It was the need to present an acoustic side of Eli and Mary Chartkoff’s music that caused the Cobra Lilies to form. And the band from which they came, the Monolators, embodies much of that same, fun loving spirit – with louder, faster, noisier electric guitars. This true-to-life garage band impressed me with a thread that continued through our most recent meeting, one that is common to every long-lasting and worthwhile rock n’ roll band in existence. It’s a thread we call persistence.
It was last May at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco when I first met the Monolators, who were touring the west coast with the Parson Red Heads. Bassist Ashley Jex was hobbling along due to an ankle injury, and keyboardist Jillinda Palmer had one of her hands all bandaged up following a cooking accident. But the show went on anyway, and they kept up with lead guitarist Ray Gurrola, drummer Mary Chartkoff and lead singer/guitarist Eli Chartkoff with little difficulty (that we could see from the audience, anyway).
When it came time to film the Monolators for Parlour to Parlour in September, the main obstacle the band was plowing through this time was sheer exhaustion – Eli and Mary were doing double duty with the Cobra Lilies for a series of live appearances running throughout a long weekend.
The night before our interview for this episode, the Monolators had played a particularly high energy set at the American Legion Hall in L.A.’s Highland Park, mere hours after the Cobra Lilies had finished a live on-air performance at Loyola Marymount University’s KXLU. Eli would characterize this performance as low energy, but about the only evidence that smacked of “low energy” came at the end of the set, when Eli had been singing down in the audience. He jumped back up onto the stage and fell onto his back, finishing on the ground as Ray pummeled his guitar directly above him. The lighting in the room was dark, but you can still see Eli make his last gasp pretty clearly in the footage included in the Episode 21 interview video.
The fun that Eli and Mary weave through their lives (two bands? raising their rock n’ roll son Ivan? playing in the garage? dancing? who needs drugs?) seeps into angsty songs like “Ruby I’m Changing My Number” and, um, “Anxiety,” basically ensuring that they’re always more fun than whatever the lyrics may be conveying. What’s more, the Chartkoffs solidify their connection to the surrounding community by providing a screen printing setup in their back yard (the equipment for which is borrowed from a local punk band called the Mormons) for other bands to use to make t-shirts and record sleeves.
Persistence clearly has some nice payoffs in this case.
So like all the others, it was all very personal, this particular leg of the Parlour to Parlour journey – but maybe even a little bit more than before in some ways. And the Monolators’ experience was very much in sync with what was happening behind the scenes to make this and the previous episode happen. It was through the Parson Red Heads that I met the Monolators (and as the Parsons’ Sam Fowles recently told me, “whenever someone asks me to recommend and L.A. band, I always say The Monolators”)… Eli and Mary welcomed not just me into their home, but also Parlour to Parlour’s lighting mistress since episode 5, Rebecca Stewart, and her brother Levi, who tagged along for the weekend and magically cured a painful muscle affliction I had developed.
It was thanks to my good buddy Tim Ryan at Rotten Tomatoes that all three of us had a place to stay while in L.A. And to bring it all back home – it was Tim who introduced me to Popdose’s “Grand Poobah,” Jeff Giles. “It’s a family affair…”
It wasn’t obvious at the time, but now I can say that if Scott Malchus ever runs out of ideas for Basement Songs, the Monolators’ “Our Tears Have Wings” could form the basis of the first of many proposed installments from own experiences this year alone. I’d actually rather keep moving ahead with these videos, but you know, just saying…
The Monolators – “Our Tears Have Wings”