Monster Truck’s Jeremy Widerman & Jon Harvey: Revving it up!

By Justin Beckner

Monster Truck is a Canadian band whose sound spans the rift between blues and hard rock. Their debut album is nothing short of extraordinary. And why shouldn’t it be, it was recorded twice? The album brings heavy riffs and soaring melodies. Monster Truck has already been turning heads by opening up tours for some of the biggest names in rock. In the following interview, we catch up with Jeremy Widerman (guitar, vox) and Jon Harvey (bass, vox) about their humble beginnings, the re-recording of their first album, and the lead up to their highly anticipated second album.

What took so long to record the first album?

Jeremy: We did it twice. We went to LA and did the whole record with a guy named Kevin Augunas in what used to be Sound City, it’s now called Fairfax Studios. It ended up being kind of a clash between what we wanted and what he was expecting and we got rushed a bit. We had three weeks to do the whole record, so some logistical things didn’t really line up. We ended up coming home feeling that it wasn’t what we wanted to put out as our debut. We just went back and did the whole thing over again with the guy who did the Brown EP; we had had a lot of success with that EP and had a good relationship with the producer. It was a little hard to get the budget for the second go around, but once we figured out the money thing, it really went pretty smoothly.

How hard was it to spend that much recording an album and then scrap it? I’d imagine there was a fair amount of deliberation that went into that decision…

Jon: Yeah, it was about two months of getting everyone on the same page and getting the label behind the idea. They were the ones who had to agree to let us do it again since it was their money we were spending. Getting them to flip the bill a second time was not easy. Our manager didn’t like the first recording either. I think that helped us in this case because our manager is the owner of our record label and he knew that it needed to be better than it was.

What wasn’t up to par?

Jeremy: The real problem with the whole session was that we were recording everything live off the floor onto tape. That’s a great way to do a record and it was definitely the vibe and sound we were hoping to get but when you put yourself into a situation where you only have enough room on the tape to do one take of everything, then you have to decide if that’s the ‘keeper take’ right after you finish recording it. In that case it was difficult to decide whether or not it was a good take to keep or if you should just record over it. So we never had the luxury of coming back a week later and listening to two or three takes of a song and really hearing what parts were good. In all of those old records, they still edited, they still spliced takes together. This situation was not like that. We had to take the good with the bad. Then you put that on top of the fact that we only had three weeks. It is a great way to record and we would like to record that way in the future but there is a reason that some of those classic records took six months to record and used 17 reels of tape. They had the ability to go back two or three weeks later and listen to the takes with a sober mind and listen to what they did or didn’t like about it.

Were you set on analog from the very beginning?

Jeremy: No I think it was something that he came to us with.

Jon: Our manager and producer collectively decided that they would like to make it possible for us to record analog. We were excited about it, who wouldn’t want to record that way? Then we ended up getting there and analog was a lot more pressure. I think we did 13 songs on two reels.

Jeremy: We like the idea of it and we didn’t want to abandon it, but it’s a situation where you need a lot more money to afford all the tape and the studio time. We were still able to take the songs that we recorded the second time around and bounce them down to half inch tape to give it that tape compression. It’s a poor man’s version of adding the tape sound to a record but it’s better than nothing. You get a bit of that roundness to the bottom end that you hear on the record, it was better than doing a straight digital master. Our producer, Eric Ratz, just got nominated for a JUNO award (Basically a Canadian Grammy) for producer of the year and engineer of the year based on that recording and we got nominated for rock album of the year.

What’s more important to you, getting your album recognized and getting awards or touring with bands that I would imagine you grew up idolizing – Deep Purple, Alice in Chains, etc.?

Jeremy: Touring. But I think the mainstream success of the album is what afforded us opportunities to tour with Alice in Chains or Slash. When I was a kid, I didn’t even have dreams that lofty. That wasn’t even in the realm of possibility in my mind.

In the early days, I’ve heard you described as a “beer band” where you would play for beer and a couple hundred bucks, do you miss those days at all?

Jon: No. not at all. This is way better. Now we get to play every day.

Jeremy: There is a certain fondness looking back. Like we used to do one rehearsal a week and I used to look forward to it for the other six days. Plus I would get super drunk for rehearsal which made it a party on its own. But back then I was so excited about the band. I thought we were awesome and I thought it was so much fun. I didn’t care if it went anywhere because I was having so much fun just playing with the group. That sentiment I miss because there was absolutely zero pressure. All that mattered was that Monday was coming and I’d get to drink a bottle of whisky and play my favorite songs ever. I think everyone in the band had that mentality to a certain extent.

What’s the difference between a tight band and a road tested band?

Jeremy: It’s a totally different level of tightness. I think I can actually define what that is in an example. If you’re a well-rehearsed band and you’re playing in a rehearsal space, the band is tight and you can play everything perfectly. But if you have a brain-fart and you happen to forget what the next part is that’s coming up, whether it’s because you’re drunk or stoned or whatever, you’ll fuck it up. But if you’re a hardened tour band, your hand will do it for you. I’ve had brain-farts on stage where I don’t know what’s coming up next and I’ve literally just watched my hand go up the neck and play the next part. It’s that muscle memory that you don’t get from rehearsing because very few bands rehearse every day. On tour you’re forced to play every day and that muscle memory takes over. It works for vocals too. If you have two or three weeks off you lose it. Then it takes a week or two on tour to get it back.

Jon: Plus when you’re on tour and playing live every day, there’s the pressure that doesn’t exist in the rehearsal space so there’s a bit more focus.

You guys both write songs for the band. You both have different writing styles, I’m sure. That’s an interesting dynamic but it must work.

Jeremy: Generally when Jon writes songs, they’re complete which is great because it’s just me learning the parts. When I write songs, it usually comes to the band in parts. Sometimes I’ll have a riff that I really like and don’t know how to make it a song and then Jon will put the vocal melody over it and the light comes on and you realize that you wrote an amazing song. A lot of times you don’t realize how powerful a riff can be until the vocal melody is put over the top of it.

Vocal parts demanding, change key or tuning to complement?

Jeremy: Very rarely. We’re in D Standard, which is something that’s been passed down from other bands we’ve been in. It works really well for this band because it gives it that incredibly deep sound. A couple times people have asked where that heaviness comes from and a big part of it is that we’re playing on de-tuned guitars, basically. We’ve done a couple songs in E Standard when the vocal parts were really high. It’s about finding that sweet spot. Fortunately for us, Jon has a pretty wide range where he can sing and not fuck up his voice.

Where are you guys at in the process of full length number two?

Jeremy: We’re just beginning to write. We try to fit as much work as we can into our sound checks while we’re on tour. Some days that’s easier than others, but we’ve got four or five good ideas rolling around right now. We were just writing some lyrics today, actually.

Jon: We’re pretty far from recording. We’re trying to get a head start on the pre-production so that we don’t get into a time crunch when it comes time to record the second record. I think that happens to a lot of bands when they have a strong first album and they get stuck touring for years on end and they end up having such a great time, but it’s busy and hard to write on the road, so they end up with like three weeks to throw a second album together. We don’t want to get ourselves into that position.

With a sophomore album looming, are you feeling any pressure?

Jeremy: Any pressure we have for the second album is completely put on by ourselves. We don’t want to be one of those bands that come out with a really weak second album – that’s an evil thing to do to your fans. You can fuck up your whole career by making that mistake and we are well aware of that. We want to make sure that there is no possible way that people could feel let down by our second album. We’re really excited about it though. The first album had some success so now we’ve put the label in a position where they are more willing to give us what we want the next go around in the studio.