Getting Crazy with Monotonix

Just a hint of the chaos that is Monotonix.

Monotonix (listen) has to be seen to be believed. And once you see them, you'll likely be a believer. The Israeli garage-punk trio is unlike anything you've ever witnessed. Unless, of course, you have seen a band fronted by a hairy, shirtless 43-year-old (that would be Ami Shalev), who stalks the crowd with the energy of someone half his age, has multiple beers poured down his pants, dumps beers on audience members (and has the favor returned), empties a full garbage can on the head of his drummer (who looks exactly like Borat), leaps into the garbage can once it's empty and climbs on anything that can be climbed, striking fear into the hearts of club security guards.

That was the scene when I saw Monotonix last month in Austin, and all of it occurred within the first 10 minutes of the band's set. The only reason there wasn't any fire was because the effect would have been wasted at the day-time, outdoor show. The music may seem like a bit of an afterthought, but while all eyes are on Shalev, guitarist Yonotan Gat is laying down garage-blues licks and drummer Gever is pounding away to create something that's heavy and primal.

Monotonix visits the very tiny Red and the Black on Saturday, along with Dark Meat (you remember them, the 18-or-so-person band who pelted the audience with bouncy balls), and I'm not sure the club will survive to see Sunday. But if it doesn't, at least it will go out in a blaze of glory. Maybe literally. I talked to the three band members in Austin last month and found them to be some of the funnier and more thoughtful people I encountered all week.

So that was pretty insane. How do you get up for your shows?
Ami Shalev: What I like to do is not to sleep all night, be very tired, cross what I call the border of sleeping and then ... like a gunshot!

How much of what you do out there is pre-planned? Before the show starts are you like, "OK, I'm going to pour the garbage can on his head"?
Shalev: Sometimes when I walk into the venue I am looking to the bar to see what kind of food they got. And if the food is very greasy and disgusting, I use the garbage can from the bar.

Is it hard to stay focused with all the chaos surrounding you?
Yonatan Gat: My purpose in the show is just to avoid the splashes of beer on my guitar because it makes the guitar rusty.

When you came out you were wearing goggles, which I found a bit curious. By the end of the set it made perfect sense.
Gever: Actually, it feels good. I just like it. I used to play shows without it. So it doesn't matter.
Yonotan: He thinks they make him look like Miles Davis!

But you probably get the Borat much more.
Gat: Actually we think it's more of a combination of Borat and Kramer from "Seinfeld."

So no fire at this show.
Gat: When we are allowed to do the fire situation, we do it. Doing the fire in the daylight? It doesn't work. It is a night ritual.

What is your relationship with security at clubs you play at?
Gat: It's alright. We got banned from this year's [SXSW] showcase. We played our booking agency's showcase last year. It was at Flamingo Cantina, this place on Sixth Street. It's run by, I don't know, old-fashioned people. I mean, it's called Flamingo Cantina. And they didn't like Ami taking ice cubes from the bar and napkins and straws and throwing them at the audience. They were really upset by it. (Watch some video from a 2007 SXSW show, and read more after the jump.)

Do you ever get concerned that people will peg you as a novelty act because your live shows are so outrageous?
Gat: We work very hard to sound good. I don't know if people can really see it, but we try to. We practice every day, this is our full-time job. We constantly record and practice and play 200 shows a year. So I guess we just sound the best we can. If the live show draws interest to the music, that's a good thing. You know, after a show like this 20 people bought the CD so the live show is drawing interest to the music. And now that the album is coming out on Drag City - we are proud of it.

Do you ever feel bad about involving some audience members that don't know what they're getting themselves into?
Gat: People in Germany don't like it when Ami takes their beer. They take it very hard. Other than that the audience is usually fine with it.

What's the most serious injury you've suffered during a show?
Gat: Oh, there is a lot. Show him your shoulder.

(I touch Shalev's shoulder, which has things sticking out at weird angles.)


(Shalev nods.)

Gat: Forever. Show him your other shoulder.

Shalev: This happened in Brooklyn . I think it was the last show or the show before the last show of the tour and I jump into the garbage can and I feel it and I ... it hurt like hell. And after the show I lay down on the pavement with a bag of ice right here (points to shoulder) and make a (says Hebrew word).

A sling?
Shalev: Yes. That one hurt.

You're an Israeli band but never really make any mention of it. That must be by design.
Shalev: I don't deny that I am from Israel. I love Israel, I was born there, Israel is my home. But I don't think it makes any difference between us and bands from other places in the world. People should not try to look at us different. We are a band.
Gat: We try to communicate in a much more primitive way.

What's the worst thing he's done to you?
Gever: There was a garbage can that had a bottle and ... POING!!! But it's fun, it's fun.

Do you have a first-aid kit in your tour van?
Gat: You know, actually we don't but I was thinking about it. Maybe we need one.

You're very laid-back off stage. Does that surprise people?
Gat: Sometimes after a show I'll say to somebody, "Hey, can we crash at your place?" And he looks seriously at me and says, "But you are not going to set fire to my place, right?" "No, we won't."

That wouldn't be very hospitable.
Gat: No, it would just be kind of dumb.

By David Malitz |  April 8, 2008; 11:56 AM ET Interviews
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I saw them at CMJ last year and it was probably the only concert I've been at where I actually was not sure what was going to happen next. It was unsettling, but clearly it worked. I eventually snuck upstairs (this was at the Knitting Factory) before they could cover me with beer. They're sort of the anti-Les Savy Fav. Tim Harrington is good-natured, Ami Shalev ... not so much.

Posted by: MN | April 11, 2008 9:36 AM

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