The brainchild of ex-Bhelliom guitarist Damien Ng, The Black Monolith is his old school rock ‘n’ roll project. What started off as a solo project has now become a full-fledged band, and the results speak for itself with the band’s debut, self-titled album (which was released on 1 April, and will be launched at their album release party this coming 23rd May). We catch up with the band to find out more about the dynamics behind the writing of The Black Monolith, as well as some history behind the band.
The Black Monolith started off as Damien’s solo project, but grew into a full-fledged band last year. How did the band come about, and what was the reason behind forming a band with a steady lineup?
Damien Ng (DN, guitarist): In 2011, I already had plans to form a band together, and actually spoke to Damien Tan and Jason Cruz. The funny thing was that we have never met before – we were all recommended by common friends. Song ideas were just emailed back and forth and in early 2014, I contacted Jason and Damien Tan to start this band again. The vocalist was a tough search and thanks to Din from Metalgunz who introduced me to Zed. Otherwise, I think we’d still be stuck in finding a suitable vocalist to fit into our line-up.
The Black Monolith’s style is vastly different from the other bands that you are also known for, Bhelliom and Truth Be Known. How did the idea of The Black Monolith come about?
DN: In 2011 after Bhelliom’s second album , I wanted to incorporate more of my roots (rock) in Bhelliom’s song writing. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and, I decided to go on my own trying to create a death n roll style. But due to personal problems and other issues, everything had to be put on hold. Until early 2013, after completing recording Truth be Known’s By Any Means Necessary, I decided it was time to bring it back again. And this time I wanted to do an all rock band/ album. With the help of Jason Cruz, we just revamp the already written songs and within 2 months we got all the songs’ structures done and ready.
Damien Tan (DT, bassist): To add on to what Damien Ng had said, we are not reinventing the wheels with our music. Like most bands out there, what we are doing is simply paying tributes to the bands that we grew up listening to, and re-writing the songs & riffs that have already been written and just putting on The Black Monolith stamp, and hope that people out there will enjoy our music.
What does the band name – The Black Monolith – mean, and how does it relate to the music of the band?
DN: The name The Black Monolith is from the Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. I am a huge fan of that movie by Stanley Kubrick and it just came to my mind and i just decided to go with that.
The debut album is one hell of an enjoyable release, and as promised, the band showcases a whole range of influences throughout the album. What was the songwriting process like for The Black Monolith?
DN: For this debut album, riffs were already written on my side as mentioned. But during the early stages, Jason helped to made it even more rock sounding and set the groove, as I tended to sound more on the heavier and faster side. As for most of the song arrangement, the rest of the boys will then suggest to tweak the arrangements. As for Zed, I gave him all the freedom to write the lyrics. For our new materials which is happening now, we are writing songs as a unit together.
Jason Cruz (JC, drums): As far as my drumming contributions for this album goes, I basically “stole” classic grooves and drumming ideas from various legendary drummers who played on some of our favourite iconic Rock songs. The drumming on Tommy Icarus for example was my thinly veiled attempt to sound like Ian Paice (Deep Purple’s drummer), to try to groove like him and even emulate his fills. Of course, I sound nothing like him. The drum part on Power of Destruction is a distillation of influences from, again, Ian Paice, and Clive Burr, Iron Maiden’s first drummer.
DT: I would just like to add that Damien Ng probably has a lifetime of riffs inside his head & fingertips to last 10 albums worth of songs. This guy is THE riff-master.
Zed (ZT, vocals): That being said, the musical arrangements were mostly done by the rest of the band. My job of writing the vocal melody and lyrics only comes in after the music has been laid out, which adds certain difficulties, considering the constraints that I have to work with. It’s something that I’m still struggling with currently, but it should get easier as I get more practice. It also helps that the riffs that Damien comes up with are within my zone of comfort. That makes it a hell lot easier.
What are some of the biggest influences for each of the band members in The Black Monolith? We hear elements from classics such as Jimi Hendrix to more contemporary acts like Velvet Revolver…
DN: Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Gn’R, and many more.
DT: Black Sabbath, Skid Row, Warrant, Mötley Crüe, Badlands, Alice In Chains, etc.
ZT: Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Nirvana, Black Sabbath, Steel Panther, and, believe it or not, Jeff Buckley, my biggest posthumous vocal coach.
With the different sounds that are available on the album, what is the favourite track from each of you to play, and why?
DN: I enjoy playing every track! But there’s only one choice then its Power of Destruction hahahaha
DT: “Power of Destruction” because of that Black Sabbath vibe, and “Death Race” because of the Gn’R/ Velvet Revolver vibe.
ZT: Mundane. Because it’s easy to sing. I kid. I love singing Screamer, because it makes me horny. Haha. Also, I’ve written it in such a way that it gives me a lot of room for ad lib. I love ad libbing.
JC: I would have to say Power of Destruction is my favourite track. I’ve always wanted to lay down that type of Rock shuffle groove in the studio. It’s such a gratifying rhythm to play when you can make it feel good. It has so much urgency and intensity, but it also swings. It’s still a work in progress for me.
Tell us more about the lyrical inspirations behind the songs on The Black Monolith. What does the band deal with, and where do you draw inspiration when writing the lyrics?
ZT: Hmmm. To be honest, I don’t really give too much thought about the lyrics that I write. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I have to work with a very constrained sandbox. This affects my writing a little, because I have to rhythm and rhyme it in such a way that it flows logically from one sentence to the next, AND still adhere to the existing musical structure. But how I usually write is that I come up with a theme of the song, then work from there. Not sure if you can tell from most of the lyrics, but a lot of the songs are pretty much rants (Victim of Yourself, Living a Lie, You Don’t Care). It reflects the nonsense that I see on Facebook, or in the news, or on the Internet in general. People complaining about insignificant shit, people making themselves look like victims to elicit any amount of pity, just people being generally fucking entitled… bleh. I’m so sick of those. Of course, I try to keep it light hearted and non sequitur as well, so people don’t think that we have some sort of political agenda behind our music. We don’t.
JC: I would say Zed did a remarkable job coming up with those lyrics in a very short period of time.
Tell us more about the cover artwork.
ZT: The idea came from Jason, really. Damien Ng originally wanted just the picture of a girl’s chestal regions (for obvious reasons) wearing a shirt that said “1”, you know, to indicate that it’s our first album. But I thought it was too boring. So Jason suggested something with post-apocalyptic ladies crawling towards a black monolith (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey). I think it’s a pretty obvious homage to Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy also. We don’t want to say that it’s anything sexual, to avoid any feminist rage (see above). Not entirely sure why we went with the post-apocalyptic vibe, maybe it has something to do with the film again. Dunno. Didn’t watch it.
JC: yes, the idea for the cover artwork came from the last scene in Act 1 of the Space Odyssey film where you have a bunch of prehistoric apes congregating towards this mysterious object, the Black Monolith, and touching it in awe, curiosity, and bewilderment, which then moves the film forward to much later stage in the evolution of mankind where Man is now fully developed intellectually and who is now capable of space travel.
So we thought of adapting that scene to an apocalyptic scene. Now why are only women depicted in the artwork? Because we’re guys and it’s Rock and Roll. If it was an all-female band they’re more than welcome to depict buffed men in loincloths crawling towards the Black Monolith.
Apart from the physical CD, the album is also available on BandCamp and Spotify. With the emergence of such services, how do you think it will impact The Black Monolith?
DT: With the CD industry now a dying trade, and not many people buying CDs or even owning a CD player, the digital platform definitely allows the band to reach out more to music lovers. Not just locally in Singapore, but overseas as well. The platform also allows the listener to stream and listen to the music and decide if they like what they’re listening as well. So I guess in a way, the band is able to reach out more to the public. With social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we were also able to stay connected with our friends and do some promotion too.
ZT: Well, that’s a double-edged sword too. With YouTube and Bandcamp and whatever, whosoever fuckshit who has basic knowledge of music can pick up a guitar and start recording some boring ass song and paste it all over the internet. The whole market has become saturated as hell, and it makes it all the more difficult to penetrate to the people who aren’t our immediate friends, you know? People would rather listen to their friends sing a cover of Let It Go than some unknown local band. Very tragic.
The band will be holding its release party on 23 May. What can fans expect on that day?
DT: Rock n’ roll. Pure and simple. No gimmicks whatsoever.
ZT: Nothin’ but a good time. And band t-shirts. Yeah, look forward to what.
JC: We just hope to put on a tight show, where the band is really gelling together and playing with heart and soul.
What lays ahead for The Black Monolith now that the album has finally been released?
DN: We will try to play more shows to promote our album locally/overseas and try to reach out to as many people as possible. Right now we are also working on new materials album and we already have enough materials for a full length album.
DT: The first album was done pretty fast actually – from jamming out the songs and recording took about a year or less. With the 2nd album, hopefully we can take a bit more time in arranging and thinking out the parts, and allowing the songs to grow before we get into the studio again.
ZT: Yep. Expect to hear from us again within the next year or so. In the meantime, we’re actively sourcing for gigs to play at. (Read: we’re desperate to play)