Q&A with Montonix lead singer Ami Shalev

Hailing from Tel Aviv, Israel, the three men who form Monotonix came together less than five years ago. Displeased with the music industry in their home country, Ami Shalev, Yonatan Gat and Haggai Fershtman began to tour throughout Europe and the U.S., seeking an audience better suited for their punk sound. From the years of 2006 to 2007, the band performed 300 shows around the world, quickly becoming one of the most entertaining bands to see live. The band’s performances consist of wild behavior as it typically sets its stage within the audience. Band members set their equipment (and occasionally themselves) on fire, throw garbage cans at their audience and spend a majority of their set on top of their fans, crowd surfing. In anticipation of their Nov. 1 show at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, The State Press spoke with lead singer Ami Shalev.

State Press: You guys are known as a “band of the people” because of the amount in which you engage the audience during your shows by addressing them and putting on some crazy antics()()  . While the audience may love it, the venues you have played at have not been so thrilled. Being banned from playing from clubs has been a regular occurrence for your band. You had an infamous 14-minute set at Bumbershoot Festival in 2008 (where you only played about four songs). How many places do you think you’ve been banned from at this point?

Ami Shalev: It’s hard to say, but when we stopped playing shows in Israel, it was 50-some shows we played [and found trouble with most], so I can say that 80 percent of the shows in Israel were stopped by the police or the venue owner. In the U.S., they stop us, like at Bumbershoot Festival, after four songs. In the U.K., they stop us after about four songs at the festivals we played there.

SP: Along with the stunts you do during the sets, Monotonix reveals pretty scandalous wardrobe choices, like Speedos or tiny robes. What brought you guys to ditch the T-shirts and jeans?

AS: We want to be as natural as we can. We want to be as direct as we can, and that has to do with the way we dress at the show. The more comfortable we feel, the more fun we have. We don’t need all the rest of it.

SP: Where did Monotonix come from? This is definitely not a common term.

AS: A friend of mine had a band called “Mono Addicted Acid Man.” One day, I asked him, “Do you have a good short name for this band?” And he thought about it and he goes, “Mono … Monotonix!” And I said, “Oh, Monotonix.” It’s very comfortable in your mouth when you say it. It doesn’t have any meaning on it, but it slides off the tongue.

SP: You guys originally began playing in Israel, where you are all from, but became tired of the music scene and brought your tours to Europe and America. Can you share what exactly was disappointing you with the music scene in your home country?

AS: The sound of our music is very punk rock. We use electric guitar and drums. That’s what we consider more of Western technology. I think the way that we are doing our music and the manner in which we perform is very bad. It’s not bad to have this sound as an American band. For this kind of band to perform in Israel, there is trouble. The scene is very small. It is not big enough to [attract the people we want]. If you want to attract a lot of people, you have to be mainstream. We are not mainstream. So when we started playing, we thought we would end in Europe or America.

SP: The Offset Festival was a recent show for the band and, for the most part, there was positive feedback. Clashmusic.com, however, was unforgiving in their opinion: “Monotonix are just your typical thrash, garage, Israeli cock rock outfit. Until you’re watching their set and suddenly they’re tumbling across your head like a writhing, feral animal. That’s their thing, you see. They perform in the audience. Isn’t that clever? Not really, Lightning Bolt did it first, and executed it with a lot more authenticity. Monotonix are essentially a very average, very loud standard issue guitar band whose crowd stunts generate little more than a few pitiful flails from unimaginative onlookers in ripped leather jackets. ‘Are we getting old?’”

How do you react when you get the negative notes?

AS: I don’t know. We’re trying to do our thing. We’re not in competition with any other bands that have come before us. We are trying to be as honest as we can and we respect everyone going into music. We don’t put ourselves into a genre, and we like to think that we come from an original thing. We have to do what our hearts tell us to.

SP: You guys will be playing a tiny venue, the Rhythm Room, when you come the Phoenix area soon. Typically, you guys showcase at festivals and wide arenas. What can we expect from you with this tiny playing space?

AS: We’re not going to say what we are going to do, but we like to play a lot of different sizes. We play a lot of festivals or big venues, but it’s a new experience [with everywhere you play]. I like playing both. It’s fun to have big and small shows. There’s nothing special that we do for one or the other. We flow with the wind.

SP: Back in January, in the middle of your show, you pulled a stunt and then announced to the audience that you think you “finally” broke your leg. The crowd reacted in shouts like “suck it up” and called you names and eventually demanded a refund for the show.  How did you feel as you were injured and the crowd almost mocked you?

AS: It’s okay. I think a lot of the people in the audience thought I was acting, so they joked about it. I [...] think that if somebody really thought I had injured myself, they would have reacted differently. It’s okay.

SP: And because of that accident you had to cancel a few shows for Monotonix so that your leg could rest. Now that you are back on tour, has there been a need to calm down on the stunts or the antics at all?

AS: Never calm down. We are doing the shows like we have done before. We never calm down. No. I went through a lot of physical therapy and took care of my knee, but now we are 100 percent ready to rock.

SP: There will be a new full-length album from you guys in 2011, but what is next for Monotonix?

AS: We are going to put out the new album in January. We are very excited about it. I think that it is going to be fun. We have just a fun tour ahead.

Reach the reporter at lkjorda1@asu.edu

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