“Soul to Sell” from the album Modern Day Monks
“To me, seeing a band with both piano and organ on stage at once was a breath of fresh air,” says local studio engineer Jordan Herschaft of Fusion Five, speaking of up-and-coming Charleston band Modern Day Monks. “There are tons of bands around here who are loud and obnoxious, which is awesome, but it’s nice to see band in town that’s really rockin’ out with three-part harmonies with that huge organ and heavy-ass piano.”
The newly established quartet — Jon Hager, Johnny Boyd, Nathan Gee, and Kellett Arnold — perform a two-set CD release show at the Windjammer this Fri. Oct. 12. Their debut self-titled album was recorded this spring and summer at the local Fusion Five Studio facility by Herschaft and fellow audio engineer Jeff Leonard — both of whom have recently established the new label Indie Records. Modern Day Monks is the official label debut as well.
“Modern Day Monks are the perfect band for us to start with,” says Herschaft. “Hearing them, I thought, ‘Well, you’re an analog band, and I have an analog studio — we should get together.’ They had Kellett playing all these songs to a metronome in practice already, so it was a no-brainer. They were totally ready to go. When I actually got to record with them, it was extremely easy.”
Both Hager (formerly of Leslie, Agynst, The Problems, Satori, and other local acts) and Boyd are quite adept on guitar, bass, drums, and various pianos and organs. They first came together as bandmates a year and a half ago, brainstorming on song ideas and sketches. Shortly after, they invited drummer friend Kellett Arnold (an academic percussionist and long-time drumline player) into the lineup. Next, they lured bassist Nathan Gee (ex-Satori) into the band. Within a few months, they arranged a full set of melodic, well-arranged, original pop-rock tunes.
“We initially wanted to record two songs at Fusion Five, but Jordan was very supportive and encouraged us to put in an entire session with an album’s worth of songs,” remembers lead singer Hager. “Jordan and Jeff were very generous with their time and support.”
They all took their time with the sessions this year. In May, Gee and Arnold laid most of the rhythm tracks down. Through the summer, Hager and Boyd added vocals, guitar, and keyboard tracks, taking a bit of production direction from Herschaft along the way. By late summer, the final mixes were in the can. They recently took them up to N.C. for mastering at The Kitchen with Brent Lambert.
Initially, the Monks performed under the name Fairview, mostly opening for friend’s bands at local clubs. They performed a great set at the CofC’s Battle of the Bands at the Music Farm last March and garnered a high score for their earthy, melodic, ’70s guitar/organ sound (City Paper’s first impression was a kind of Wings-meets-Badfinger-meets-Crazy Horse thing, with a dash of Billy Joel’s Glass Houses).
By summer, they’d changed the name to Modern Day Monks and started expanding their stylings from classic power-pop to a deep blend of vintage and contemporary American and British rock with Beatles, Neil Young, Wilco and U2 influences.
“As long as whatever people are doing is honest, it doesn’t matter the musical style,” says Boyd, who mostly handles Hammond B3 organ and rhythm guitar duties on stage. “Playing with different bands is never really a problem. People are generally pretty open to different things.”
Aside from their harmony-heavy rock and pop work, the Monks’ double use of organ and piano stands out among the local band scene as well.
“We knew that piano sounded great with a Hammond B3 behind it,” says Hager. “And we knew that a good rhythm guitar sounded great behind that. We wanted to concentrate on the arrangements, with introductions to parts and transitions, giving a little bit of guitar for beef here and there.”
Cohesive, emotive, and dynamic, the warmly-produced album resembles the work of a seasoned band.
“Johnny is a song perfectionist,” says Hager. “He waits until a song is ready, and then it all comes out. We’ve collaborated a lot. We can bounce ideas off each other easily, because we both know what’s going on.”
Less than a few months after their first Fusion Five sessions, the Modern Day Monks already have enough material for two more studio albums. Judging by the sounds of their strong debut and the anxious enthusiasm in their voices, it could be a great year for this young quartet.
“Jon and Johnny are just purely determined,” says their greatest admirer and supporter Herschaft. “They really want to play music, and the band really wants to work, and that’s exciting to me.”