Photo By Nora Allen-Wiles
On record, Andy Macbain’s voice is a force of nature. With his band, The Monsieurs, his searing vocals pierce through the cloud of lo-fi noise that often surrounds them, whether that means screaming out a revenge fantasy (“Dirty Ratt”) or earnestly sparing some tender thoughts for a crush (“Kari Ann”).
In person, it couldn’t be more different. On a Thursday night, at the band’s rehearsal space in the basement of Spontaneous Celebrations in JP, Macbain is polite and reserved, speaking softly and slowly while leaning against the wall of the small room. He’s talking about being away from music, having stopped performing with a band following the dissolution of his previous group, Tunnel of Love, in the late 2000s.
“I just didn’t really have anyone to play with,” says Macbain. “I didn’t really expect to have another band. The last band I was in was with my brother and one of my best friends. I didn’t really have anyone else like that.”
In that sense, the other Monsieurs, drummer Erin King and guitarist Helkin Mancini, have found a role in the band beyond playing their instruments; they’ve helped give Macbain’s voice back to everyone who had been missing it. Alongside his brother Anthony and friend Makoto Sato, Andy and TOL earned the status as a local hardcore favorite with a string of releases in the early aughts, with Mancini among their chief admirers.
“I really loved [Tunnel of Love],” she says. “When [the other members] moved, I approached Andy like, ‘Why aren’t you playing? You’re great, you should play!’ He had all these songs already written. So I said, ‘I’ll help you, I’ll play with you.’ And then we just started.”
From there, The Monsieurs began to take shape, turning into something not entirely unlike Tunnel of Love. Mancini invited her longtime friend King to play drums, and they both play standing up, backing Andy just as Sato and Anthony used to. Even one of the cuts on their self-titled debut album, “Gloria,” was written as a Tunnel of Love track.
“My whole thing is, you have to keep going,” says Mancini, who is also Macbain’s girlfriend. “I’m in my forties and I’m not gonna stop. I try to make other people do that too so I don’t seem so crazy. It doesn’t matter if you get older, you can still play rock and roll. It’s an art form. If there are still songs in your head, then let’s go.”
Once practice starts and the group is a few songs deep into their set list, one song breathlessly follows the next with no break. Macbain’s voice has returned to the familiar distorted roar, and he’s come to life. He and Mancini can’t help but smile when exchanging howls on the thrashing garage stomp of “Wolves,” while King grits her teeth and snaps her neck while powering through the end of “Falun Gong.”
“I’ll write songs regardless,” says Macbain. “But as far as practicing and performing, it’s gotta be with friends.