ABOVE: MONARCHY. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW MURABITO.
Based on name alone, the sooner you succumb to Monarchy’s musical influence, the better. Thankfully, though, the London-based, Aussie-born electro-pop duo creates seductive sonic landscapes to which we’ll readily surrender.
Vocalist Ra Black enraptures with the sort of biting, frenetic energy of an ’80s frontman, while simultaneously employing the impassioned, falsetto finesse of R&B. Andrew Armstrong matches Black with his synthesized operatics that dance lightly through professions of love lost, gained, and consummated.
Since their release of Around the Sun in 2011, Monarchy has amassed a dedicated following. Now, after releasing two impressive singles (2013’s “Disintegration” featuring burlesque chanteuse Dita Von Teese and 2014’s “Living Without You”), one EP, and a successful crowd-funded campaign, their sophomore LP, Abnocto, is out today, March 9.
Here, we’re pleased to premiere “Falling In Love With A Memory,” a track from the upcoming full-length. We spoke with Armstrong, the self-proclaimed outgoing half of Monarchy, about the anticipated release, his emphasis on intriguing aesthetics, and the benefits of being imperfect in the studio.
BENJAMIN LINDSAY: First of all, congrats on Abnocto. It’s my understanding you have a London show lined up to celebrate?
ANDREW ARMSTRONG: Yeah, that’s right. There’s a pub in East London, it’s kind of a more intimate showcase—really looking forward to it. We’re playing in London a bit more often now, which has been great.
LINDSAY: This album was partially funded by a pledge campaign, correct?
ARMSTRONG: We decided to do the pledge campaign just because it’s a way for fans to get involved and maybe get something they wouldn’t normally get. I don’t know that we would’ve done vinyl if we didn’t do a pledge campaign. We’re also doing posters and some fun stuff, like Instagram takeovers, or people can request a song for us to cover, or receive personalized thank you notes and things like that. They understand that getting involved helps us in making an album. People just wait for an album to be delivered, I guess, in a lot of ways. This way, people go, “Oh, well, I really do want a new Monarchy album, so this is the way.”
LINDSAY: Is it important for you, as an artist, to put music out on this full-length format? Or do you prefer EPs and singles?
ARMSTRONG: We were going to just start releasing EPs ’cause we had “Disintegration,” then we had “Living Without You,” and then we had the Almost Human EP. But we had so many fans complaining that they wanted “Disintegration” and “Living Without You” on an album, so [Abnocto] was sort of a reaction to our fans wanting that. We got those singles and the key tracks from the EP and put them together with new tracks. Obviously, we don’t completely bend to the fans, [laughs] but, you know, if they’re saying they want vinyl, then we’re more than happy to take that into account.
LINDSAY: How do you think Abnocto differs from Around the Sun?
ARMSTRONG: I think it sounds a lot more organic. Around the Sun was kind of synth-y. In between albums, I taught myself quite a bit about production and how to get the sound I wanted—different little tricks to achieve that. Whether it’s leaving in roughness and leaving in mistakes, it’s given the album a more organic sound.
LINDSAY: That’s funny because as the saying goes “practice makes perfect,” but in this case, you were taking these imperfections and allowing them to enhance the LP. This premiere of “Falling in Love With a Memory,” is it going to be a single?
ARMSTRONG: No, this is just to preview the album. We might end up doing a video for it. It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album.
LINDSAY: You have a video for “Black Widow” coming, right? Another one with Dita Von Teese?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, that should be coming out in about two weeks. We’re good friends with Dita, so after “Disintegration,” we now catch up and hang out a couple of times a year. We might do another track with her, as well.
LINDSAY: Obviously Dita has a certain persona behind her name, and burlesque in general is all about lust and restraint. Do you feel like those themes correlate with your music?
ARMSTRONG: I definitely think that’s why, for me, “Disintegration” worked really well. Her image and our image and our music, and the way we wrote that track for her, I think that was a really good meshing. Her vocal line is almost like a jazz line in this electronic setting, and then the lyrics relate to her quite well. That collaboration was born out of a true friendship and an understanding between two artists.
LINDSAY: You recently came out as gay in 2014. What instigated that decision?
ARMSTRONG: I found in my day-to-day conversations with people, I was always changing my conversation a little bit just to hide that fact, which then sort of implies that you have shame about yourself. I think it was affecting me probably more than I gave it credit for. It’s not like I want to come out to everyone, but it’s, like, “Why am I changing the gender of my partner?” It was wearing me down, basically.
LINDSAY: With a lot of contemporary artists in nu-disco and electronic pop—Empire of the Sun comes to mind—there’s not an explicit gayness to them, but a certain theatricality and queer aesthetic. Does your perspective as a gay man at all inform your approach to your music and image?
ARMSTRONG: It’s really hard to tell. I’m not really involved in the commercial gay scene at all; I’m involved in the creative gay scene. The East London gay scene is a lot more interesting than the commercial scene. On the surface, I’d say that being gay hasn’t affected me, but at the same time, I suppose it has because it’s forced me to create my own personality and also find some interesting things to latch onto myself, which has then informed my art.
LINDSAY: You and Ra Black met a few years ago in London. Was it immediately a natural creative collaboration?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, we both enjoyed working together. We communicate really well. We’ve actually never had a fight with each other, which is pretty amazing when you’re going on tour with someone and living in each other’s pockets. Although we act quite differently, in a lot of ways, we have a very similar outlook on life.
LINDSAY: As the producer of the duo, who are you listening to today? What artist do you like to take the stems of and sort of play around with?
LINDSAY: And your hands aren’t just in music. You recently premiered the Seven Rays Fall/Winter 2015 collection. Are you also behind the creative direction and styling of Monarchy’s music videos?
ARMSTRONG: With the videos, we work with people, but I’m quite hands-on, keeping an eye on styling and things like that. That’s really important for bands. You can’t just hand that over to a video director and [let it go] off on some sort of tangent. But having said that, we really respect the video directors that we work with, so we have to give them some free reign. Our video directors always put in a much bigger effort than we possibly compensate them for.