Though the members of MonkeyJunk may have decades between them age-wise, they share a common musical goal: to push the boundaries of the blues.
Steve Marriner, the band’s front man, is in his late twenties, lead guitarist Tony D is on the cusp of fifty, and drummer Matt Sobb falls somewhere in between. But with 12 Maple Blues Awards, a Canadian Independent Music Award, a Blues Music Award and a 2012 Juno for Blues Album of the Year (for To Behold), the generation gap isn’t slowing them down. “We’ve arrived at the same place,” explains Sobb, “but we got here on different roads.”
While all three grew up playing and listening to the blues, they also bring decidedly different musical influences to the table. “Steve is well versed in stuff that’s new,” explains Tony D with a laugh, “but I still think of stuff from the ’80s and ’90s as new music!” But Marriner says it all contributes to a sound they like to describe as “swamp R&B, soul boogie, and bedroom funk,” rather than anything that fits neatly into a single category.
When the trio first joined forces in 2008, they had no plans for making it big. Marriner, who plays harmonica, keyboards and baritone guitar, had been playing a weekly gig at Irene’s, a popular music venue in the band’s hometown of Ottawa, when he asked Tony D to accompany him. “We just wanted to have a good time on Sunday night,” he laughs. When the pair realized they were on to something, however, they called Sobb and told him he was in their new band. “We said ‘hey, we just started a band called MonkeyJunk, and you’re the drummer!” recalls Marriner.
Once they got together, things ramped up quickly. Within a month, the trio had recorded four songs, and a year later, they had their first studio album in hand. While all three shape the songs, Marriner handles most of the lyric writing, a process he says is getting easier as he learns to trust his gut. Their creative process may be mysterious and chaotic, but the band is happy with the way things are working out.
With a new album in the works, a touring schedule that includes the U.S. and France, and an ever-expanding legion of fans, the members of MonkeyJunk are keen to see what else the future has in store. “We’re just going to keep pushing the envelope,” says Marriner.
• The name MonkeyJunk was inspired by a offhanded remark vintage American blues artist Son House made in a filmed interview. “I’m talkin’ ‘bout the blues. I ain’t talkin’ about monkey junk,” he said. The expression struck a chord with the band.
• MonkeyJunk deliberately has no bass, an homage to early blues music where it was common not to have one. Instead, Marriner plays baritone guitar.
• The band’s influences range from traditional blues (Hound Dog Taylor, Muddy Waters) to soul (Otis Redding, Al Green) to their current listening (The Meters, Little Feat, JJ Grey & Mofro, Derek Trucks).