Based in Toronto, MONOWHALES burst into the Canadian Music scene with a DIY ethos and an intention to build community through their music. Conceptualized in 2017, while the group was attending Humber College, as Ginger Ale & The Monowhales—eventually shortening it to MONOWHALES. That same year, the group released their first single “Take it Back” produced by AL-P and MSTRKRFT. Gaining popularity over time, it became the stand-out song on their first EP, Control Freak, released in the summer of 2018. The group spent most of 2018 touring this EP and in doing so caught the attention of Juno-award-winning producer, Ryan Worsley (Owner of Echoplant Studios in Coquitlam, BC).
Over the next few months, MONOWHALES and Worsley began recording new material that would be featured on their debut record, Daytona Bleach. Giving fans a taste of what was to come, they released a song called “RWLYD” (Really Wanna Let You Down). This single went on to hit #2 on the Mediabase Canadian Alternative Rock Chart, making MONOWHALES the first independent band in Canadian radio history to do so. Daytona Bleach was released on March 5, 2021, during the height of the pandemic, prompting MONOWHALES to get creative with their marketing. They leveraged the traditional storefront displays and innovative digital projection installations that fans could interact with around their hometown of Toronto. With the combined success of Control Freak and Daytona Bleach, MONOWHALES went on to support all-stars such as K. Flay, Sloan, Marianas Trench, and most recently Mother Mother.
2022 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for MONOWHALES, after winning the Juno award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Fittingly, they’re about to embark on their largest tour yet featuring their recent singles “CTRL^^^”, “StuckintheMiddle”, and their forthcoming album, Tunnel Vision, set to release on September 9. Below, we caught up with the leading lady, Sally Shaar to dig deeper into all things about the band and their upcoming release ahead of their September 28th performance at The Capital Ballroom in Victoria, BC (tickets are available here).
As an independent band, do you feel like you have more agency over your career?
We can do whatever we want as a band, good or bad. We can put our money, art, and music wherever we want. We do take advantage of the fact that no one [dictates] what we can do with our music and art. One of the things, in my life, that I am most proud of is that we are independent. There is something so special to us that we have been able to do and accomplish so much on our own, with the help of our team of course. We hope [to] inspire up-and-coming artists in the sense that they can also build a successful career on their own.
MONOWHALES has undergone as few changes over the last 5 years as a band (a name change and sonically as well). Most of these changes have happened in front of your growing fan base, were the fans at all involved in the process?
If there is anything that anyone knows about us, it’s that we love our fans, SO MUCH. I know people say this all the time, but we do take their love and support to another level in terms of always making sure they are involved in our process and communicating with them in whatever way we can. I am the biggest fan of human connection and community, more than anything. So with that in mind, that is what’s so special about our band and what we bring to the table. We don’t want our fans to feel like our music is all inwards and all we are doing is just putting it out there for them to listen to. It’s very much actively communicating with them and sharing our experiences and processes with them and having them be a part of our experiences and processes. It’s a conversation, give and take, there have been many changes that they have been a part of and we hope to always involve them in whatever we do.
You released your first record, ‘Daytona Bleach’, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Your marketing strategy for this record worked around pandemic restrictions. What was the rationale behind the way you choose to market it? Will you have similar for your upcoming release, ‘Tunnel Vision’?
When we have done releases in the past, we did private invite-only listening/album release parties for our fans and supporters. We did those in a cool and intimate space, one time we did it at a skate shop in Toronto and in movie theatres. In the past, these events were very hands-on, emphasized connection, and were experiential. With the pandemic, it was difficult to create something like this and create this kind of connection. Our goal was to somehow create that connection during the pandemic with the help of community spaces, such as [a] storefront, which was my friend’s storefront. The storefront had our album creative, along with QR codes and we created a face filter for social media. People got to experience our album hands-on in a specific space with really cool experiences. As for the digital projections, we thought it would be cool to work with someone to project different things that had to do with the album around Toronto as another way for our fans to experience [it]. It was all about creating interactive and fun experiences for fans and supporters to feel like they were part of the process. What we’re doing with “Tunnel Vision”, I can’t say much about cause it’s supposed to be a surprise! We worked so hard on the artwork and I’m proud of it. We can’t wait for our fans to experience having the album in their hands since we haven’t been able to do that yet.
From the recording and release of your first album to the recording and the upcoming release of your second album, how have the processes varied and what have you learned along the way?
It was an extremely different experience, this album was a pandemic baby. From conception to the end. All of our writing sessions happened over Zoom and it was a unique experience. Before we were in a studio together, all day, every day. We were all in the comfort of our own homes and drawing from our experiences. It was also technologically fun to have done this from home, we could record whenever we wanted, and send it along to each other, and it was easy to add it to our demo tracks. The general recording process consists of making a demo and then going into the studio to record live instruments and vocals, bouncing ideas off the producer and such, however, we recorded all the demos at home and reworked some of the instruments and vocals in the studio. Some of the vocals did not get rerecorded and feature my demos (primarily on “CTRL^^^”) because I liked the rawness and grit of some of the [originals].
I genuinely don’t know if we would have cared to do something like this before the pandemic, but this was music that was inspired during this time in our lives and the process reflects that. We eventually did go into the studio to play and record this album and we were not rehearsed at all. We went from being in our homes to being super precautious in the studio and not interacting with people outside of the band bubble. It was backward but that was what was so special about the recording process. With our last album, we were living at Echoplant Studios and recording/working with Ryan Worsley all the time, and with this album, we were working separately but together at the same time.
Is there a specific moment from the recording/writing process that sticks out to you?
I, for one, was excited about the writing sessions from home, however, the rest of the band is excited to get back into the studio for future writing sessions [laughs]. There was such a luxury in walking away, pressing mute, getting a cup of tea, and coming back with a fresh mind in the comfort of your own home. Hoping to implement more of those writing sessions from home in our process. As for recording, I was not in the right mindset to go back to the studio to start recording this album. Studio days are usually very planned with demos already recorded, preproduction is mapped out, and the producers are assembled [with] a game plan. For me to not [be] there wasn’t [an option], so with that being said, the pressure of showing up to these recording sessions did put me on the right track and back into the right mindset.
Your last 3 single releases have been heavier and almost “grittier” than anything that was featured on ‘Daytona Bleach’. Can fans expect ‘Tunnel Vision’ to be a full-on rock album?
We didn’t purposely go rock but it was drawn from our experiences during the pandemic and veered in that direction. Songs like “CTRL^^^”, “StuckintheMiddle”, and our upcoming single were definitely on the darker side. I feel comfortable in the dark songs—like very comfortable. This is [ironic] because anyone looking at me is like oh you’re so outgoing and happy all the time and I find that the happy songs are always the hardest ones for me to sing and write. But when I am singing something “darker”, I do feel more comfortable and at home with those songs. With this album, I am happy that we got to explore these new darker sounds. “Over My Head” on Daytona Bleach was the one darker song we had on that album and it was really fun to record and play live. I wanted to do more of that on this upcoming album. But at the same time, we do like making and performing songs that people can also dance to.
What inspired this “heavier” sound for this album?
Our own life experiences during this time in our lives. Everyone was going through their own thing and this album (hopefully) reflects that. [Also], the music we were listening to, we released that Nine Inch Nails cover during the pandemic. I was in a serious industrial music phase at that time, so it was hard not to draw from those influences. Zach and Jordan had their influences [that] they were drawing upon and it all sort of came together. One thing we don’t think about is replicating or capturing the sounds of our influences, it’s more subconscious if it does happen.
Do you treat your album releases like chapters of your life? What does ‘Tunnel Vision’ mean to you and how do you feel it measures your growth as an artist?
Our releases do hallmark specific points and chapters in my life. This album is the pandemic album. It’s so freeing that we’re finally putting this out there because it means we’re letting go and moving forward onto the next chapter of our lives. The music, the videos, and the artwork, it’s all a snapshot of what our lives were like in this moment and time and it all has to do with what we were feeling. For now, we write what we feel but who knows, we could do a concept album down the road [laughs].
I am very proud of Tunnel Vision because it measures how far we’ve come as a band but also as individuals because we had the space and time during the pandemic to reflect and grow. Before the pandemic, there was no time to stop and take care of ourselves but we got to slow down and become better people and better musicians. Anyone who has ever come to our shows knows that we put everything into them, the audience gets all of us and there is nothing left. Taking that time away from the stage and taking care of myself, I feel like I have more to give to our fans and I am performing my heart out.
What are you hoping that fans take away from the release of your upcoming album?
I never really have a takeaway for any of my albums, it’s more that I want to know what they (the fans) took away from it. That’s the difference between what we do, we always want to flip the script on our fans and understand what our songs mean to them. I don’t like talking about the meaning of our songs, I’d much rather have our fans make our songs about them and develop their meanings out of them. I just love learning from our fans.