Houston Calling

Fondue Monks CD Release Show–more interviews

November 6th, 2003 · No Comments

Fondue Monks have gained quite a reputation in Houston. Their live shows are known for their intensity and extended musical interludes. Propelled by bassist Rozz Zamorano’s high-energy style, blazing guitarwork from Steve Olson, incredible drumming from Ronnie Zamorano, and singer Denver Courtney’s great stage presence, the band’s shows have become something not to be missed.

The Monks have been playing in Houston and around the state for more than 10 years, keeping their day jobs but earning enough money and fans to make it all worthwhile for them. The last few years have seen the band branch out, playing around Louisiana and more gigs in Austin.

The Monks recorded a live CD last year and are finally hosting their CD release party this Friday night (November. 7th) at The Engine Room in Houston. It is sure to be quite the spectacle.

Please be sure to come out and show your support for this local act, and pick up their new live CD.

Rozz & Steve agreed to answer a few questions about the new CD for Houston Calling. Enjoy.

See you at the show!

Questions for Fondue Monks

HC: Why a live album?

Rozz: A lot of fans have always commented on the fact that they love the first two CD’s and dig the tunes but that our live show is the true testament of the band. The fans are always saying that the live show is the real deal. Basically we thought we would go ahead and give it to them plus we were approached by an engineer that we respected that wanted to record us live.

Steve: We’ve always wanted to capture the band live since we’ve always heard from the people that have seen us that that is one of the strengths of the band. Plus I think at the time, the concept of just doing all the recording at one time was very appealing to us as opposed to the other method of booking many sessions and doing it over the course of a couple months.

HC: It?s been a few years since the last full-length release by Fondue Monks (1998?s Baila Toca). Why the wait?

Steve: Had to let some time pass to make the yearning masses scream for it!(just joking). I think there were a lot of reasons for the wait. We spun our wheels for quite awhile dealing with some independent record labels that just didn’t work out for us. This caused quite a bit of delay, and then just the fact that we all have regular jobs and independent lives away from the band got in the way. The money issue is always there for us because this was another independent release so we’ve had to finance the entire project ourselves. And to top everything off, we have been playing and traveling almost every weekend for over two years now trying to get the music out there, so it’s really just been a case of we’re all incredibly busy and unlike what I said above, nobody was really screaming for a new Fondue Monks CD so we just did it as we could make time around all our other responsibilities.

HC: Where was this album recorded? When?

Rozz: This recording was made in 2002 during the Lucky Strikes battle of the bands the night at Fitzgerald’s. We wanted to take the recording from the House of Blues in New Orleans as well but there were some legal issues so the recording you hear is mainly from Fitzgerald’s.

HC: The Monks have been playing a lot of gigs out of town over the past couple of years (Austin, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, etc.). How has the band been received outside the Houston area?

Rozz: The main reason the band is probably still together is because the out-of-town gigs have been sustaining the band with money, fans, and sheer fun and rock-and-roll. The band seems to be getting better and better recognition out of town.

Steve: Actually quite well. That’s one of the reasons we keep doing it. I don’t know if it’s just the “local band” vs “road band” thing or what, but we get a much better response and following when we play outside of Houston than we do here. I think we’ve been playing in Houston so long that most people have developed an opinion about us whether they’ve seen us or not. It can be a curse for a band.

We get a lot of people that assume we have a great following because we’ve been playing in Houston for so long and they’ve seen our name around for years. But many people also see an ad that we’re playing and just assume that we’ll always be here so they don’t come out figuring they’ll just catch us sometime in the future. We get people all the time that come to a gig and say, “Wow. You guys are the Fondue Monks? I’ve been wanting to see you for years but just never got out. You guys are great!” What can ya do? You can’t go around and drag people out of there homes to come see a show? Well, on second thought, now that we have a Dept. of Homeland Security, maybe there’s some way we would work it in.

HC: What’s your take on the Houston music scene?

Steve: Hmmm…that’s a really loaded question. Houston is what it is–basically the world’s biggest suburb/trailer park. Most people in this town are all about being soccer moms/dads. Their lives revolve around going to work and then getting back to the homefront for dinner and the tube. There’s a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar, from movies, to professional sports teams, to plays, to the symphony, and on and on. The city is totally spread out and what little districts that do try to develop something in the way of a club scene are usually overrun with petty turf wars and squabbles among the people that are trying to keep their little piece of the pie.

It’s not just the music scene, this attitude permeates this entire city all the way to the top. I’m answering this on election day so it kind of hits home right now. I still can’t decide if I’m for or against the light rail issue. You’ve got one side that wants the light rail because of the “insiders” that will benefit from it, and the other side is the developers that want to see the city continuing to spread out…so that they can make a killing developing more suburbs farther and farther out. Meanwhile, our freeways are more and more congested and nothing gets done.

Pretty much the same as our music scene. You get people every few years that get real excited about it and what has to happen to make it change. Everybody starts to get on board the idea, then the bickering starts, and the protectionism starts and pretty soon there’s “for rent” signs on the clubs again. I’m sorry for not presenting a more positive outlook on the situation, but I’ve lived and traveled in cities all over the country and Houston is as bad as I’ve seen it. We don’t want zoning because, “ain’t nobody gonna tell me what I can do with my land,” yet this is exactly what causes the urban sprawl and the overloaded freeways. We want to establish a music scene, but, “you ain’t sportin’ the right look to play in my club.” So they polarize the bands and the fans. I guess I’m just getting old enough that I’m sick of it. If we aren’t cool enough for whatever is the prevailing attitude of the day, fine, I’ll just go some place else and do my thing. Life’s too short to fight everybody’s attitudes and preconceived ideas. We get great responses when we play in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, all across Louisana really, and in many other cities in Texas. Just here in Houston, I don’t know–we just don’t play the game, I guess, so we’re outside of the “loop” for much of whatever scene is here. Yet we’re playing all the time because we don’t believe in that attitude that everything outside the loop (meaning the 610 loop) sucks. Hey, some of our best shows have been outside the loop. People just need to wake up and they’ll find there’s a whole world out there “outside the loop.” I never could quite understand why people limit themselves so much with that attitude.

HC: I heard there?s a 20+ minute version of “Testimony” on the new live CD?that?s bound to be amazing. How did you choose which of your songs to put on the CD and which got cut. I assume slower ones–like a favorite of mine, “Tonight”–are not on the CD. Any new songs on the live CD for the fans to look forward to?

Rozz: I believe there are four or five new songs that we have never recorded or released on this new album, like “Freedom Comes,” “It?s All Good,” “Falling Down,” “Portrait of a Man,” and lots of extended jams!

Steve: Yeah, actually we have three or four new tunes that have never been released before. As far as what was included or not. Really everything we played that night is on the CD (except for a cover of “Fire” that we left off just because of copyright issues). We just planned the night like a regular live show and recorded it. We went back later and listened to it and just decided that everything was a go, warts and all. That was another good thing about putting out a live CD–we didn’t have a lot of decisions and overdubs and arguments between us about it. We just recorded it, mixed it, and put it out to the world, good or bad.

HC: What process do you take in your songwriting?

Rozz: We have difficulty in writing songs mainly because we do not practice much anymore. We are always playing so there have been some cool things that we have been jamming before a show or noodling with that we start to work through when we are out on the road or sound checking.

Steve: That’s been a struggle for us in the past few years. Also another reason for it taking so long to put out the CD. We always write together, so with all our traveling it’s been really hard to get in any kind of a consistant pattern of getting together to write. Hopefully after the CD release parties kind of wind down and I get over some of the personal projects that I have going, we’ll be able to concentrate more and get some new tunes ready to go.

HC: You guys are playing several CD releases across the city. What?s in store for fan at these gigs?

Steve: Well, just two here in Houston. We did one at Al’s Sports Bar II about a week ago that went really well. We did it there because Al (the owner) has been one of our best supporters throughout the years. He was one of the first club owners to hire us on a monthly basis when we first started out and to this day we still love playing his clubs. With Houston being so spread out, we’ve found that people won’t travel too much in this town to see bands, so we did one party at Al’s on the West side, and then we’re doing one this weekend at The Engine Room for the fans that are more centrally located. Not that we wouldn’t like to see people come to both or either or.

At the Engine Room gig we are going to have a special guest comedian named Rob Mungle that’s getting some national exposure and interest to kind of break things up a bit and fill out the evening. We thought we’d do a couple long sets and then for a change of pace we’d have Rob come up and do some bits between sets. I think the “4 bands a night”-type shows are a bit played out anymore, so we thought that we’d try to plan an evening of entertainment that was something different for a change.

HC: What?s next for Fondue Monks?

Rozz: The next thing I would personally like is to get another studio album out ASAP so we can keep the good vibes going. We will see what happens. I know we will be playing a lot of shows in the new year.

Steve: Well we’re still traveling alot and plan to do that up through the end of the year. Hopefully we’ll have some time then to begin writing some more songs and start planning a studio CD of new songs. Hopefully we’ll get tabbed to be involved with some of the Super Bowl festivities and the Galveston Mardi Gras again, then just keep trying to increase our sphere of influence a little further each time we get out on the road.

HC: Lastly, what are you guys listening to? Any CDs to recommend?

Rozz: I am really into to the new Richard Bona–this guy is the new Sting that can play like Jaco with a whole lot of world beat to him. Just saw him live in New York City?smoking!

Steve: Well for me personally, about all I listen to anymore is jazz. Maybe some “World” music. Some Celtic stuff. Some folk stuff, and a little classical when the mood’s right. Not much in the Rock catagory interests me much anymore. Everything I’ve heard…sounds the same–I can barely tell one band from the next anymore. They all start out with the plaintive male singer with the accoustic guitar, then kick in the overdistorted dual rectifier sound for the chorus and fade to the next song that’s just the same. I picked up the new Diana Krall CD, Live in Paris, I think it’s called, and just think it’s fantastic. Nothing too earthshattering, but just good solid playing and singing on some of the best songs from the Great American Songbook. It’s one of those CDs that you can listen to at anytime of the day, at home or in the car. It’s just great music, period.

I’ve been delving in to a lot of Grant Green lately, Kenny Burrell, some Miles Davis, of course, and have a CD by Emily Remlier that I think is fantastic and listen to a lot. The only new rock CD that I’ve really gotten into is the new Blue October CD, History for Sale. I’ve been following those guys for the past 7 or 8 years and still think they’re the best rock band to come out of Houston since ZZ Top. I’m a big fan, go to the shows, the whole bit. They just have a fully-realized concept for what they want to do, and Justin is a great lyricist and writer. I’m hoping for the best for those guys, and from what I can tell, it’s happening for them. All I can do it tip my hat and say, “Right On!”

Thanks to Rozz and Steve for taking the time to respond to my questions.

More information about Fondue Monks is available at fonduemonks.com, or at their fan club site. Other information, including photos from older shows and lyrics, can be found here. Visit Zam Records for Rozz’s solo bass work.

Other notable shows this week include:

Thursday, 11.6.03
Cursive/The Jealous Sound/Still Life @ Numbers
First Thursday Concert/House Party Series, featuring Chickenhawk & The Skullening @ Sound Exchange
The Paladins/Beetle @ The Continental Club
Bruce Cockburn @ Verizon Wireless Theater
UK Subs/Toxic Narcotic/Complete Control/The Visitors/The Hates @ Fitzgerald’s
Drop Trio @ The Twelve Spot (218 Travis)
Superna @ The Engine Room

There are other shows on Friday night, but you’ll be at the Monks’ CD release party. But, if you’re not a Monks fan, check out one of these shows:

The Strokes & Kings of Leon play the Verizon Wireless Theater

Drop Trio play at Benton’s Bistro (8000 Research Forest Dr. & Kuykendahl in The Woodlands)

Saturday, 11.8.03
Moses Guest @ The Continental Club
Drop Trio @ Benton’s Bistro

Sunday, 11.9.03
Death Cab for Cutie with Nada Surf @ Numbers

This is bound to be a GREAT show. DCFC’s new album, Transatlanticism, is simply incredible.

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Tags: Music