Local funk-rockers Fondue Monks are veterans of the Houston music scene, performing around the area for almost 20 years. With a trio of albums under its belt, and a handful of Houston Press Music Awards nominations, the band–singer Denver Courtney, guitarist Steve Olson, drummer Ronnie Zamorano, and bassist Rozz Zamorano–are among the few bands in Houston that still retain a devoted audience while drawing new fans with each new performance. The band has played practically everywhere–from your neighborhood sports bar to the House Of Blues (in both New Orleans and Houston).
In preparation for the band’s show this Saturday (5.15.10) at Last Concert Cafe with Patrice Pike/Sister 7, Houston Calling recently asked bassist Rozz Zamorano a few questions about the band’s legacy and its plans for the future.
Houston Calling: It’s been more than 10 years since the last proper Fondue Monks album. I know various members have side projects — any plans for a new Monks album?
Rozz Zamorano: After signing the record deal with Sixtone we had a pretty bad taste in our mouth about the whole recording industry, and with digital downloading developing — where is the money going to come from? We were under contract for two more years so we waited and then put out the live album, which has been our best-seller as compared to the first studio album.
We had several new tunes written for the album that was supposed to be released on Sixtone but canned it due to several disagreements with the label and our management. We just got busy playing after that with the Lucky Strikes contest and then the Shiner Bock contest, which we earned a lot of cash and recognition, and since then have not been able to get together and really record any of the new stuff. I guess we are all still waiting for someone to come up and make it worth the time we have put in; however, I do see another studio album coming in the near future and I personally have more than three albums of material to show the guys when they are willing to get serious about recording again.
We just recently put a live bootleg from Austin that was recorded by a fan back in 2001 at Momo’s. Fans have already purchased several and I have gotten some real good responses from it. So we’ll see if the next CD is coming shortly.
HC: How did the gig with Patrice Pike and Sister 7 come about?
Rozz: About 10 years ago we played a gig with Sister 7 in San Antonio, and it totally rocked. I had spoken to Daryl, the bass player from Sister 7, that we needed to gig together some more and after that nothing really developed. I think Sister 7 broke up after that and Patrice started her own thing. Denver had recently spoken with Patrice in Houston at the Mucky Duck and she was up for doing some gigs, so here we are.
HC: Having been in a band in Houston and touring the “gumbo circuit” since the early 90s, you are in the enviable position of being able to get regular gigs all over the city and region. What advice do you have for bands just starting out?
Rozz: Be versatile, be flexible, and most importantly be yourself. Every time a band shows to a gig that they have never played before, or the crowd is different than the norm, the band starts to think, “Well, maybe we should play a cover of this or that cause the crowd looks like they would dig that.” Remember why you were hired or even given the gig, It was probably because someone heard you or you were recommended, so play what you play because that is why you are there. Eventually you will start to know how each gig is done whether its a private party or a club gig or an awards ceremony or a festival. They are all different and none of them have ever started on time so be flexible. Word of mouth will get you the majority of gigs.
HC: Similarly, what do you think of the city’s music scene now as opposed to when you started out?
Rozz: I think we have the greatest music scene in the country. Since the Monks started in March of 1991, I have seen the scene explode with new venues, lots of new bands, practice facilities, the only county in the United States that has three Guitar Center locations. That should tell you something…
We have several clubs around town that cater to live music, several mid-sized venues, and several larger venues. Just from my past calendars, the Monks have been able to work on average about four to five gigs per month for the last 15 years. Some months, no gigs and some months as many as 10, depending on the demand for our show. I have personally seen the city grow and with that there’s more music to be heard and performed from various artists looking to express themselves.
HC: Fondue Monks, along with you as a bassist, has been nominated for several Houston Press Music Awards over the years. Is is important to you to get recognized for the music you create?
Rozz: The Houston Press Music Awards are great. It is always great to be mentioned, but I wish they would give us a decent venue to play at. I am always excited when the band gets nominated because we get people coming up to us every year [saying] “Man, we didn’t know ya’ll are from Houston.” Everyone always thinks we are from somewhere else until they see us at the Houston Press Music Awards.
It is always a surprise to see who they put in our category. I mean, one year we were up against Destiny’s Child and the next year we were up against a band that was not even playing together anymore. I do love the big crowds and it seems that the awards gives us an opportunity to play to more people each time… For the record I have only one win, which was in 2002. I am pretty happy with the success of the band but I still want a Porsche and to be dating Scarlett Johansson, so we still have some work to do.
HC: How has digital technology changed the way the band writes and records music?
Rozz: Pro Tools has changed everything. We can record one day, save it to a hard drive, come back another day and add some more, e-mail it off to an engineer in New York, have him mix some stuff, and send it back. I can write a song, print it to CD with no vocals, and Denver can sing to it in the car. The ability to get several takes at recording the track has become cheaper since you do not have to get it right on the first take or just live with it. The problem is that you can now take someone that sucks real bad and make them sound like a superstar. Ever seen a show where the band just did not live up to the recording or the singer just could not get on pitch? Welcome to the digital world. Remember always that digital music will always be a sample of the original element of man-made sound. Therefore, the live performance is and will always be the true medium or art form. Digital music is just a sample…
HC: What are five of your favorite “desert island” albums — the ones you can’t live without?
Rozz: Freddie King’s Greatest Hits, Sting — Ten Summoner’s Tales, Van Halen — Fair Warning, Billy Joel — 52nd Street, The Police — Regatta de Blanc