Interview with Sally Shaar of Monowhales
Monowhales (Toronto) are about to visit our fine city and several of the surrounding areas with The Royal Foundry. We spoke to Sally Shaar about creating the impossible for videos on a budget, Sally losing her French, Celine Dion and how Canadian bands settle who plays first.
Montreal Rocks: So, you guys are going out on a little tour.
Sally Shaar: Yes, it kicks off on November 2nd and we will be around Montreal on November 8th at Petite Campus. (said with a little French accent)
MR: Yep…Petit Campus.
SS: Petit Campus.
MR: Campus is like you are saying the English word of you know…a campus.
SS: It’s a little different, as we go cam-pus, like it’s so exaggerated.
There is also November 9th we are going to Sherbrooke Quebec…you will have to help me this one. Bockwa…be…
MR: I took a picture of your tour, so the Sherbrooke one is at…oh…Boquébière….probably.
SS: Something like that, yeah. I will learn by the time I get there, I promise.
MR: Bière is beer, so it sounds like fun already. Normally a boque is a pint. It might mean a pint of beer.
SS: That’s a really good tip, thank-you. Now I can pretend I knew that the whole time.
MR: You’ve been in Montreal only one time before, when you played at O Patro Vys.
SS: O Patro Vys with Pin Up, who are awesome people. I’m not sure if you know who they are.
MR: Yeah, I caught the show, I was there.
SS: They are so sweet. We got to stay with them. We didn’t even meet them till that day. They let us stay, like the whole five-piece band at their place, in the middle of their apartment. They are very sweet people. It didn’t work out that we could do a show together now, because I think they are doing a new project.
We are excited to be back. We haven’t hit Montreal since then, as you know, and it has been heartbreaking. It was such a good time. That’s probably the most requests we get: “When are you coming to Montreal?” I know! I want to! So, it feels really good to come back.
MR: You will be in a cool part of town. Where you were was really interesting, by Mount Royal and all that, but now you will be more on the Main, like we call it: St-Laurent Street. You have a lot of cool restaurants, some great shops with vintage clothing, consignment shops. You will have plenty to do, if you have a bit of spare time.
SS: Cool! I try. At least we get to eat something. If there are good suggestions of places to eat, we can always use that.
MR: We met on Instagram a couple of year ago.
SS: Yeah, and then you came out to the show.
MR: Since then, I’ve seen you guys kind of explode. I’m seeing you on TV shows, morning shows, radio stations, Sirius XM and Facebook. How did that evolution come about, from being a relatively new band to getting all this exposure?
SS: That’s a big heavy question, it’s hard to know completely. You do all you can, in the work you do. You put it out there and give it into the hands of everyone else in the world. Once you give it, fortunately for us, the hands that have received it helped to lift us up. For sure, we put in so much work. When it comes to planning, and doing all you do beforehand, before a release, that’s something we work on really hard. You put it out in the atmosphere with positive vibes and hope that it is received. And, fortunately for us, it’s been a great run, always uplifting, a beautiful process throughout. It’s been exciting to keep running on that treadmill.
MR: You got the momentum going…
SS: Exactly, yeah.
MR: I know you are extremely busy. Every time I’m in town and we try to meet up, you are always shooting a video. Actually, every single time, you are shooting a video!
SS: Really…that’s so funny because we don’t do it that often.
MR: I just happen to go to town every time you are on a shoot. That is something that a lot of bands have not invested as much into, but you guys are pumping out new videos. They are always really entertaining, full of high energy, just like your shows.
SS: Yes. The way we view it, is that it’s incredible what you can do now in music and in art. It is all encompassing. It’s a message. It starts with the song, of course, and the message of the song and what we are saying. But then you can pull from that and create other pieces of art from it and use the video to extend the message. Or, use the live shows, which are the most important thing to us.
The reason we called the album “Control Freak” was because it’s hard for us to cut back on quality. We want to be able to do everything, and do them as artful, as loving as possible. We find that it’s all part of the process. It’s not like, now we have a song, so we have to make a video for it. It’s exciting. We have a song, we can make an incredible video for it. Let’s put them together so they can blossom together. That’s how we feel about everything and every piece of art work, whether it’s a social media post, a graphic, a video or whatever we do. It’s part of the artistic message.
MR: I think when you have a goal as a musician, you do get this hit of dopamine, all these chemicals that go to your brain when you reach your goal, but it’s fleeting. It doesn’t last very long. But if you can find happiness or joy out of the things that get you there, you can be happy with the journey. The journey is almost more rewarding than the goal, because as soon as you hit the goal, you create a new one.
MR: It seems like you are enjoying the journey, is what I’m saying.
SS: I personally love making music videos. We each have jobs, we are a very collaborative band. When it comes to the music, we are 100% collaborative. Everyone writes, on every song. Everything is always equal in that way. When it comes to other aspects of the band, of the business, we do have our own jobs that we try to work really hard at being good at. Mine is art direction, social media and for the most part, the videos and the video concepts.
I’m super passionate about the videos. Once we have the song and we’ve made something together, I will sit there and research, think and try to come up with what I see in my head. It’s hard because I see these crazy images in my head. Then I’m like, OMG, how are we going to make this happen on a budget? It’s this craving that you see, the same with music, you see it in your mind, then you have to go make it happen in real life. Unfortunately for us, we are not all videographers, so it involves a lot of other people.
We’ve been really lucky to have an incredible team, whose worked with us on this video, and the last two videos, who are really passionate. Anytime we approach them and say: “Hey, I have this idea. I want us all to have our limbs floating in a weird vat of latex.” They are like: “Whoa, that’s insane. OK!”
SS: “Let’s make it happen!” Rather than: “That’s crazy, that expensive, I don’t think it’s going to happen.” I’ve talked to other video directors and that is an option and I understand where they are coming from. But it’s been great to work with people who are just as passionate and excited about making the impossible come true. I feel, for this band, is kind of our theme: Making the impossible come true. We always work with whatever small budget we have. I always believe there is a way to make something happen if you believe in it.
MR: I find that in a lot of your videos, you will embrace your friends. They will all show up and it seems like a party.
SS: Oh yeah!
MR: There is always that part, somewhere in there and I think that describes well your live show. I’ve only attended one show, but it felt like a party. Everyone is having a good time. The energy you put out is tremendous. You are a forcefield by yourself and with the rest of the band combined, it’s really fun. I really thought it was a good show and I think this tour will get you exposed to more cities across Canada, even some small towns like Sherbrooke. A cool city. They will get to experience what I saw.
SS: Yeah. Funny enough, I don’t think anyone knows this, but I grew up for a couple of years in Gatineau.
MR: Oh yeah? So, the other side of Ottawa.
SS: Yeah, and my first language was French. Unfortunately, when I moved to Ottawa, I forgot all my French as a child. I do have a connection to Quebec and a piece of my heart when I go back. I’m so interested, when I go back, in my past life. I can’t remember too much about it as a kindergarten and adolescent child, but there is something really wonderful about it. It’s nostalgic, even though I’m not sure why it’s so nostalgic to me.
MR: I think our past is a good filter for how we view the world today. It’s interesting that you have that. Are there any bands or singers that you might remember that are French that you or your parents listened to when you were young?
SS: One of my favorite musicians of all time, funny enough, was Celine Dion. Of course, it started because my mom and my whole family immigrated. It was the first person that exposed me to pop music, because obviously that’s what my mom listened to. That is something I prominently remember. I remember a lot of Celine’s French songs being played.
To this day, because of nostalgia, I love Celine Dion and what she must have ingrained in me as a child. There was somebody else, I can’t remember exactly what her name is, honestly, maybe you can help me. She was one of the most famous French singers of all time. She was a bigger woman…
MR: Ginette Reno.
SS: Yes…yes. See what I mean? Pieces of my memory, I remember these things. I remember my mom playing it all the time and loving it. I should probably talk to her about it before I go.
MR: It’s almost like another world. You are so busy now, it’s hard to keep track.
I’m actually, possibly distantly related to Celine.
MR: Maybe distant cousins…but not close enough or else I would be living in Vegas. Somewhere along the line there is some Dion blood in me, on my mom’s side.
SS: That is so cool. She’s such a badass. I have a lot of respect for her. I have a lot of respect for mainstream pop artists in general. I try to imagine how difficult that job is and how much is involved in it. It makes my head explode a little. Then I also think to myself: Look, I’m trying to be successful and my head is going to explode a little bit.
MR: I find that what you have is not 100% pop. There is a tiny tinge of punk behind it somewhere.
SS: When I mean pop, in mean music that is in the pop form. You know, chorus, verse, that type of thing. But for sure, in the band, we are a conglomerate of influences. Even though we didn’t grow up with exactly the same thing, the bubbles go so close to each other that they mend in some ways and the music that comes out of that is so interesting. I think you can hear a lot of our influences in our music. I might not necessarily know. It could be influence coming from Zach the guitarist, you know? I might be like: “Oh, I don’t know that band.” But the influence is in the song and another part of the song, I influenced through a life experience or something. That’s the incredible part about music and collaborating. It’s just thousands and thousands of little pieces shoved into this one thing that works, somehow.
MR: As a band, you have a gift to create something that is really catchy. The way you construct the songs, you just want to sing along. It’s a natural instinct, because of the way they are built. Is that something you do on purpose or is it’s just the way things come about?
SS: It’s a good question. I think we want to make music that we like, and we want to sing along to, and that comes along with the territory. We want people to enjoy it as well. We are not necessarily a band that does art for art’s sake. We want to do it for us and other people. Our prerogative is always to give. You receive, and you give all the time. But we do think about it. I don’t know if we think about it so much as what other people want to hear, but more what we want to hear, what we really like and hope that it translates. Maybe it doesn’t sometimes. It is what it is. Sometimes there are singles and sometimes there are not. It doesn’t mean we don’t love all of it and we didn’t mean all of it.
MR: Sometimes, if you’re trying to be someone you are not, it comes across as not being genuine. I think the opposite is true for you guys. The songs you put out come across as genuine. I think one of the parts of your success is that you connect with people because you are being yourself.
SS: Yeah. I can’t complain about that because I agree. I think that’s all we try to do. The funny thing is…what we are told…because we can’t know, we can’t have an objective stance on what we are and what we look like, because we are who we are. It’s really hard to do that. But what we are told, is that it’s kind of refreshing to have a band that really doesn’t try to be anything, or look a certain way in photos, and really just tries to do what they are trying to do in the moment.
MR: I was thinking about the song “Coming Home”, which is an interesting song because it seems to be the unofficial song of Toronto. Maybe it’s even the official song of Toronto! (laughs) It’s a real tribute to your city. How did that come about? That kind of got you a lot of attention as well.
SS: Yes. Again, like you said, when I think about the processes…it took so long. It was so much of an adventure. It’s packed into this memory…trying to tell you in a sentence…it’s kind of like…whoa! Going through my memory like a quick movie.
We wrote the song first. You will even notice, in the video and in the song, we don’t really mention Toronto. It was originally supposed to be about what it feels like to feel at home, both in the physical place you live in, or if not, inside of yourself. Finding home in yourself. As we went along, I, at the time, felt really connected to Toronto, the people and the culture that we were living in at the time. Somehow it really connected with the song and it made sense and it just grew from there. We could have never expected what happened.
In a way, I don’t want to degrade our work. We worked really hard on it. We hoped it would do well. Hopefully get some shares…we didn’t see the virality coming like that. That was one of the most adrenaline rush feeling of our lives.
We were all sitting there in a Starbucks, working away, sending it to our friends. “Hey, can you share this?” It just kept going and going and going. We were like…whoa! What is happening? Three hours later, it’s at 50,000 and kept going up. You don’t know what to say. You are just living in the moment, screaming and freaking out that it’s happening. That people care about it and really like it.
MR: That’s great. You are going to be touring with The Royal Foundry, at least for a couple of their dates. Have you played with them before, or will this be the first time?
SS: No. We’ve only talked to them over Skype. They are really cool people. We like their music a lot. That’s why we are excited to go on tour with them. They are fun, high energy. I think they have a lot of the same interests and morals in music as we do, so I think it’s a really great match.
Music wise, we hope that people who like their music like ours, and vice-versa. I think it’s a good match. I’m really excited to meet them. Everything we’ve communicated with each other seems to be really positive and awesome.
MR: You are co-headlining, right?
SS: Yes, we are co-headlining.
MR: So, what is it? A fist fight? Who gets to play first? A coin toss? Rock paper scissors?
SS: You know what? We are so Canadian about this. It’s the opposite. “Do you want it?” In general, when we’ve done co-headlining before, it’s really polite and nice. It’s nothing like that. For the most part, people are really cool about it. “You take this night. We take this night.” Or “If you have a draw on this night, you take the slot.” I hope to never have to encounter that type of energy.
MR: It’s true. The good thing about being Canadian is being known for this politeness. At least we’ve got that going for us.
SS: Yeah, because we are there to make music and have a good time. That’s what’s most important. We want to make sure that’s translated and the people that came out and bought a ticket…that’s what matters more than anything.
MR: The only thing I don’t like about being in Canada…and I don’t know whose fault this is, or who I can blame…but whoever decided to separate us and the United States horizontally instead of vertically…I’m really mad at them.
SS: I’ve never even thought of that.
MR: At least give us Florida. Give us California…give us someplace hot! But no. “You guys keep the cold.” We are so polite. “Oh yeah, no problem. We’ll stay up in the North and freeze.”
SS: Yeah…you should run for President and Prime Minister. See what happens, make it happen for us. They’ve had it long enough, you know?
MR: I think that one thing about being Canadian too is when the cold comes…Toronto is very similar to Montreal…when the cold comes, everybody hibernates. We all retreat to our little hovels. There are shows, where you get to enjoy the warmth of the friendships at least. In summer, the city comes alive. Toronto, you have TIFF. You have all these festivals.
SS: The smiles come out. It’s funny. There was a heat wave here, just like a week ago. For some reason, all of a sudden, it was summer again. You could see everyone dropping off all the sadness of it’s going to be cold. That week-end was an explosion…smiles…and children laughing. This is so insane, how this affects everyone so much! I meet, sometimes, people that aren’t affected by it and I go: “Man, you are something else. You are so awesome and lucky.” Yeah, it’s not easy.
A couple of years ago, I remember making a decision. Look, I need to stop hibernating and I’m going to go out. For a couple of years, I did. I went out to shows in the winter. Because I feel bad…people play shows and you don’t go out and support, for whatever reason…because I am cold? Come on! So, I would go out and do all that and funny enough, last year, I was like: I did my part. Now I’m going to stay home. Someone else can champion it for a bit. You have to do both, you have to go out and support. If you want to be supported, you always have to support.
MR: What better way to support you guys than showing up at Petit Campus, November 8th, on a Thursday. That will be a fun night. You guys are already full of energy. I spoke to The Royal Foundry right before speaking to you and they seem like they will be high energy performers as well. It’s going to be quite the cool evening.
SS: I’m excited to hear that interview because it’s like the coin on the other side. But yeah, we are really excited about this new song “Let it Go” and what it represents for us. Like I said, Control Freak is the name of the EP and it says a lot about us. This song says a lot about us, in that we are control freaks and we have to learn to let it go. That’s the process we went through with this album.
MR: Do you find that when you are performing, you also have to let it go? Step out of your comfort zone and just be in the moment.
SS: Absolutely. It’s funny. Every show is so special and different. You feel so different, so it’s hard to compare one next to the other. Do you know what the funnest moments are sometimes? When things are not necessarily going right, and things start to go wrong. Whatever it is…digitally. So, you go: “Well…there is nothing I can do, so here we go!” But sometimes, those are the best performances. You go from needing everything to be on time, and sometimes it feels so good to let that feeling go. I don’t know what you’re going to get in Montreal. It’s hard to tell what the show is going to be like, so you will have to come out and see what happens. Your guess is as good as mine. We know the music will be the music, but in which way you will receive it will always be different.
MR: I think it humanizes you to see that not everyone is perfect. We don’t deal with perfect lives. On a day to day basis, we have to let it go.
SS: Absolutely. You have to re-learn that all the time. Like how many times in your life do you have to re-learn about…like “Man…I have to let this go.” You re-learn it every day, I feel. It’s a hard mantra to follow through and through.
MR: So, I’m just going to turn it around and instead of “let it go”, it’s let’s go! Let’s go to the Petit Campus, support you guys. We are going to have a fun time. If it’s anything like your videos, it’s going to be a huge party. Everyone is going to be smiling from ear to ear. Both bands are going to give out tremendous amounts of energy, that I think will push us right into the next summer. I think we will be good.