INTERVIEW: John Browne of Monuments

UK progressive metal masters Monuments stood alongside Coldrain, Patent Pending, Butcher Babies and The Interrupters as one of the first five bands to be announced for the Soundwave 2015 festival – part of Soundwave’s ultra-cool strategy of highlighting a few of the slightly-lesser-known-but-soon-to-kick-your-ass bands prior to the main announcement. If you haven’t heard Monuments yet you soon will; their music is from the same general region of metal as folks like Periphery, Animals As Leaders and Circles, but with an enhanced focus on groove. Call it djent you can shake your ass too if you must, put a label on it, but the point is that in a genre with a few inspired standouts and a whole lot of soundalikes, Monuments have that extra something to set themselves apart. Now with Chris Barretto (ex-Periphery, Ever Forthright) on vocals, they’ve pushed their sound to further levels of originality and power on new album The Amanunensis, a sprawling concept album inspired by David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas.

“It’s gonna be amazing,” guitarist John Browne – he prefers to be simply referred to as Browne – says of the band’s inaugural Soundwave run. “It’s crazy! It’s one of the most iconic festivals, and to come over to Australia for the first time to play such a prestigious festival is going to be amazing. D’know what’s crazy? All my favourite bands are Australian! I’m a really big fan of Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, Birds of Tokyo… the list goes on!”

Before Soundwave kicks off though, Monuments has an epic US trek to warm up with, playing alongside fellow progressive metal merchants Animals As Leaders and the Devin Townsend Project. “It’s pretty crazy,” Browne says. “Devin is one of the leaders of the metal scene; Strapping Young Lad back in the day and all the albums he’s done with the Project… He’s probably one of the biggest inspirations in metal so it’s crazy that we’ve got the opportunity to open that tour.”

MonumentsThe word ‘crazy’ seems to pop up a lot in Browne’s vocabulary. It’s tempting to read into it something about his band’s musical eclecticness: it’s probably a good word to describe what it’s like living with this kind of diverse, highly ethnical musical narrative churning through your head at all times. So where does Monuments’ palpable sense of rhythm and groove come from? “Michael Jackson,” Browne says without missing a …well, without missing a beat. “When you listen to Off The Wall and especially songs like “Working Day And Night,” if you listen to everything going on it’s actually a really complicated song. There are some crazy jazz chords in there with some crazy inversions and if someone can write music that’s that accessible but that complicated at the same time, it’s genius. And it grooves as well.” In fact, if you check out videos of Browne shredding on guitar – and there are plenty out there – you’ll notice that he keeps time by bobbing his head in a manner not altogether un-Jackson-like, right, Browne? “Exactly, yeah! That’s it! Since I was a kid, I think I was about three years old, maybe two when I remember first listening to Michael Jackson. Mum used to play all that stuff when I was a kid and ever since then it’s been in the back of my mind, that groove thing. So I have to help my mother for introducing me to all that great music when I was a child.”

A virtuoso-level 8-string guitarist (who recently signed with Mayones Guitars from Poland), Browne’s approach to guitar tone is as rhythmically-inspired as the notes that he plays. “I see it like a drum kit,” he explains. “I do quite a lot of scratching on the guitar and I associate those with ghost notes on a snaredrum, so I like a really full guitar tone that can still get quite tight. You have to get quite tight to get that kind of range, so a drum kit is probably the thing I most closely associate with the guitar sound I go for.” But despite the list of great guitarists to have played with Michael Jackson – Jennifer Batten, Steve Lukather, Slash, Eddie Van Halen – it was Bon Jovi that first drew Browne to the guitar. “I heard “Living On A Prayer” when I was very, very young, maybe 8 years old, and I thought ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I listened to a lot of Meatloaf when I was a kid too but I didn’t really associate that with the guitar. I think Bon Jovi was what fuelled it. I started on acoustic guitar and doing a lot of stuff like Bob Dylan but then I got my first electric guitar when I was 13, which is 15 years ago now, and ever since then I’ve been introduced to more and more music. I went through a stage of looking for a lot of lead guitar players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Andy Timmons and guys like that and then I heard Meshuggah, and then everything changed! I heard a lot of similarities between Meshuggah and Michael Jackson in all the bouncy rhythms so I kinda just try to incorporate both aspects when I play guitar.”