Starting from its second show and continuing to this day, the Israeli trio -- Ami Shalev, Yonatan Gat, and Haggai Fershtman -- has brought the art of live performance to a whole new level of chaos with an unpredictable assortment of tricks. It's all part of the heavy rock 'n' roll Monotonix experience -- a sweaty, smiling magician-meets-caveman freak show. And the band's done it over 900 times now.
On its past recordings, the band tried to thicken its sound with longer songs and forever-wailing guitar. But Monotonix's new album, Not Yet, cuts right to the punk point. It has all the brazen bravado and spontaneity of the band's live show.
This Friday will see Monotonix's first S.F. show since its now-infamous trash-dumping Treasure Island appearance in October. Ahead of the occasion, and to discuss the band's new record, All Shook Down spoke with guitarist Yonatan Gat -- the only band member not living in Israel -- via phone from his East Village, New York apartment.
Are people still surprised by the antics at your live shows? Or have they come to expect it?
It's just depending on where we are. We just played Chile for the first time and I don't think they had any idea who we are. We played a soccer stadium supporting Faith No More. We played for 30,000 people and we just put our stuff on the floor and started playing. It took them four songs just to realize what was going on.
How did the crazy live shows start? Some of it must be spontaneous but some things, like when Ami throws a trashcan, I know happen pretty regularly.
Yes, I guess the trashcan happens a lot. He likes the trashcan. Maybe he thinks it's connected with the dirty aspect of it all. Because in the beginning when we toured, it used to be really dirty. It used to be after the show we just asked people for places to stay because we didn't have any money. We'd be sleeping on people's floors and I remember Ami would use dirty clothes as a pillow.
Your new album is more similar to your live shows then previous records, was that a conscious decision?
I think so too, I think that's what we always wanted to do but I think it's just our third record [including the EP] and it got a little better. We learned a lot about working together. We always knew what we wanted, but now we know how to achieve that.
The new one we recorded in Chicago. We felt much more relaxed about it, and didn't feel like we had anything to prove to anything, we just did it for fun. There was a nice space on the roof and we'd just hang out. We did whatever we felt like and the music was much more spontaneous, so we didn't have to talk that much. We got to know each other enough, we stopped interfering with each other and let everybody do their thing.
What was the dynamic when the band was first getting started?
The first show we played was really regular. I played bass, Ami played guitar, and there was a drummer. We just stood on stage and played songs. We did that show and we didn't like it because it was exactly what we did with our previous bands. We said, okay, let's play on the floor. And Ami wouldn't play guitar, just sing, make it really basic and go for that punk edge. It was an idea that came into effect. And then we played our second show, which is exactly like the shows we play now.
What was the music scene like in Israel? Did you feel support from other bands there?
We don't really play there anymore, we haven't played there in two years. Ami doesn't want to. We used to a lot in the beginning, but it was hard because people didn't really like us that much. I think Ami just really thinks it will be the same if we try to play there again. But I don't know if [that's] true, because people are always telling me that we should play and people do want to see us. I'm not going to make him do something he doesn't want to do.
I never found the rock 'n' roll scene in my country to be very interesting. It's a really small country. And it's really isolated because you can't really go anywhere, like get into a car and start touring, because you're surrounded by countries that are basically enemies. So it's kind of like an island. It's hard to create something in an environment like that.
What are some of the bands you've liked playing with on tour?
There's a band called Federation X from Bellingham, Washington. They're this really great rock 'n' roll band, really heavy, and we'd listened to their music. They put out their record 10 years ago and we got to play with them just before they broke up. Now they're back together and they wrote to ask us to do four shows them.
But we're not like that social, we don't really tour with bands that much. We kind of keep to ourselves. We're not the kind of people that would try to make friends or connections with people, to play that game.
American bands are very supportive of each other but also very competitive. It's really rare that other bands invite us to support them. But we like playing with other bands, Ty Segall is playing with us in San Francisco. We actually just did a tour with those guys in October and it was amazing, it was really good.
Is there anything you miss about living in Israel?
I go there all the time, it's beautiful. It's refreshing to go there then come back here. People are loud and honest and in your face. The food is amazing. I'm a big fan of Middle Eastern food -- it's really cheap and tasty. I had it every day and here, even in New York, it's hard to get. They make falafel but it's not the same, so I try to eat the things they make good here -- like pizza and burgers!
You were in San Francisco when the band recorded its last record here. Was there anything you liked to eat or do in the city?
People are really proud of their Mexican food over there. There's a lot of good taquerias. It's a cool city. We stayed in Bernal Heights when we made the record, right on top of the mountain, and we'd go out at night to look at the view.