it’s tried and true!
There’s that cliché about second albums and senses of pressure, but in the case of Monster Truck there was a huge buzz around the first record… it doesn’t sound like there was a sense of pressure hanging over the band, but did you feel there was a challenge to live up to?
I wouldn’t call it a challenge, I think we were just very realistic and aware of the situation that we were in. I think that the perception is that we blew up pretty quick, but we’ve been grinding it out in Canada for over seven years now, so we’ve got those fundamental years under our belts. We know what it’s taken to get here and we know the process that’s worked for us in the past. At the end of the day, this is our fourth release so, after we finished ‘furiosity’ we knew that we had our first full-length under our belt and we knew that we were going to get some exposure internationally, so we started working on this record as soon as we could and we always had it in the back of our minds so that we didn’t put ourselves in the position where we were scrabbling to get more material together near the end. Then again, when we realised that we didn’t have enough material and we needed to do another session, we were in such a groove and such a good place as far as understanding where we wanted to go with the record and how to get there, actually writing a few new songs from scratch and getting them recorded was not a stressful task for us. Or at least not as stressful as it could be because we have that confidence and experience to guide us along and get to the finish line.
In terms of production, you’ve gone down that route where everything’s clear but there’s also enough grit to capture a live vibe too. How did you approach the production on this record?
We stuck with what worked on ‘furiosity’ and maybe experimented a little further. A lot of it has to do with our producer who is just an expert at walking that line between slick and raw and it’s just the experience of what amps to use, how to set them up, what mic to use and how to make sure you keep hold of that old school vibe and yet have that compression to make it work well on the airwaves, so from our perspective we’re always working on our tones, make them better, or find a better way to do the same thing so that we can have that dynamic and make sure the record doesn’t sound the same.
As a band, are you interested in the minutiae of recording or are you just anxious to get the record done and get out on the road?
I used to be, but not anymore. That kind of dedication and technical and practical knowledge that you need to be good at that is more work than I’m willing to do right now, based on the fact that I’m quite busy just trying to be a musician and, this day and age, just being on social media in a band like this is a full time job, so I’ve been kind of tied up with that kind of stuff, not to mention the graphic design aspects as well. Our organ player, Brandon, he spends a lot of time on learning all about that stuff and he’s definitely paying close attention when we’re recording. Even this weekend he was kinda fidlding around in the studio and playing with compressors and limiters and microphones and set ups and stuff like that because that’s stuff he’s definitely interested in.
To go back to the sound, it seems the type of music that would definitely be suited to vinyl. Are you guys interested in the physicality of media or are you not concerned how your music reaches your audience?
I just want people to be able to have the option that they want. I don’t really think there’s a need to push any one format to people over another, especially now where everybody has their own favourite and can enjoy music in their own way. I’m just glad we can offer it in all formats. People who listen in their car tend to gravitate towards CDs, people who are on their phones and computers tend to gravitate towards streaming and then there’s the old schoolers who love their vinyl and I’m just glad we can offer all those formats.
For you personally, what works for you?
I like digital. I don’t have the space to carry a vinyl collection. I’m always on the road and I like the fact that I can carry my entire collection on a digital device and access it at any given time.
You’ve had some amazing tours with the likes of Alice in Chains. Did you feel that, going out with acts like that, you were able to learn anything from them?
We were always taking influence and looking at what they were doing to better ourselves as a band. Depending on their schedule and our schedule, there were days when we got to hang out with the bands and get to know them better as people, and other days it was a circus and everyone’s just running around trying to get the fundamentals of their job completed. All those bigger bands were nothing but accommodating, they took us under their wing and gave us that added support that we needed to make our jobs easier, whether it was being short staffed on crew or having a much tougher drive because we were in a van not a bus. But I’m really happy to say that every band we’ve toured with in the last three years was just a treat and another element or influence to the band to help us reach the next level.
Musically, was there any one highlight to play with because you dug their music particularly?
I really was a huge fan of Rival Sons. I was a big fan of theirs before we toured with them and an even bigger fan afterwards. Being able to see them every night and the high calibre at which they execute their shows every night, it was a lot of fun for us to watch and I particularly love their latest record, ‘great Western Valkyrie’ and that’s something that I listen to a lot.
How do you think Monster Truck fit into the musical landscape at the moment?
I think we sit in great. Every band we’ve ever toured with, big or small, whether head lining or opening, it’s always felt very comfortable and it’s always felt like we’re on an upward swing, so it’s been a great environment for us to be in. It’s hard to comment when you try to think from other people’s perspectives, and there’s always going to be folk with negative views, but we’ve always had a very positive experience and I wouldn’t say it’s been easy, but it’s been possible for us to move forward and if there’s been a lack of bands in our genre out there, then it’s been a good thing for us because we’ve been able to fill that void. And if people feel there’s a lot of bands out there, well that’s a good thing too, because it gives us more bands to play with and more bands to fit alongside in festivals, so I have nothing but positivity.
You seem really ambitious, and you guys have worked hard to get to where you are now. What is your key ambition for the band now?
My only ambition is to keep going. I am very careful not to think too far ahead and I think you can miss the point of what is it you’re supposed to be up to today if you start to worry about the future. Also we have a whole bunch of people working with the band now who are thinking about those kind of things so I don’t have to, so the important thing for me is to stay healthy and focus on the task at hand which is, at the moment, this interview. This afternoon we’re rehearsing for the tour and I feel comfortable just focusing on the things that are happening in front of me and whatever happens, it’s usually a product of the work that’s in front of you at the moment.
…and that seems to be a theme of the music as well.
Yeah I think that’s the general idea that makes anyone a healthier, happier, more successful individual. Being focused on the moment and what’s happening to you right now as opposed to being concerned with the past or the future which is ever changing. It’s best to deal with now and deal with what comes later in that moment.