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Musician Monk Turner

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Tuesday, March 02, 2010, at 07:15PM
monk_ Ed Fuentes

Every two weeks, Monk Turner interviews someone who is making music in the heart of the city. Today, we turn the tables on Monk and ask him about his own new album, Coordinates, which was released online this week.

For Turner, Downtown is the muse that brings forth an affectionate and personal soundtrack for what he considers the cultural crossroads of the city. At the center of his latest release is First and Central, the Little Tokyo corner that he sees change mood during the day, using Asian scales shared by the blues to reflect both cultures.

ED FUENTES: Reading ahead and looking at your previous releases, I was not surprised that a rock opera made an impact. When was this?

MONK TURNER: 12 years old. My parents took me to a production of The Who’s “Tommy.” On my way to becoming a child actor, I started doing some musicals and they said ‘Hey, let’s go check out a rock opera.’ I said ‘I don’t want to go see opera. I hate opera.’ So they dragged me to The Who’s Tommy kicking and screaming and I sat down.

I never will forget the first time I heard the guitar chording out at the beginning of the musical . . . I was sold. I became obsessed with rock music since then. I grew up on jazz, but really rock music was more accessible, and easier to play, to be quite frank. It all started with The Who’s Tommy and me trying to play guitar with a tennis racket.

EF: The first thing that comes across with your library, its a few songs short of being a rock opera itself. Is that something on your mind?

The first thing that made me want to create music was The Who’s Tommy because that’s a concept album. It’s a whole story, and of course coming from a theater background, especially musical theater, it was a story being told through music. So, every album I do is a concept. Every song has to have the main idea behind it, and up to this point, with the 21 concepts albums, the newest one being Coordinates.

EF: Would it just be a matter of working on working on a narrative thread to make it a rock opera?

MT: It’s funny you mention that. About two or three albums ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that. Now the last two albums, absolutely there’s a story behind them. Previous albums were just about the concept. It was kind of random gathering songs that had one idea.

But my last album was called Love Story and was based on the 10 Bulls. lt begins with the person who is going out partying and meets somebody, they play love games, and fall in love and back out again. It’s a full story that is told through song.

Coordinates is the follow up to that album where we pick up with, unfortunately, the death of Michael Jackson. Basically it talks about some definite places in Downtown Los Angeles. Then there is a love story reintroduced in the latter half of the albums when one of one of the lovers leaves.

EF: The previous works have rap, jazz and pop, working together to tell the story. Each song is its own character. There’s a commitment to musical character. Is this storyboarded in your mind?

MT: It’s an interesting process that this goes through . . well, first, the answer is no. It starts off me at home writing here in Downtown writing demos. Just basic ideas of songs, song sketches is what like to call them. Then I like to send them out to people and get reviews on the demos to see what folks are thinking and see what they like, and what they don’t like. From that point on, a lot of songs will change and really start to take shape. It just happened in the last two albums, that whole character concept has come up and each song is moving the story along. I work with many talented musicians that are part of this project and I definately have people in mind who I write this music for.

EF: Anyone in particular has made an impression?

MT: I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn't influenced by things in my own life. Everyone that’s around me, to be quite honest. But the funny thing is it can be the most obscure thing. I had a friend with a roommate who would spend their time drinking. There’s a song on the new album calls a Dive Bar off Main Street, kinda a mix of Bar 107 and King Eddy. It was (based) on a character I met.

EF: Each song is its own story as well. What else is on the new album?

MT: It's very influenced by Downtown L.A. and where I live. The 11 song album begins with something I through the past year that has someone I was very close to leave. It started in the summer time with Michael Jackson's death, that was very big to me which I didn’t expect. I was pretty much was working on this album with a gentleman, Shin Kawasaki, and had just gotten home from a session. I turned on the news and heard about his death and was sort of paralyzed. I realized how much of an impact he had on me. So its starts there. I felt I couldn't start without acknowledging how huge of a force he was in music.

From there it kinda carries on about other things that happened over the summer. I had a British friend who was in town who was going to the clubs and I was getting his perspective of the LA club scene. It plays on different LA locations. ..and traffic of course, that has to be included.

Form there, again, it focuses back on the story of one person leaving a place and going to another place, and how that affects the person whose persepective its being written from. At the end there's even a "Grease" style song about a barber shop and she goes to make a change. It ends where the person is waiting to hear something from somebody and he is trapped in his head; and that's the last location.

EF: How close are you considering making this a rock opera, or a even a screen play? Are you close?

MT: A friend said 'I think you need to take it on the road. Make it a Broadway musical. That was an off comment she made as a joke, but the album more than another other before, really follows a pretty solid story. . . about a time period and things going on, and characters developing. For me, I'm about the concept first. I just happened to be a musican. . .someone who loves music, writes music, a huge fan of music, really. I'd love to see it become a play. If anybody reading this happens to be interested in making it one I think it would be wonderful. But I am a music maker, first and foremost.

'Coordinates' is released under a Creative Commons license and can be downloaded for free. You can also find Monk on MySpace.

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