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True Rockers Take Risks: Why Monster Truck Are Set To Explode

Tuesday, 25 September 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Armed with a bulldozing brand of stoner-infused, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll, Canada’s Monster Truck have steadily established themselves as a must see live act over the last decade. Having battered more and more eardrums into submission at progressively larger venues, particularly as a support act to Deep Purple, Alter Bridge and Black Stone Cherry, arena headlining status has increasingly seemed like it’s theirs for the taking. And if their relentlessly anthemic third album ‘True Rockers’ is anything to go by, heaven help anyone who tries to stop them.

Sounding unmistakably like themselves, Monster Truck’s pulsating new record offers everything we know and love from past efforts, but crafted with a directness, confidence and swagger that suggests they know this is their time. With lessons learned from supporting the aforementioned icons, vocalist and bassist Jon ‘Marv’ Harvey, guitarist Jeremy Widerman, drummer Steve Kiely and keyboard player Brandon Bliss have unleashed a ferocious, accessible, fun-filled effort that’s tailor made to shock and awe massive audiences.

Put plainly, ‘True Rockers’ is the kind of star-making third album bands used to make when they needed to repay their record company’s patience and prove their credentials. Circumstances are, of course, markedly different these days, but there’s no denying this record – which may raise a few eyebrows due to some unapologetically commercial numbers that were penned with outside writers – should see the group become one of the current rock scene’s major players.  

We spoke to Marv about exactly what makes someone a true rocker, whether Monster Truck have done the unthinkable and sold out, and why he won’t be jumping on the anti-Nickelback bandwagon any time soon.

You’ve played a whopping 150 shows and numerous festivals since your second album ‘Sittin’ Heavy’ was released. How did all that experience shape ‘True Rockers?’

Every record’s different. You always have different experiences to draw from and this time it was mainly being on the road. Life was pretty crazy. While writing it we were constantly on tour. It sounds great, it sounds amazing, but after doing a tonne of shows for months and months, being away from home, travelling constantly, it’s taxing. No matter who you are, after four months of that you’re not gonna want to do it anymore.  

I think a lot of songs on the record reflect that exhaustion but also the ridiculous high of playing an arena every night. You can’t get drugs that good. It takes you an hour and a half to calm down if you play for 10,000 people. I listen to the record now and it feels exactly like I felt while doing the ‘Sittin’ Heavy’ cycle. It’s frantic, it’s got things you don’t expect, but also relaxed songs, sad songs. It’s a perfect snapshot of the last year or so of our lives.

‘Sittin’ Heavy’ was a more serious affair. What caused that intensity and how did things differ with ‘True Rockers’?

It was just the spot we were at. There were still goofy songs. There’s one about hockey on there and Don’t Tell Me How To Live is pretty tongue in cheek, but as a whole the record was taken really seriously. Ultimately, it’s the same way it always goes. You write the songs and that’s what the record’s gonna be.

The moment you start steering the ship too much is the moment things go off the rails and you end up with something that’s not cohesive at all. Basically ‘Sittin’ Heavy’ was our attempt at trying to be taken seriously, because everyone was laughing at us because our band was called Monster Truck. We had a producer one time saying ‘You guys should change your name’ and we were like ‘Well, we really don’t agree so we’ll stick with it.’

So what changed was the level of intensity we had about trying to make something perfect.  We were less stressed because we’re happy, more content with who we are and it’s a good progression for us. With ‘True Rockers’ we were just trying to have a lot of fun.  

You’ve previously described yourselves as sounding “like a mix between Black Sabbath and Allman Brothers.” Is that still the case or would you like to retool your quote for this record?

There’s heavier stuff on ‘True Rockers’. Thundertruck’s basically a metal song. We were trying to open as many doors as possible and listening to a lot of metal at that point. ‘True Rockers’ is easily the most aggressive album we’ve done. It’s just trying to figure out how many different possibilities you can give yourself when writing songs. We’re later in our career and can do whatever we want.  

Thundertruck is definitely a take no prisoners beast of a song. Can you tell me about the relevance of the year 1985 in the lyrics?

That might be one of the best years in metal, like the perfect storm. So many good records came out that year and so many awesome bands were still going with original members. I was only four years old but I read too. A lot of musical history has gone into my head and ‘85 was a good year for metal, thrash in particular.

‘Ride The Lightning’ was out and ‘Master Of Puppets’ was coming, the whole Bay Area scene was blowing up and Exodus was doing really well. If you look at the records that were released around that year, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth. It’s like thrash was the most popular thing and those were the most popular bands.  What a year, you know what I mean? There was Whitney Houston and Metallica.

‘True Rockers’ is certainly heavier in parts, but also has massive crossover potential and suggests you’re aspiring to reach a much larger audience.

With the more commercial sounding tunes we were trying to see if we could do it. Who doesn’t want to do that? Why not give it a go? Who knows what’s going to happen? You only live once so you might as well try everything. We spend a lot of time with Nickelback and I’ve seen what they do, I’ve seen how many people go to their shows. And those guys are not poor. No money problems. So I’m like ‘We might as well take a risk and see if we can do it.’  

We have a song called Evolution and everyone was like ‘this sounds like Nickelback.’ I’m like ‘If you’re saying that sincerely, thank you. Because I finally wrote a modern rock hit.’ So, it was kind of a decision that was made by me and Jeremy. Whether it was the right decision or not, it was just ‘Let’s try and put out some radio singles.’ That’s the way it went, but now I don’t wanna write radio singles anymore. I’m tired of it. Been there, done that, let’s move on.

Nickelback take a lot of shit for what they do. It sounds like you feel it’s underserved?

I’ll be honest, I’m not a humongous fan of all their songs but I know they’re huge songs and get thousands of people singing them every night. I’m also a businessman. You can’t just pull on ‘be an artist’ mode or you’ll never do anything but play in people’s basements. There’s a certain degree of risk taking in every business and, if we’re talking that side of things, why not? They obviously got it right. I’m a punk and hardcore stoner rock guy, I was into southern rock and it was never mainstream, but when you see what these guys can do with these songs and how beneficial it is to their livelihood…

Rock fans are always suspicious of their favourite bands progressing and working with outside writers. Were you concerned some may not like that more commercial sound and accuse you of selling out?

I don’t think there’s such a thing as selling out any more. I’m pretty sure that’s gone away.  Who’s not trying to sell out? Have you heard the new Struts song [Body Talks]? It’s just a progression of their band. It’s got Kesha in it. Dude, it’s a pop song. That’s great, don’t get me wrong, that’s awesome, but you have to take chances. Your career in music could be two years, 10 years, five years, you never know. There’s no retirement plan so take the money while you can.

I don’t want to write the same song over and over again. We’ve already done that. It’s gotta be something different. The only way you can evolve creatively is, again, to take risks. If people hate it that’s fine and I don’t mind. People don’t like it when things they like change.  Even a little bit. But we’re also four guys that have a 10 year career and we’ve written a bunch of stoner rock songs, so bear with us.

What can you say about those hit making writers and producers and what was the process like?

We were listening to the record with Dan Weller [producer]. He did a really amazing job on our record but then [the record company] were saying ‘There’s no singles on it.’ So we thought ‘Shit, this is our business. We’d better figure it out.’ We wrote some radio songs with hitmakers Gavin Brown and Maia Davies and just went for it, because the last thing you want to do is leave a woulda, coulda, shoulda. We decided to take the risk and it was awesome. They were easy people to work with because they have a system. You go in and do the system.

Most of it was rearranging lyrics and things like that. There were production bumps, like ‘Don’t play guitar here, don’t play guitar there blah blah blah.’ But most of it was relearning the lyrics and figuring out what words worked together, what to repeat and what not to repeat.  They definitely helped my songwriting and it was a good experience to get someone else’s input. Will I do it again? I don’t know. But it was definitely one of the best learning experiences I’ve had in the studio and I had a really good time.

What production choices were employed to give the songs a stronger radio sound?

More and more Pro Tools, basically. You sample everything, you do the whole thing, you do the dance. It’s one of those things where you just take the plunge. We basically played through a machine and this is how it came out. The songs that we wrote were far different than the songs you hear on the record, but we decided to let go and let it happen and there was power in that. It was nice to have someone take the reins and direct something, but it also takes a lot of ownership away from it which I don’t enjoy. I’d rather just be fully committed to what I do.

For all the new textures on the record, Undone is very bluesy and shows you haven’t abandoned that side of your sound.

It’ll never go away. I grew up on the blues, plus, it’s the most fun thing to play. Every record would be a dirty blues record if we didn’t want to grow. It’s woven into our fabric. There will always be blues in Monster Truck, that’s half the reason we started the band.

The album begins with a storming title track that also features Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. How did that collaboration come about?

He was in Toronto and went to the same juice bar where they were playing Monster Truck every day. He said ‘Who is this?’ and the guy was like ‘Oh, it’s Monster Truck.’ Then I have a DM in my Twitter inbox from Dee Snider. I met him in Toronto at his play, he was doing like a Christmas play, which was pretty funny, and just kept in contact with him. He’s really nice and had great advice. We were writing the song and I’m like ‘We need a preacher,who better than Dee Snider?’ I asked him and he was like ‘Yeah, totally.’

What characteristics does someone need to be classified as a true rocker?

It was funny because I had a bunch of pensioners in here who were like ‘Is this a proclamation?’ I’m like ‘No no no. Absolutely not. We’re not those guys.’ But it’s also super fun to say ‘I am a true rocker’ and have that camaraderie with other people. It’s sort of like a club. It’s rock ‘n’ roll and the whole idea of it was having a good time. I have a tattoo that says True Rocker and that’s where it came from. A joke between friends.

Can you name three albums any self-respecting true rocker must have in their collection?

That’s pretty good. I would definitely say ‘Back In Black’ by AC/DC because it’s perfect.  The Stooges’ ‘Fun House’, that’s a serious one, and then ‘Sticky Fingers’ by the Rolling Stones. That’s a record. They’re still doing it man and working hard.

Do you still want to be out there in your 70s?

Absolutely not. I want to be retired on a farm with my own private lake.

As a dyed in the wool rock ‘n’ roller, how do you feel about a legend like Gene Simmons always making his annual declaration that rock music is dead?

I don’t care. I have a lot of friends who play with Gene Simmons and they think he’s hilarious and have a great time. To be honest with you, anyone can say whatever they want now. The internet is basically polluted with people’s opinions. Who cares? Gene Simmons can say rock is dead all he wants but it doesn’t stop anyone from doing it. Bands aren’t gonna be like ‘Gene Simmons says it’s dead so we better break up, guys.’

You’re coming up on your 10-year anniversary as a group. Did you ever think when you began that you’d make a successful career out of it?

Not at all. It’s mind blowing. We started as a bar band who played for beer money once a month, because we wanted to get drunk for free. It was supposed to be the dumb thing we did for fun. I don’t have any hobbies and this was my hobby. I was thinking about that the other day, I literally have no hobbies, unless watching Netflix is a hobby. Is it? Good. Then I have one hobby.

What have been the best and worst experiences in that time?  

The best experiences keep happening. I can’t pinpoint one. Every time I think we’ve done something I’ll never do again, we do something like that again. It’s pretty wild. The worst experiences? We’ve been pretty lucky man. There’s been a few bands we’ve gone on tour with that haven’t been the greatest, but for the most part 90% of the bands we’ve toured with have been awesome. I should be knocking on wood hard right now. 

Of course, things could always go better, but because we pay attention to what’s going on in our business and all the members have the same set goal, and that’s just playing in a band and getting out there, it’s easy to avoid pitfalls that would be caused by egos and poor planning. We’re amazingly lucky, are you kidding me? I feel like I’ve won the lottery every day I wake up.

‘True Rockers’ is out now through Mascot.

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