It was a cool Friday night as I approached the Vernon haunt of local band Mind Monogram. As I entered the nondescript building, a cacophony of sounds and smells hit me, the likes of which bear no describing. I walked up the blue painted staircase in this seemingly random warehouse, and arrived at a hallway of unmarked doors from which emanated a loud mixture of metal, banda, and everything in between.
While I stood, unsure in the midst of this chaos, I was greeted by drummer Bryan Mejia, who unlocked the studio door and took to arranging the room for me, noting apologetically the array of equipment and other viscera scattered about. As we awaited the rest of the prodigal band members, I looked around the cozy room, which was bordered by a wall of mirrors and a ceiling from which sound proofing had been ripped by inexpert hands.
Next to arrive was lead singer and guitarist Edgar Ruiz, who welcomed me with a demure grin. Soon following was guitarist Christian Caro, who explained in a hoarse voice that he was recovering from a bout of pneumonia. As we awaited the fourth and final member of the group, we griped about the ridiculous Friday evening traffic, denouncing the slowness of the major freeways. After a few minutes Billy arrived, sheepishly holding up a plastic bag and proclaiming that he’d brought drinks for later.
At last, we gathered around a small side table on a few mismatched padded metal chairs. As the guys watched me expectantly, I recalled Mind Monogram’s state of mind during the band’s last chat with GUM nearly a year and a half ago. At the time, a long delay in the release of AM in the PM had led to a feeling of creative exhaustion. “We had stuff that we were just releasing and it had been recorded and worked on well over a year ago. We were just waiting on the release, because it was done through an independent label and it took a little longer than expected,” explained Ruiz, noting further that a previous band member had “kinda just left the loose ends when he decided to do his own thing.” These disparate factors of delay had amalgamated into a general lackluster feeling toward the release of the album.
I suggested that they were probably tired of the material at that point and was greeted with laughter and an admission from Ruiz, “We don’t wanna come off that way, but that’s honestly what was going on.” Mejia corroborated this, claiming, “We just felt we were in a different place.” By the time AM in the PM was released, Mind Monogram had lost two of the members who had worked on the album and had replaced them with Bryan Mejia and Billy Azurdia. Naturally, with this change in line up came an entirely different mindset. “By the time things were starting to roll out, me and Billy were already in our flow with these guys,” offered Mejia. Caro confirmed, “We were already writing the next album.”
Thinking that they were referring to Interwebs, which immediately followed AM in the PM, I wondered aloud if the EP was an avenue for getting back to the present. “That was kinda just a little project, right?” Ruiz proposed to the rest of the band, who nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I did it in a weekend,” said Ruiz offhandedly, “We were like, here, [we’ll] just put this out for free and thanks for listening…It was like a little thing for anybody who supported us throughout the year.”
Following the release of Interwebs in December 2016, the band began a hiatus from releasing new material, made more significant by their prolificacy of the previous year. However, this gap, running from Interwebs until their release of single “Dark Matter Theory” in October 2017, was not spent idly. “January we started Ivory Hall…Yeah we were just writing until April, recorded, and just worked on the recordings,” explained Mejia. Caro added, “In that process we just played a lot of shows, just tried to play as many shows as we could, get ourselves out there and work on the album… We were gonna release it in the fall of last year, but we decided that we needed a little bit more time to let it breathe. Let some songs develop in the mixing process and also maybe come up with a more structured game plan for publicity and promotion with the next album.”
As we discussed the band’s feelings toward Ivory Hall as a whole, Azurdia, having sat silently for most of the interview, spoke up concisely, “I guess I can only speak for myself, but in that way it kind of – it doesn’t really feel like we’re catching up at this point. It feels very relevant to this particular group.” As we contemplated this statement, we had to laugh at the loud death metal crashing through the walls and nearly drowning out our conversation.
During breaks in the ear-assaulting sound, Ruiz described the writing process further, “Before we ever really recorded this stuff we kind of like, hashed these songs out. So each song…I think we’d focus on like two, maybe three at a time at the most and spend a couple weeks, maybe a month even until we felt right. So some of these songs kind of evolved throughout time.” The slow and contemplative process of creating Ivory Hall was new but ultimately eye-opening for Mind Monogram, as was the idea of working with, instead of against, the flow of time. “Even the experience of recording it was really different than anything else because we booked a week out at this cabin and…we just tried to get the best take, where everybody felt good about it. So nothing is really done isolated from each other…It’s live, essentially. We were all facing a really nice view [at the cabin], so we tried not to stress out about it.”
This “essentially live” but well-thought-out approach to recording gave the band a sense of the natural progression of things, which only happens when time and space is allowed to gather in the air pockets of the creative process. Ruiz described the results of this slow development best, saying, “It’s more relaxed, and that’s what we’re trying to convey in every song – a very natural, human feel to it. It’s not on time, it’s not a robotic thing, it’s just us, hanging out in a room, making music.”
When asked how far along they were in the Ivory Hall recording process, Ruiz described it as “ninety percent” finished, vaguely giving the release date as “late spring.” “Yeah, we’re just excited to see what people think of it. We’ve been holding on to this for almost a year so finally letting it go and giving it it’s own life is pretty exciting,” offered Caro with a gleam in his eyes.
Despite having held onto the Ivory Hall material for so long, the staleness that came with AM in the PM did not spill over, which Azurdia attributed to an ongoing process of editing and perfecting, “We’re still putting a lot of effort into it continuously, and I think that because of that we all still feel very close to it.” Referring to these edits, Ruiz clarified “Not necessarily changing songs, but tweaking things, the way it sounds.” “Then also incorporating the songs into our live set,” added Caro.
Along with their jam-session-like recording style, the band has developed a method of incorporating their live set in the editing and mixing process. “It’s another way of listening to the song other than just playing [the recording] over and over again,” commented Mejia. Ruiz agreed, adding, “We’ve played [the songs] so much more now since we’ve recorded them back in April that –” “They’re more developed,” interjected Mejia, finishing Ruiz’s thought. “Yeah, or they have more dynamics, and that’s what we’re doing with the mixing. Trying to make it sort of match to what we’re doing now,” explained Ruiz.
As we mused on the topic of time, which was, just over a year ago, a major concern for Mind Monogram, I observed the shift from time as an adversary to the creative process to time as a friend and essential collaborator. As I suggested that slowing down has allowed the band to paradoxically win the race against time, Ruiz responded with a flicker of sudden recognition, “Not intentionally, but it really has, yeah.”
Agreeing, Mejia described his need to take a step back from the album during the recording process, “I remember after the cabin trip, maybe like a month afterwards I was like, you know what dude I need a break from these songs. I was telling Chris, I was like, I need to stop listening to these songs, I hear them every day for months and months.” Laughter flowed through the room as the rest of the band nodded in agreement. Equating this experience to wisdom that he had received while attending film school, Mejia illustrated the need to “take time off before you edit, because that way you kind of lose connection a little bit, so you come back and look at it fresh.”
Upon hearing mention of film school, I felt compelled to bring up Mind Monogram’s newest video, an acoustic version of “A Donde,” from the aforementioned EP Interwebs. The video is beautifully shot in simple black and white, featuring extreme close up of Ruiz’s lips and fingers as he performs the brief song. Ruiz fully attributed the video to Mejia, who described his vision: “I feel like that song is a fragile kind of song…so I was going for that look of just like keeping it soft and mysterious in a way without [showing Ruiz’s] eyes.” On why he chose this particular song, Mejia explained, “I’m always trying to shoot something, to be honest. So I thought, you know, it would be nice to promote Interwebs because we never really promoted it, we just threw it out there like, ‘alright we moved on.’”
Returning to the topic of perfecting and tweaking Ivory Hall, we discussed the need to find an ending point at which you step away and “put the painting in a frame,” a sentiment that was met with knowing laughter. Ruiz remarked “It’s never finished. You can always go back and…” “One more stroke,” finished Mejia with a chuckle, to which Ruiz once again proclaimed, “It’s never finished!” with mock gravity. Joking aside, it was obvious that this fundamental element of the writing and recording process had tormented them. Ruiz brushed it off with a wry smile, but not without a hint of frustration, “That should be your answer for everything. It was never finished! I just kind of…gave up.”
Ultimately, Mind Monogram’s growth over the last year was supremely evident in everything from the well developed sound of their two recent singles to a newfound buoyancy in their attitude. “I feel like this time around we’re a lot more, not a lot more excited but we’re excited this time. [whispering] That sounds bad,” Mejia admitted as the room erupted in laughter. Caro added, “With every release it’s a learning experience, so we just take what mistakes we did in the past and apply them to the new releases, and we just feel a lot more prepared and in tune with where we are musically together and independently… It’s just really, it’s been a long process and we’re just excited to share it with everybody.”
Bringing things into perspective was Ruiz, who reminded us, “It’s our first body of work together, us four.” “Yeah, that’s what makes it really special, I think, to me,” reflected Caro thoughtfully. Regardless of where Mind Monogram has been, this moment seemed to hold special significance for each of the members as they considered their group dynamic. Caro was the first to voice what the room was thinking, “It just feels really nice being in this line up…It’s a family pretty much – we spend so much time together, and I hear stories of like bands getting tired of each other or whatever but it never happens here. It’s just, we pick up where we left off.” Ruiz echoed this, saying, “Yeah sometimes I see these guys more than my own family. Like, legitimately. So it’s nice, we finally all found a band where we all fit in.”
I regarded their comfortable smiles and felt the need to quip that it sounded a bit like a love story. After the burst of laughter died down, Mejia looked around and responded earnestly, “In a way, yes it is.”
As we trickled off into different tangents, including a possible tour stop in my home state of Wisconsin and where to get the best cheese there, it was clear that our evening together was winding down. I thanked them for coming all this way to meet with me, and they insisted that they basically lived there anyway. This was not hard to believe, as I watched the band settle in for what I could only assume was a typical Friday night. As I considered the playful ease with which Mind Monogram now approached the creative process, I contemplated my own tendency toward rushing around. The impatience of youth which spurs many of us forward seemed to fall away just for a moment, and in a deep, slow breath I heard the quiet voice of inspiration.