Multi-instrumentalist Augusto Monk is one of my oldest musical friends. He's been in the trenches with me since we first met at Berklee College of Music way back when. We would meet in the school's shitty little practice rooms with the broken-down pianos at midnight almost every night of the semester to practice ear training together. We'd stay until they kicked us out at 2am.
Originally from Argentina, he's lived in Boston, London, and now Toronto. His music is equally as nomadic. At any given time, I have no clue what instrument he is playing, what kind of music he is making, or if he is even making music at all -- sometimes he paints, draws cartoons, or makes films.
(PS: watch the entire film; the password is Brass)
We go a long time without seeing or talking to each other, but when we do, we always fall into deep discussions about the nature of making music. Invariably, we wonder: did those endless nights of ear training teach us anything? Anything at all? Or were they just an exercise in stamina? Or was that the point?
(This interview is part of the TENACITY series. Read the FAQ here.)
1. What made a difference for you along the way?
Every time I have connected with someone I found inspiring has increased my energy and strengthened my relationship with music. The several occasions that these connections have happened had (and still do have) a great impact on me. The connection I refer to can take different forms: it has been taking lessons from a musician I looked up to; it has been playing with a musician I share lots of values with; it has been interviewing a musician whose love for life is contagious.
Here is one experience in particular: I had known drummer Kenwood Dennard from a concert with Wayne Shorter’s band I had seen in Argentina when I was 15; it blew my mind. It really did! Lots of things happened after that. Twenty years later, I took two lessons with Kenwood. From those two lessons I grew so much. His wisdom, his love for life, came from a very high level of awareness and high frequency of energy. That experience gave me a lot of courage. Among other things it made me feel I could realize my goals. It made a huge difference along the way. (Note: courage is not fearlessness; it is doing things even though you may be fearful. In other words, you may feel fear, but you do the thing you fear anyway).
2. To whom would you like to ask this same question? Living or dead.
This is a tricky one.
I guess I would ask you, Kate. Why? Because I’m not sure what you would say. I feel you as very close to me. With someone more distant it is easier to guess; but with someone closer it is more complex. So, I would ask you to get to know you better. My guess is that you would answer something along the lines of “collaborating with musicians with whom I felt I had a lot in common about music.” But that is just my best guess...
3. Think back to a time when you were struggling with your music, your career, your direction. What did you do to get out of that place, to keep going?
I tend to feel that way when I have no projects.
What does help me move forward, what gives meaning to my relationship with music is to do projects. Now, here, it is important to differentiate between projects and goals. By a “project” I mean some form of tangible music making such as a gig, a recording. Composing, for instance, if it is not going to be “out there”, doesn’t count for me. Let alone goals relating to practicing, such as “I want to learn this piece, or I want to develop perfect pitch." If the goal is not for a music-making project, I don’t have the motivation.
On the other hand, if the project is dead-ended (or has an end, or a finish-line), such as “to record a track and put it on Soundcloud and that’s it”, then for me there is meaning. So, every time I feel depressed about my music career – on average twice a year at least – find a project to be involved with, often self-initiated. The last one was in May this year, when I made the music for two of my wife’s dances (she's a dancer). The show had three performances, got great responses from the audience, and we made a documentary on the process of making the show together. In sum, when you are working on something it is impossible to feel like “what’s the point?” That thought doesn’t even come into your mind.