Silent Monolith Interview: “It’s a free for all. We just jam.”

silent monolith interview

Debut EP Another Way to Fly is out now.

You know some days you just want to sit back with a cold brew, put on some football, and eat a pizza. In our experience, stoner rock is the most essential of genres for this endeavour. The next time you wish to embark on such glorious activities, we would recommend Silent Monolith, a stoner rock outfit out of Nashville, to soundtrack the evening. Combining a classic rock and country tinged flair to thick as molasses guitar riffs, thunderous drums, and vocals equal parts John Garcia and Scott Hill, the trio are an accomplished and thoroughly enjoyable proposition.

We had a chin wag with the group recently about their band philosophy, their songwriting process, and their plans to expand their sound.

Overblown: Your motto is “no egos, just riffs.” Why is that important to you?

(Kenneth Johnson, Singer/Guitarist): It’s important because no one likes an asshole! We believe that the music should speak for itself. If your music is good you don’t need an image, gimmick, or obnoxious attitudes to get noticed, you just need the music. Not sure how the local music scene is like anywhere else, but I know here in Nashville we have our share of the “local rock stars.”

I’m sure you know the type I’m referring to. These guys who have WAY too much attitude yet their band and/or songs are not very good at all. Yet, they’re constantly boasting about how “great” they are. I’ve always believed that if you have to constantly talk about yourself, that just means that no one else is talking about you.

It’s funny, I’ve met a few of the bigger bands in our genre, like the guys in Crowbar, Weedeater, and Wo Fat just to name a few, and every one of those guys were as cool as ice water! They were all gracious, down to earth, nice, personable, and very humble. I can only hope that when people talk about us, if people are ever talking about us, that they can describe meeting us that way. The “local rock stars” could definitely take a few notes from those guys.

(Nate Davenport, Bass Guitar): Personally I’ve gotten to meet some of my biggest influences as a musician. Every one of them were extremely gracious people. Victor Wooten, Rocco Prestia, Doug Wimbish, Chuck Rainey, Bobby Vega, etc. All great guys and more than happy to answer any questions.

I’ve heard stories of Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Iommi, and the like being great to people. All the bands like the guys in Weedeater, Wo Fat, and The Sword have been great guys to be around. No egos just riffs is our continuation of that mindset.

We want people to feel like they’re appreciated because they certainly are. I want people to feel welcome to come up to me and talk music. I love it. I’m personally a pretty social guy when we play shows. I love the interaction. If we get to the point that we’re playing in front of large crowds it’ll be tough for me because I would want to talk to everyone that wants to talk to me. But no egos come from the fact, for me personally, that I can always get better. No one wants to be around someone high on themselves. Confidence and egotistical are two totally different things.

O: How did the band get together?

(KJ): I met Nate (bass guitarist) back in 2011 and we instantly hit it off both as musicians and as friends. We both had Craigslist ads up looking to put together the same type of project. We share a love of Black Sabbath, Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Clutch, and Corrosion of Conformity, just to name a few. The band pretty much just grew from there.

I knew from the very first jam with Nate that we had something special. Fast forward a few years and we (Nate and I) had that same feeling the first time we jammed with our Harold (drummer). We instantly knew he was our guy! It’s such a great feeling getting in a room and jamming with those guys. I have absolutely no problem admitting than I am the least talented person in this band… and that is really, really cool!

(ND): I actually was looking to put something like this band together for years. I was playing all kinds of different music before this. I went from playing in a hip hop band to a jam band to playing country. I always had it in the back of my mind but no one was interested in this kind of music. So it kept getting put off to the side. I put an ad out on Craigslist and KJ had one himself. We went back and forth between emails. Jammed a few times and we’ve been playing together since.

O: What is your songwriting process?

(KJ): The vast majority of our songs come from just us jamming at practice. I do write riffs and ideas at home, but we definitely don’t come into a practice with complete songs. We usually spend about the first hour of practice just jamming. No direction really, just riff after riff after riff… (laughs).

The only problem we have is that we forget to hit record on our phones or digital recorder most of the time so we can never remember most of our jams. I have no doubt that we have forgotten way more songs than we’ve written. They were probably better songs than the ones we actually remember and/or have recorded! Our song catalog is basically like the Tenacious D song “Tribute” in that all of our songs that we write and record are just tributes to much, much better songs that we’ve forgotten… (laughs).

(ND): Honestly it’s a free for all. We just jam. At this point KJ and I have been playing together for so long we know how each other play without even thinking about it. Harold has been a breath of fresh air for me. He’s the perfect drummer for me to lock in with. His style flows real easy between KJ’s more heavy rock and metal influences to my more funk and r&b feel.

The new stuff has been fun because I feel like I’ve grown so much as a player compared to me at the time of recording. I’m thrilled I get to play music with very talented musicians. Personally I’m just trying to be stoner rock’s John Paul Jones but I got a long, long, long way to go (laughs).

O: On your EP, you have an acoustic version of ‘Feel Like I’m Dying’. Do you think that you might write more subdued music like that in the future or was it a once off?

(KJ): We will absolutely have more subdued music in the future! We’ve actually written a couple new acoustic songs that we just haven’t recorded yet. We’ve even got acoustic arrangements of a couple more songs off of the “Another Way to Fly” EP that may see the light of day one day.

(ND): I would love to do more acoustic stuff. There’s something extremely menacing about the sound of an acoustic. You put an acoustic guitar in the right person’s hands and it’ll be the heaviest music you’ve ever heard. Like there’s this heaviness about those early delta blues recordings. And the stories involved with those guys like Robert Johnson and the crossroads. The stories you tell in the music can make a song brutally heavy.

A song that really sticks out is Johnny Cash’s ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’. Even if it was just the acoustic guitar and vocals it’s one of the heaviest, most menacing songs I’ve ever heard. Alice In Chains unplugged feels just as heavy as the electric versions. One of my favorite guitar players Eric Sardinas uses an old dobro with a pickup in it. But it helps being one of the best slide players out there.

O: When you play live, do you play the songs as they are on the record or do you expand and explore the structures?

(KJ): Between our first drummer and until Harold joined, we went through a number of drummers. With each drummer there was a process of jamming the recorded EP so that they could get up to speed. So we kind of got into the habit of playing the songs as they were recorded. However, it was more out of necessity rather than wanting to. Nate and I are extremely tired of playing these same five songs the same way we’ve been playing them for a couple of years now, but the reasons for having to do so has been beyond our control.

But you know you’ve been playing the same songs too much when you have folks outside of the band pointing out when you screw up… (laughs). I will say that the acoustic version of “Feel Like I’m Dying” was kind of born out of my creative desire to just create music that was different than what we were used to playing. Any chance to either create music or expand what you have created is the absolutely best way to grow as a musician/songwriter.

(ND): Personally I do. I like to try things. It’s fun seeing if a fill would work in the music. Plus it’s interesting to see if people catch it. I want to be like John Paul Jones and Robert Deleo. Their bass lines are so complex but tasteful and extremely understated. Plus both of those guys pay homage to the master James Jamerson. Hopefully one day I’ll be half as good as they are.

O: Finally, who is best? Sabbath, Clutch, or Kyuss?

(KJ): Dude! That is like asking a fat guy to choose between a steak dinner or a kick ass Vegas buffet?! It’s an impossible choice! Trust me, cause I am that fat guy! It’s what I do, I eat and I know things. Haha! I will say that Black Sabbath is my personal all time favorite band. So I’d have to go with Sabbath. I think the guys in Clutch and Kyuss would probably agree with me. BUT, I absolutely LOVE both Kyuss and Clutch! If it weren’t any of those three bands, Silent Monolith would not exist. That is a fact!

(ND): Damn that’s a tough but easy at the same time. Sabbath are the original. They’re still heavier than half the bands out there. Tony Iommi is the riff master. Sabbath created a whole genre of music. I personally love Kyuss. Their early stuff had a lot more punk influence but Welcome To Sky Valley is a masterpiece. I love the thickness of their sound. Plus they had a touch of funk influence in there too.

Clutch is one of the best bands going. It’s a touch of Sabbath, Zeppelin, early Corrosion Of Conformity, and funk/go-go rolled into one band. JP Gaster is one of my favorite drummers. The grooves they come up with are just so funky. Like A Quick Death In Texas you can definitely hear that Zeppelin blues rock riff over that signature go-go beat. I love it. Clutch is the band I tell people to start with if they’re interested in listening to more stoner rock type stuff. Blast Tyrant is easily one of the best rock albums since it came out. Just fun to listen to and even better to see live.

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