What do butterflies, a Jesus necklace and someone named Amelia have in common? They can all be found somewhere on Frost band Ex Monarch’s latest album, “Whatever You See, Look Again.”
Released on Nov. 11, the group’s first-ever album tells the musical journey of the band that formed merely a year ago.
Junior music engineering majors Amanda Pasler, Samantha Govero and Eli Yaroch lead the group with lead vocals, bass and guitar, respectively. Junior music artistship and entrepreneurship George Staton keeps the time on drums, and music engineering sophomore and guitarist Jake Sonderman rounds out the group of five known as Ex Monarch.
The 8-track record was mostly recorded in just a semester, a feat made possible by the band’s commitment to prioritizing studio time.
“It would kind of just be whenever we could get in,” Yaroch said. “It would be Jake and I heading the sessions on all of the on-campus studios, too, and it’s just like, ‘cool, we can have George here for six hours, let’s track as much drums as we can. We can have Jake here for seven hours, let’s just track them.’ And it was just days and days. We spent a lot of time in the studio.”
This extensive studio time also allowed the band to cement their sound, resulting in a record that is grunge and alternative rock with hints of indie, metal and psychedelic rock.
Opening strong, the first words of opening track “‘Til Death” are literally “wake up.”
“It’s so straight to the point,” Staton said. “I think it’s really catchy. It’s probably our most metallic-sounding song in terms of production as well.”
Yaroch started writing “‘Til Death” while in COVID-19 isolation at a nearby hotel. It was what the band feels is their first “Ex Monarch” song — that is, the first song that the band all collectively wrote and composed together.
“It was the start of the heavier side of Ex Monarch. We kind of explored a sort of alternative, heavier side with that song,” Yaroch said. “That sort of energy is what we wanted for our album.”
Tying it back to the album title, Pasler noted how the opener encompasses the album’s overarching theme.
“Wake up, open your eyes, look at the world around you and take in everything, but question everything,” Pasler said.
Following the opener, “Just The Way,” comes in heavy on drums with unapologetic lyrics and a melody reminiscent of The Strokes. The third track “Hypoxia” is more lowkey, one that the band thought would be a good single because of its mainstream sound.
Listeners get a moment of rest halfway through the album with “Interlude From the Perspective of a Jesus Necklace.” Initially started as a song for class, the interlude stemmed from Pasler’s struggles with religion.
“I think writing about your faith is something that’s really hard to do so honestly and in a way that isn’t offending anyone else,” Pasler said.
The main recording was taken on an iPhone after Yaroch and Pasler played around with the chord progression.
“I felt like I said what I needed to say and I didn’t want to keep talking about it, so we ended the song,” Pasler said.
With over 30 seconds of just instrumentals ending the song, the band’s live performance of the interlude sounds vastly different from the studio recording.
“We just let it sit with the audience for as long as it feels right… for a while, we just kind of let it simmer. And once everybody’s had a chance to really breathe, we go into ‘Burn.’”
Following the dreaminess of this interlude, “Burn” comes like a slap in the face. If the title doesn’t give it away, “Burn” is a rage-filled headbanger full of heavy drums, punchy guitar riffs and lyrics fit for a battlefield.
Few would hardly guess that it was composed in under 24 hours, written “out of necessity” to fill the empty space in a setlist.
“We finished the lyrics in the car up to Tallahassee,” Pasler added. “We didn’t question ourselves on that song at all because we couldn’t. We didn’t have time to.”
“Look Again” — the album’s sixth track — is slower than “Burn,” but equally as intense.
“I love the emotional element in that song,” Pasler said. “When Eli and I were in the studio, I started crying when I sang that song. I think it’s one of the more underrated songs on the album and I really love it.”
The chord progression in “Look Again” reminds me of Coldplay’s “Yellow” — while this indie rock sound colors the entire album, Ex Monarch lets their influences show without sounding tacky or unoriginal.
“I really love the blend of fidelities on this album because I feel like a lot of indie artists do that, but not a lot of grunge or rock artists do that,” Pasler said.
This blend of music tastes shines most clearly on “Blue Escape,” a song Sonderman and Govero said was their favorite from the album. Govero, who listens to “a lot of hippie music,” wanted to make “Blue Escape” a psychedelic jam.
“It still doesn’t sound like hippie music…but with everybody, it turned into something in-between,” Govero said. “But it’s definitely unique. I’ve never heard anything like that before.”
The eclectic song also features vocals from Yaroch, the only track along with “Look Again” that features a vocalist apart from Pasler. Yaroch attributed the track’s success to Sonderman, who mixed the track.
“When people say, ‘I love ‘Blue Escape,’ it wouldn’t be ‘Blue Escape’ without Jake,” Yaroch said.
Like “Blue Escape” showcases the band’s musical influences, the final track “Amelia” brings the band together.
“We all felt pretty emotionally connected to ‘Amelia’ and that was a way to introduce our sound and us as a band,” Pasler said.
Ironically, the album ends with “Amelia,” an intentional move that charts Ex Monarch’s evolution, one that ends with the first song they ever wrote.
“I feel like we tried to really have it make sense,” Pasler said of the tracklist. “To say this is where we go emotionally when we make music — this is where we end and this is where we began.”
What initially started out as an abstract self-portrait eventually became the cover art for “Amelia.” Yaroch painted all of the art for the album and its singles, keeping the theme of a black background with bits of color. His abstract paintings influenced the later direction of the album.
“It all kind of reminded us of the Rorschach art,” Pasler said. “What he made is sort of ambiguous, so it allows you to decide what it is for you.”
“Whatever You See, Look Again” is just the beginning for Ex Monarch. The band recently wrote a couple of new songs with release dates yet to be announced. In the meantime, fans can look forward to a music video coming out soon for “Burn,” more live shows and new merch. For updates on all things Ex Monarch, make sure to follow their Instagram @exmonarchband.