Interview by Barry Egan
Dublin duo Monster Monster don’t feck about, frankly. They owned Independent.ie’s Windmill Lane Sessions with that cover, that level of primal power emanating from Riona Sally Hartman’s voice.
“We’re always trying to get some kind of sweet and sour balance in our music,” Riona says once she puts down the microphone. “We want every love song to have a bit of bite — like where you’re not sure if the song is about a lover or a stalker, and that’s what this EP is all about: that ugly/beauty balance,” she says, referring to Monster Monster’s four-track new release The City’s Ours.
“The songs are about thinking you're invincible and how that can be both freeing and also really dangerous. Sonically we’re trying to get that balance too. We want it to sound uplifting and there’s some lowly progressions in there but also some big fat grungy guitar sounds and a goddamn siren. Ultimately people want a good time, escapism and fantasy — and we want to give it to them.”
Then the other half of Monster Monster, Mick Stuart, chips in. “Our aim was to produce killer alternative, head-bopping pop tunes,” he says. “Our reference was Sade meets Massive Attack. While this concept sounded cool, it proved much more difficult to actually achieve the sound we wanted. For a long time, our taste exceeded our results. We just kept writing and pushed ourselves more in the studio. Our mantra was go big or go home.”
Assassin, one of the tracks on the debut EP, Mick explains, came about when he attempted to co-write a screenplay with his brother “for a black comedy based on a woman who discovers she was, in fact, the other, other woman. In a drunken, jealous rage, she accidentally orders a hit on her ex-lover before subsequently falling in love with the hitman whose identity is unbeknownst to her.”
Another Monster Monster song You’re My Fix deals with subject of desire. “The song began unexpectedly when watching Dublin commuters queue at a bus stop. Watching a stranger doing the most ordinary thing like waiting for their bus home and wondering what she might be thinking.”
Our reference was Sade meets Massive Attack
And what was she thinking?
“I decided she was thinking of her lover, imagined or not. Also, it turns out she’s a sex addict.”
Sex addiction notwithstanding, Mick and Riona met in 2011 in The Stag’s Head in Dublin. “Mick was telling me about how he is a stand-alone songwriter,” recalls Riona, “and how he was looking for a singer. I said: ‘I’m a singer and I write songs and I’ll give your songs a go.’ He said: ‘No, no. Singer-songwriters never give the full welly to other people’s songs.’”
“She really gives things a go,” says a happy Mick all these years later, “and she puts herself into it and she also argues if she is not happy with a lyric. You’re good at pulling me back in.”
So if Riona didn’t pull you back in would all Monster songs sound like Lana Del Rey? And if he didn’t pull you back in would all the songs would sound like Radiohead?
“No,” laughs Riona, “I think if I didn’t pull Mick back in we’d have a lot of different songs in every genre under the sun. Whereas every now and then I have to remind him we are in this band called Monster Monster and this is our sound. We’re trying to go for that big sound like in Florence + The Machine or Massive Attack, where they have that big epic sonic going on. Also, we’re big on song-writing.”
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