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The road that led to their Island Records debut, Break Through the Silence, has been a long and anything-but-smooth one for the members of Monty Are I, whose name pays tribute to the band's Rhode Island roots as well as the high school music teacher Arthur Montanaro, back when they first came together to play.
After the release of their Wall of People album in 2006, the group's Island-affiliated indie label, Stolen Transmission--started by current Virgin Records President, veteran A&R exec Rob Stevenson, and former Spin editor Sarah Lewitinn--folded, leaving their future in doubt.
"There was a lot of discussion and soul-searching about what to do next," says drummer Justin Muir, who goes back to the beginning with his brother, guitarist/vocalist/trumpeter Ryan, lead singer/guitarist Stephen Aiello and bassist Mike Matarese, joined five years ago by keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Borstein.
"We were stuck in some ruts and had to pull ourselves out of those situations and look for the positives," agrees Aiello, who also pens the lyrics for the band's songs.
With a loyal fan base culled from a tireless road regimen, including several stints on the Warped tour, as well as opening slots for My Chemical Romance, Secondhand Serenade, Story of The Year, Sum41, and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Monty Are I entered the studio to tackle their dilemma the only way they knew how--with their music.
With a forceful, almost militaristic precision to their unique brand of alternative action-rock, in songs like the first single, "One in a Million," "The Stand," "Hope" and "Making Sounds," Monty Are I draw a line in the sand, determined to push the boundaries of their sound, and grow their audience at the same time. Featuring the cinematic flair, dance-floor pulse and swirling swings of the Armageddon-like "Sand Riders Doomsday," the soaring power ballads "Making Sounds" and the intimate confessional, "All of You Tonight," and the Middle Eastern tableaux of "Desert" and "Mirage," Monty Are I have made a powerful, provocative statement on their maiden major label effort
"We had a clearer vision of what we wanted to sound like," explains Justin. "This was a much more cohesive album. It feels more like a complete thought than a bunch of songs randomly put together."
Recorded at The Lair in L.A. and NRG in North Hollywood with ace producers Matt Squire (3OH!3, Taking Back Sunday, The Used, All Time Low, Panic at the Disco, Boys Like Girls) for nine songs and Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Dashboard Confessional, Hollywood Undead, Avril Lavigne) the other three, Break Through the Silence combines modern technology with good old-fashioned guitar crunch, gleefully mixing and mashing genres.
"We're really starting to come into our own in terms of what and who we want to be," says Aiello. "We've never fit into a single category. I think that's what sets us apart".
"Our musical tastes run right across the board," says Justin. "That's what we bring to the table when we start writing. It can't be put into a neat box."
"Before any other musical concept, songs start out for me as visuals, like picturing a movie or a scene in my head," says Aiello. "That helps start the engine for what the music and lyrics will eventually become."
For the wide-screen epic, "Sand Riders Doomsday," this involved combining actual strings, a disco beat, stacked harmonies and a cathartic climax best described as Lawrence of Arabia meets Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."
"I was into soundtrack music and movies like Gladiator," explains Aiello about his inspirations. And while songs like the title track, "Hope" and "One in a Million" have the type of synchronous guitar-work that fans of Monty Are I have come to expect, the group also experiments with modern electronica beats and rhythms in songs like "Kaleidoscope," which ends with a brassy New Orleans funeral march, and "On the Wire," which uses a propulsive string section for emphasis.
"Andrew's our resident computer dork," says Justin about multi-instrumentalist Borstein. "He did the programming as well as the string arrangements."
The album also has some political overtones, particularly in the back-to-back songs, "Desert" and "Mirage," with their exotic instrumentation, you can almost feel the burning sand beneath your feet amidst the war-torn, Middle East battleground.
"`Mirage' came out of a dream I had of walking through the desert and seeing robots constructing things," says Aiello. "It talks about men in suits with hands in their pockets manipulating the world."
"We're not into preaching, but we do have our own feelings, which these songs reveal," says Justin.
In the closing "Convoy of Angels," Aiello writes from the point of view of a family member with a cancer scare, the treated, strangulated vocal representing the voice inside the head contemplating an uncertain future set against his own mortality.
"And give me a sign/That God is alive/And Cure my infection/With the will to survive," he sings.
It's a line that could well apply to Monty Are I, ready to forge, no holds barred, into the future. Winners of several competitions, including an Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands, as well as placing songs on the video games Tony Hawk's Project 8 and ATV Offroad Fury 4, they are coming out with guns--and guitars--loaded on Break Through the Silence.
"We've always been road dogs," laughs Justin. "We love being out there. We're constantly looking to get better, bigger and play before more people. We don't like to lose."
"That's the beauty of making music," adds Stephen. "You might not hear it in the beginning, but by the end, it turns into something beautiful."
Monty Are I's Break Through the Silence is just that... something big, bold, brassy and, yeah, beautiful. That's the only way to describe it.