What’s in a name? Well, sometimes everything and sometimes nothing at all, but in the case of Alien Knife Fight, it was something that definitely got our attention. It took only one listen to their song “Jerk Off” to know that this indie rock duo had something special going on. The duo consists of bassist/vocalist Monique Ortiz and drummer Michael Howard and they released their second EP in January of this year entitled Some Girls. Ortiz has been performing for over twenty five years in acts such as Bourbon Princess and A.K.A.C.O.D. In 2010, she moved from Boston to Austin and the universe made sure that she crossed paths with multi-instrumentalist Michael Howard. He provided the primal beat to her powerful vocals and growling 2-string slide bass and fretless bass playing. They’ve shaped and sculpted their sound into a sound that’s been called sinister, sexy, soulful and groovy, all at once. The duo is about to hit the road this month with Scott H Biram and Jesse Dayton for a run of west coast dates from March 23 through April 29. We sat down with the busy duo recently to talk about the tour, their influences and their bad-ass band name.
You immediately had my full attention with the band name, so I have to ask if there’s a story there.
Monique Ortiz/Alien Knife Fight: The story is that I really hate having to come up with band names. The name kind of happened pretty randomly because anytime I think really hard and come up with something, it really sounds very pretentious to me and not really fitting. As I recall, we were just kind of joking around and calling our random joke combinations and not really giving much of a damn about the meaning of them. It just so happens that Mike and I are big sci-fi fans and have an interest in paranormal stuff. From a literal standpoint, the words Alien Knife Fight make no sense at all. I’d like to think that aliens would be far too advanced to be messing around with knives. From a design standpoint, we were kin fog blessed because all three words have the exact same number of letters. As far as doing artwork and logo work with it, it’s a really fun band name to mess around with.
At first, I thought it was title of a B movie.
Monique: It does sound like it could be a B movie title and I did notice that when we landed on it too which made it even more appealing to me. I really love those weird sci-fi types of movies from the 60s and early 70s.
Michael Howard/Alien Knife Fight: From the first time she said it, I knew that was it; we’re done looking and thinking. It’s ironic and then we found out later that it’s perfectly symmetrical. The first thing that popped into my mind was Captain Kirk holding that flint knife up to the gorn’s throat.
So, you’ve had two releases so far with the self-titled EP and the new Some Girls EP?
Monique: Yes, so far; we are going to be dropping a few more songs very soon. We have one that we’re mastering right now and we’re actually sitting on a ton of material. It’s just basically having to work with life responsibilities and not having the time to get it all out as quickly as we’d like.
All of this is DIY (Do It Yourself)?
Monique: We have a big old house that we do all of our recording and mixing in and then we usually take it to someone else to master it. We pretty much do everything ourselves.
How did the connection with Mark Deutrom (ex-Melvins) happen?
Monique: He has a band called Bellringer and it’s kind of the vehicle for his previous solo record. He put out a bunch of solo work and has been writing new stuff for that. He’s been through a revolving cast of musicians who haven’t been all that reliable, so I started playing bass in that for him and I continue to. He got to know us and got interested in us through that and really liked what we were doing.
Monique, you moved from Boston to Texas in 2010; how did you connect with Mike after you got there?
Monique: We both worked for a glass blowing company here in Austin.
Michael: We also both rehearsed at the same rehearsal complex right around the corner. I was playing with a band called Bay of Pigs and she was working with another band. I saw her sitting on her Suburban while we were loading in one day and I said ‘hey, I work with you, right?” and she said yeah. We decided to get together and jam and that was November 10, 2010 and we’ve been together ever since.
Wow, you two were working together, but didn’t have a clue that you were both doing music.
Michael: Yes, that’s correct.
Monique: We kind of worked in two different departments in the company that we worked for. They had a couple of different buildings and initially I would only see him in passing. I wasn’t blowing glass yet; I was decaling glass pieces. We weren’t literally working together, but rather just working for the same company.
Monique, why the move to Austin?
Monique: Basically, I had lived in Boston for fourteen years and the last major project that I was involved with was A.K.A.C.O.D. with Dana Colley from Morphine. We put a lot of time and effort into it and it was a very intense project. We were really excited about it, but the timing was really bad. The record came out in 2008 which was when the crash happened. Labels were folding, we couldn’t find a decent publicist or management or anyone to help us put the record out. 2008 was long before crowdsourcing and those things really existed, so we had no support. The record came out completely unnoticed, but we ended up going out on a few tours. We couldn’t get the right support and backing, so we played to mostly empty rooms and it was completely demoralizing. When we came back off of the last tour, we felt out of steam and I personally was really burned out on a lot of levels. I had put a lot of energy into that project meanwhile trying to survive in Boston working two jobs just to scrape by. It was one of those moments where I desperately needed a change of scenery to regroup. There was really no reason for choosing Austin other than I had been down here several times to play SXSW and I had established a small network of friends. At the time, I was working for Whole Foods Market, which is a whole other hilarious story. I knew they had a store in Austin and that I could probably get a job lined up with them before I came down here, which is exactly what I did. So, I chose Austin because of my network of friends there, I had a job with Whole Foods and the winters wouldn’t be that brutal.
I’m a firm believer in things happen for a reason and little did you know that the move to Austin was going to put you in touch with Michael.
Monique: I agree; looking back it’s kind of astonishing to me because if you would have told me back then that I was going to end up in a duo and in a really great relationship, not just creatively, with Mike and living in a big old house with a bunch of land, I would have never believed it.
You’re about to head out on the road with Scott H Biram and Jesse Dayton. Will these dates take you into new markets and territories?
Monique: For Alien Knife Fight, this is all new territory for us and it’s really new territory for me. I’ve done a lot of touring, but I’ve never toured the west coast, but I’ve wanted to all of my life. I’m excited about it and I’m really excited that we’re going out with Scott and Jesse. I think all three acts are very different from one another but also complimentary of one another. I think it’s going to be a trip and a lot of fun.
Any chance of east coast dates?
Monique: Absolutely! I’m working on that right now because we don’t want to let the dust settle too much before we head back out again. I typically do booking myself, but as you probably know artists are typically their own worst enemies when it comes to trying to communicating to venues and management on their own. I’m in the process right now of finding the right booking agent for us and I don’t want to be back for too long from the west coast before we head back out again. I’m originally from the east coast and we’ve done some fly ins and did some dates in the northeast before. Once we get to New England, those are my own stomping grounds and people definitely come out to see us.
You revisited “Jerk Off” on this new EP, which is an older previously recorded song of yours. What made you decide to do that?
Monique: It’s such a fun song to play and it’s one of those songs that we play out live and people really get into it. It has that agro girl power energy to it and I’ve always had a lot of fun playing it. That song has gone through a lot of changes since the first time that I put it out. The studio version is actually pretty subdued in my opinion and it really took a turn towards the way we do it now when I played it Boston many years ago with Roger Miller of Mission of Burma on lead guitar. We did this show where he just showed up and he just improvised everything; I loved his style of playing and I was totally cool with that. That was the first time where we deconstructed the song and made it really heavy and raw sounding. We totally breathed new life into it and I loved that version better. Mike and I kind of adopted that version and we’ve been playing it that way ever since.
Here’s a question for both of you to answer; do you remember when you bitten by the music bug and knew this was what you wanted to do? You know, like some might say it was when they saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan or the first time they heard a particular album.
Monique: My story is very similar to the Beatles story, but for me it was Duran Duran. They were like the Beatles of the early 80s. It was two very different bands and as a little kid I was very into KISS and would dress up as a different member each Halloween. Then, in the early 80s shortly after MTV came on the air and I saw the video for (Duran Duran) “Rio” and I heard that bass line. I knew not only that I wanted to be a musician, but that I was going to be a bass player. Within the same year of me buying my first Duran Duran record, I owned my first bass guitar and I started playing along to Duran Duran records. They get ridiculed a lot, but you can’t deny how hooky those bass lines are. Now, Mike’s bug story is completely different from mine.
Michael: I was definitely not into Duran Duran (laughs); my roots started with the Beatles with a neighbor who had a band in high school and I was eight. I would go listen to them and they would laugh at me because I would put their guitars on and play air guitar to Beatles songs while looking at my reflection in the sliding glass door. Before that, I had one of those Sears drum sets that I got when I was five and I destroyed it. My main influences started out with the Beatles and Paul Revere and the Raiders. My cousin Drake Levin was the original guitar layer for them. In high school, I heard Diary of a Madman and “Believer” in particular, made me want to be a bass player. I play guitar, bass, drums and have taken up other instruments along the way to get a handle on some of them, but I’ve always been a drummer who wants to be a guitar player which makes me a bass player.
Monique: That’s funny because when I was a kid, the first instrument that I played with any seriousness was drums and I would play drums along to KISS and Beatles records. When Mike and I got first got together and was learning each other’s story, I thought it was like one of those universal moments that you were talking about earlier. I knew I was with the right guy because we both had experience with drums and bass and we both figured out that we were frustrated musicians playing the wrong instruments at some point in our lives.
Michael: When Monique and I started playing together, I had not touched a drum set in ten years. I was in a band and we would all switch instruments and at some point we realized that it was a cute shtick and we decided to all choose an instrument. I chose the bass and from that point all I was thoroughly a bass player. I had just bought my first drum set in over ten years right before I met Monique. Needless to say I was pretty crappy at drums when I first met Monique, but right off the bat the first song we wrote together was ”In Red”. It took a while for me to get back my drumming chops and I’m still working on it. I have to thank an online drumming tutorial thing that I found called Drumeo and it has a lot of lessons and tutorials. It’s a couple of guys out of Canada and they do outstanding work; they’ve really inspired me and pushed me to be a better drummer. Also, learning Monique’s vast back catalog has helped me and I literally know every song that she’s put down. I can play all of them, but nowhere close to Jerome (Deupree) from Morphine; she has some pretty heavy hitters on her records.
Is there anything else on your radar that you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?
Monique: We are going to be putting a video out soon for a new single called “Flight Plan” which is, although I hate to abuse the word epic, it’s a very different song from what we’ve put out on the two EPs so far. It almost has an early gospel and blues feel to it and we’ve been chipping away on that. The song is in mastering and will be dropping soon; again this is stuff that we’re doing all of our own. The videos, the editing, the audio, Mike does all of the engineering and he’s pretty much the technical brain behind all of our recordings. He handles all of the stuff that’s way over my head. We’re sitting on a ton of material and I’m really dying to put out a full length album, but the biggest reason that we’ve only put out two EPs is that on one hand we’ve been really strapped for resources and support. Meanwhile, we’ve been getting attention in ways that I didn’t expect and sooner than expected. There was no way we could get a full length album out in time before we hit the road with Scott Biram and we knew that we wanted to hit the road with some newer product, so that’s why we went with an EP. We also have a Patreon page set up that I really haven’t actively promoted properly because we wanted to build up our following first. Even though Mike and I have been doing this for several years now, from a numbers standpoint we’re still a very new band. We don’t really have the numbers just yet to put out a bunch of vinyl and do a lot of crowdsourcing just yet. We figured we’d put this EP out and get out there and play a bunch of shows and build support that way. We can let people know that ‘hey, we’ve got a bunch of new music waiting in the wings; will you help us put it out?’
Hopefully that will all change for you very soon! I appreciate your time today and we’ll definitely include all of your tour dates in this so that people will get out to a show and see and hear what they’ve been missing.
Monique: That would be great and thank you for wanting to talk to us and for your enthusiasm.
AKF 2017 West Coast tour with Scott H Biram & Jesse Dayton:
03/23 @ Hoots Pub, Amarillo, TX
03/24 @ Triple Nickle Tavern – Colorado Springs, CO
03/25 @ 3 Kings – Denver, CO
03/26 @ Hodis Half Note – Fort Collins, CO
03/28 @ Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT
03/29 @ Neurolux – Boise, ID
03/31 @ Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA
04/01 @ Dante’s – Portland, OR
04/04 @ Catalyst – Santa Cruz, CA
04/05 @ Bottom Of The Hill – San Francisco, CA
04/06 @ Alex’s Bar – Long Beach, CA
04/07 @ Pappy & Harriet’s – Pioneertown, CA
04/08 @ Rhythm Room – Phoenix, AR
04/13 @ Three Links – Dallas, TX
04/14 @ Antone’s – Austin, TX
04/15 @ Continental Club – Houston, TX (with Sam Pace, and Hilary York)
04/29 @ Eeyore’s Birthday Party, Pease Park – Austin, TX
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