Alley-Cat Traffic Keeps On Rolling: An Exclusive Interview
Musicians everywhere have a litany of perceptions about what “success” means in the current music industry and what it takes to achieve longevity. Anyone who has ever been in a band knows that maintaining cohesive goals and a unified creative vision, while essential, certainly has its challenges. However, if every member of the band can agree on its direction and believe in one another, anything is possible. The Montreal-based band Alley-Cat Traffic is living proof that when people share a musical and personal bond, they become like family, giving the group the resilience to overcome any obstacle. The members of Alley-Cat Traffic, formerly known as Monroe, met as teenagers and have been making music together every since. Guitarist Alek Specogna, bassist/vocalist Mark Monroe, and drummer Dylan Vardon recently spoke with 24OurMusic about their journey as a band, their forthcoming album Gone Livin,’ and plans for the future. Vocalist Alex Fominsky was not available at the time of the interview.
24: How would you describe the evolution of the band and its sound from the first time you all met to Monroe to today?
Mark Monroe: The band is always evolving and will continue to evolve; there’s no “set in stone” sound when it comes to ACT. Each member brings a different element, which creates this bonfire of creativity and I can say that we have certainly opened our eyes and ears since we started this band when we were just 16-18 years young. Maturity in all aspects takes hold and whether it’s with music or current events, it has an impact on our music.
Alek Specogna: To sum it up into a short line, it’s been spontaneous. The band, as individual members and as a whole, are constantly evolving… In “Monroe” we were focused on being a rock n roll band and only a rock n roll band. We limited ourselves and our writing and crafting abilities to tailor more towards the genre rather than letting ourselves soar… Alley-Cat Traffic is where we are able to be ourselves a little bit more, more honest with ourselves and our sound and direction. The sound has very much matured and we hope our supporters will hear the significant difference from where we were to where we are now.
AS: It just does! It’s difficult to explain but we’ve been the same core four members for years. Everyone in this band is irreplaceable… We connect on every musical level and we aren’t afraid to tell the other, “Hey that’s great!” or, “No that sounds awful!” We are brutally honest with each other and it’s allowed us to harbor no bad blood between each other… Communication and respect is key.
Dylan Varden: It works because we took the time to make it work. Most bands we have seen come and go in the city, had the “get rich quick” mentality. It was never about that for us. We are a gang of friends before we are a band… We all have grown together musically at the same time. We were all 18 or so when we started this band, so, as the songs evolved, we as human beings evolved together as well.
24: What did you learn from making The Art of Marvelous EP?
DV: We all learned how to operate in the studio. Before recording the EP, some of the songs were messy, overplayed, and very long in length. Playing the songs in studio gave us a little different perspective on what should and shouldn’t be played, especially after playback. The overall songs on our new album sound a lot more mature than The Art of Marvelous as well. On our new album, we went for a little more of a commercial sound without compromising our musical integrity. Yes, it can be achieved.
AS: We learnt a lot about the care and time it takes in the studio… Most of all, I feel we learned a lot about being patient. Being in the studio and learning the ins and outs and how to get the best sound out of every song is amazing, but patience is very key. You can’t let pressure of getting it out get to you, nor let it affect your decisions elsewhere. It’s difficult when you put your heart and soul into something only to have it sitting and waiting in limbo. Then the anxiety sets in and you’re not sure if the world will ever hear what you’ve created. Waiting is the worst part especially when you finish your parts of the album early on and you have to sit and wait for the next guy to finish his. Recording that EP was a fantastic and bonding experience overall.
24: What is the song-writing process like with Alley-Cat Traffic?
AS: It varies, sometimes one of us will come with scrambled riffs and we order it all out, sometimes someone comes with a full song written and we work off of that or, the best of them all is when we get together just to hang out and enjoy each other’s company and a song just sprouts out of nowhere and out of pure fun… We put a lot of love and passion when writing these songs. We don’t rush them to just “try to have content”. Songs are like growing children and they need the proper care and patience. Don’t get us wrong, some songs just write themselves and can be done in a matter of minutes or so. But like everything, all songs are not the same and each of them require their own individual attention and care to get the best out of what we are creating.
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24: What can you tell us about the forthcoming album and the process of making it?
DV: The album will be called Gone Livin,’ based upon the “Gone Fishin’” signs you would see in the south. What Gone Livin’ means is, we are making the sacrifices to follow our dream. There is no turning back now. From the outside, it can be considered a concept album, because this is actually what we are doing. We are releasing this independently without a record label. The process of making this record is very, very long because we are taking the time it deserves. The songs definitely have a human quality to them but sound polished. Nowadays, Top 40 artists will come out with a single and the rest of the album will not mean anything, just filler. We want every song on our first album to matter and have our album stand out as a whole.
MM: We did things a little differently this time around. We recorded instruments track by track, whereas before we were more prone to doing things live and without a click track… We’ve had a lot of time to come up with the quality of album that we want. We’re also working with a friend (Jason Stanely at Studio Stiddari in Montreal) and that’s been quite the experience; we go into the studio and we have fun. It’s all serious business but there are a lot of good times that go down… What we have noticed as a core is that every time we go in the studio to record we come out even better musicians with more knowledge of our said instruments.
24: What influenced Gone Livin’, either musically or personally?
DV: Everybody in the band listens to different bands or groups, and a lot of the time, different genres. Sometimes you can pick them out individually in the playing or style. I was really into the latest Foo Fighters record Sonic Highways when we first began recording. They are definitely a good example of how a good band does something right, and that shows with older and younger fans in their audience.
AS: Influences can come and go out of nowhere. As young individuals in a world over-crowded with attention seekers, it’s been challenging. As people we are all extremely different and live with much different experiences. All our home lives and work lives are all different. We all have our internal struggles and we still are all doing some soul searching, which we found has really given us depth and strength in character. Our world is very painted in a way that outside appearances reign supreme over all, though most people forget to look and to grow internally. The sound on the album will really show our growth as human beings and as mature individuals and will really show people a nice small dose of what we can create. And yes it’s a small dose because this is just the first and the beginning of something spectacular.
24: What are some challenges that have faced the band and how were they overcome?
DV: When you have been a band for as long as we have, you will have your fair share of problems. We have called each other every name in the book and even came to blows before; we have been through a lot. We have overcame a lot of things because at the end of the day, we all have a common goal to achieve and you start to mature after you have been together for a long time. We have known each for a while, and that’s part of the reason why we are still here and some bands aren’t. We try not to take each other for granted. The closeness is important.
24: What do you see as Alley-cat Traffic’s place in the local, national, and global music scenes?
DV: There is a place for us on any scale. The sky is the limit for us, as long as we all put the time in. We all want to live off of our music, that’s really the definition of what “making it” really means to me.
AS: Belief, confidence and soul will definitely get Alley-Cat’s name to go global, there is no other way we see it. We are four individuals who believe in eachother and ourselves (as corny as that may sound). We are steadily writing more and more and we are getting into contact with the right teams who believe in us as much as we believe in ourselves. Now, belief won’t get you anywhere without putting in the hard work and putting in the effort. As an indie band we are paying for everything ourselves and doing most of the work ourselves… Alley-Cat Traffic is our base of operations and our heart, but it’s the first step to more and to us doing more for ourselves, our community, and if permitted, the world.
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24: What are the band’s goals for the near future?
DV: Our primary goal is to put this record out on CD and digitally and then do a tour. After that, we will invest what we earn and release our LP on vinyl. We will continue to make new creative ways for people to take notice in us… the more music we have, the easier it will be. We believe in quantity, however, we believe in quality quantity.
AS: The band’s goals for the near future are almost too many to mention! But it all starts with the dropping of our new album titled Gone Livin.’ Stay Tuned for more, we literally have just begun!