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CHBP feature: The Absolute Monarchs


Almost exactly two years ago, Seattle rockers The Absolute Monarchs played their very first show. It was in the Cha Cha Lounge. Usually a hipster bar, it hosted a bill of bands all day each day while the Capitol Hill Block Party was adjacent and just outside its doors.

Since that show The Absolute Monarchs have been one of the most critically-acclaimed and buzzed-about bands amongst rock fans in the Emerald City. That show earned them mentions on Spin’s website and Nik Christofferson of the blog wrote, “Hailing from right in our back yard, they flat out rocked hard.” Spin also called The Absolute Monarchs a “Northwest Band You Need to Know” and wrote earlier this week, “The Seattle quartet unleash a torrential thunderfuck that crashes math rock’s meticulous timing and breakneck changes against sleazy, pheromone-fueled bluster. Angry, self-deprecating, and fearless, these guys tear the scab off a wound first inflicted on Seattle by the Murder City Devils back in the mid-’00s.” Though The Murder City Devils released all of their recorded output between 1997 and 2001, the point is well-taken.

The band is a great Northwest rock band. It employs distinct chord progressions and fantastic guitar interplay between guitarists Shawn Kock and Miki Sodos and drummer Mike Stubz is a powerful, hard-hitting drummer whose explosive drum parts are often the first thing you’ll notice when listening to the band, whose output so far includes a demo EP and follow-up EP. Singer Joel Schneider moonlights as the frontman in another popular Seattle blues-influenced rock band, My Goodness, who were recently signed to Sarathan Records and have been getting a lot of attention on their own.

The attention The Absolute Monarchs have gotten, almost universal acclaim from local critics – and very well deserved, seems to come as a surprise most to members of The Absolute Monarchs. I met with three members of the group for an interview earlier this week at the Cha Cha, where it sort of began two years prior. Guitarists Kock and Sodos and drummer Stubz were all equally humble and funny but also very proud of their band.

Shawn Kock said, “I was in (the band) Das Llamas for a long time. I don’t know, we went at it for a really long time and no one seemed to care. I’ve been playing music in Seattle for about twelve years and no one really took notice of anything that I had done.” Miki Sodos said, “I love that my first go-round is in a band that actually got good shows and six months in, I’m on stage at the Showbox. I can play that guitar but a lot of people have been playing longer and never got that opportunity.”

Stubz noted that, “It seemed like when we started we were just going to have fun. We were going to get together and write some songs and play some shows. It was like ‘alright, we can probably get our friends in to a first couple of shows but then that’s it.’ But then when we played our first show, everything kind of just happened.” What happened, he said, was that, “People started writing about [our shows] and we kept getting better shows. The less we did, the more things happened for us. It’s not like things are happening at this crazy pace and we can’t keep up. I’ve never been in a band where we take it so serious, where we practice and want them to go over well, but the less we do, the more things seem to happen.”

Kock joked, “You’re not going to meet four less motivated people.”

That’s not true, of course, and Kock and Stubz work very hard on writing songs for the band. Sodos is a co-owner of the Bang Bang Café, a popular Belltown restaurant and coffee shop. Singer Joel Schneider sings in two popular, up-and-coming bands (both My Goodness and The Absolute Monarchs both made the aforementioned Spin’s list of “Six Northwest Bands You Need to Hear Now” list and City Arts magazine’s ten best new bands of 2010 poll).

One of the things that’s happened for the band, as a result of the friendship with Nik Christofferson that blossomed from his catching the first Absolute Monarchs show at the Cha Cha in 2009, is being the first signing of his brand new Good to Die Records, which will also release the debut EP of Seatle rock band Sandrider before 2011 is over. The Absolute Monarchs hope to release its proper debut LP some time in 2012. Stubz told me, “We believe in him and the label. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

What makes the band great, according to Stubz is that:

This is without a doubt, the best band I’ve ever been in. At some point, there used to be a lot of work, as far as getting together in practicing. My style is different from his but somehow we come together. It’s the best band I play in. I’m in another band that I play guitar but it doesn’t compare to this one. This one has all of the parts. I’ve played in other bands and they’ve all had parts missing, like I like the guys but don’t like the music or I’d rather play in this band than not do anything at all. This band isn’t like that. It is aggressive enough so where I feel like I get that, plus it’s got enough melody and hooks and interesting guitars to keep me interested in that regard, and for the first time in my whole life, I’m in a band with a great singer, or a singer that I like. If there’s something that’s not there, he can bring it out of himself to get there. That’s what I love about this. It’s the most complete band I’ve been a part of. We’re not a punk band, but it’s got enough to make me feel like that gets satisfied. We’re not a heavy band, but we play shows with Red Fang and Helms Alee and people think we’re a heavy band, but I’ve never thought that. It rocks enough that it satisfies me that way and it’s got a singer I’m not embarrassed by. He can handle himself with a microphone.

That sentiment fills the place for a lot of Northwest rock fans, and will only continue as more people continue to discover this band. The music the band makes, dynamic, unpretentious rock and roll, will always have people clamoring for it. The success so far has been propelled by audiences discovering the band and becoming eager for each subsequent show, which is why Mike Stubz said that “the less we do, the more things happen”. The band members say they like playing in smaller clubs like the Cha Cha, the Funhouse and the Comet Tavern, but it won’t be much longer before they’re playing on bigger stages.

{The Absolute Monarchs play Capitol Hill Block Party on Friday, July 22 at the Cha Cha stage at 9:45pm. Tickets available here.}

{Photo by Robin Dupuy.}


Chris Burlingame is the editor of Another Rainy Saturday.