“I’m a little worried about surviving right now,” admits Thank You Scientist head honcho and guitarist Tom Monda when asked how big he thinks his band can become. “I’m hoping more people listen to our music, because it’s definitely not easy at the moment. If it doesn’t grab someone in a second, they just put something else on.”
It’s a tad discombobulating to hear that the mainman of such a promising and potent Prog-approved outfit is more concerned about survival than forward trajectory, but hey, that’s today’s industry for you.
The septet released their second album Stranger Heads Prevail in July, and it’s a typically rumbustious multi-genre cocktail of experimental flair, jazzy deviancy, theatrical rock and pop melody.
It’s a tour de force for the New Jersey collective, whose saxophone, trumpet and violin fizz throughout, and another middle finger to the constraints of mainstream music.
Hopefully the music comes across as songs and not a seven-man circle jerk.
“The title is about coming to terms with embracing being weirdos,” principal songwriter Monda says. “After having a lot of doors shut in our faces, and people telling us what we’re doing is a little too strange, we’ve managed to reach a bigger audience than people expected us to.”
The record was cut at Architekt studios in New Jersey last year, with Monda slaving away for 20 hours a day as bandleader and producer. “It was pretty rigorous work,” he reflects. “I feel like I might have given myself a nervous breakdown.”
Thank You Scientist formed as an ‘umbrella project’ for music-schooled solo man Monda, who initially focused on jazz and classical guitar. “I felt like I was going insane after
a while, and I had that itch that needed to be scratched,” he said, and in 2009 the seeds were sown for a rockier outfit.
The group’s first LP, Maps Of Non-Existent Places, was released in 2012, with Coheed And Cambria dynamo Claudio Sanchez later snapping the band up for his Evil Ink label. But don’t expect the fellow alt-progger to meddle in his act’s work. “I might have had one phone conversation with Claudio in the last year and a half,” Monda says.
In the musician’s prog DNA is his dad’s record collection – “Frank Zappa, Yes, King Crimson… the usual suspects,” – while newer acts floating his boat include Bent Knee, Haken and Snarky Puppy. Like many of the great proggers, streaming through Thank You Scientist are two roots: experimentation, and melody. For every fusion-led chop or roller-coaster run, there’s a soaring, 21st-century vocal from singer Salvatore Marrano or a fist-knawingly infectious hook. In short, Thank You Scientist have an appeal far beyond the 4⁄4-phobes or prog purists.
“The goal from the beginning was to make music at a surface level that is accessible, but to find interesting ways to put in unique little musical tidbits, tricky ideas and turns of harmony that are unexpected,” Monda says. “Hopefully they still come across as songs and not a seven-man circle jerk.”
|Salvatore Marrano (vocals), Tom Monda (guitar), Cody McCorry (bass), Odin Alvarez (drums), Ben Karas (violin), Ellis Jasenovic (saxophone), Andrew Digrius (trumpet)|
|Coheed And Cambria rocket-fuelled by art rock and jazz fusion|
|Stranger Heads Prevail is out now on Evil Ink|