author: mason sliva | a&c editor
A personal look into the emotionally-driven work of Brodie Moniker
One of Saskatchewan’s favourite artists, Brodie Moniker has been haunting the local scene for the past few years. Brodie Moniker is the solo project of Brodie Mohninger, who has been a part of the local arts scene for over a decade. Brodie’s work explores a variety of sounds and influences, and conveys a deep, twisting view into the life of one of Saskatchewan’s finest. Brodie released his debut earlier in 2017, titled Nowhere Left To Ghost, and he has recently returned from a Western Canadian tour.
Can you tell me about your background as a musician?
BM: Music for me started with an old piano that the owners of a house we moved into in Swift Current left behind. I’d plunk away at things and I remember coming up with something I called a song at the time. Something about coming up with something I could call my own really stuck with me. Later on, I played saxophone in school band, developing a love of jazz and orchestral music, that later turned into a passion for guitar, song-writing and recording in high school. Cut my teeth on guitar nerd songs, you know, atypical rock hero shit from the ‘70s, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Metallica, but I quickly grew a bit bored with how one-dimensional that world was. I loved and still love the music, but the guitar hero culture around it, ya know? Then, I gravitated toward making my own sounds after seeking out oddball artists like Primus, Buckethead, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, something about how no one was doing what they were doing and how they kind of freaked people out a bit and weren’t exactly perfect all the time, really appealed to me.
What were some of the recurring themes in your release, Nowhere Left To Ghost?
BM: Haunting the same places in life and in your thoughts. Feeling trapped in a place, not just physically but mentally. The album is a catharsis. Songs and stories about my life in Moose Jaw. The frustrations of being in an arts community that’s generally ignored by the public. I love the arts scene there, and really want to see it succeed, and I think since that time some things have really started happening. Some of these songs are quite old too, recorded back in 2005. I wanted to get them out so I could move on to a bigger world.”
Can you tell me about your tour? What were the highlights?
BM: 7000 kilometres through snowy plains, fog-covered mountains and ferry rides. Canada is a humbling place. Part of touring in this country is appreciating it as an entity; beautiful, dangerous, and vast. Some feel claustrophobic in the mountains and miss the expansive skies of Saskatchewan, others find solace in the backdrop of rainforest and rock. This landscape we live in is always a highlight and keeps you going.
The shows were wonderful, too. I have friends all across this country and this is always a great excuse to see them. I’m lucky that way. We shared bills with amazing talent, and learned a thing or two about this thing we do.
Some shows are surprises. In Nanaimo, we played this downtown bar with a duo called the Young Plantz. We showed up and the owner starts telling me he doesn’t want to charge cover if we don’t play for four hours. At this point we’d just been playing one set a night. Quick run of a few songs in soundcheck, asked the dudes in YP to play an extra set, and we rocked that bar all night, and by the end they wouldn’t let us get off the stage. It’s those nights you turn around that always seem to be the best you know?
You explore a variety of genres and sounds on your release. Do you see yourself further exploring this variety on future releases?
BM: I really despise the concept of genre; it’s so stifling to me. No quicker way to paint you and a listener into a corner than to describe your art or music in five words or less. I really want to push the idea of what one person is capable of, and not worry about where it fits on a cd shelf or festival application.
How does your song-writing process work?
BM: It really varies. I used to really compose with the people that I was working with in mind, try to play to individual strengths, and I think I still do that with arrangements. Like if you’ve got a bass player that busts out hot slap licks in between each song in rehearsal, why not feature that live, you know?
I sometimes come up with a riff on the gitbox and start with that, too. “No Better Place to Be” is one of those. Drummers always love that tune because its got some weird 4/4 bar in the middle of 6/8. I just thought it sounded cool and I could come up with words to fit it.
Other songs start with a lyric and are more traditionally written I guess? “Punching Bag” was lyrics first, then simple chord progression that I though fit the melody and emotion of the song. I picked up an idea from Leonard Cohen that’s to write a ton of verses and pick the best ones, so I’ll do that if I feel stuck.
Still other times I’ll have an idea that I just love to play, and have maybe explored countless permutations of before I put it down as a finished song. What did Da Vinci say, something like, “Art is never finished, its just abandoned”? Even “Birds” was this chord progression I’d play whenever I was depressed, it was just this beautiful flowing thing that I could do to take my mind off things, then one day some words came together over it.
What influence has Saskatchewan had on you as an artist?
BM: Musically I’ve always drawn from everything around me. Growing up here, metal, old-time country, and a lot of covers were big so I did that, just to play. Outside of that, the people are the most influential thing. I think there’s an interesting thing happening here. People understand what its like to live in small communities, and in a lot of ways that’s going away, but people in bigger centres want that feeling of belonging that you get with that. I think being in Saskatchewan gives you a perspective on that, that’s hard to get if you grew up in a bigger place. There’s a downside to that too, the racism, intolerance, and fear of change, but if we can get past those things I think there’s a lot to offer from a rural mindset. I think especially in regards to sustainable urban living.
After touring Western Canada, how does Saskatchewan’s local arts scene compare with larger markets such as Vancouver and Calgary?
BM: I really feel like, for the most part, the prairies are one scene. The mountains are this physical division and a lot of artists don’t venture one way or the other. I think we’re all driven by the same things; I’m not sure if it’s really all that different.
It’s a challenging thing being in bands and touring. Putting your art out and trying hustle your music kind of puts everyone in the same boat too. Canada is a tough place logistically and I think a lot bands just don’t tour, which is too bad, because a lot of the music coming out of everywhere has a great quality to it. And, as great as the Internet is, I think it really pales in comparison to experiencing it in person. Bigger centres may have more venues, but they also have more acts to fill them, so it levels out too.
In the end, we’re all in this together and we really have to value what each other is doing and help it find its place in the world. I’m not really sure if I could compare and say this is better or that is worse, it just is and you either make it work for you or you don’t. Saskatchewan is definitely doing some really progressive things, but I feel these are global movements and, as artists, we’re just picking up on that wavelength together.
What advice would you give to a young musician looking to break into their local scene?
BM: Be kind, be supportive, express what you feel represents you and your experiences. Don’t cave to adversity and let it make you bitter or jaded. Stay open to new experiences and reach out to as many people as you can. Be prolific with your work, and share as much of you as you can or are comfortable with. People want to be on this journey with you, and that’s what we are, witnesses, documenting our lives and thoughts for others to observe and share in our pain and joy.