Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New Interview: We Discuss Sunflowers, Sunsets, and Sons of Bitches With Monzie Leo

You've all known the bearded scoundrel Monzie Leo as an integral part of the LFK scene for many years, whether he's bellowing some gothic-flavored country-blues at the bar or serving as the barker for the Foxy by Proxy gang.  But he's gone next level on your asses this time with a terrific new album called Sunflowers, Sunsets, and Sons of Bitches, full of lovely lilting harmonies from Melody Ayres and the rest of the Big Sky gang.  Released through Little Class Records, it's available in LFK at Love Garden, via Itunes and other online outlets, and--even better--at a big record release party at the Westport Saloon on Dec.6 opening up for the great Hooten Hallers.  Give Monzie Leo and Big Sky a "like" on Facebook here and enjoy this  interview in which we discuss music, drugs, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Monzie's provocative thoughts on Missouri!

Chip:  Between you and Tyler Gregory and Nicholas Saint James, it seems like there's a bearded singer-songwriter howling on every street corner in LFK these days.  Tell our readers what separates Monzie Leo from the rest of the beard-buddies?  What's distinctive about the Monzie Leo sound?

Monzie:  We have all certainly carved out a niche for ourselves.  Tyler, Nick, and I, we all appeal to different markets and are...in my mind...all brothers in this thing, sharing resources and being inspired by the same sorts of tunes. We all like Blaze Foley and Tom Waits and whatnot. There is definitely an interesting sense of community between the three of us. I would say the thing that makes Monzie Leo and the Big Sky distinctively different from both of them is that I was born and raised here in Lawrence and the harmonies we achieve in the big sky.

Richard:  I'm digging the super-cool overlapping male/female vocals on the song "Taco Pizza."  Who's singing with you on this record and who are some of your influences in terms of that sound? George and Tammy?

Monzie: Melodie Ayres is the one singing on all the songs on the record. Derek Long also sings and so does Brett Grady.  The gang vocals really come from a love of singing in general. The reason I wrote "Taco Pizza" was because I was in this relationship where most nights we were passing out after a night on the town and we'd always listen to "In Spite of Ourselves" by John Prine. We got in the funniest little argument about how she didn't like me singing this tune with anyone else (we wanted to cover it) and I said, "Fuck it, i'm tired of these dang ol' games." Wrote that song in about 10 minutes.

Chip: Oh shit, yeah, that Prine song is one of the funniest songs I know:  "She caught me once, and I was sniffin' her undies."  It all just rings so true, you know!  And speaking of truth, how much of your music is autobiographical in general? I'm thinking particularly of lines like "I was high on psilocybin, I was drunk and I was drivin'." 

Monzie: I don't quite sing classic country but i do write like a Waylon or a Kristofferson or a Roger Miller about the things that have been done to me and the harmless dumb shit I've done. We played a wedding a few summers ago, and I was one of the ones that had ingested the goods. We were gifted this heroic-sized bottle of Bulliet bourbon and made pretty short work of it. Went skinny dipping, and then I got in a car wreck. Drove right into a locust tree. (I went out and cut the fucker down and used it as a bumper on my truck  for a while, but i kept getting pulled over).  The next day i nearly had to walk back. And I realized I had walked it before when I was younger. After that all these stories kept coming back to me about the treacherous curved road north of town and all the dumb shit I'd done on it.  That's why the headlight is crooked on the cover of the album and also.....in real life. I can guarantee that there is a story about everything I've ever written about, a person, a quarrel, or even just a mighty fine piece of pizza.

Richard: This record employs a terrific reference to The Outlaw Josey Wales (at least I'm assuming that's where the "3 Kinds of Sun" in Kansas wordplay comes from?).  Is that a favorite film?  Is there a cinematic influence in your songwriting in general?

Monzie: I'm a Missouri sympathizer, as many of my family fought for the Missouri State Guard and I had a few fights for Kansas and some others for the North. I'm also a Civil War re-enactor and I have never worn grey.  My Yankee Bleeding Kansan great-great-great grandpa Lorenzo Burdick was torn apart by the war and hated his bushwacker brothers and they hated him.  I've been a border baby my whole life, going in to Missouri for my camping trips.  I am 5th generation Kansas on both sides, family came here as indentured servants, and I love that line in Josey Wales, just because in my mind everybody on both sides can be a bunch of damn babies. I mean, you like the Royals! Get over it, Kansas! Sore winners.

On the topic of films, I am greatly inspired by films that represent the underlying United States country culture, i.e. the habits that formed us . The other sample besides Wales is from a wise old crone in Cold Mountain.  It regards destiny and personal change and so does the song, as it is about a dream I had that guides me.

Chip:  So what's on the horizon for Monzie Leo and the Big Sky in terms of shows and future performances? And yes, my horizon/sky wordplay is deliberate!  

Monzie: We plan on making a leap of faith and shooting for 200 shows next year! So that's the plan. Our next album is a concept record about the fictional love child of Hugh Cameron (Lawrence founder and weirdo) and Carrie Nation (crazy lady). We plan to have it partnered with a comic book. Other than that, we are Tennessee-bound with our eye on Nashville!!


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