The New Monarchs

The New Monarchs began as a conventional four-piece rock combo, but they didn’t stay conventional for long, boiling down to a two-man electronic collaboration between lyricist-guitarist Sean Hogan and multi-instrumentalist Taylor Nelson. The duo’s 2008 debut, Blueprints, married glossy, processed beats with heart-on-sleeve, emotion-drenched pop, creating a sound the duo refined further on 2010’s five-song Electrocaching. The New Monarchs’ still-untitled sophomore full-length should be released later this year. In the meantime, the band has also put out Repeating Equation: Electrocaching Remixes, a track-by-track reworking of Electrocaching by compatriots in the local electronic scene including Askeleton and DJ Skullbuster. To celebrate the EP, they’ll play Jan. 7 at Cause with Ghost In The Water and Aaron & The Sea. The A.V. Club caught up with Hogan and Taylor to talk about the remix EP, the joys of a diverse music scene, and the benefits of appearing on Gossip Girl.   

The A.V. Club: The remix EP follows the same track order as Electrocaching. Was that a deliberate plan, to create an alternate way to experience Electrocaching as a whole?

Sean Hogan: That’s how I saw it. It was born in that order. 

Taylor Nelson: Every time we create an album, we have this grand vision of what we want to do. This was originally planned as a double release, to put [Electrocaching and the remixes] both out as Side A and Side B next to each other. 

AVC: Any particular surprises? Anyone do anything to your songs that you weren’t expecting?

SH: I think they made them all better! Ghost In The Water took “Still, Again,” this slow song, and made it this super-’80s dance thing. I loved it.

AVC: Was it hard to let go of your songs?

TN: The Askeleton remix [“Tangent”] was the first one we got back and, when I first heard it, I wasn’t sure about it. Any musician who writes their own music is very attached to that finished product. Letting someone else do that is always very unnerving. But once all the other remixes came in, it fit so well with everything else. Hearing it as a whole, it was like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”

SH: I was at the opposite end where, once you’re done with an album, I don’t ever want to hear these songs again. And hearing the new one brought back the energy of the originals. 

AVC: Did hearing the remixes inspire you to take your own music in a new direction?

SH: [Shakes head.] We had already written “Converter”—we actually played it at the release show for Electrocaching. And that was sort of the rock, if you will, of our next phase. I think the remixes are more electronic than we’ve become. 

TN: When we switched to a two-man project, we took a huge step back from [our earlier] rock sound and made it more dance-electronic. Since then, it’s grown back towards what we can do that sounds like a rock band but is still electronic. It’s very aggressive compared to Blueprints

AVC: Though you’re an electronic band, one of your grounding elements is that you don’t use laptops to make music. It’s all done through your gear.

SH: That’s still the same. It’s still just the drum machines and a couple of keyboards and guitars. I like using laptops, but it’s one of those things onstage. ... We pride ourselves on being able to do it strictly hardware-wise. Even though it’s electronic, it’s live.  

AVC: This is a couple of years ago now, but in 2009 one of your Blueprints songs, “Kiss Me At The Gate,” was featured on the TV show Gossip Girl. How did that come about?

TN: We sent out 20 or 30 copies of our album to different licensing companies on the West Coast. I was driving home from a haircut and I got an e-mail on my iPhone that said, “Hey, we’re interested in using your song on an episode of Gossip Girl in a month.” I had no idea what Gossip Girl was, so I immediately texted my sister, who’s a couple of years younger than me, and said “Do you know what this is?” And she started freaking out. [Laughs.] So I thought that must be a good thing. 

SH: I didn’t believe it was happening, even though they kept saying, “Yes, it’s happening.”

AVC: How was it used in the show?

SH: [Laughs.] It was kind of a theme for a taboo love between a student and a teacher. It’s great, because we now have fans in Europe and South America where we would never have had exposure like this.

TN: It’s still hard to describe. You don’t know what it feels like until you’re watching network TV with your family and your song comes on TV. It was unreal.

SH: This will go down as one of our biggest accomplishments: On the iTunes electronic charts, it topped at No. 13, and it beat Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” for like two days. [Laughs, and pumps his fist.] And then after a week it was down to 70, and then it was gone. But it was pretty cool!

TN: For something like that to skyrocket a band’s career, you’d have to get multiple placements. I guess it started a chain reaction of bands from the Twin Cities getting placed on Grey’s Anatomy and other shows. 

SH: One For The Team was on [Gossip Girl] after us.

TN: A year and a half later, we played at the Kitty Cat Klub, and this guy came up and said, “I drove all the way down from Fargo to hear you guys, and you didn’t play ‘Kiss Me At The Gate!’” So we did an encore and played it for him. Obviously we aren’t touring the world in a jet, but it helped solidify our spot in Minneapolis music. It opened a lot of doors. 

AVC: Your duo began as a long-distance collaboration while Sean was going to school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but you’ve been a solidly Minneapolis band for some time. How easy was that transition?

TN: I think in the last year or two there’s been a huge electronic resurgence here, which has given us a comfortable home. It’s almost like a family here. Whereas in Eau Claire, as you described it—

SH: At the time, nobody knew who we were, and nobody wanted to listen to [our] kind of music.

TN: You know, Bon Iver came out of Eau Claire, and Solid Gold came out of Minneapolis, and that kind of explains the difference between the genres that thrive in those two cities. 

SH: It’s nice that it’s so diverse [here].

TN: I’m happy it went that route. Some cities have specific styles that everybody loves and, if something new comes out, it’s hard for it to fit in. 

AVC: Minneapolis doesn’t seem to have a lot of barriers between genres in that way, either for audiences or musicians.

TN: Some cities have the electronica venue, the folk venue, the rock venue. Here, we could pretty much play anyplace, and with different kinds of bands. Like we played Hell’s Kitchen recently with Ghostmouth, a post-punk band. [We] don’t have to worry about “Oh, am I going to fit into this scene?” I think the Doomtree guys deserve a lot of the credit for that. Because in some cities, you either like hip-hop and you’re cool, or you don’t and you’re not listening to what everybody else is listening to. In a city with such diverse tastes as ours, they made it cool for everybody to like it, so you can have a show with a hip-hop band and then a rock band like us. 

SH: We’re lucky to be a part of it.

TN: It’s a very free-flowing and easygoing music scene, and that breeds creativity, because you have the leeway to say, “I’m just going to throw this out there and see if people like it.”