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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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Monovox weathers bumps in road to success


A few years back, a band began to turn some heads in the Milwaukee club scene. Monovox was young, but talented and eager. So, it was little surprise when word got out that the band had won a coveted contract fron Garageband.com, a Web site that had visitors vote on their favorite songs and awarded prizes to the top vote-getters.

Monovox suddenly had a record deal and was going into the studio with production bigwig Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, himself a Milwaukee native. Success seemed assured, thanks to Monovox's hard-hitting modern rock sound.

But when Garageband hit some bad times, Monovox's career was thrown into question, even though the group -- which remains modest about its success and down-to-earth -- had completed its debut album and was ready to move to the next step.

We recently talked to guitarist Matthew Schaeffer, who talked candidly about Monovox's past troubles, present determination and future plans and hopes.

OMC: How have the financial troubles at Garageband affected Monovox?

MS: Monovox is in a very tricky diplomatic time right now. On February 28 of this year, Garageband.com announced to us that they were out of money and would not be releasing our record or promoting our band in the future. We were essentially told that we could no longer count on them for radio support or to put the record we made into stores. Unfortunately for us, at the same time, they did not release us from our record contract with them.

As you may know, Garageband.com was awarding recording contracts based on contest winners from their website. Winners were not issued a check for $250,000 cash, but rather, winners signed a record contract valid for multiple records into the future. Since Garageband went bankrupt, it has become our primary mission to be released from our contract so we can take our record and our band to another record company who can release our music in stores get us heard on the radio. We are not through the severance process yet, nearly eight months later. It is a very slow and painful time that we hope to be through soon.

It is very difficult to reconcile the obligations and the gratitude we feel towards Garageband.com with the obvious fact that they cannot further our career. They invested a lot of time and money into our band and they still wish to be a part of Monovox's future plans. So we proceed with great caution and at a snail's pace.

The obvious concern is that this sort of contract situation is not at all unique, every year lots of bands sign record contracts and wind up in bad situations, and many bands don't survive the stresses that come from uncertainty. We want to come out of this thing intact and we are working hard to make sure our situation doesn't make us lose sight of our dreams and how simple a thing playing music really is. We were on top of the world two years ago with a seemingly secure future, now we're swirling the drain, but we have faith in our manager and in ourselves to make it through this.

It seems proper somehow that our past great luck and fortune should be balanced out with a really lousy stretch of time. This is what "paying your dues" must be all about. I will not complain about our, after all, we've already been privileged beyond what many other bands have a chance to enjoy and at the end of it all, if that is as close to the big time as Monovox ever gets, I will never regret the journey.

OMC: This must be hard for the band to deal with on a personal level, too.

MS: When we were signed to Garageband we were expecting that they would release our record and we would tour relentlessly to promote it. Incredibly, even as late as two weeks before they announced they were out of money, Garageband executives were telling us that our record was about to come out and that we should be ready to drop out of school, to quit our jobs and to be prepared to begin a nationwide tour within two weeks. Unfortunately that turned out to be false information, the consequence being that our band and crew were not in good financial shape as individuals. We were living on the premise that we were about to leave for weeks and weeks at a time on tour so no one had held a steady job because we knew we would just have to quit.

When Garageband announced they were out of money and we would, in fact, not be leaving for a tour, our crew and the band members began scrambling to find real jobs to support ourselves. We were ready to live for $10 a day on the road, but that doesn't cut it in the real world. We're starting to recover from that now, and we're all finding a rhythm. It's really no different for us now than when we were playing together five years ago working as temps in Chicago. We're used to living cheap and dirty, like every other unsigned band out there. It's rock and roll and it's how we choose to live and make a go of it.

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