Music Profile: Major & the Monbacks
By Lucy Mills
In 2012 VEER’s local music awards recognized Major and The Monbacks as one of Hampton Road’s best up-and-coming bands, and they have certainly risen to that accolade. But, if you don’t already know the ensemble made up of home grown musicians, who shadow many other bands of their kind, here’s why you should.
The Monbacks describe their sound as “soul twang.” Bassist, Cole Friedman, explains, “We basically rely on the explosive energy of southern soul and old school R&B, mixing in ‘60s pop inspired harmonies with ska and soul horn riffs with a slight country, rockabilly twang. Our greatest modern influence would definitely be the folk, soul, psychedelic pop of Dr. Dog and the rest of the sound really draws from a lot of Stax (Southern Soul) artists like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke as well as The Beatles, The Band, and even British ska legends The Specials.”
The band’s live debut took place over five years ago at the 40th St. Stage directly across from Fellini’s on Colley Avenue, “Home to the blossoming Maury High School music scene, which now sits vacant,” says Cole, who, also described the gig as “the defining moment” whereby an impromptu rendition of “Hey Jude” by The Beatles was performed featuring Michael Adkins, who became lead guitarist, that night.
The gig was a milestone for the boys, originally known as The Yolks, as they transformed into the cool and charming chaps of Major and The Monbacks, who combine whit and sophistication with the frequent ‘Dunkaroo’ displays. (Dunkaroo: the act of dunking one unfortunate Monback headfirst into a bucket of ice cold water, before being tipped upright to shotgun a beer)
One of Monbacks’ strengths is their rapport with collaborative musicians, such as Bruce Gray (VEER’s Life time achievement award winner). During the Monback’s 5th Anniversary gig at Night of the Iguana in August, Bruce performed hits with the guys such as “Everybody Needs Somebody” (Wilson Pickett) and “Knock on Wood” (Eddie Floyd). These impromptu renditions and improvisations during Monback concerts are the additional gems to their already strong set of original tracks, making Monback Music all about the live experience, leaving no foot untapped.
It’s industries most played question, but c’mon, what’s their name all about?
“The Monback in the name refers to the term my dad (Mr. Brian Friedman) and his friends used when they were on their way to somewhere, meaning, come on back,” Explained Cole. “We adopted the term and ran with it, using it pretty universally and, of course, as the ultimate term of endearment. Major does not represent any one person in the band, but represents the Monback in all of us.”
Surely to hold down a nine-piece ensemble you need a Major to keep rehearsals locked down and under control.
“Everyone’s an integral part,” said Cole, “everyone contributes to arrangements, and everybody needs to add to our presence and energy on stage.”
Michael Adkins uses a restaurant analogy to describe the Monbacks; Songwriters Neal, Mike and Harry, are the chefs who run the kitchen, cook and serve up fresh songs; meanwhile Cole, according to twin brother Neal, takes on role of manager. “H holds a lot of these strings together, by booking most of our shows and managing finances, and he holds down a deep bass too.”
The majority of the Monbacks met at Maury High School about seven years ago, and since then, Del Veccios Pizza on Hampton Boulevard has been named one of the Monback’s Norfolk hangouts, for all the support they have received from dollar slices of pizza!
Another Monback Norfolk hangout, may it RIP, is Tinee Giant (now Seven Eleven) on 49th St and Powhatan Avenue, which served as a meeting point for Arizona Teas and beer for practices and pre-show rituals for the band. Now the guys are spread apart due to college locations and commitments.
“Gigs at college bars and fraternity parties are essentially practice,” said Neal.
This fall alone they have played across three states: West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
“I don’t think any of us ever imagined that we’d be traveling all over the East Coast and playing to packed houses in cities outside of Hampton Roads,” Cole said. “This semester Blacksburg, VA has emerged as one of the biggest Monback towns, with four stops this fall alone, including our first appearance at a packed show at their premier music venue downtown, Sycamore Deli. We are also really excited to be recording a full-length album and headlining The NorVA for the fourth time on December 20th at 7pm with an awesome all-local line-up. We have advance tickets for sale and we also deliver. Almost 800 people came out for the last show and we’re hoping to top that this year.”
Europe, look out also, because, according to Neal, “The European tour is in the preemptive planning stages.”
MONBACK FACT FILE
Neal Friedman (guitar, lead vocals, organ) – is older than Cole by 20 minutes
Cole Friedman (bass) – doubles as business & financial manager for the band
Michael Adkins (guitar, vocals, harmonica) – was originally a bassist
Nick Saunders (keys, organ, vocals) – invented the crock pot…
Woody Marshall (trumpet) – studies business at NC State
Jay Einhorn (saxophone) – is a physics & math major at Wake Forest University & Cole & Neal’s cousin
Tyler West (percussion, hype) – is an intern at Electroganic LLC, a media and music production company in Norfolk.
Hunter Rhodes (drums, percussion) – is a magician
Harry Schloeder (technician, guitar, vocals) – once had his glove stolen by a moose and is the weather boy.