Monique Ortiz Interview for Wicked Spins Radio
Monique Ortiz Interview for Wicked Spins Radio
Monique Ortiz is a very talented lady indeed. She is a bassist who specializes in fretless bass and 2-string slide bass and she is also the front woman of Alien Knife Fight in which she works with her boyfriend Mike Howard. Wicked Spins Radio got to catch up with Monique and here is how it went.
WSR – Thanks so much for giving Wicked Spins Radio this interview, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Monique Ortiz – Currently I am the front woman of the band Alien Knife Fight. I’m probably best-known for my various collaborations with members of Morphine, which include the bands Bourbon Princess, and A.K.A.C.O.D.. I’m mainly a bassist, specializing in fretless bass and 2-string slide bass, but I do a bit of everything. I’m also a visual artist.
WSR – You have relocated a few times, which of the places you have moved to has brought you the most musical joy and experience?
Monique Ortiz – I’ve relocated only twice. In 1996 I moved from Lancaster, PA to Boston. In 2010 I moved from Boston to Austin. It’s a difficult question to answer. I frequently tell people I’m a Boston musician currently residing in Austin because I identify more closely to Boston. My fourteen years there really made me who I am musically, and I very much miss the music scene there. I’m a fish out of water here in Austin, but the living is easier and as a result I have much more time and space to devote to my music. So they’ve both brought me joy in different ways.
WSR – Of all the places you have lived which has the greatest music history?
Monique Ortiz – Well that depends on what you’re into. Obviously Austin has a rich history in country, folk, Americana and the like, but Boston has a much richer history of rock, punk, experimental, so many more sub-genres.
WSR – Monique you have a lovely rich musical past, of all the things that you have done and all the instruments you have learned to play which are the sounds and instruments that are most prolific in your sound now?
Monique Ortiz – Most definitely the slide bass and fretless bass. I began playing fretless bass when I was 15, and have written all of my music on it. I don’t consider myself a very good technical player, and it’s never been a goal of mine to be that. I’ve always been more interested in pushing the instruments in ways that other bassists don’t. Alien Knife Fight is the vehicle for this next phase in my playing. I always stretch out and dabble with other instruments, but the bass is my focus.
WSR – You are recording your new debut album with your boyfriend Mike Howard, is the relationship between you different when you are writing music?
Monique Ortiz – Actually, we completed the record a while ago and it’s making its way out into the world. Mike and began collaborating just for fun, with no pressure or expectation of getting a record or a band together. This is probably why things turned out so well, and why we are now engaged, and gearing up to get a national tour together. The relationship doesn’t really change when we are in our “work mode”. My relationship with Mike saved my relationship with music. When I met Mike I hadn’t been in Austin long, and I was pretty much at the bottom creatively: I had a serious writer’s block, I was uninspired, and extremely cynical and jaded. I felt pretty beat up by trying to make a career of music, and was close to throwing in the towel and just making music for myself and no longer performing or releasing anything. Mike was an unexpected lifeline. Instant chemistry I guess you’d say. I am comfortable around him. He makes me feel free, and he calls me out when I’m being self-critical, which has always been a problem. I just feel completely at ease with him, and he’s got a great ideas. A hard lesson I learned over the years is that an artist can really shoot themselves in the foot by trying to control every aspect of the process. The moment you’re with another artist that you feel comfortable with, and the moment you say to them “well, what would you do with this? How can we make this better?” your whole creative process opens up and possibilities pop up everywhere. Basically he’s helped me get out of my own way.
WSR – What are the pro’s and con’s of being in a band with Mike?
Monique Ortiz – The pros are too numerous to list. There really aren’t any cons that I know of yet. I don’t consider this a con, but Alien Knife Fight is not the right vehicle for all my songs. Eventually I will release another solo record, and I’m always looking for other projects and creative outlets. It’s not good to put all your eggs in one basket. Mike is 100% supportive of all my past and current projects.
WSR – Your new sound is very much different from anything you have done in the past, just how different is it?
Monique Ortiz – It’s heavier for sure. Some might say louder. I’ve been getting back to my punk and new wave roots I suppose. My new sound developed quite naturally. It is possible that on a subconscious level it is a sort of reaction to all these people who toss me into the shadow of Mark Sandman just because I play a slide bass and collaborated with his band mates. I really enjoy taking that instrument in a more punk, noise, and hard rock direction, and moving away from the blues and jazz sound that folks tend to pigeon hole me into.
WSR – Alien Knife Fight has been around since 2010, why now are you creating the bands debut album?
Monique Ortiz – That’s incorrect. I didn’t move to Austin until May of 2010, and I didn’t meet Mike until 2011. We didn’t truly “come out” as Alien Knife Fight until 2012. When we did start recording we went about things very organically. I had spent much of my life with all of the goals and deadlines about recording, releasing, touring, all the industry stuff, and it had made me absolutely miserable. I wanted to enjoy making music again. So we just started jamming, recording everything we do (we have a home studio and leave things set up so we can record anytime on a whim, almost daily), and we amassed hundreds of hours of material. I can’t speak for Mike but when we did start playing local shows I was very surprised by the positive response we were receiving from handfuls of people. That response made me think “maybe it’s time we start sorting through these tracks and choosing some songs to focus on, and maybe put them out there.” Sure, there’s something to be said for a band who goes in the studio and cuts a record in a weekend. I’ve done that many times. But it’s amazing the richness and the transformation one’s creations go through when you don’t rush things, when you don’t have a deadline hanging over your head, or a studio clock ticking your money away.
WSR – Monique your gritty vocal delivery and bleak lyrical content has drawn people to compare you to the greats like Nick Cave, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith. Have there been any comparisons that people have made that have made you laugh or take a step back and think how would they compare me to that artist?
Monique Ortiz – Ha! Yes. Often. A few years back I spent an afternoon hanging out with David Sylvian in NYC, and he said I reminded him of Meshell Ndegeocello. I don’t get that at all. I sure as hell can’t play bass as well as she does. I get Johnette Napolitano quite a bit also. I think that even today the female artists that rule the music industry are still the pretty, soft-voiced, fragile, guitar-strumming types. It’s understandable that people would compare me to P.J., or Patti simply because those women don’t fit that mold and they are women who have strong, versatile voices, and very provocative lyrics. There aren’t many to compare me to I suppose. I should be flattered but I just don’t think I sound like any of the folks I get compared to, and I don’t really listen to the music by those artists either.
WSR – 50 of those who pre-ordered the Alien Knife Fight EP got a little surprise in the way of a unique drawing, why did you decide to do this?
Monique Ortiz – I thought it would be fun. And I wanted a way to personally let our fans know how much I appreciate them. I’ve really enjoyed the whole process. It was such a success that I’ve decided to do it on a larger scale to fund our tour, and I’m having an exhibit of my work in April. An unexpected benefit to doing this was that it got me back into visual art in a big way. Many people had no idea that I’ve been a visual artist all my life. I fine art major in college.
WSR – You are very talented in what you do, so besides music how else do you express your inner self?
Monique Ortiz – There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to express my inner self fully. When I’m not doing art or music I’m cooking. I love having guests at our place and cooking for them. I worked as a baker for several years. I also worked as a veterinary technician In Boston for many years. I have a deep interest in animal welfare. I get a lot of satisfaction out of rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild animals because it’s not about me. Eventually, Mike and I will merge our love of music with my love of food and hospitality by making our place a sort of bed & breakfast retreat for artists and musicians. This is still several years down the road, but it will happen. It’s a dream of mine. Aside from all that I’m a yoga & cycling junkie.
WSR – Now in interviews you often get the generic questions about influences musically, well I do things a little different. It’s nice to have the odd generic sort of question but I ask them differently. Who in life has inspired you and it doesn’t have to be musically?
Monique Ortiz – I tend to draw more inspiration from certain friends and people who I’ve met personally. And it isn’t so much about their accomplishments, as it is about how they move through their lives, their attitudes, how they navigate around any obstacles, how they express themselves on a small or large scale. At the top of my list would be my dear friend, vocalist/musician Loretta Billieux, who I’ve known for at least 20 years now. She’s a remarkable performer, but beyond that she’s simply a force, truly her own woman. Also on that list would be saxophonist and Either/orchestra band leader Russ Gershon. It’s all about people who inspire you, accept you, encourage you, make you want to work harder, while helping you keep your focus on the positive.
WSR – Of all the people you know or know of which person is the most inspirational, as in the one who no matter how many times they get knocked down they just pick themselves back up and achieve more great things?
Monique Ortiz – That would have to be Joni Mitchell.
WSR – People have bucket lists, things they want to do before they die. But can you give me 5 things that you would never ever want to do before you die?
Monique Ortiz – 1. go back to punching a clock. 2. Be imprisoned 3. Give a speech or do a TED talk. 4. Appear in a reality show 5. Go on a cruise.
WSR – Thank you so much for giving Wicked Spins Radio this interview, is there anything you would like to add?
Monique Ortiz – Just the usual shameless self-promotion: The Alien Knife Fight record can be had at http://alienknifefight.bandcamp.com. We’re also on all the usual social media spots. Thank you! It was a pleasure!