The Banana Convention

Still Growing After Four Years of Music

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 655   By: Jay Taylor

28th February, 2008     0

Growing up, they say, is hard to do.

Growing up, and growth is difficult.  Most transitions in life are difficult.

But as the recent 4th anniversary performances by The Banana Convention at the Empire Club on the 22nd and White's Bar on the 23rd attest, it can be worthwhile.

The Banana Convention is a band in transition.  After the loss of two members and the addition of the inimitable Ray Torres, it is a band of talented individuals seeking to understand exactly who they are, and what it is that they are doing.

Which isn't to say they've stumbled or taken a step back.  Instead, this transition is more of a thoughtful pause in the studio before taking the next step in an evolution.  Any true growth is a degree of movement away from roots. This band does not deny their pop-bubblegum roots.  In The Banana Convention's case, they embrace their past, and now, with a degree of openness regarding song material amongst the band-mates, the band finds itself reeling at the prospects of free will.

Some people don't like the prospect of unlimited horizons.  They prefer the safe definition of walls, or, as Monte Notellfer would say, (in a phrase that came up repeatedly in our discussions) 'being pigeonholed'.  It's comfortable.  Easy.  And also stagnant.  So while not every song on the rough demo of the EP was an out-of-the-park home run, there is something new developing.  Something organic.

And with a little luck, just maybe a few hits.

The Banana Convention, by their own admission, is a cast of characters.  Chris Howard plays drums, and he does it well.  You wouldn't really recognize him as a victim of social anxiety when you see him on stage as Fletch Bohanski.  His partner on the bass in the rhythm section is Shawn Drysdale, otherwise known as Pooder.

Shawn is a nice guy with a dry sense of humor and excellent timing, which informs his wit and his musicianship well. 

Ray Torres plays lead and rhythm guitar.  Ray is a quiet sort - a perennial nice guy, who, although reserved, when he finally decides to open up, has a lot to say.  Still waters run deep, and in those still waters is a man who truly cares about music and approaches it with fire and skill. 

Then there is Shar Molina, the Mighty Afrodytee.  Shar is an exotically attractive vocalist, a bit guarded; yet still a genuinely nice girl.
And finally we have Monte' Notellfer, Mr. Oily McBride, Jr.  Monte is a thoughtful sort, definitely the taskmaster of the group, who adds vocals and percussion to the mix, as well as a boyish sensibility that balances out the band.

It's also worth noting that his dog bites, which I found out when I went to go sit down with the band to discover where their collective heads were at lately in a wide ranging interview that focused mainly on a new-found, hitherto unknown openness in the band regarding song-craft - a sort-of soul searching process of self identification which is producing their latest EP and album.

Review:  Where do you see The Banana Convention in 2008?

Shar:  Hopefully, everywhere [laughs]

Monte:  That's a good question; actually, one we haven't discussed.  I think we're going to be focusing on completing a few recording projects, the EP of course, a live album, and a new album.  That's pretty ambitious just in the recording, then getting out, making a trip out east to New York and back...and just getting out and playing...

Review:  Do you have a release date for your EP?

Shar:  Its probably better that we left it open this time, because we set a release date for the album we have now, and it was rushed.  It deserves time.

Monte:  The EP should be done very shortly and it should have songs on it, I think.  Then the next album, there's no date on that.  We have a bunch of original songs.   We're going to let this album grow on its own, rather than say it HAS TO BE DONE on this date


Chris:  I know we have plans to shoot three videos...

Pooder:  Where essentially they make fun of me.

Chris: Only in the one, right?  Or are we going to do that in all of them.  We're going to roller skate in one

Pooder: and I'm probably the *only* one that knows how to roller skate so...

Chris:  so then you get to be the only one that DOESN'T get to, so you don't make us look bad!

Review: Do you have a title for the EP?

Monte:  I believe the title is 'Freeze Dried Eclectic Singles'...I don't know if anyone but Chris knew that. It's a collection of songs that didn't make the album, or we finished right after the know, no flow, a collection of b sides and singles.

Review:  How would you characterize the difference between your EP and the upcoming album and your previous work?

Monte:  ...oooh, who wants to take that?

Chris:  I think the EP is...for me, anyway, a wistful wave to where we were before, because its happier, more upbeat kind of stuff.

Pooder:  Very pop oriented.

Chris:   Very poppy, catchy, riff oriented stuff - very simple, stripped down songs, but they're good songs and they're the kind of stuff you wanna listen, and there's something on there for everyone to grab on to, but the album, is...its...a lot tone...

Chris:  There's going to be a very big balance of light and shadow in this one, whereas its all been light before, and now we can do whatever we want, and it seems like everyone is going through a ridiculous amount of strife at the moment, so where better a place to get rid of it than in songs, pretty much half the stuff we have is...

Shar:  Fierce.

Chris:  Yeah, it's fierce, and its getting stuff off our chests we wouldn't normally talk about.  You write in metaphor.

Pooder:  There's a few songs that are starting to creep up that are...bubbly

Chris:   Exactly, exactly...anybody can write an album that's all angry, or all sad, but when you throw in, the mix that we've got, happy songs, goofy songs, fast songs slow songs, its just trying to find a way to make an album  'listenable' from beginning to end as a cohesive piece of work.

Pooder:   Not a cut after cut after fun song/sad song - all our songs do tend to mesh. Our material now is based on all of us working together, because we're all writers, we all have ideas, now that we're all throwing them into the arena its kind of an interesting period of hating each other for ideas you really like, but they don't, but also saying 'alright, your idea is better, I gotcha'...

Review:  Sort of like an  'idea-cock fight'.

Pooder:  That's where the best stuff comes from, because if everybody just agreed, it would be boring and flat. It would be very flat and there wouldn't be much to it. But right now everyone can come in, whether you have music written for it or not, and relay an idea.  Like 'Fabrication', Shar came in with some lyrics, I wrote some music, and then Ray really drove it home by making us play it better.

Shar:  It was practically an acoustic...a slow acoustic song, but it really turned a lot.

Monte:  The song...the lyrics are kind of moody and depressive, and the music is...not.

Pooder:  Its almost an early nineties kind of rock...its kind of like stone roses meet bad religion.

Review:   Would you guys say you're moving away from the family friendly sound or...

Shar:  No, I think we can still play shows for kids, and I'd love to, I haven't done it in awhile.  It's a good feeling.

Monte:  We still don't do anything offensive, we're still a fun band, we still keep the same vibe we had before, but we're just doing different things musically.  Everybody is able to throw in their ideas, instead of being stuck in this one bubble gum pop framework, Now its wide open to do whatever we want to do.

Chris:   We do have some filthy songs we haven't done anything with, like 'Do It Until We're Done Doing It'.

Shar:  O GOD

Pooder:  'Blow Up In My Face'.

Chris: YEAH, 'BLOW UP IN MY FACE', that one, too, that's a break up song. Well, it started out as a break-up song...but it ended up as a metaphor for...

Review:  Yeah, that's totally not going into the article.  But that's cool.

Monte:  Put that right after where we say we're still family friendly.

Review:   It sounds like there' s enough creative tension to get some work done, and the vibe I get from you guys is positive energy and a group of people that genuinely like each other. There seems to be a lot of harmony in your group...
where does this come from?

Shar:  I think we just work well together

Monte:  I think it's the fact we're open to doing whatever anyone wants to do. If Shar shows up and wants to do this, we're not going to be turning it down because it's not in this certain field.

Shar:  It also has to do with the fact that we spend a lot of time together.

Ray:  We're not going to dodge any songs. We're going to keep it open and try to create something beautiful with it.

Pooder:  Out of all of us, Ray has the most positive attitude, no matter how bad it is, he makes you feel better about it.

Chris:  Ray is our den mother.

Review:  So you might say that your sound has matured?  Or you're taking yourself more seriously?

Ray:  Sure it was always serious, but now its...more...a family...and we want to keep our options open, and become as diverse as possible. I want push Chris to do an Afro-Cubic drum rhythm.

Shar:  And maybe I could learn to yodel.

Ray:  The possibilities are endless.  And we can make it happen.

Review:  I noticed in the past you were militaristic about wearing the yellow ties and black shirts, whereas now you guys have seemed to have gotten away from that

Pooder: No, it turned into a joke.

Monte:  It turned into the pigeonholing thing because we were a bubblegum band, and we were going for a certain sound, a certain feel, sort of like a cartoon band come to life.  When Ray joined the band and when the lineup changed, we decided to drop that.

Ray:  I did wear the tie once.  Halloween.

Monte:  And its still part of playing the part, getting into character, because we still do play characters.  This is Shar, but on stage she's the Mighty AfrodyteeŠ there is a difference.  And Fletch Bohanski is obviously a different character...

Chris:  And also, for me, putting on Fletch Bohanski is a lot like the difference between Peter Parker and Spider-man. If I'm at a show, I'm Fletch Bohanski and that's all there is to it, and Chris Howard is not there, and that keeps the focus off of anything else.  I've changed a lot since I joined the band.  But in the beginning the altar ego was a way of dealing with social anxiety.  You couldn't get me out of the house to save my life.  I wouldn't go to the store, or to the movies unless I was with somebody.  Like with playing shows, I had a reason to be there.  It was like acting.  I was playing a part, I'm the drummer.  We all picked names, and I thought 'that's great; I can put on this persona of a person who likes being here and doing this. You get to be yourself, only bigger.

Monte:  It's you turned up ten notches.

Shar:  I think it's all really interesting, but at the same time, music should be pre-planned. Its a free form thing and has to simply happen, otherwise it doesn't feel organic.

Pooder:  I just wanted to make Meatloaf jealous.

Shar: We finally figured out that didn't really work.

Monte:  In a certain point of view it worked, we got our notoriety from that, the oldies covers, girl band, the sixties girl band.

Chris:  And we were happy!  We opened for metal bands.  And we smiled the whole time.

Review:  Would it be appropriate to say that your new album is drawing on you, the person, rather than you, the character?

All:  Yeah. Definitely. Absolutely.

Monte:  We're all going through our personal things, and drawing from personal experience.  More than silly songs, that *I* write.

Chris:  We're just evolving into something more, something better, something additional.  It's like we grew gills.  We can fly, and breathe underwater now.

Review:  Tough question:  I noticed you don't have a whole lot of shows coming up, any reason for that?

Monte:  Right now we're working on new stuff and focusing on that.  I'm booking March and May plus an east coast tour.  We're finishing up the EP...we just want to have new stuff.  We played at Whites, and we just want to have something new the next time we play there.

Chris:  We have 15-17 new songs stewing right now, that we want to get out.  Between all of us, there are at least 2 albums in us, right now.

Pooder:  I want to do something where we have a large catalog of music, where every show is new and different, not just the same set list re-arranged
There's no slacking when Ray's around.  But then again, Ray doesn't slack or rest on his laurels.  When everyone takes a break, he's sitting down, figuring it out again.

Monte:  We've had ray in the band a year now.
We've changed so much.   The first two practices Ray came to, we were playing 'Rust-Belt', and he started playing his solo, and me and Chris looked at each other...'this is gonna' work'.

Review:  So the change you guys have gone through has helped you open up and you're like Banana Convention 2.0?

Monte:  We developed our name and got the notoriety from what we were doing before, and now we're just taking it to the next level.  And once Ray came on board, it brought new people.  What we were doing before...some people didn't like it, honestly, and it wasn't FOR everybody.  And now its more open, and diverse, with a little something for everybody.

Review:  Is the song lineup finalized for the EP?

Monte: Yeah, a bunch of b-sides that didn't make it, 'Oooh-lala', 'Han Solo', 'Grand Illusion', 'Crush', and Ray's song 'Eugene'.  Oh, and 'She makes It Easy'.  And then I wanted to record one of Shar's songs, just her and her guitar.  And we've already got five songs lined up for the album.  Come to our shows, and have a good time.  People that haven't heard us, come out and give us a chance, check it out, because we are different. 
How about this, I'll put out a guarantee that if anybody new comes out to the show, has not seen us in awhile and does NOT have a good time - maybe you won't like the music, but at least you'll have a good time, and if you tell me you didn't have a good time and you're honest about it, I'll buy you a drink.  SO you get a free drink!  Come to the show and you get a free drink if you are honest and if you tell me you didn't like it.

Pooder:  Well, I hope you start making money.

Ray:  Are band members are eligible?

Monte:  Come out with an open mind and give us a chance, and if you HONESTLY do not like it, let me know.


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