By Kimberly Ilkowski
After being together for six years and crafting several releases, the guys in Monterey have learned a thing or two.
Whether it’s how to survive a gig in a claustrophobe’s nightmare of an overflowing frat basement or how to stop riots at The Stone Pony, which ended with dudes being dragged out in headlocks by female bouncers, the band takes it all in stride. Following the fall release of their EP “Sailors” and a string of tour dates this winter, who knows what they’ll get themselves into next.
The rock trio, originally based out of New Brunswick, N.J., began as friends attending Rutgers University who discovered — and subsequently dove head first into — the rapidly growing underground music scene taking place there.
“For so long I didn’t even know it existed,” lead vocalist and guitarist Carter Henry said. “There’s all these houses, The Banana Stand, The Jock Strap, The Bomb Shelter, they organize these shows and they do a really awesome job.”
The basement shows, promoted and run by fellow college students, helped cement Monterey, and many other local bands like them, as regulars in New Brunswick’s well-oiled music machine.
“The fans are really awesome because it’s people that really like music, they come out to all the shows,” Henry said. “Because you’re in a basement you can talk to them after, you can be a part of the crowd more, you can get a little more reckless.”
After spending nearly five years in New Brunswick, though, it was time for a change of pace and a change of scenery for the guys. Recently moving the band’s headquarters to Belmar, N.J. to become more involved in the powerhouse music scene of Asbury Park, Monterey was finally able to find their true sound while recording at Lakehouse Recording Studio for the November 2014 release of “Sailors.”
“We felt like it captured the energy especially better than any project we’ve ever done,” bassist Chris Beninato said of the new recording space and team. Along with drummer Matt DeBenedetti, the band worked closely with head engineer Tim Pannella, who notably worked with The Front Bottoms.
“It was three days, 10 hours a day and then it’s all done, you just walk out of there. But there’s something about that, you just capture that feeling, that moment,” Henry said. “If you go in spaced out over a month singing the same song, adding pieces to it, it’s not that one coherent, cohesive piece of music.”
The songs off “Sailors” are just that: A snapshot of a certain time and place in the band’s history, their feelings, struggles, triumphs and setbacks. Through the four songs on the EP, the band was able to capture a fluid, yet dynamic range of emotions and riffs that display a heightened sense of maturity and self.
“A lot of it is that you have to be close with the people you play music with, in my mind, because it’s an intimate thing,” Henry said. “Everyone’s putting themselves out there. In a way it’s like a relationship, you put yourself and your feelings out there.”
This kind of heart-on-your-sleeve openness can only be found amongst lifelong friends. In fact, Beninato and Henry first developed a friendship and a love of their instruments in the eighth grade — a bond that has helped them in good times and bad.
“Even if there is an issue or something, it’s all because there’s so much passion behind the project,” Beninato said. “Issues are almost a good thing in the sense that we’re gonna get something done and get further along with the song. Every day I feel like we write a new song.”
With this plethora of new material comes time dedicated to analyzing and rearranging verses to get them just right. Vibing off one another has helped not only in creating the instrumentals but writing the lyrics. Many fans noticed a harder sound on this EP than on the April 2014 EP “The King’s Head,” which the band agrees to be true.
“It’s a little more angry, a little more emotional,” Beninato said.
Henry was helped in the writing process by DeBenedetti, who suggested he write a song about a man on trial for a murder he didn’t commit. What originally came as a challenge was ultimately fulfilling for Henry, and eventually became the somber “The Pit and the Pendulum.”
“I wrote about something that had never happened to me personally, but you draw from your own experiences so no matter what you do, that’s still going to come out in your writing,” Henry said. “No matter what you write, whether its lyrics or poetry or books, pieces of you will come out.”
In the past few years, Monterey has narrowly escaped having their amps destroyed by jungle juice and has taken the heat for their friends beelining the stage and causing chaos. Although sometimes the guys have no control over what happens at their shows, there’s one thing they know for sure: as long as they have each other, they can conquer whatever life (or rowdy fans) throw at them.