Juan Montoya is the Kevin Bacon of heavy music. Seriously — if you’ve spent any time around various metally genres, or time around any kind of music in Miami, you’re at most one degree separated from the curly-maned guitarist. Nationally or by casual fans, he’s probably best known as the one-time guitarist of Torche — or, really, the musician who shaped the band’s best material.
Montoya’s signature guitar work, shaped by a million effects, technical mastery, and a love of shoegaze and Sonic Youth-y art-rock, helped define Torche’s early sound and remains immediately idenfitiable on new projects. Lately, that’s meant his band MonstrO, an act that’s recently toured nationally with huge names like Danzig. But Montoya’s axe skills are probably best displayed with yet another new band, the instrumental act Stallone, with which he appears twice this weekend.
The group’s debut album, American Baby, is due out this October 30 on Limited Fanfare Records; we blogged about an early track from it here. It’s party-time, instrumental, heavy-ish rock and roll that doesn’t need vocals to entertain. Stallone plays tonight at Churchill’s Pub in Miami, and Sunday night at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale as part of the ongoing Splatter-Rama series. We caught up with Montoya to get the scoop on the new act.
Stallone. With Manray, Shroud Eater, holly hunt, and Orbweaver, 9 p.m. Friday, September 28 at Churchill’s Pub, 5501 NE 2nd Ave., Miami. Admission is $5; age 18 and up. Call 305-757-1807, or visit churchillspub.com
Also with Manray and the Deadly Blank at Splatter-Rama, 7 p.m. Sunday, September 30 at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE 6th St., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is $8 for the bands plus a double feature; all ages. Call 954-525-3456, or visit fliff.com
Salty Eggs: What’s behind the shows in Florida? Do you consider it part of the tour?
Juan Montoya: These are just some shows for my friends in Florida to show them what I’ve been up to. I’m really proud of it — I’ve been really prolific, writing a lot of material. All the people I play with in this band are so sharp and witty, and it really shows in the music. It’s a blast. I want my friends to see it, and I want us all to have a good time. This is also a good excuse for the band to meet my family and have a really good Cuban/Colombian barbecue.
Did this band come before MonstrO, technically?
A little bit after. I met the drummer of what would become Stallone and like half an hour later, we started practicing already. I met him with his drum sticks in his hand, and then we wrote like three or four song structures that day that ended up on the record.
Then we needed one last element, which was Charlie [Ridings, bassist], who came months later on, and Thomas Gonzalez [second guitarist], who made it a four-piece. I sent the music out to different friends, and Charlie was the first one who really got on the ball and sent me stuff back. He flew to Atlanta, and that’s when we stared working.
At the time it started, I had stopped playing with Torche, and had a lot of free time. I worked with Evan [DiPrima], the drummer, and after work we’d go to these work parties and just jam out on Slayer and Metallica songs. Little by little, we had pretty cool chemistry and we developed it into a project and started recording.
So now I’m juggling both bands, and doing all the artwork for Stallone. I’m just occupying every part of the day with something artistic.
When did you start drawing?
Ever since I was a kid. I used to do little sketches when I lived in Colombia. One time it actually kind of saved my brother! We were little kids, and he got stuck in a room and couldn’t figure out how to undo the lock. So I had to draw a little diagram for him and slip it under the door, and he managed to figure it out.
Then when I came to the United States, you know the cereal Fruity Pebbles? They had a drawing contest on the back of the box, and you had to draw a villain to go with a D.C. Comics superhero. I made up a villain, and a couple of months later I got a 10-speed bike in the mail because I got second prize.
Was doing all the artwork part of your original plan for Stallone from the beginning?
Well it really started with Torche, with the Meanderthal album cover. They wanted me to do monsters, so I said, why don’t I do the band members as monsters. Then when we would travel, I would graffiti backstage, or I would draw [Torche singer and guitarist] Steve [Brooks] a lot. It kind of caught on, and then I got more confident about it.
Then when I was touring with MonstrO, I’d do a drawing for every different city we played in. I did one for Nebraska where we were being attacked by giant corn dogs! I put some online and then people started expecting a new one each day. The MonstrO days are more packed when we do those big tours, but I’d find time and do it, like, with a sandwich in the other hand if I had to.
What made you want to start a second band if you already had MonstrO going?
At the time I was just working at the music store, and the economy was really bad, so even at work things weren’t going that great. If the economy is going badly, then you don’t really make sales — it becomes a big deal for people to buy a cheap guitar for $100. So I didn’t have a lot of extra money for fun stuff like movies or going out to drink, so I spent a lot of time working on my craft, practicing my guitar again like I was young again, with the same enthusiasm. I spent hours a day doing that and writing songs, going through a kind of renaissance. Then along with that came the art.
Right now, this is the best I’ve felt. Some people feel the older you get, the less motivated you get to write music, because life’s realities take over. But I’m lucky that I’ve been able to keep my imagination to keep going with weird music, which is what I truly love.
When you’re writing, how do you decide what material goes to one band or the other?
Sometimes it just happens naturally. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes it comes from dreams — I heard Frank Zappa would dream up songs, and he wold automatically get up and go on a piano or notate it from his head. That’s so amazing. So that happens to me sometimes when I’m lucky, and I sleep with an instrument no more than three or four feet away from me, because you never know when you’re going to get hit with ideas.
A lot of cool things come from mistakes too. A wrong note might bring up a great idea in the long run. You can never be afraid of your instrument, because good things might come out.
Did you know you wanted this band to be instrumental when you started it?
In a way, because it’s easier in a sense, although commercially it’s not. I thought maybe we’d go in a way where we could make music for films, because they usually end up using 10 or 20 seconds of the instrumental parts of songs. So why not just write a whole record’s worth of stuff like that?
It was an influence of bands like Trans Am, Don Caballero, all that stuff, and old psychedelic music, like when Pink Floyd would go off for half an hour. We try not to do that too much, though, because people’s attention spans are shorter. We try to go for mini epics.