By ROB DUGUAY
Right when the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything last March, Providence singer-songwriter Chris Monti had a lyric in his head. That lyric then evolved into a song and then that song evolved into a new album. Hence the arrival of “Pandemic Baby” on February 4th via his Bandcamp page at chrismonti.bandcamp.com. The album has an acoustic tone throughout each track and there are even a couple instrumentals that round it all out. It was also made in two different recording studios, with one of them being right in the heart of Pawtucket.
Monti and I recently had a talk about the making of the album, becoming a father last year, working with two producers and having other projects due out in the imminent future.
Rob Duguay: How did you go about writing the music for Pandemic Baby before you started recording the songs? Did you start immediately after COVID-19 shut everything down back in March? Did you take a little time to get yourself in the right setting? How did this process come about?
Chris Monti: The only thing I’ve written since the pandemic started is the title track “Pandemic Baby”, that hook “We’re gonna have a pandemic, baby” just got in my head. Everything else was written previous to that, including two instrumental songs “Patience” and “Liberty”. I must have worked on those for five or six years because they took a while to sort of arrange and they’re tricky to play so I’ve been practicing those for a good year before I got those down. Everything else has been written for the past couple of years, I write probably four songs a year so it takes me a while to get enough material for an album together. It’s kind of a slow and long process.
RD: You worked with two producers on the album with Graham Mellor at Uptown Sound in the Columbus Theatre in Providence and Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket. What would you say are the similarities and differences between working with the both of them in the studio? Is one more hands on than the other? Is one more intuitive than the other?
CM: I started working with Graham and the next thing is I live half a block from the Columbus Theatre so I was able to walk over there with my guitar, a cup of coffee and then set up shop to record. That was great and convenient for me. Graham is a very enthusiastic guy and he’s enjoyed my music for a long time, he told me that he snuck in to McKinley’s Pub in East Greenwich when he was underage to hear me play. Which is a sweet story, he never told me that before. He was a great cheerleader to have in the studio, when I’m in the studio alone I need a lot of emotional support but I also need a good set of ears on the engineer that I’m working with.
Graham is really good at giving me feedback. If he thought the take was spot on or that the take needed a little something extra, he’d let me know. The songs were already arranged so it was really about getting a good take. He’s great at keeping my spirits up and hearing good feedback on what I had done and if it was good enough for what we were looking for. I will say that with Seth over at Machines With Magnets, I’ve done my last three or four records there at this point and I’m doing another one there next month called Supreme Electric which is a totally different record than Pandemic Baby.
It’s basically afropop music made with a bunch of guys from Liberia and Sierra Leone. It’s upbeat West African dance music.
CM: It’s totally different from the acoustic based Pandemic Baby. As far as working with Seth on the songs, the two songs I cut over there were “Patience” and “Liberty” which are the instrumental tracks. Much like Graham, Seth has a great set of ears while also being able to keep my spirits up and giving me good, honest feedback so I’m not wasting time. I like to work quickly in the studio to not waste money but Seth is great, we have a great rapport in the studio and he knows when I’ve gotten a good take.
RD: Did COVID-19 cause any obstacles in the making of the album at all?
CM: Both Uptown Sound and Machines With Magnets had really great policies regarding COVID-19 in effect. Graham and Seth have been getting tested regularly, both of the studios are really clean and they’ve been getting cleaned in between acts. We all wore masks when we were together in the control room so I thought both of those studios did a great job of protecting against the spread of the virus. I was also working alone so it was just myself and an engineer, it was pretty seamless. Both of the guys did a great job of making me feel safe and comfortable while also protecting themselves.
RD: Your daughter, Josephine, is on the album cover and she’s four months old. Have you figured out which kind of music she likes yet? When she’s in the crib do you play a record and you test it out to see if she starts dancing around to it? Does she start crying to any particular music or has any emotional attachment to any particular sound?
CM: I try to play a lot of polyrhythmic music for her. We listen to a lot of African music together, especially Ethiopian music and dance music from Nigeria. I have to say, she seems to dig Fela Kuti.
CM: Her favorite song that I’ve played for her very badly on the keyboard is Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”. As my friend Matt McLaren says, that’s just a test of if you like music period. If you don’t like “Three Little Birds”, there might be something wrong with you. (laughs)
RD: I’d have to agree with that. With live music being non-existent due to the pandemic, especially with the cold weather preventing events to happen outdoors. With that being said, do you have any plans to promote and market the new album in a certain way through virtual events or consistently posting on social media?
CM: Right now I’m looking to find people who are interested to listen to it and review it. Over the summer I did about a dozen outdoor, socially distanced house shows to very small crowds, which were great. I’ve been super careful due to having a young daughter so I wanted to keep myself safe and not do anything that would put the audience at risk. I’m looking forward to doing those shows again when the weather gets warmer. I haven’t done too many online performances but I’ve done a handful, I may or may not do that some more.
It’s definitely been a good opportunity to work out some new material. I’m also working on a rock & roll record that might not see the light of day for about a year but like I said, I got a couple other records in the can that are coming out with totally different material.