Although Razorbalde Monalisa has been playing around town for almost 10 years now, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if many are not all that familiar with the group. Aside from the lack of local media attention, they also tend to go for months without playing a gig. While for some groups this means disappearing into oblivion and no one caring much about what happened. Razorblade Monalisa on the other hand, has always bounced back strong with the ability to hang onto their longtime fans here in Sacramento as well as out in the bay area.
With their recent return to playing gigs there is added excitement as the group has just released a new album entitled ‘Ignition/Fade’. As Jules describes, the record “almost feels like a film”, it’s fitting because some of the bands influences include films such as ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Star Wars’.
In truth, there are many great things to point out on this record, one favorite being Bino’s strong vocals. Just like his live performance, Bino’s vocal’s are so full of emotion and tension. Jules’s ability to color his precise guitar give the songs so much of that “sci-fi” character. One might say the songs feeling of tension is in part also attributed to Ryan Fontana’s well controlled drumming, and Will Shelton’s bass hanging out in the background with a slow, tight, and reserved grove.
Two Sac.Indie.Music favorite tracks include “Only the End of the World Again” and “Dolly”, follow the links below to take a listen:
Razrobalde Monalisa has always been a pleasant treat for the Sacramento music scene. Their genre of Post-Punk/ Sci-fi is a style of music you don’t hear in town too often, and it draws different people out making things a little more interesting.
So, if in the 10 years of their existence you have been unable to catch the band live, now is the time to do so. As mentioned earlier, the group tends to play for only short amounts of time and takes long breaks, and this return may be no exception. We suggest crawling out of your cave, or out from whatever rock you have been buried under and getting out to a show.
It’s such a brief amount of time, perhaps only 30 minutes or so, the band is sure to leave a positive lasting impression. Razorbalde Monalisa embraces all the discomfort, and all the ever changing variables that can go wrong during a gig. Their stage presence is a natural part of the band and, in addition to their music, this makes them memorable and most importantly entertaining.
Be sure to pick up/download their new album ‘Ignition/Fade’ and read the interview below with all members of the band, as they were kind enough to spend time answering some of our questions, really giving an in-depth and insightful look into their Post-Punk/Sci-fi world. Get to know this group that has long been a part of the Sacramento music scene in their own words.
Thank you Razorblade Monalisa for your creativity and sticking with your passion!
Razorblade Monalisa is (left to right): Will Shelton / Bass, Ryan Fontana / Drums, Bino Prassa / vocals, Jules Alcouffe / guitar
Sac.Inde.Music: Not the most creative question , but for readers out there who don’t know, how did the name Razorblade Monalisa come about?
JA: It came from two sources. I had a conversation with a band member in my former band Blue Monroe about an article they read about frescoes being altered to include various cover for nude figures in the 1990s. I found it deeply offensive that centuries old frescoes were being altered for the sake of offended tourists. I ended up writing a song about it called “Razor Blade Mona Lisa” whose lyrics I eventually scrapped, but the name stayed.
Also it’s a reference to William Gibson’s “razor girl” Molly Millions from Neuromancer and Monalisa Overdrive. Among her body modifications are retractable razor blades installed under her fingernails. I’ve always been attracted to the idea of the female anti-hero… Like Ripley from the Alien movie series, or Heinlien’s Friday. Our song “Eyes” references Gibson’s works pretty heavily.
Sac.Indie.Music: A while back the band went through the process of trying to change the name. There was even a voting process, why did you abandoned the name change idea?
BP: Oh, man. THAT was a headache. We could never agree on a name from the start. “Razorblade Monalisa” was borrowed from the name of Jules’ earlier solo project and was originally intended only as a placeholder. We tossed a few ideas around when the band was still just Jules, Josh and myself, but eventually we just let it go for a while.
I was probably the biggest proponent of a name-change after the fact. It seemed like every few years–usually coinciding with a major line-up change–we’d put it back on the table. I always thought that “Razorblade Monalisa” was a bit of an awkward mouthful. Plus, I was concerned that it made us sound like we were an emo band…
Finally, I think we just had to accept that trying to re-brand ourselves after several years was pretty futile. Reactions like yours from fans and friends during that online vote helped us see that.
JA: We’ve actually got several really good names in our back pocket. But rebranding is a hard thing to do over 13 years in.
Sac.Indie.Music: You guys recently played your 60th show at the cafe colonial, how long has the band been playing in and around Sacramento now?
BP: Jules has the exact date of our first show somewhere. We’ve had a few shake-ups in band membership and a few long hiatuses since then, but yeah–we’re just past our 9th anniversary.
JA: June 19, 2005 @ the Press Club (Club Touched). Dire was actually guest DJing that night. I ended up taking over the Club night with Josh Sims and one of our first “guest band” bookings as Club Noir was the Common Men.
Sac.Indie.Music: Long time bassist Dire Deparra left the line-up,how has the transition between bassist been?
BP: I was sad to see Dire go, but Will’s been doing a great job. It hasn’t been without it’s hiccups, of course, and there was certainly a period of adjustment. The dynamic is different, but what we may have lost that was unique to Dire has been made up in other ways by Will’s own voice, so to speak.
WS: Yeah I approach things differently than Dire that’s for sure but I think we’re meshing well.
JA: Most bands go through line-up changes more often. I think it’s been a positive change for everyone, Dire was getting bored, RM started to feel like a chore to him. Will brings back some freshness, and plays guitar pretty damned good a well. “Dog Star” is all him on guitar and I play bass on that one. We probably wouldn’t have finished the album without Will joining. I think his style of playing also meshes slightly better with the rest of the band. It’s not easy to step into those Beatle boots, but he’s done great.
Sac.Indie.Music How long has this currently line-up been playing together now?
JA: Over a year now.
Sac.Indie.Music: Will Shelton, How did you come to join the band? Can you tell us a little about your music back ground?
WS: I met the fellas thru my wife they are such great guys and I love the music so when they asked if I wanted to try out I jumped at the chance.
As for music oddly enough I started with jamming around on bass at a little church when I was about 14 or 15 then did the guitar lesson thing from around 18 till my early 20’s. I guess I was always more of a couch noodler/bedroom songwriter I mean. I tried joining other bands before just never found the right fit till now.
I have a pretty eclectic taste when it comes to music if I can connect with it on an emotional level I can dig it.
Sac.Indie.Music: Ryan Fontana, You have been drumming with the band for a while now. What’s your music story? How did you come to join the band?
RF: Well after years of a mumbo jumbo mix of writing music on my own and playing various instruments & participating in projects with different musicians & wandering into the nooks of the punk and gothic scene both local and Bay Area I became familiar and met certain individuals that shared alike taste in music.
I remember seeing Blue Monroe & this is how I got to know of Jules. Then RM came about & I took a great attraction to the sound of the music I heard them creating. After a few yrs of watching them as a fan I watched them morph and shape into a few different creatures but always loved the sound. After hearing that drummer Kevin Common was leaving the band I spoke with Bino about the possibilities of me trying out for the band and so seamlessly it happened I say in on a few practices while Kevin was still there, I learned the overall heartbeats of the songs that where being played at the time. After becoming familiar I pretty much just melted right in to RM and became a permanent soul in the band. It was a few yrs later when I feel as though I took more personal shape in RM and started reflecting personal creativity in the band. Here I am today still playing music with these great guys enjoying what we all do. Playing music and elevating the act of creativity.
Sac.Indie.Music: I’m a guitar player myself so I naturally hone in on the guitar in bands. I have always enjoyed your style and the way you color your sound. Tell us a little about your influences, how much do your pedals influence your writing? Oh and what’s your favorite pedal?
JA: My top three guitar influences in order are
- John McGeoch from Siouxsie and the Banshees and His guitar lines are about as anti-rock as you can get. There’s no rules with him. In my eyes he’s the ultimate “Post-Punk” guitarist.
- Bernard Butler from I saw Suede live in SF in Sept 1993 and that pretty much turned me from a bassist that played nothing but covers into a guitarist and songwriter. I remember thinking “that’s what I want to do” by the end of the show.
- Dave and Reg from the Chameleons, I love their anti-blues approach to playing guitar. To my ears they are playing keyboard lines on guitar. For the most part that’s what I try to do.
Pedals are like colors on a palette to me. I wouldn’t say they have a big effect on writing, but are color enhancers. I don’t really have a favorite pedal, but ProCo Rats are pretty much a mainstay. Some kind of delay is always going to be in there, as well as a Chorus that can do a decent Leslie Cab simulation. I could play 95% of our songs with 4 pedals and be happy, but I like the extra “color flourishes” every once and a while.
Sac.Indie.Music: Bino, tells a little about your background in music and how you came to join the band.
BP: Well,I actually have almost no formal training. I just liked listening to music and singing along from an early age. I guess torturing my family for years on end left me with a decent, if unpolished, singing voice.
I wanted to be in a band since high school, but I people tend to not take you seriously when you say you’re a singer and you’re not bringing anything else to the table. I had just about given up on finding like-minded musicians when Jules and I met. We used to hang out at the same clubs and when his girlfriend (now wife) Ioana found out that I fancied myself a singer, she basically twisted both our arms into doing something together.
Sac.Indie.Music: Your Facebook describes the band as post punk/ sci-fi…..what aspects of the band would you say make you guys “sci-fi”?
BP: Haha…the lyrical content, mostly. But that’s sometimes influenced the music style a little bit. Songs like “Redshirts” and “Freezer/Burn” have sort of spacey, atmospheric qualities, for instance.
JA: I heard Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” right after watching “Star Wars” when I was 3 back in 1977. If it wasn’t for my sisters record collection I don’t know if I’d be a musician today. Music and Sci-Fi go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly to me. We’re more “hard Sci-Fi” than most groups, who tend to lean on the campy side. “Redshirts” is a LITTLE campy, but not the same extent most bands take it.
Sac.Indie.Music: what are the main influences of the band? Where do you get your inspiration for the style of music you create?
BP: Well, most of us got to know each other–whether directly or indirectly–through the local goth scene, so there’s definitely some of that. We’ve tried to distance ourselves from that term in favor of the broader “post-punk” spectrum, though. Joy Division, the Cure, and the Chameleons are all touchstones of ours, but sometimes it depends on the song. There’s some Dead Kennedys in “Alien Nation” and a lot of Gary Numan in “Disconnected”, for instance.
JA: We’re just as much influenced by Literature and Film as we are other music. Blade Runner, the aforementioned works of William Gibson, The Twin Peaks soundtrack, The Prisoner (TV series 1967), the Blood For Dracuala movie, Star Trek. You don’t exactly HAVE to be a fan to enjoy out music, because there’s a lot of metaphors. “Give me a stainless steel heart, one that won’t fall apart. Cold and hard, it won’t ever break…” You don’t need to be a Sci-Fi fan to know what the lyrics mean.
Sac.Indie.Music: How do you feel the Sacramento scene has responded to the band? Both audience wise and media wise. Do you have any frustrations with the scene?
BP: We definitely have a small, but loyal fanbase. As i said, we’ve tried not to pigeon-hole ourselves as “gothic”, but like the goth bands of yore, sometimes the scene chooses you and I can’t deny that our most ardent fans are friends and acquaintances in that scene.
JA: I wouldn’t say our fan base was small… when was the last time we played to under 60 people, 5 years ago? Most the publicity is by me just because I spend more time on-line, and I’m not a very outgoing person, I prefer my guitar do the talking.
That being said I don’t have a lot of respect for some of the local music press, a lot of it seems like they are all about promoting their friends and most of the time the music actually being made is pretty mediocre, especially among the “popular bands”. There are actually quite a few bands that refuse to play in town because they get much more respect in other cities.
BP: Frustrations? Oh, boy…yeah, I’d say so. I guess we’re kind of a niche sound for this area. We’re not heavy metal or hardcore, nor are we particularly “indie” in any kind of fashionable sense. But even then, neither are we quite punk enough to fit in completely with the sort of deathrock revival that’s been going on along the West Coast and other places.
Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t “niche” enough, actually. I think we have an internally consistent sound that draws off of a broad swath of the “post-punk” genre, but we don’t ape any one band or sub-genre consistently enough to provide a neatly-defined shortcut to describe what we do. And that can be a hindrance, I think.
JA: We take our music seriously, and we take our audience seriously. Not that there isn’t a ton of in jokes on the album… even down to the timing of the entire disc. Every song has to bring something new, we’d never write an album with two defined types of songs repeated over and over. That’s a form a plagiarism, and it’s just LAZY.
Sac.Indie.Music: This band has so much character both in it’s stage presence, and song style. Bino brings a lot of theatrical elements to the live performances, is there a lot of thought that goes in to the live performance, or is it just something that comes naturally to the band?
BP: “Theatrical” is a good way to put it. Much like I often “talk with my hands”, thanks to my Italian half, I think I sing with my whole body. I believe that a bit of theater is all but essential in live music, so I do put some thought into my stage antics. Early on, I kinda just spazzed out on stage and even experimented with a couple of questionable costuming choices. Over the years I learned to reign in and control some of that energy, and I guess you could say I’ve developed a repertoire of “moves”.
JA: I used to move around a lot more, I was kind of like Bino with a guitar on one point in Blue Monroe, but there’s only so much room on a stage. I keep worrying Bino is gonna bonk the headstock of my guitar and throw me out of tune, it’s happened more than once. It’s not an ego thing, but the bigger the stage the more comfortable we are.
Sac.Indie.Music: Bino where do you draw your inspiration from when writing lyrics? What can we expect from the new album as far as lyric content?
BP: As I mentioned, a lot of the “sci-fi” part of the band is in the lyrics. A lot of the songs reference specific shows, books, or movies, but they still serve primarily as metaphors for other themes. The void of space in “Redshirts” and the cryogenic imprisonment of “Freezer/Burn” are meant to evoke loneliness and separation. “Eyes”, “Picture Perfect”, and “Remote Self Control” use tropes from cyberpunk stories to express desires to “carve out” the human parts that feel pain and weakness. “Alien Nation” is obviously a pun, placing the narrator outside of humanity as a critical observer.
You know, happy stuff.
Sac.Indie.Music: Bino in regards to your live sets, you really put a lot of energy in your performance. Can you describe what you are feeling when performing?
BP: All kinds of things. Joy. Anger. Terror. It’s great catharsis for me. Sometimes I’m revisiting the original inspiration for the song’s lyrical content but, much like an artist’s audience finds their own personal interpretations of a work, I find myself applying old songs to current subjects or situations in my life or discovering subtle variations in meaning that I hadn’t intended. And that can shift the manner in which I’m singing something and feelings I project from show to show, sometimes.
Sac.Indie.Music: I don’t find to much about the band in the local media, you have a Facebook and bandcamp. Aside from that, does the band intentionally not pursue media attention, or is this something you guys even feel is necessary?
BP: There’s a variety of factors, there. Some of it is, admittedly, just straight up laziness. Some of it is sort of a self-defeating frustration with the local scene. Mostly, I’d say it’s just been our inconsistent schedule. So many unforeseen events have hampered us over the years, I think we just never got in the habit of self-promoting that much.
JA: The schedule has definitely been a hindrance. Mostly due to my cancer treatment schedule. We were playing 15+ shows a year before my first diagnosis in 2008. Since then shows are more “special events”. I’ve even suggested getting a fill in guitarist while I’m ill, what pisses me off the most that I’m just not physically up to doing what my heart wants.
Sac.Indie.Music: The band has released several e.p.’s, ‘Bleed’, ‘Souvenir (Expanded)’, and ‘Blood for Dracula’. Your newest record, due out very soon is entitled ‘Ignition/Fade’. Can you tell us little about the mood and vibe we can expect from the record?
BP: Ummm….dark? Seriously, while I could never be accused of writing poppy, uplifting lyrics, I think the music sometimes counterbalances them into something that could be described as “bittersweet” or at least adding a silver lining to some otherwise stormy clouds.
As much as there is a lot of doom and gloom on the surface of my lyrics, there’s actually a sense of satire and black humor behind a lot of songs. It’s maybe not as obvious as Warren Zevon singing about werewolf maulings and serial killers in an upbeat tone, but it’s there.
JA: It didn’t turn out sounding this way, but in my head “Ha! Ha! Ha!” by Ultravox, “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division and “Sleep No More” by Comsat Angels were all sonic touchstones. It ended up just sounding like Razorblade Monalisa turned up to 11.
Sac.Indie.Music: What are you most excited about this new record, as compared to your prior releases?
BP: Just the fact that we got a cohesive, full length album together, finally. It’s still ultimately a home-recorded album, but I think that giving it to Robert Furtkamp to mix and master was a good move. There were so many abortive attempts to record that ended in Jules and Ryan tearing their hair out, that I think it was really important to have them step back and let someone else put the final touches on it.
JA: It’s a good album, I’m glad to finally bring something in the world that’s fully formed. It’s definitely an “album” as opposed to a collection of songs. It almost feels like a film. The first half establishes the characters and situations and the second half picks up speed and just barrels along until the conclusion. There’s enough lyrical interplay between the songs (“Eyes” is tied to “Remote”, “Redshirts” is tied with “Freezer/Burn”) that repeated listens might bring the narrative into sharper focus. It’s kind of labyrinthine in a way.
Robert Furtkamp (who also helped master some of the Common Men’s last couple albums) really helped bring everything into focus. With prior albums we tried to record via the democracy route, that didn’t work out well. No one was ever happy. It was like a movie being shot without a director. I had to take up the director role on this one or it wouldn’t get recorded at all… my health being a huge motivator. It’s hard not to be motivated when you’ve got a metaphorical gun being pointed at your head.
Sac.Indie.Music: what was the writing process like for this album? Have you had these songs for a while, or did they form as the recording process took place?
BP: Most of them are actually older, but I think as a whole, the songs on the album provide a cross-section of the past nine years–filtered through our current lineup and sensibilities, of course.. “Eyes” is actually the very first song Jules and I recorded together, whereas “Dolly” and “Dog Star” are our most recent songs written since Will joined the band.
JA: You can pretty much look at this album as a “best of”. Apart from my solo album as Razorblade Monalisa – Bleed this really is the first album with Bino as the lyric lead. I tried to add new bits to every song to make them more current and fresher. If you took “Eyes” from the Eyes EP and compare it with the current version, it’s a lot more alive and dynamic. They are almost all “new” songs in a way.
Sac.Indie.Music: how was the album recorded? On your own or did you go into a studio?
JA: Due to my aforementioned health issues home recording seemed the only way. I would like to record a single soon in studio, it’s always good to have someone else’s ears and technical knowledge on board. Robert Furtkamp’s master added a lot to the feel of the album.
Sac.Indie.Music: The album art work was a piece done by Devi Ever (for those that don’t know, she was the founder of ‘Devi Ever : FX’ a popular boutique effects pedal maker once based out of Portland, Oregon). How were you able to get her to let you use her art work?
JA: I bought the painting used for the cover in 2010, I loved it so much I just asked her if I could use it for our then new EP, which never got released. She was fine with that as long as we credit her and sent her a CD. I kind of know her through Kevin Ian Common (The Common Men), and various boards she used to frequent.
Sac.Indie.Music: what can we expect from the band in the future? Will you be taking another break; can we expect to see any other shows in the near future?
BP: Yeah, unfortunately we still just have to play it by ear according to when Jules’ health allows. You definitely haven’t heard the last of us, though. We’ll keep rockin’ as long as we’re able.
JA: Besides Nov 14 @ the Starlite, we’ve got another show planed for Nov 1 @ the Stork Club in Oakland with In Letter Form, and are hoping to get another show in somewhere at an All Ages venue for our younger fans. We also hope to get a couple more songs recorded by the end of the year as a “single”. Unfortunately my health issues haven’t gone away yet, so near the end of the year we’ll have to retreat to the bat cave and hopefully write a completely new batch of songs for next year. Perhaps even a new album.
**All photos taken from the Razorblade Monalisa facebook page**