A Short History of
The Monks were a British band from 1979-82 featuring members of the Strawbs. During the rise of punk rock, these guys thought it would be fun to create a punk rock record of their own. They could actually play their instruments, though, and knew how to write really interesting progressions. It’s not that they were making fun of punk rock, but they certainly weren’t really punks themselves. There is something perfectly tongue-in-cheek about their first record, Bad Habits - like there would be if I were to make a hip-hop record today. It’s music I think they respected and loved, but wasn’t really ‘them’, and there’s something about that which makes the whole thing irresistibly fun.
Their first single, ‘Nice Legs, Shame About Her Face, ’ was a demo that wasn’t really ever supposed to go to radio. In fact, the first DJ that played the record misread their name, which was supposed to be ‘The Mugs. ’ Instead of correcting the error, they just went with it and that song became a top 10 hit in the UK. And that’s about where the story ends in England. John Ford (of the Monks) told me that he felt like people just didn’t find them believable. These were the guys from the Strawbs, a known band, and something about them making punk rock just didn’t gel. They would remain a one-hit wonder in their own country.
Canada, however, was a completely different story. No one cared what band these guys used to be in - they just loved the songs. Bad Habits went multi-platinum, and the one time they toured the country, it was a sold-out arena tour. They released four or five singles, and were basically treated like the Beatles. Canadians embraced the Monks and made them their own. What a world of difference. And while the Monks were big in Canada, they were HUGE in Ontario. People loved them.
They would go on to make another record, ‘Suspended Animation, ’ which was never even released anywhere BUT Canada at the time. I believe it has been re-released in other territories since, but just imagine: a UK band releasing something exclusively to Canada in 1979. It sort of made it ours - part of the Canadian identity, and no one else’s. According to EMI, the record is still selling well here and you see old copies in every record store in Toronto. I like to show people the remake of the cover with me dressed as a nun, and every person who sees it instantly recognizes the artwork. It’s an iconic cover that seems to be a part of Canadian pop culture.
But like so many old records, I guess things become forgotten, only to enjoy a sudden resurgence of popularity from time to time; for ‘Bad Habits,’ I think perhaps that time should be now. This is one of the many reasons I chose to cover it.
The Making of:
‘Thomas D’Arcy Presents: A Tribute to The Monks’
The Monks are a band that I have loved for a very long time in a lot of different ways. ‘Bad Habits’ - their first record - has always been a failsafe for van listening on long drives for various tours in various bands: it’s a record that has never let me down, that sounds good wherever you listen to it, no matter what you’re doing. Steve [fellow Small Sins member] and I have always wanted to cover a record from start to finish, and since he shares my affinity for the Monks, we decided that ‘Bad Habits’ would be the one.
Of course timing is always an issue. This is a project we talked about for more than a year before ever recording a song, but like many good ideas, the ones that stick in the back of your head over time and still seem reasonable a year later are probably the ones you should pursue.
I started recording bits and pieces alone while recording my own solo record. I’ve always been a bit all over the place when it comes to making my own music. I’m constantly shifting from slow songs to fast ones, guitar-based music to electronic, whispering voice to David Byrne voice. It’s hard to focus. What the Monks helped to do was provide a break from myself. Whenever something of my own seemed a bit stale, or when I just wanted to have fun after taking myself a bit too seriously, I would do another Monks song on the side for fun.
There was no concern for recording any song perfectly. The only rule: if it’s not fun, let’s not do it. Different guests came in for different songs, all of whom are hardcore Monks fans. Steve ended up playing on it more than anybody - no surprise. Working on this project was a release. I could try recording techniques that were bound to fail, only to find that they worked - or not. The project became a studio guinea pig, and a way to cleanse the musical palate.
It wasn’t until I had already recorded maybe eight or nine of these songs that I started to try and get in touch with any of the original members of the Monks. The record was not made to be released - although I guess you always think about that in the back of your mind - but after tracking down John Ford (one of the original Monks singers), it started to seem like a good idea that people hear this. You see, John enjoyed what I had done so much that he decided he would like to perform on it as well. Imagine, singing a song on a tribute to yourself. Weird, inter-dimensional stuff. Once he was on there, there was no question that the covers record would somehow have to be put out.
So there it is. Thomas D’Arcy presents: A Tribute to The Monks featuring one of the guys from the Monks, Chris Murphy of Sloan singing ‘Love in Stereo,’ Chris Colohan of Cursed singing ‘Drugs in My Pocket,’ John Kastner of The Doughboys singing ‘Spotty Face,’ Ian Blurton of c’mon singing ‘No Shame,’ and a handful of other great dudes playing various instruments. I hope you enjoy it, and if you don’t already know the band, go find a copy. It is a record that deserves limitless attention.