NOW MAGAZINE presents Moneen with the ILLuminati and the Candidates performing as part of NXNE at the Velvet Underground (510 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, June 5). $8, wristband $22. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
unlike many artists playing NXNE, Brampton emocore thrillers Moneen have no interest in scoring a major-label deal. They aren't trying to secure U.S. distribution, find a manager or hook up with a booking agent who can get them to "the next level." The idea of impressing the music journalists covering their highly anticipated Velvet Underground showcase tonight (Thursday, June 5) hasn't even entered their minds.
So why are Moneen so damn excited about playing NXNE? For the same reason they look forward to every chance to get onstage: "It'll be fun!" says Moneen's hyperkinetic frontman, Kenny Bridges.
"I used to think of music conferences as evil industry things, but that's a myth. The few we've played have been amazing experiences. It's really just a bunch of people who like going out to see bands. For us, a show is a show."
A Moneen performance is actually more like a ritualistic ceremony than a rock show, especially once the aggressively thrashy 20-somethings start bouncing off the walls, working themselves into a sweaty frenzy for a transfixed crowd.
It's usually apparent by the end of their first song that no one has more kicks at a Moneen gig than the members of Moneen themselves.
They're certainly not your typical angst-ridden bunch of sensitive mopesters, a genre Moneen are often associated with due to the somewhat unfortunate "emo" tag they've been stuck with.
"Whaddya mean, 'emo'? We're not emo!" snaps Bridges in mock horror before busting out in roaring laughter.
Just the fact that they can joke about the relevance of their emo classification indicates they're far too well adjusted and lively to belong to the brooding horde.
"There are lots of bands being called emo now that don't really fit in. I think we may be too angry to be considered emo. But then we can turn those frowns upside down, so we may be too happy.
"When we did our first tour a few years ago, club bookers would put 'emo from Toronto' on our gig posters, and we thought that was kinda cool, mostly because we didn't think anyone else knew what emo was back then.
"On the same trip, we played a show in Saskatoon with some crazy oi-punk band who ended their set with a song called Emo Kids Die! Suddenly, being known as emo from Toronto didn't seem all that cool."
There's a good reason why almost every Moneen tale is a road story. From the moment they formed the group in 99 they've been criss-crossing North America in a Chevy van, touring like maniacs and playing at any venue with electrical outlets - and even some without.
"We got a show at this place in Palmer, Massachusetts, called the Shed, which we found is exactly what it's called - a shed in somebody's backyard. So we set up and about 30 people were able to squeeze in, with a lot more standing outside.
"Everybody had such a great time, we went back to Palmer and played the Shed again!"
They spend so much time travelling, it's a wonder they've been able to get in a studio and record the follow-up to 2001's The Theory Of Harmonial Value (Smallman), whose jarring rhythm and tempo shifts helped define the Moneen musical aesthetic that the shorter, snappier tunes of Smaller Chairs For Early 1900s EP only hinted at. Their forthcoming Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now? (Smallman) - out Tuesday - is their most accomplished statement yet.
Employing the production skills of Face to Face mainman Trever Keith and the studio smarts of Get Up Kids engineer Chad Blinman, Are We Really Happy? brilliantly synthesizes the best bits from their first two releases, combining the urgency of Smaller Chairs with the more cerebral excursions of Harmonial Value, resulting in more concise songs with greater impact.
"We like working in the studio, but we realize that performing is what we do best. So we approached this album with the idea of writing songs that would be fun to play live.
"With the last album, we had a limited budget and a very short time to complete it. We were a little too ambitious for our musical and production knowledge at the time. For the new record, we went in knowing exactly how we wanted things to sound, and we went for it.
"I listen to our album all the time.... Um, maybe you shouldn't quote me on that. It'll make me sound like a complete loser."
No one's thinking loser since Moneen signed with powerhouse major indie Vagrant Records, making Brampton's finest the first Canadian label-mates of Rocket from the Crypt, Saves the Day, Paul Westerberg and Dashboard Confessional.
It's a giant step up for Moneen, who insist they weren't even looking for a deal outside of Canada.
According to Bridges, Vagrant head Rich Egan called him out of the blue, saying he'd been listening to the first album and wanted to know if they were interested in working with Vagrant.
"We liked some bands on the label, so we decided to talk things over with them to see where it would lead. I wasn't sure if it was the right move for us.
"I thought, 'What does it mean to be on a label like Vagrant?' Well, it means people will be able to get our music easier and we'll get a lot more exposure, but how fast we move forward still depends on us. Everything just fell into place."
Even though Moneen did the honourable thing and cut a deal that allows Winnipeg's Smallman Records - which doubles as the group's management - to continue on as their Canadian label, they've be wondering about how their fans might react to the new business partners.
"Actually, I thought there was going to be a big backlash as soon as word got out about the Vagrant deal, but all the e-mails we got were from people saying how happy they were for us. I'm shocked that the reaction has been so positive."
That could change once the new album hits the street next week and news of Moneen's UK deal with Polydor begins to circulate through the group's anti-corporate constituency. But the major distribution hookup will ensure they make many more fans for any they may lose.
"Polydor is a major label?" Bridges asks, genuinely surprised. "Really? Shows you how much I know about these things. Oh, well, what you don't know can't hurt you, right?"