With little more than an EP to its name, Israeli punk outfit Monotonix already has a rabid fan base eager to proselytize the band’s garage-rock gospel. Whether it's due to word-of-mouth hyperbole or ample YouTube carnage, the ever-touring trio has drawn capacity crowds to its legendary live shows, and following a new full-length, Where Were You When It Happened?, the hirsute Hebrews are once again crowd-surfing their way across the U.S. With pyrotechnics, stage diving, and gratuitous nudity, Monotonix's concerts unfold like a highlight reel of rock's wildest moments. In advance of the band's show at The Rock And Roll Hotel tonight, The A.V. Club talked with singer Ami Shalev—in his occasionally skewed English—to discover how it's possible to go so crazy so consistently.
The A.V. Club: It seems like you guys never stop touring. Is that exhausting?
Ami Shalev: Since the first tour we don't actually really stop touring. We take a period of time to rest and to record and practice, but for three years it was like one big tour. In the beginning it was necessary. To get yourself a fan base everywhere, to create new crowd, you should tour all the time. This is the basic thing that rock 'n' roll bands should do. Rock 'n' roll is all about the live show. Right now even if we decided that, "Alright, we're going to take a little break," always good offers come and we can't say no to new places that want us to play. So we taking it. We happy about it, we like to work.
AVC: How did U.S. audiences first react when you started playing here?
AS: The first tour was really DIY tour that Yonatan [Gat, guitarist] booked doing the Myspace for small venues, and there wasn't a lot of people in the crowd. You can imagine 10, 12, 15 people. The thing that give us hope to continue touring: We saw that people react to the show. They treat us very well. Especially compared to a place like Israel, where this underground live music scene is so small.
AVC: How did those 10-15 people react when you started going crazy?
AS: Before they know us and before they know what to expect, there was a feeling that people was a little bit scared from us. For me, I judge a good show if in the beginning people afraid and then the end of the show people enjoy and open their heart and smile. If you can get into people hearts and minds, it is a good show for me.
AVC: What does it take to put on these kind of performances?
AS: The three of us are in good physical shape, and we know how to take care of ourself and do our thing without getting too hurt badly. Nobody of our band drink alcohol, especially before the show begin. Nothing. We realized you can't do this kind of energy with alcohol. The moment that you put on yourself the stinky stage clothes, you get into the vibe and the adrenaline makes it by itself.
AVC: Not getting hurt too badly? Haven't you broken both of your shoulders at shows?
AS: Yeah, yeah. I broke both of my shoulders. The first time was in a place in Brooklyn somewhere I don't remember, and the second time was also in Brooklyn. But we didn't stop. The day after, we had another show and we played it. When you broke your shoulder there is nothing you can do about it. There's no such thing to go to hospital and treat it. You just need to let it heal, and that's all. So that's what I've done. But it was hurt, I mean… whoah!
AVC: You were a tank commander in the army right?
AS: Of course. That is the law in Israel. You do it.
AVC: Do you think that made you tougher?
AS: The thing that I must say I learn in the army was that when you got to the moment that you think that you can't go on anymore, it's only 10 percent of your powers and ability to go on. In the army they teach that you can do a lot more. It's the army philosophy.
AVC: Did you feel the need to tone things down when you were opening for Silver Jews?
AS: We didn't do it mellow by purpose because the thing that guide us during our live show is the vibe in the air. If the vibe is more mellow, we automatically become more mellow or became more extreme to surprise people. It's not something that we say, "Alright, tonight we going to perform before Silver Jews. It's a different crowd so we wanna take it a little bit laid back." That's not how we do it. We start a show, we see how it going, what's happen, how it's going on, and it happens naturally. Everything, including the physical act, the climbs and everything like that, is improvised. There is nothing that we plan before.
AVC: Have audience expectations gone over board? Do they come expecting too much and get too crazy?
AS: No, I don't have ever have the feeling that people get too much crazy cause the vibe that we put in our shows is the vibe that it's not going to be violent. It's all about fun, it's all about chill out. You can do whatever you want unless you hurt somebody or yourself. There is no violence involved in it so there's no way people can enjoy themselves more than they need to enjoy themselves
AVC: I heard a guy set himself on fire at one of yours shows.
AS: Yeah, it was in Knoxville, Tenn., I think two years ago. He set himself on fire for a reason I don't know why. Maybe he was too excited. Nothing happened to him. We spilled water on him and take a pee on him, so he's okay.