With two hugely successful albums under their belt and an ever growing fan base, Canadian Rockers Monster Truck are nearing the end of a gruelling touring schedule which finishes up at Riverfest Elora, near their home in Southern Ontario.
Ahead of their set on the Planet Rock Stage at the Ramblin Man Fair, I was delighted to get the opportunity to chat with Keyboardist Brandon Bliss about the dynamics of being in a hard working, hard rocking band, how they balance making music with life on the road and how they are learning from the best, to be the best.
Karen: Hi Brandon, lovely to see you at Ramblin Man. Where have you just come from, where were you last night?
Brandon: We were in Wales at the Steelhouse Festival.
Karen: And how did that go?
Brandon: It was really wet and rainy and cold.
Karen: A bit like here then!
Brandon: Well actually I think it was worse than here, I think it rained really heavily on Friday and we got there and it was just a field of mud. The rain held off most of the day then started again about the same time we started playing and it didn’t stop until we were leaving at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.
Karen: So how did that affect your crowd? Did you still get a good turn out?
Brandon: Yeah I think so, they were definitely into it, it was definitely a smaller festival so we didn’t expect as much… we kind of knew today was the big one so we were kind of using yesterday as a bit of a warm up.
Karen: And what time did you arrive here today? Have you had a chance to check out the festival site?
Brandon: I don’t really know… we got the bus so I just woke up and I was here. No not really, I just woke up, went to get coffee and some breakfast and came right here to talk to you guys.
Karen: Are you planning to hang around after your set? Is there anyone in particular you would like to see?
Brandon: We are going home tomorrow so I think we are gonna hang out and try and watch as many bands as we can. I want to see Blues Pills, I’ve known about them for a while but never seen them, ZZ Top of course, I’m not sure who else, I haven’t paid enough attention. We are at the end of a year and a half of touring so I am excited to have a break.
Karen: I saw you last at the 100 Club in Oxford Street in March 2016, how much do you feel the band have progressed since then? How much have your audiences expanded?
Brandon: Things have gone really well on the Sittin’ Heavy album, that was kinda at the start of the release campaign and we’ve basically been touring since then, we haven’t really stopped and it’s all gone as well as it could, the labels done a great job, we’ve been really lucky that agents have done a really good job getting us a lot of great tours and the people are really responding so that shows we are really growing. Just about a year later after that show we played at the Electric Ballroom, its significantly bigger and the room was full that night too so that’s a testament to how we’ve grown.
Karen: I’ve heard you’re working on a new album at the moment.
Brandon: Yeah, in fact we just finished tracking it this past week, we have been in the studio recording for the past month and now we just gotta get it mixed and hopefully it should be released early next year.
Karen: Are we going to hear any songs today from the new album?
Brandon: No… we really haven’t rehearsed much of it and the way it kinda goes in the studio, I know personally for me as a keyboard guy, I start playing a piano part and then start playing a part on the electric piano and then I have the organ so it takes me a little while to figure out how am going to play all that live. As well as that our drummer Steve isn’t with us this weekend, we have a fill in, Steve is having a baby – well his wife is, she’s overdue in fact and I saw him the other night before we came here and they had already been a few days overdue and they were just joking like “hopefully when you guys come home from the weekend we will have a baby, but you never know”.
Karen: Have you all been contributing to the song writing on the new album?
Brandon: I would say a lot of times it will be a riff that that Jeremy or John will come up with and they will bring it sometimes to each other and they will kind of work on it together and then they will bring it as a band and we demo it all the time and we try to record everything and we start playing with the arrangement and everyone starts getting different ideas. Steve our drummer is really good with melody and harmony you know and that kinda thing, whereas me, I’m just kinda trying to sit back and let the song form before trying to figure out how to glue it all together with my keyboard sounds so it starts with Jeremy and John and then it’s a pretty collaborative process after that, we are still refining the process but it seems to be working really good.
Karen: So how stressful has it been trying to get this album together while you have been touring so much?
Brandon: To be honest, not as stressful as the past. We made the mistakes previously to think we were ready and go in the studio and not be ready and it would take a long time. Our first record had to be recorded twice, kinda thinking we knew what we were doing but not really knowing. We want to not repeat those mistakes. We really tried to make use of our time on the road and tried to write and demo while we were on tour, if we were headlining we would book long sound checks and work on songs then. We did a lot of arena support tours so we would have a big dressing room and have a little rig that we could set up in the dressing room and write and record so kinda when sound check was over we would get in there and work for a few hours so we had written and demoed a lot during the touring process and we basically went right into the studio.
Karen: That’s fantastic that you got those opportunities isn’t it?
Brandon: We had to make those opportunities and be diligent, change our routine, you know, bands say it’s hard to write on the road and we felt that way as well but we kinda forced ourselves to do it and it paid off.
Karen: A lot of bands are busy partying when they are on the road so did you have to forego that completely for the writing process?
Brandon: Exactly! You can still do that and we still like to do that but we would just see our schedule and notice there is always a gap between sound check, dinner time and the show and it’s the perfect amount of time to sit down and work on songs so that’s a lesson or a tip for bands out there…after soundcheck before dinner that’s when you can work on songs because nothing really happens in that time, you don’t really have time to go out and do anything.
Karen: Do you think the experience of touring has contributed to your song writing, has it given you any inspiration?
Brandon: I think so, I mean, I don’t know if its particularly on the subject matter of the songs but with learning just what it takes to be a touring band. To be touring with bands who are doing it really professionally and to watch them do it, that’s how its influenced us the most I think, to see how the successful bands operate and to try and emulate that in our own way, we are really trying to learn all the way through what we are doing and getting great opportunities to tour with some big famous bands like we do we are really trying to soak up everything we can from them.
Karen: To date who has been your favourite band to tour with?
Brandon: Well to be totally honest, the favourite ones are the younger bands like us. We did a fairly short tour with Rival Sons in America, a long time ago, almost two or three years ago now. That was really fun because we kinda feel like we are in a similar place to them, we are also a similar age, but the older bands that we have toured with – Nickelback as much as people talk ill about them and all that, they really were the nicest guys and they treated us better than we’ve ever been treated, we got a lot of the same thing from Alice in Chains when we done a few tours with them. The most recent tour we did was with Deep Purple and those guys were really accommodating and I mean they are from a different school so it was really educational, especially for me being able to watch that keyboard player Don Airey every day and Don was just such a kind guy and took the time to befriend and teach me some things and I’m really grateful for that.
Karen: Did you see much of Ian Gillan?
Brandon: Ian’s the kinda guy who shows up right before the show and leaves right after the show so we didn’t get to see him as much but he’s pretty cool, a really nice guy and his assistant Sally was really nice and she would be like “Guys, Ian wants to come and say hi” and we said “Bring him in, why not?” So although he wasn’t around a lot, he was very nice when he was.
Karen: Strange that you should mention Rival Sons, they were just playing here yesterday.
Brandon: I know, we just missed them! We actually traded stage techs. Our guy Ben is with them for their run and we’ve taken their guy Mike who is actually Don from Deep Purples’ son, he was actually touring with them, we are kinda doing a trade off of crew with those guys.
Karen: You were saying you were looking forward to going home for a break but what are your plans for the near future?
Brandon: We only have one more show in 3 weeks from now and otherwise we have nothing.
Karen: Where is your next show?
Brandon: It’s near home in Southern Ontario. There’s a conservation area called Elora, they have a river that runs through a gorge there and I think it’s called River Fest, Elora.
Karen: Sounds fantastic.
Brandon: Yeah, It’s pretty cool, it’s fairly small but it marks the end of our touring on our current cycle and it means we can take a break.
Karen: Well, until the new album is released then it all starts up again.
Brandon: Exactly! We have worked so hard and we’ve definitely earned the time off so everyone is excited about it and also inspired because of the latest recording, we are really excited about doing that.
Karen: Is it going to be similar to the last two albums?
Brandon: Absolutely, we don’t want to abandon our formula that works, we are definitely growing in various ways and maturing I think but there is no departure from the essence of what Monster Truck is.
Karen: You have a great sound so it would be a pity to deviate from it.
Brandon: Yeah, well we have no intention of doing that.
Karen: It was lovely to meet you today Brandon, I’m really looking forward to your set.
Brandon: You too, thank you so much.
Our review of Monster Truck’s set and Sunday in full at Ramblin’ Man is here: