"It was a bit of a surprise, to be honest."
When Brampton, Ontario emo champions Moneen announced they were coming out of hibernation in January 2017 to play a handful of shows, frontman Kenny Bridges was actually asleep in another time zone. He had no idea that while he was getting some zees his fans were buying up concert tickets at a feverish pace. "I was in Vancouver at the time, so I got to sleep through all of the stress and excitement of it all going down," he says over the phone. "We announced one, with the plans of possibly doing a second show if the first one did well. And then the next thing we knew, they both sold out super fast, the third one sold out super fast, and then we decided to do a fourth the next day and that sold out as well. People I talk to go, 'Are you surprised?' And of course, I'm surprised! We've barely been a band for, I don't know, six years. We've been gone for so long. Do people care about Moneen? I guess some do. I'm not gonna take that for granted."
Bridges' modesty is genuine. Moneen were never world famous or even the kind of band you might expect to sell out 2200 tickets in as many seconds. Especially considering they've basically existed on an occasional basis, playing the odd gig here and there when they felt like it. But long before Brampton became a hotbed for young hip-hop and R&B talents like Alessia Cara, Roy Woods, Raahiem and Tory Lanez , Moneen were the toast of the town. Rising up from the Flower City's DIY punk scene, Bridges, Chris "Hippy" Hughes, Erik Hughes (who replaced eventual METZ bassist Chris Slorach) and Peter Krpan became Canada's emo ambassadors.
"Honestly in the last few years the only time we've played shows was when we wanted to have some fun," Bridges says. "That is kind of a cool place to be with a band, doing what you want to do. There is zero pressure to do anything. Like we can go play a surprise show with a certain band or play an unannounced show at Sneaky Dee's. And the cool thing about doing four shows is if we screw one up we've got three other shows to make up for it. It's pretty laid back."
These four shows—which take place over four straight nights at Toronto's Lee's Palace , from January 4th to 7th—came with a purpose: to commemorate their landmark album, The Red Tree. "In late 2015 we talked about doing something and we decided we were too busy," Bridges explains. "But then I called everyone up and pitched it again, like, 'We only get this chance once. Let's go back in time and live like we once did.' Playing a surprise show is great, but we haven't done a proper show in years."
Originally released back in April 2006 on Smallman (Canada) and Vagrant (U.S.), The Red Tree thrust Moneen into the international spotlight, securing them a then highly coveted spot on that summer's Warped Tour , along with tours opening up for Saves The Day, Rise Against and Billy Talent, and their good pals Alexisonfire. It shouldn't come as a surprise to Moneen fans that they're revisiting an album that played such a huge part of their lives. Bridges himself admits that he's a sucker for nostalgia, so having this opportunity to pine for the old days was a huge deciding factor. "God, I am nostalgic, big time," he says excitedly. "If you look at my iPhone, you would think, 'Man, this guy is stuck in the late '90s and early 2000s.' Those times for me were huge for me. I'll just put on Jimmy Eat World's Clarity and it just takes me back to a certain place in my life. I can't let go of those things because it gives me a great feeling."
Fans attending the show will obviously experience their own sense of nostalgia witnessing Moneen play The Red Tree in its entirety. Often when bands revisit a classic album, expectations are that the performances live up to the memories from the first time around—or in some cases, what newer fans have heard from those shows. In their prime, Moneen were 20-somethings sacrificing their bodies to be one of the most exhilarating live bands around. How does that change now that they're almost over the hill?
"I think over the years, as we wanted to be a tight band, we had to dial it down a little bit, but we're very easily excited," Bridges says. "When our bodies are flying around or rolling on the ground, we probably didn't sound that good, but it's fun to watch. So we would go into shows looking to tame it down but it never really works. We get too excited, and next thing you know stuff starts flying around. I'm 38 now, and before you know it I'll be 40, and I'm so excited to still be doing what we do. If you can make it to 40 and still doing everything you want to do in life, that's all you can ask for. And I can't wait to be 40 and still rolling around on the ground. It's gonna be awesome!"
Despite his keenness to grow old, one thing Bridges has realized is that those songs aren't tugging the same heartstrings they once did a decade or so ago. The Red Tree is an album packed with some heavy emotional weight from a particular chapter in their lives, and Bridges says he has personally moved on. Moneen may no longer relate to the lyrics of "The Frightening Reality of the Fact That We Will All Have to Grow Up and Settle Down One Day," but they are now facing the frightening reality that they have all grown up and settled down. "Hippy and me actually talked about this when we were running through the songs," he says. "They don't mean the same to me now as when I first wrote them. The whole reason we ended in the state that Moneen is in is because really we just grew up. We've done pretty much everything we wanted to do almost. We all have families and kids. There are a lot of heartfelt songs that don't have the same effect on me. That said, it's kind of a cool reminder of a certain time in life when we did feel a certain way, whether it be relationships or things going wrong. It's kind of interesting though because when we play them right now, we are reminded of the time that we wrote them, but we're also balancing that with what we're into now."
Bridges might not feel that same connection to the songs themselves, but when it comes to discussing the experience of making The Red Tree he answers, "That's tough. It depends on how serious you want me to get. I will start crying if I get too serious." I don't get any tears out of him, but Bridges feels " The Red Tree is the most focused [album], as far as us knowing exactly what we wanted to do. I know a lot of people hold The Red Tree and Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now? as their two favourites. I can't really say why people kind of gravitate towards it the most, but I'm stoked that it's something we're proud of."'
The Red Tree is a remarkably dynamic and commanding rock album that arrived just as emo was going mainstream. The band's careful balance of instrumental precision and strong pop hooks proved to be a major step forward from their previous recordings. Recorded in Baltimore with Brian McTernan at his Salad Days studio proved to be just the kind of confusing and confining experience Moneen needed.
"They were still building it while we were there, which was a weird, funny environment that added to the album," Bridges explains. "Nothing for us ever went perfect. Everything always had a twist to it, so it just made sense that there were workers there grinding metal while we were recording. We had recorded in California before, which felt like a vacation. Baltimore does not feel like a vacation. There is a nice spot towards the water called Fells Point that is a little touristy, it's great, but if you go three or four blocks away you could be into some serious shit. There is some bad stuff going on around there. So we were definitely stuck in a bubble, as far as the studio and the record, because we couldn't really go wandering around too much. But we really did grow as people and friends. There was a movie that was made, but it was a little inaccurate."
Ah yes, the movie. Along with the band, filmmaker Alex Liu joined the band in Baltimore. He shot the first week at Salad Days for a documentary on the making of the album. However, when they finally screened it (it later came out as The Moneen DVD: It All Started with a Red Stripe ), the band weren't exactly singing its praises.
"His documentary told a dramatic story in a very misleading way," says Bridges. "It's not even footage of us recording. It's just us doing the pre-production demos. Maybe I shouldn't be saying this, maybe I sound like I'm shitting on it, but the first time I saw it I thought, 'Fuck! I don't want us to have a fucking Metallica documentary!' It made us look like a bunch of whiny bummers. Anyone that tours with us knows we are very positive, very friendly, low stress people. I mean, there is a lot of stuff outside of the studio that is funny and shows what kind of people we are, but if the filmmaker wants to show the dramatic material, he can get away with a lot in editing. "He did a great job with what he had, but it's not something I'd want to watch, ever," he adds. "It's too personal and I know that's not what was actually going on. The recording of that album was one of the best times of my life. We had so much fun! We got into a creative zone that we will never get into ever again in our lives. We basically weren't afraid of anything and just went for it."
Despite the band's indifference to It All Started with a Red Stripe, the documentary is included in a new box set edition of The Red Tree the band's label Dine Alone will be selling at the band's Lee's Palace shows. Although The Red Tree already received a deluxe vinyl reissue for Record Store Day in 2012, this tenth-anniversary edition is an opportunity to empty the vault and give completists what they want. "We dug up pretty much everything we did that had to do with The Red Tree and put in this box set," he says. "We keep releasing different limited versions, but we just felt like in finding all of this stuff and playing these shows it made sense to make it the definitive version. We're not throwing something out there to sell a few copies. We're doing something that we feel is special."
What the future holds for Moneen after these shows is still very much up in the air. There are other bands on the go to keep them busy. Bridges has his own solo thing, BR/DGES , while Hippy, Hughes and Krpan have a band called Seas ; both projects are looking to release full-lengths at some point. But judging by the overwhelming response by their fans, there clearly is demand for Moneen to keep going.
"Selling out those four nights really took us off guard. And that has definitely opened the door a little more for us to do other things," he says. "I think we just need to figure out where we want to go and what we want to do. And there has been talk to do more. We would like to. I did want the band to stop and have it all be over, but some of the other guys disagreed with me and I'm glad. I'm pretty stubborn, so if we had stopped the band we wouldn't have gotten back together. There wouldn't have been the reunion thing that a lot of punk rock bands do because I am so stubborn. But I'm happy that we didn't call it quits because then we wouldn't get to do these shows. It's kind of funny how fate works out."
Moneen play Lee's Palace in Toronto on January 4, 5, 6 and 7 with The Fullblast opening. The "definitive" vinyl box set of The Red Tree is limited to 300 copies and will be available at the shows.
Cam Lindsay is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.