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Andy Monley started playing live music in Denver in 1981, when he was still in high school, with his first band, the Joy Division-inspired Church and State. When that group dissolved, he formed Acid Ranch, a project directly influenced by the Birthday Party. But it wasn't until the inception of Jux County, in the late '80s, that Monley's music and reputation as a charismatic frontman with a dry wit caught the attention of a wide audience in the city. Later compared to Primus, Jux was displaying a vibrant hybrid of musical styles before most people knew about Les Claypool.
Although Jux County continues to perform one-off shows here and there, Monley's most critically acclaimed band, the Czars, took center stage in his musical priorities toward the latter half of the '90s. Signed to Bella Union, the Cocteau Twins' label, the Czars toured Europe and America, but despite writing some of the most gorgeously well-composed rock music of its time, the act never caught on big enough to replace day jobs.
Toward the end of the Czars' reign, Monley started writing solo material, and his first two albums, Denver and Triplight, showcased the songwriter's mastery of texture, atmosphere and poetic turns of phrase. With his latest release, Pull, Monley has written what might be his strongest, liveliest material to date. We sat down with him and talked about his songwriting and one of the plights of a veteran musician.
Westword: Do you explore any particular themes on your new album, Pull?
Andy Monley: Usually I write pretty vague love songs, unrequited love songs, vague political references. I think, lyrically, I'm fairly vague. I like to write visually, as far as lyrics are concerned. Sometimes I'm fairly concrete at what I'm getting at lyrically. Songs just happen. I don't ever write an album. I don't ever go, "This is my idea for an album." It's just, "Here are the songs that I've written." These songs work together, maybe, and that's it. This album is the most eclectic of my three solo albums so far.
You've been playing music in Denver a long time. What is it like for you these days trying to book shows, as opposed to earlier on in your time making music?
I really have to try to get shows. If I call up people or e-mail them, I can get a show, but I have to make the effort. Used to be I didn't have to make the effort to get a show; people would call me up. That's a big change for me, but I don't think that's a big change for Denver, necessarily.
There are a lot of great bands that are coming around now, and they're the ones people call up and ask if they want to play a show. It's not so much a difference between what it was like then and what it's like now; it's the difference between what I was like then and what I'm like now.