There are certain places in the world where people race school buses around figure-eight tracks. At the intersection in the middle of the figure eight sits the music of the Absolute Monarchs. It's walled-off rock, fortified and colossal. The buses veer by, immense in their momentum. Collisions are frequent, but they're the best kind of collisions. Massive moving structure impacting massive structure? What more could you want? Winning drivers take home cash and prime-cut steak.
Very simply, the Absolute Monarchs make rock music. It's not stroked or cuddled, and it's not chiffon. It's loud and straight at you, and your ears relish the pain. The Monarchs' two guitarists, Shawn Kock (ex–Das Llamas) and Miki Sodos, race side by side, pummeling in thirds and fifths. Drummer Mike Stubz paints his bus with flames and drives with no helmet 'cause he's like that. There's a giant drill bit mounted on the front of singer/keyboardist Joel Schneider's bus—the kind that drills holes through mountains. His vocals and scream do just that, carve out air like it's a mountain. Schneider is the answer to the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel problem. Let him stand there and sing for a while, pay him in beer, and that tunnel will be drilled with no cost overruns at all.
Where and how did you learn to sing like that?
JS: I started singing when I was a little tyke in church. That's also how I learned to play guitar. I grew up in a really religious family, so music kinda became my outlet. When I was a teenager, I sang for a couple bands that weren't so great, but did most of my singing in school, with jazz and classical stuff.
How has your voice developed over the years? Talk about your screaming.
JS: I didn't really scream at all until I started singing with the Monarchs. I think because of my jazz and classical background, my scream comes out more vocal and I'm able to keep a melody while I do it. It did start to fuck up my voice a bit when I first started, so I ended up taking a couple vocal lessons. They were with an older woman who my grandma knew from her church—apparently she used to sing with Sinatra or something like that. Anyway, they were free lessons and ended up really helping me. She would put her hand on my chest and have me sing classical stuff.
She put her hand on your chest? This isn't a GILF story is it?
JS: A what?
JS: So if she could feel me breathe in from my chest, she would have me start the song over. Apparently, I had been singing wrong for years; she got me to sing from my stomach/diaphragm instead of from my chest and throat.
What does your voice feel like after a show?
JS: After a practice or a show now, my stomach muscles are tired and my vocal cords are good to go. I don't have too many problems with the vocal cords. It was all about fixing my technique.
Who are your favorite vocalists?
JS: I would say as far as sheer vocal power goes, Chris Cornell is at the top of the list for me. On those older Soundgarden records, some of the things he is able to do with his voice, and the screaming, amaze me. Chris Thomson of the Monorchid I know is another favorite for both Shawn and me. He might not be the most polished singer, but the way he uses his lyrics and voice as an instrument to ping-pong back and forth with the guitar is really unique and rad to listen to.
What do you think about when you play? Do you think about nice things or not nice things?
JS: When the Absolute Monarchs play a show, I'm usually not thinking about much. You know when you were a kid, or I guess some adults probably do it, too, and you were super pissed at your parents or whatever, so you'd run to your room and scream into your pillow to clear your mind because you were so fucking angry? And when you were done screaming, you would feel a million times better? That's basically what an Absolute Monarchs show feels like for me. This band is like my perfect therapy session. Shawn, on the other hand, is usually thinking about long walks on the beach, blue skies, holding hands. Miki thinks about bunnies, and Stubz—I could tell you what's going on in that beautiful bald head, but I think I'd rather just keep it a mystery.
What happened to your merch money from a couple weeks ago?
SK: Miki and I have a dog. The dog ate the merch money.
Mr. Kock, you were blackout drunk while playing at the Comet recently. How did that happen? Talk about performing while being blacked-out.
SK: Playing while blacked-out is like a question mark waiting for bad news and a hangover. If you're not playing first or second, the chance of blackout grows incrementally.
Who are your favorite Seattle bands?
SK: Helms Alee, Constant Lovers, Triumph of Lethargy, Snuggle!, See Me River, My Goodness, A Frames, Deadkill, the Cave Singers, Shabazz Palaces, and a bunch I'll feel bad for forgetting. We're lucky to call most of them our friends.