The strongest advice I could give anyone taking the time to read this interview with Neal X is, just listen to these tunes and you will become an instant fan of The Montecristos. There are a few of us here at 50thirdand3rd that are slightly obsessed with the early days of rock, we love Gene Vincent, Dick Dale, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Elvis and about 100 more, and so do The Montecristos. The band is just incredible, they blow me away , I just want to crank it up and dance like I was 16 again. Enough of the fanboy stuff, read on …..
For those not familiar with past history of The Montecristos, can you bring us up to speed on the formation/creation and ideas behind getting it all started.
I used to be in a group called Sigue Sigue Sputnik. We looked right back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and tried to invent our own sound from that – The Fifth Generation of Rock ‘n’ Roll – a totally fresh and innovative sound using ’80s technology but only armed with a stack of ’50s records for inspiration – Elvis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard.
We were looking for something new – something different – something that set us apart from our contemporaries.
It was my first real serious look at the history of rock ‘n’ roll – and I loved every bit of it.
The shimmer, the throb, the glamour, the curled lip, the swaying hips, the “Twang”.
Sputnik tried hard but didn’t quite realize the dream. We were much maligned in the press and maybe not as good as we thought we were – but certainly nowhere near as bad as we were made out to be.
Anyway – I’d fallen head over heels in love with Rock ‘n’ Roll and vowed that if I ever got the chance to do it all again I would just keep going with the dream. Do the same but do it right. Form a band that took the energy and spirit of Little Richard in ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ and make it look and sound totally contemporary. Re-imagined for the 21st Century.
A glammy, trashy, classy, sexy and FUN Rock ‘n’ Roll band – driven by my fist sized overactive adrenal gland. Ladies and gentlemen – The Montecristos!
Who are the members of the band and who plays what….
Emma Goss – a mean, slapping Double Bass virtuoso who never loses her cool or class when the fever rises.
Gemma B – a trumpet that rips the rafters off the joint.
Sophie Freeman – her saxophone is a torch to the flame of rock ‘n’ roll.
Hugh Wilkinson – his pounding beat effortlessly evinces rhythm’s primal thrall.
Neal X – a sin-drenched spring reverb of ’50s guitar and echo of howling vocals
The combination of different styles is amazing, who had the idea to melt all those sounds into one…
Like I said – we wanted to merge the vibe of the ’50s into a 21st Century contemporary sound. My pounding heart may be in the ’50s but my dancing feet are in the here and now of 2015.
I really wanted an individual sound – a recognizable and unique band sound. Brass, Double Bass, Guitar and drums – it’s hard to sound different. You’ve got to try though. You don’t get satisfaction from slavishly copying. We’re not a revival act.
Like a chef – there are no new ingredients – it’s the way you mix them together that gives the new taste sensation.
That’s what we’ve attempted to do with The Montecristos sound…. Mix the old and the new.
The band are such great players and so adaptable it’s an easy ride.
Can you tell us about the process you use, from writing the songs all the way through getting the songs out…..
I hum and sing all day long – riffs, snatches of lyrics and tunes – it drives my kids nuts. “Dad you’re SO embarrassing!”
I pick up a guitar and stuff just comes out… I record little ideas, sketches into the Voice Memo app on my iPhone.
I’ve got hundreds of ’em. No money but a million ideas! Better that way round right?
I find coming up with riffs and tunes easy… Lyrics less so but sometimes they just fall out of the ether. It really helps to have a strong and clear idea in mind.
We just work them up in the studio. I can record simple demos at home but I want a “real” band sound so I prefer going into a cheap studio – or garage – and banging it out. No need for expensive plush set-ups these days. A great pair of ears and some knowledge is key and our producer Kenny Jones has both.
We have an independent label that presses the stuff and distributes for us – Easy Action recordings. It’s a one man operation but so easy to deal with! Carlton, the boss is always available on the phone and has brought in a great team to help out. Rock ‘n’ Roll designer Sophie Lo to handle the artwork, and Patrick Bird to master the music. They’ve all been a joy to work with.
I feel I’ve finally found the team to make the dream a reality.
Obviously the Band has roots in early rock and Rockabilly, what are some of the albums you listened to growing up …..
I came late to Elvis – I grew up in the ’60s hearing The Beatles and Stones on my radio and I guess that stays with me. As a teenager I listened to all the great contemporary stuff – Bowie, T Rex, Alice Cooper – then later The Stooges, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Free, early Fleetwood Mac – and then Punk Rock hit – “London Calling” became THE album when I was at college.
It wasn’t until we were putting Sputnik together that I finally really paid attention to the early rock ‘n’ roll records – and Tony James turned me on to Suicide who I still adore. I’m going to see them next month in London. A sell-out show… It’ll be great to see them again.
1st rock concert you went to and age….
First big one was Bad Company at Earl’s Court in London when I was 13…. All the way up to London on the train by myself…
What were my parents thinking?
Coolest band t-shirt you ever bought…
The Ramones of course….
The most insane concert you ever went to or were a part of….
The Who at Charlton Athletic Football Ground in 1975. It rained all day so the stage was as slippery as an ice-rink.
Roger Daltrey fell over twice on his way to the mic – and I remember the brilliant Pete Townsend running half way across the stage, dropping to his knees and skidding right the way across the rest of it. It was the first time I saw lasers at a rock show – and huge arc-lights lighting the audience for “See Me Feel Me” and “Listening to You”.
The audience went completely bonkers. Truly magical stuff!
If you could open for any Band right now who would that be and why?
Prince – cause I absolutely adore him, and for the size of his audience. Or Lady Gaga for the fun trip – and I think her audience would get us.
We’ve just opened for Marc Almond in the UK and Fangoria in Spain – both a total joy to do.
The Montecristos audiences leave smiling. We’re a good vibe band!
My youngest son is 13 and in a Band, what advice would you offer him…
Work hard. Practice makes perfect. Enjoy your life and your music. Put all you can into it.
NOTHING is easy! Don’t take things for granted. Don’t be a jerk!
Your thoughts on the state of rock ‘n’ roll in 2015…..
There’s a wealth of great stuff out there if you look for it… I won’t bitch about groups or music I don’t like. What’s the point?
There just aren’t enough hours in the day to listen to all the good stuff though I really try to keep up.
It’s a shame we don’t hear more variety on the radio in the UK but there are a few exceptional DJs – and artists out there.
I just saw Paul McCartney play last week. He was phenomenal. He still looks great and sounded re-energized by his terrific band.
He was a great role model for how to keep it fresh and joyous – and re-invent himself. If he can do it……
Our plans for the rest of 2015…..
We’ve some shows coming up in the UK and hopefully in Europe over the nest few months.
The next confirmed one is with Slim Jim Phantom formerly of The Stray Cats at The Jazz Café, London on August 13th.
It should be great night. I love Slim Jim…. He’s such a star!
Apart from that we’re always working. Songs don’t write themselves … or record themselves!