You may know Ben Montero as part of his eponymous band Montero or as half of Early Woman. One takes the idea of symhonic pop and tilts it until it becomes unbalanced, rapturous and strange. The other is out to break your heart, no matter how many skinny dips in the codeine lake of romance it takes. Montero is also a cartoonist. Lampooning the music industry he’s been part of for over two decades out of equal parts love and hate. Or squeezing out anger caused by a confusing world through his psychedelic musings. His first solo show as an artist just opened at Lamington Drive and that’s certainly something to talk about. So we did.
Noisey: Your stuff has this really heightened, surreal feel to it. Do you need to work yourself into that mode or do you find yourself doing it naturally?
Ben Montero: If I try to make a critique or joke and put it into words it doesn’t work. There’s this direct kind of line to drawing for me that gets to something that I can’t express in words. I think being pissed off, being jealous, being all kinds of those emotions are always good for making an image that people can relate to.
What are you pissed off most about?
I’ve been pissed off about music. Just normal musician frustrations. I’ve been doing music for a long time. When I make posters for things and I just rip through things and it is therapeutic for me. If it’s therapeutic for me and funny for someone else than it’s good.
Your music has got to be therapeutic as well, right?
No. Music is not therapeutic. It’s hell. I find that very unenjoyable. I like making up songs and I like when the thing is finished, the recording, but I hate playing. I hate everything that goes with it.
Where are you at with your music stuff?
We've nearly finished the Early Woman album. The recordings has been so much fun. We’ve had good luck recording with the guys from Pond and Tame Impala and everything because we happened to move into a house with them and we get really excited actually making the recordings. But I don’t get attached to the actual song. It’s different every time, and your emotions come through it, but it’s like, “It’s good. Now we have to perform it again?”. It’s kind of a weird, abstract kind of thing.
So with the drawing you go once.
Yeah, with the drawing you do it once and you just let colours out and you feel better, you put it on Instagram and people like it and you go: “Ah! People liked it!”
Who are your guys in terms of influences?
Robert Crumb. He’s like the master. The Freak Brothers. I don’t really know much about comics, to be honest. I like kids books. I like Richard Scary, Dr Seuss. Stuff like that. I’m not an aficionado of comics at all. Fred Negro is good. The guy who does the pub strip. He’s propping up a pub somewhere. Getting paid in beer. That’s another thing, because I thought "there should be someone doing comics for this side of the river, because no one cares about the fucking Espy or St Kilda.
I guess they did once upon a time.
Yeah but who cares about once upon a time? I’ve got shit going on now that’s funny to people. I think the good thing for people has been it’s kind of in jokes. You know, a small amount of people get it. Then that’s funny because only a few of us get certain things. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t want to get too universal with everything.
Do you think it’s often the people that don’t aspire to universality actually get to it, because they’re just sort of listening to themselves and their weird preoccupations?
Exactly. They get to the truth. And this is the thing, I can’t stand the term ‘illustration’ because Melbourne is just full of illustration everywhere. It’s just this bland catering to fucking coffee shops, you know? Street art and cutesy bitches and Frankie Magazine. There’s no truth to them. There’s nothing. It’s so safe. It looks great, but it’s so safe.
What’s the process been working with Ariel Pink and the like? Do you deal with the artist or the label?
Originally I was getting help through Mistletone records. They got me to do a ew of the posters. Now I just get asked by the artists usually. Ariel Pink just took a picture that I did and stole it for his Twitter profile. And I’m meant to be working on a cartoon, but just haven’t had much time to do that. Sonny Smith from Sonny and the Sunsets, I’m been doing his stuff. I’ve done the new Pond album cover that’s coming out, just cause I moved into a house and he was there we’d just be sitting around laughing and drawing.
Do you have an ongoing series or what is the largest or most connected that you do?
I did the Gary Good Guy comics. I did a few of them for Vice. He’s the bedroom beats, indie, you know, R&B guy.
Is it harder to be revealing of yourself when you’re drawing or when you’re making music? Is that something that you set out to do?
No. I never set out to be revealing, unless I’m really trying to be revealing. Even then you go into a little pretend-it’s-not-happening state when you’re doing it. So you can do it. Just do it and not think about it and then see it later and go: “Ah fuck. My parents are going to see that”. I’d love to do more of that in music and art. I’ve gotten a taste for art and I think I’d like to figure out a way to do more of that. Act in an unselfconscious manner.
It’s hard to push through the front of your mind and your ego, isn’t it?
I know. The front of your mind is a fucking beast, a guard.
It’s what we all aspire to in a way.
Yeah. Break it all open. If you can just get it all out there then there’s nothing to be scared of.
'Sketchbook' by Ben Montero is open at Lamington Drive in Melbourne until August 30.
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