Analogue Music | Dave Monks

Dave Monks

By Matt Conner

Dave Monks is still trying to figure out his musical identity.

To be fair, it's also clear that Monks isn't really all that interested in arriving at some final answer. Rather, as he's embarked on the journey of writing and recording his second solo album away from Tokyo Police Club, Monks'' fascination with the creative process is all about the journey—an exploration of interests and inspiration.

Monks says he learned as much through this season defined by a global pandemic. Instead of thinking up and then nailing down ideas for the songs, he learned to appreciate the music conjured as a result of creative collaborations—apparitions in studio—with drummer Adam Hindle and engineer Jesse Turnbull. The result is the aptly named I've Always Wanted To Be Me.

We had the chance to catch up with Monks recently about the last couple years, the creative lessons learned, and why this is an album that is baffling for the press.

Analogue: The last time we spoke was before the pandemic. How has this season been for you personally?

Dave Monks: The main thing, I guess, is that it gave me another year to work on my solo stuff. I remember talking to the band right before the pandemic happened saying that I needed another 18 months to do my solo thing. That’s why they cooked up the Champ tour. We thought we’d celebrate something else and put the creativity on the back burner. Then the pandemic happened and it just happened to conveniently align with that.

I was pretty resilient at first. My response to the pandemic was delayed or maybe it changed as it went. It did give me free reign to do my solo stuff, but the band was going to give me that anyway. They were always cool with that.

"I realized it wasn’t going to be about nailing stuff down. It was going to be about discovering things in that moment together."

I did cancel some tours but I was fine for money. I had some songs I wanted to record and was pretty chill, so it all seemed like I was doing what I would have done anyway. I try hard not to get too distracted from creating, so I wasn’t like, ‘Ah, finally now I get to write some songs.’ I’m already doing that.

But as the pandemic wore on, like in the spring of this year, it started to really drag on. I think what turned from a creative endeavor turned into work promoting my solo record online and making content. That’s fun and rewarding but it’s also a slippery slope for mental health. There’s only so much time you can spend looking at screens.

Then in May, I got COVID. Which was pretty trippy. My girlfriend and I were lucky that we were fine, but it was trippy as well. So at first, I was pretty resilient but by the end, I felt totally flattened by the pandemic—literally.

Analogue: I read that the song “Stuck” was actually what helped make the creative process feel unstuck on this new album.

Dave: Yeah, totally.

Analogue: What was it about that track?

Dave: I think there was an immediacy to it. It sounds like there’s a lot going on with the song, but it’s really just drums, guitar, and bass. That’s really all it is. We did it, just Adam and I, and we could hear it in the room. We were like, ‘That feels complete.’

The first couple things we did, I was trying to chat with Adam saying, ‘I got this thing and thought we could do a bit of this here and try some of that.’ I didn’t feel like we were nailing stuff down. But with that song, I realized it wasn’t going to be about nailing stuff down. It was going to be about discovering things in that moment together. Adam was great at that.

Analogue: I’m interested at this place you describe where you’re not feeling some songs at first yet you still move forward through it. For some of us, we’d just stop trying to make something but you pushed through. Was there a larger drive there to put out a solo album?

Dave: It was that I had to get those songs off my chest. There was enough stuff here now that I needed to clear out. I had to record these songs and stop thinking about them.

I've Always Wanted To Be Me Album Art
I've Always Wanted To Be Me Album Art

I think part of it was a mix of support of Jesse and Adam being in the room saying, ‘This is cool. This is good. Let’s do another.’ I run on a lot of encouragement. I’d like to someday be a little more self-sufficient, but maybe that’s not possible. I don’t know. But pretty much every song I put out, somebody gives me a big pep talk on it. I have a few key people I go to, but I really need a lot of support.

Then along with that, there’s a willingness to be uncomfortable with it for a while. It’s like, ‘I can’t really trust my own perception of things right now,’ and I think that’s true of any creative process. It’s an easy thing to say but a difficult thing to live with. I’m having all kinds of feelings about how this song is too slow or this chord is not right, but I also know I can’t trust my instincts at this particular moment. So I have to just go on with it.

Analogue: That makes me interested in why you’d even take a solo step out when you could easily keep creating music within the band.

Dave: I know, it’s weird. [Laughs] I am on a learning journey as I do the solo stuff, and my reasons for doing it change as I’m doing it.

The ironic thing about the solo journey is that there’s nothing solo about it. It’s just as collaborative as Tokyo. It’s not more collaborative, but the collaborations can be even more extreme as I’m meeting new people. Every solo record has different players and producers on it, and some of connections are really hot flashes of collaboration. Sometimes they are more difficult but it’s kind of a roller coaster.

So it’s not really a solo thing. I have total control, but I have to relinquish it and ride the wave like I did with the beginning of this record. It’s like, ‘Well, I’d like to have control at this point to rectify something about these songs, but I don’t know if I’m a great judge of that, so I’ll just ride the wave anyway.’ So it’s all very ironic.

Analogue: [Laughs] I appreciate the honesty here. It does make me curious about the other side. Since we’re talking about the fear of putting it out there, what are you most excited by in the new music?

Dave: I think I’m most excited to be all those things at the same time. I feel like I’m very proud of putting different types of songs together and forcing people to accept me on those terms. It’s challenging boxes that they had me in or maybe they have ideas of how albums should go or what’s expected.

You know, we were part of a whole little moment, a little music trend at the beginning. I’ve done things with the band and I’ve done things solo. I’ve definitely made a conscious effort in the past to try to present myself in a certain way. On this one I just wanted to be like ‘I am all of those things.’

I feel like if it’s difficult to define… it’s like, ‘Oh, if he’s not a salt-of-the-earth steel-stringed troubadour and he’s not a caffeinated, peppy indie rocker and he’s not a hands-in-the-air festival snake charmer, then great, what am I?’ My press person told me that some people are having a hard time knowing how to talk about this record. I was like, ‘Great! That probably means I was successful in that.’ [Laughs]