Monster Truck are a rock and roll band from Hamilton, Ontario with a similarity to the classic rock genre but with a sound that’s all their own. I had a chance to chat with guitarist Jeremy Widerman to discuss their new album Sittin’ Heavy. He shared his thoughts on the pressure they put on themselves recording their second album and how it was initially delayed because they felt they could do better. He told us about his earliest introduction to music and how that path lead him to pick up a guitar. We discussed the resurgence of vinyl and found out which album he’s been playing the most lately. He defined what success means to him, why rock is far from being dead, the impact music can ultimately have on children at a young age and much more.
Sittin’ Heavy is your second full length and personally I feel it’s a natural progression from your last album. You know how the saying goes, you have your whole life to write your first album. Did you put a lot of pressure on yourselves prior to writing the second one?
Yeah, we did. The main pressure on the process was on ourselves. I think a lot of times when you get asked if the pressure is coming from the label or our fans, while that may be true, I think the majority of it does come from ourselves and the kind of standard that we’ve set. That we wish to execute on when we put out a record. We were well aware of the fact that we had more than enough time to do the first one and we were going to be a little more under the gun for the second. We did end up getting to where we were supposed to be done recording and we didn’t feel like we were quite there and we just ended up delaying the record and working further on it and making a couple other songs on the album to make sure that it was up to the level that we wanted it to be at when it finally came out.
With your last album, Furiosity, you ended up recording it twice. Did you have any obstacles to overcome with this album?
Yeah, just what I mentioned basically. We got to the end of the sessions and there was not really enough meat on the bones yet and we had to have a tough meeting and sit down and come to kind of an agreement that we needed to push it back and go back in the studio and we ended up recording three more songs and honing down another one of the older ones. It’s funny sometimes how some of the songs you’re not sure about will strengthen when you write other songs around them and it starts to come together, like you add other pieces to the puzzle that make the other pieces shine brighter. That’s kind of what ended up happening where we were able to take a couple of the songs off the record that were a little weaker and then we were able to write a bunch that kind of helped support the other ones and then it ended up we had a complete album and we were ready to go with it over the course of the holiday season.
Does the album title tie in with the overall sound of the album or is it related to something else entirely?
No, just thought it sounded cool. It’s hard enough these days coming up with something that’s original and kind of fits this style of the band. We just kind of think it sounds cool and sometimes stuff like that just feels right, sounds good, feels right. You feel like it suits it for no good reason other than you just like the vibe of it. That’s kind of what we went with for that one.
I think it’s pretty cool that the song titles are all actual patches. Did you guys come up with design yourself or did you give that task to someone else?
It was both. We did a bunch of them ourselves. We came up with the concepts for a bunch of them and passed them off to another artist who did a lot of work on them but we did a lot of the conceptualization of what we wanted it to look like and then we did the final process of arranging them on the jacket, getting them stitched in properly and doing the photo shoot, and everything like that was done on our own, and the final layout was also done by the band. We usually get pretty hands on with the album artwork as we have with the other albums. I always kind of like having that liner note on the CD that says, CD design and layout by Monster Truck. I don’t think anyone ever really notices that but we think it’s cool.
I noticed with the last album and this album you also have the entire spread of various photos that I’m assuming are mostly taken by you guys but probably fans as well.
95% is pretty much taken by us for Instagram or whatever. I’ve done both collages. The second collage was easier because I had the experience of doing the first one and having it not turn out right and doing it twice, just like the record itself, and it’s kind of a fun process to kind of talk to everybody and get them to send in their 15 or 20 best photos and then honing them all down to what you see in the record.
Was For the People written in response to a certain event?
No, I think it’s more of a general response to how everyone’s feeling lately. We wrote that before all this stuff started really happening in American politics and whatnot. I think that American politics, what’s going on right now, it was kind of a response that was before it anyway, which is where the idea of the song came from and it’s not really about anything specific other than the general feeling or vibe. Those normal sane thinking human beings who kind of sense there is a bit of an issue with the way that the world operates and that there’s maybe a moderate to large change in the wind but you never know. Like most of the songs on the record, they’re just meant to kind of be an uplifting message to people who may feel like they’re down and out.
It’s very, I would agree, uplifting. It gets me excited when I listen to it.
It was one of the songs that we did in the last session that we added on at the end. It was kind of one of the last minute additions that we ended up feeling quite good about and it’s actually currently a single in Canada right now and it added just another little different kind of element to the album.
How did it come about that Ian Thornley would play slide guitar on this song?
Just kind of being that he’s kind of within our group of friends and musicians in Canada and he works with the producer that we recorded our album with a lot, and he’s just generally known to be a guitar bad ass and we kind of had that section of the song written and I kind of kept hearing this slide guitar solo and I can’t really play slide guitar and I was like, “Well, if we’re going to do slide guitar in this section of the song, we might as well do it right and get someone who can come in and beat it,” so he came in and just ripped that part out in like a half an hour. It was one of the most impressive session moves I’ve ever seen by anybody. To just come in and hear a song for the first time and have us kind of be like, “We just want you to play some slide in here,” I think he nailed it on the seventh take or something like that. He was in and out in about 40 minutes.
What was your earliest introduction to music and how did that impact you becoming a guitar player?
My earliest introduction to music was listening to the Beach Boys when I was five years old, which is what got me started out as a real music lover but my actual inspiration for playing guitar didn’t come until much later when I was a teenager. I feel like they’re still somewhat linked in that I got really, really excited about pop music and rock and roll music, 50’s and 60’s type stuff when I was a kid but when you grow up on that and you listen to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles or Beach Boys, when you’re growing up it’s not very accessible being that it’s from a different era. As much as you can connect with it, it’s still seems like the distant past to you when you’re a kid so it took the grunge era of the 90’s with Soundgarden and Nirvana and everything to really make me realize there was a place for me to join in. Like I could feel like it was partly of my generation. The people in the music video looked like me. It helped that the songs were a little more easy to play but I felt like I could actually join in and learn the songs so it was kind of over a long evolution of getting interested in rock and roll and then finally feeling like I could be a part of it.
These last two full length Monster Truck albums have been released on vinyl. What are your thoughts on the resurgence of the format and do you listen to music on vinyl?
I don’t listen to music on vinyl but I think everyone else in the band does. My favorite part about it is that I like the artwork and I do most of the graphic design in the band and I really love that format for the artwork. I used to remember listening to my dad’s old records and kind of staring at the sleeves forever and having a lot of fun looking through music and looking at the visuals at the same time. I know a lot of our fans like that format. I like it to be available to everybody in every format because I think you should have that freedom of choice as a music listener. For me, I listen to most of my music on digital formats but I always love being able to provide that kind of alternative and I definitely recognize the kind of warm and more vintage sound that you get on a vinyl and I know that the other guys in the band are very fond of it so it’s nice to have it all.
What album from any other band do you find you listen to the most?
The Great Western Valkyrie by Rival Sons, probably right now.
Awesome. Great, great band.
Yeah, that record is just borderline perfect. I think there’s maybe only two songs on that record that I’m not over the moon about and the rest are just phenomenal and we’ve done a couple shows with them and they’re an inspiring band. It’s nice to be able to be a part of a music community where there’s a band like that you can play with.
In the past, I’ve seen various photos posted on social media of you playing pinball. Is it a hobby or are you pretty competitive?
Just a hobby really. It’s hard to find a good machine. I get really excited when I go to a lot of venues and I see the pinball machine, especially if it’s a classic one, but they’re always broken. They’ve always got glitches and they’re either set too steep or the one kickout ramp doesn’t work or whatever so it’s really hard to get enthusiastic about it when there’s so few places to play a good pinball machine and we don’t really have any in our home town either so for me it’s just like, it’s such a sporadic event that I actually get to sit down and play a quality machine. It is really important that it’s set up properly otherwise it’s just like feeding quarters and punishing you over and over again. So yeah, it’s just a hobby. I would love one day to actually have one of those great machines in my own place.
With the ever changing music industry and all of its ups and downs, how do you personally define success these days?
I don’t know. It kind of changes all the time for me. A lot of times I just want to be happy and proud of the music that we’re putting out, which I am, that’s a certain level of success there that I’m just really happy that I’ve been able to be a part of these two albums, these two full lengths, even the EPs I’m pretty proud of. It’s nice to know that regardless of what happens from this point forward, there’s always going to be those albums that you’ve left behind. We’ve had some great fan response, we have a great fan base so to know there is a legion of people out there that really enjoy the music is kind of success in its own right. But then of course you really want to be able to make a living off of it because we’re all kind of getting into our mid-30’s now and we spent our entire 20’s going into debt playing punk rock music and then we end up coming back to the music we grew up on, which is the classic rock kind of thing, and we’ve sort of had a lot more success with that. I think half because we were playing from the heart and half because it’s just such a great type of music for people to latch on to, so it would be nice to be able to start putting some money in the bank and start catching up to some kind of financial status where you don’t feel like you’re going to be destitute when you’re 40 years old.
Being a musician in a touring band, would you say rock is dead?
No. I hate that. I really, really, I think it’s interesting, I think it’s very telling to see the types of people who say that and believe it. You’ve got a guy like Gene Simmons saying it, where as I consider him one of the perpetrators of killing it in the first place. I find that really suspect when people are kind of claiming that. I always find that it’s rich people and musicians who are 20 years removed from touring and I think the more that you dig into the smaller clubs whether it’s in Europe or America or Canada, I think there is a ton of great discovered and undiscovered rock bands that are touring right now and besides that, we’re seeing a really big connection with the younger generation and when I say the younger generation I don’t mean 13, 14, 16, 18 year olds, I’m talking like 5, 6, 7, 8 years old, and these are the kids of our number one demographic, which is the 30 and 40 year olds, so we’re seeing this really cool connection between toddlers and their parents and they’re both getting excited equally about our group. So now I’m seeing all these younger kids getting excited about rock and roll music for the first time and they’re fans of our band or they’re fans of Rival Sons or Crobot or any other upcoming rock band and I think that when you start at a young age like that, like I did, I think it’s something that ends up sticking with you so I think that if anything we’re maybe in a little bit of a valley of where we’re at with rock and roll but I think it’s ready for a huge swing upward when all these kids who are 7 and 8 years old start picking up guitars and finding their own way with music. Yeah, I don’t buy that. Rock and roll is dead, that’s so final, you know? AC/DC is still fucking touring for Christ’s sake. It may be like a weird version of it, but it’s happening everywhere, all the time, especially outside of North America. You look into South America, Europe and the UK it’s flourishing still, so I think it’s a really weird [statement]. You’ve really got to have your eyes half closed to make a statement like that.
What’s the story behind the band slogan, Don’t Fuck With The Truck?
When we started the band it was really just kind of for laughs, for beers, in our hometown. When we came up with that shirt, we were just kind of being brats. We just thought it was funny and we made them because we knew we’d be playing all these shows where no one would know who we were, we just thought if we had a shirt like that it would sell. It would be like a trucker shirt, people would just buy it because of what it said, not because of what band it was, and we were right and it just sold like crazy and it’s funny that we’ve had all this progression and different varying degrees of success and this shirt still does that for us. We go to play these rock festivals and our merch is up there with all the big headliners and people still buy the Don’t Fuck With The Truck shirt because they just like the slogan. When you’re a band on the road and you’re just trying to fill that gas tank sometimes, where we’re at in America, we’re still in that position where we’re just trying to get by, you know, so having a piece of merch like that, that people will buy because it says something ridiculous, and then they actually end up liking the band and then they end up kind of chanting the slogan at our shows and it kind of picks up momentum and it actually becomes a thing that people equate with us. I think it’s just fun and it’s a good money maker and it’s tongue in cheek kind of which we’re always kind of joking around. We never try to take things too seriously, so it’s all those things kind of wrapped into one T-shirt that has become a staple for us.
You guys have quite an extensive list of dates already listed for the year and even into January with Shiprocked. Will you be filling in any more gaps or is that it and how much of the new album can fans expect to hear live?
As for the scheduling, you’re asking the wrong guy, although I have to say that it’s more likely than not that we’ll probably start filling in a couple holes here and there. We’ve always been very lucky kind of picking up really awesome last minute tours. When a band like Deep Purple decides to throw four shows together they’re always scrambling to find an opener and we always kind of tend to be that band, whether it’s Deep Purple or Alice in Chains or Slash or whatever, we’re kind of known for that now so I’d expect to see maybe a little bit of that at the end of the year and in addition to that, as far as the new record is concerned, we’re always playing a heavy load of whatever the album is that we’re touring and right now it’s a majority Sittin’ Heavy and then we also like to throw in a lot of classics off of Furiosity.
Monster Truck have plenty of date to choose from. Find out if they are coming to your hometown here.