Antarctica is apparently brimming with bass players. That's what prompted Frank Abbatecola, who spent the better part of a decade there building runways for the National Science Foundation, to switch instruments.
"I went down there as a bass player and came back as a singer and guitar player," notes Monroe Monroe's frontman. "It just did something to me on the inside. Out of all the places in the world to have enough bass players, Antarctica was it. There's a whole music room down there — it had drums, guitar, bass, keys, all of it — so after work, I started to sing and play guitar for a band."
Abbatecola had only planned on working in Antarctica for a year when he first headed down there from Summit County, but his interest in singing and playing guitar was bolstered by playing with other musicians there, so he kept going back. "Eventually," he explains, "I was like, 'I'm going to do this for a few years, try and really hone this new craft, and then, when I'm ready to really start pursuing it as a singer, I'll stop going down.'"
Monroe MonroeCD-release party, with the Photo Atlas, Input featuring Caleb Slade, and In the Whale, 8 p.m. Saturday, December 10, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, $6, 720-570-4500.
Abbatecola left Antarctica for good last year. After a final stint on the continent to work and save some money, the New York native made his way back to Colorado, where he'd been spending his off time and had formed the Legendary Beeps Beeps, an outfit that later evolved into Monroe Monroe, which he currently fronts with guitarist Tavis Alley, drummer Matt Morse and bassist James Morrison (who recently replaced Lauren Gale).
"Putting Monroe Monroe together and not going back to Antarctica," Abbatecola begins, "the energy that the band is getting right now, and it's only been eighteen months — that's something I put out into the universe."
The universe has rewarded Abbatecola and his bandmates with some great opportunities, including the chance to open for Jimmy Gnecco, frontman of the band Ours, whom Abbatecola admires greatly. Unfortunately, when Monroe Monroe played with Gnecco this past summer at the Walnut Room, it wasn't quite the dream-come-true moment that Abbatecola had been anticipating. When Monroe Monroe finished its set and Gnecco took the stage, he played a few notes that sounded all too much like one of Monroe Monroe's new songs, "Adore." It was kind of shocking, and Abbatecola didn't quite know what to make of the gesture.
"He looked directly at me," Abbatecola recalls, "and he shot me a shitty look, and then he stopped and said, 'No. Can't play that. I need Static for that one.' I'm a pretty big fan of his, and 'Adore' sounds nothing like their stuff."
"I heard it, and I was like 'Holy shit! That sounds just like "Adore." That's crazy,'" says Morse, who was packing up his drum kit when he made the connection. But it was an especially strange experience for Abbatecola, who holds Gnecco in such high esteem. "He was individually and socially off that night," Abbatecola remembers. "Halfway through his set, he started playing 'Adore.' It was just the intro, the guitar part." As Abbatecola recalls the moment, the excitement barely outweighs the confusion in his voice. "We were all in separate parts of the room by ourselves. At the end of the night, we all went to Illegal Pete's, and we were walking down the street or something, and I was like, 'Hey, did you guys fucking hear Jimmy play "Adore?,"' and everybody was just going, 'What the fuck was that?'"
That same week, Monroe Monroe had opened for INXS at the Ogden Theatre. The venue was far better suited to the sheer volume of a Monroe Monroe show, and there was plenty of room on stage for the guys to do their thing: Abbatecola with his commanding presence, Morrison with his head bobs in time with the pulse of the bass, Alley and his spins and foot stomps, and Morse, whose every pound on the snare only felt complete when accompanied by the snappy, rhythmic movement of his lips — as if he were silently shouting the words "Fuck, yeah, man" on every downbeat. It was a raucous affair, and the guys looked like they were totally in their element. You would never have known that this was their first time playing with Morrison on bass.
Morrison, who was only filling in for Gale at the time, was technically on loan from his other band, Young Cities. But because his chemistry was so strong with the guys (or because Abbatecola did such a good job of kissing his ass, Morse teases), Morrison ultimately became a full-time member of Monroe Monroe when Gale later parted ways with the group. Morrison, who also still plays in Young Cities, joined just as Abbatecola and the other players were getting ready to enter the studio to record their new EP. "Recording is one of the best experiences a band can have. You learn so much," Morrison declares, stroking his beard hair as he pieces the words together. "For me, especially, coming into this band, I was freaking nervous, and it was only a few weeks after playing with you guys."
That same sense of nervousness has helped propel his bandmates to new heights in creating their most cohesive sound to date. On Hello Moon, the outfit's latest effort, the group has managed to capture the energy of its potent live shows, and from a songwriting standpoint, tunes like "Love Language" are notably accessible yet admirably complex — not unlike the band itself.
Accessible and complex aptly describe the overall creative approach of Monroe Monroe, a band that seems to gainfully inhabit the fertile territory between both of those designations. Take the title of the new EP, for instance: The inspiration for Hello Moon came from Abbatecola's frequent lunar-related Facebook status updates, of all things. "Every time there's a full moon, or at least a beautiful night where you can at least see a part of it," he explains, "I usually post a status about it."
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Hello Moon wasn't the only name Abbatecola presented to his bandmates, but it's the one that stuck. And when you consider the other names that were submitted, it's not hard to see why Hello Moon was chosen. After all, it's quite a bit more accessible than the title of Moon's planned followup, Ampullae of Lorenzini, which is already in the works.
"It's the name for the radar scientists use to detect the heartbeats of great white sharks," Abbatecola reveals.
Evidently, you can learn more than just music living in Antarctica with scientists.