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Interview: Shadow Monster

Last week, Left Bank had the pleasure of premiering the new album from Shadow Monster—an angsty and loud two-piece from Bushwick, Brooklyn. Lyrically, Shadow Monster explores themes of loss, depression, and isolation, so naturally, I wanted to dig into the music (and their minds) a bit more.

I’ve run into Gillian a few times in the ‘Brooklyn scene’ and her aura has always captured me—she’s lovely, but has a darkness to her that you can’t ignore. So, I asked her a few questions about her band, her music, and her parents.

Tell us, how did Shadow Monster come about? And when?

Gillian Visco: Shadow Monster is a moniker I started using in 2012 after many years of playing music solo under my own name. In the summer of 2017, John [Swanson] and I started playing together, which took the songs to another level. John helped me find that sound and vibe that I had been chasing for so long. 

Is Shadow Monster a concept, an idea, a portrayal of an aspect of your personality?

Yes. Shadow Monster is definitely an outlet for a certain aspect of my personality. Carl Jung’s definition of the shadow is the unknown dark side of the self that exists in our subconscious mind. It represents the least desirable aspects of our personality, the parts of ourselves that we reject or suppress. The shadow in Freudian psychology is similar to the Id, which represents our innate animalistic impulses and desires. A lot of my inspiration comes from grappling with the human condition through my personal human experience. Through this project, I am able to explore these ideas and exorcise the demons I carry around with me.

Carl Jung’s definition of the shadow is the unknown dark side of the self that exists in our subconscious mind. It represents the least desirable aspects of our personality, the parts of ourselves that we reject or suppress.

How did you come up with the name?

John and I used to play in a band called Photon Dynamo and the Shiny Pieces with Frank Rathbone. One day I was recording demos for Residual Ghost in John and Frank’s bathroom while they were hanging in the living room with some friends. Every time I came out to take a break, one of our friends would freak out cuz she kept forgetting I was in there. She kept saying “you’re like the closet monster!” For whatever reason, there was a ring to that that I liked and I kept it rolling around my head for a while. Then Frank and I had a conversation about the shadow and I knew that was it. I had been waiting for years to find the right name. 

Does New York influence the music that you make, or do you think that it exists outside of any one place?

I moved to New York in 2007 so by default a lot of the songs have New York weaved within them. On this album, Kill Me Sweetie really feels like a New York song to me. But I would hope that whether you know New York or not, it can still be relatable. I’m a huge fan of the way artists like Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst use the specificities about the cities they were writing from, in their songs. 

Tell us about your new album — and I want to hear EVERYTHING!

We are so excited about this album. John and I recorded it ourselves in John’s room. I had just lost my job and we spent every day working on this thing. We recorded the songs so many times through the trial and error of finding the best sound we could. We’d be working all day, all night, friends would come through, we’d chill with people in between recording, play them what we were working on. Sometimes we’d stop recording and just jam with whoever came over. I feel like so many people’s energies were translated into the album because of that. When we were tracking the vocals for This Dead Thing, I was hitting a wall and we decided to take a break. We went outside and chilled with some people in the backyard. Without even discussing it, we all proceeded to clean the entire backyard. I’m talking pulling weeds, tilling the soil, for hours we did manual yard work and created a BONFIRE that was taller than us – out of all the weeds, twigs, and branches. We lit it, stood there and watched it burn down. Then we went back inside and got the vocal take. That is my favorite memory of recording this album. It was a really weird and cool way of making something.

Once we decided we did the best we could, we took our tracks over to Brian Speaker (speakersonic.com) who just made magic out of them. That was the magical next step of the process –  being able to hear these janky songs in Brian’s studio as he mixed it properly. It was then that it started to feel like a real album and we started to get really excited. 

Once we had the album finished, I started looking for a label that would be a good fit for it. Dadstache Records (dadstacherecords.com) ended up becoming a perfect home for Punching Bag and we have had a blast working with JT Fitzgerald on every aspect of the release. 

And then there’s that whole other part of the album… the inspiration behind it. Punching Bag is a true breakup album. I wrote these songs during a really dark period of my life. A time where I truly felt disconnected from myself and the world around me. A time where I felt I lost the love of my life and that I would never heal. A time that I genuinely could not see past. 

I wrote these songs during a really dark period of my life. A time where I truly felt disconnected from myself and the world around me. A time where I felt I lost the love of my life and that I would never heal.

Our music video for the title track was directed and shot by Luke Carr (lukecarr.com) at one of our favorite house venues Hartstop. (hartstopbk.com) Our cover art was done by Alexander Glueck (@stoic_dedboi)

Any upcoming shows?

Yes! We have two really special ones coming up. Thursday, Oct 24 is our RELEASE PARTY at The Gutter with faves: Darkwing, QWAM, and Lily Mao. Here, we will have Punching Bag on tangible cassette tapes! We’ll also have a zine of poetry called the panic and the dread to accompany the album. On November 1 we are playing at The Broadway to celebrate Retail’s Vinyl release for their album, Dead. Retail is one of my favorite local bands and the lineup for this show is pretty stacked: Gustaf, Lola Pistola, Sic Tic. I’m also in the process of concocting a special one for December so stay tuned! 

If you could play anywhere in the world, where would you?

This is a hard question and I’m surprised by how stumped I am by it. I guess I’d love to play inside of a cave or on a mountain if a venue like that exists. Or on SNL. Or anywhere that Conor Oberst is headlining. Maybe inside of a cave opening for Conor Oberst. That would be a dream haha. 

Do your parents like your music? 

I love this question. My mom definitely wishes I played ‘happier songs.’ Fuzz and distortion are not exactly her cup of tea. Our taste in music is really different. But she does have a favorite song of mine and its close to 1 million years old by now, but its called You Are A Mountain, which is from back when I played under my own name, and I think she wishes I would write more like that… hahaha. She definitely doesn’t like seeing me thrash around onstage either, but she’s been telling me to stop headbanging and playing air-guitar in public since I was 8 years old, so nothing has changed there. My dad was a rock and roller at heart, he was a brilliant piano player and we shared an incredible bond when it came to music, so I hope he liked our music but I don’t really know. I think there will always be a generation gap with parents. Regardless of liking it, they’ve always supported me in going after whatever vision I had in my head, which I love them for. And we can always agree on The Beatles. 

Favorite line in a song (not necessarily yours) that has always stuck with you

“What a beautiful face I have found in this place that is circling all ’round the sun. What a beautiful dream that could flash on the screen in a blink of an eye and be gone from me. Soft and sweet, let me hold it close and keep it here with me.”

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, 1998. 

This song and album is a pure masterpiece. 

Anything you want to complete before the year ends, or are you ready to get to 2020?

Tour ! We’re planning to hit the east coast before the year is out and share this album with some new people. Also very much looking forward to Halloween, my favorite holiday.  

Listen to their new album below, and catch them at the release party, event details here.

Originally published on sister publication Left Bank Magazine

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