1 of 2
2 of 2
As St. Louis music phenomena go, El Monstero’s ascent to a headlining band is one of the most intriguing. Built from a superstar lineup of veteran rock ’n’ rollers, the band’s tribute to the music of Pink Floyd has played to hundreds of thousands of fans, routinely selling out a string of dates at The Pageant every December. In recent years, the group’s begun some smaller scale touring in the Midwest, though their base remains a ver enthusiastic St. Louis, with KSHE’s massive bandwidth a major part of their support structure.
Mark Halski’s a relatively late convert to the band’s experience, but he’s an enthusiastic one. In our Q & A below, the photographer/videographer gives us the full story on how he came to produce an in-progress documentary on the group, El Monstero: The Movie. We sent him a variety of questions about the project, his relationship to the band’s music and a topic that brings with it just a little bit of controversy: St. Louis’ love of a quality cover band. His comprehensive answers are below, as is a link to the film’s evolving Facebook page, the best place to check for production updates.
What was your introduction to El Monstero?
For years, my friend Tom Lampe and I had talked about seeing them. We were aware of them by reputation to be a standout Pink Floyd tribute show, and we knew the history of the guys in the band. I enjoyed listening to Pink Floyd, but was not a superfan. Still, I had a feeling El Monstero would be pretty good based on the people involved. But when I finally did see them in December of 2011, thanks entirely to Tom, it was nothing less than a revelation. I am now a much, much bigger Pink Floyd fan, and I think what El Monstero does is very special.
Taking it further back, what was your introduction to Pink Floyd?
I was aware of The Wall and Dark Side and some of Wish You Were Here in high school. I liked them. Listening to Pink Floyd more likely than not meant I was hearing them on the radio. I listened to a lot of KSHE in high school.
What's the basic genesis of the movie? Was it always intended as a feature-length project, or did it grow from humbler beginnings? Funding sources are...?
I first had the idea for a documentary the first night I saw them, at the Pageant December 2011. The show absolutely blew me away from the start. About midway through, I started thinking that somebody really needed to do a documentary on these guys. That people needed to see what they were doing, and this story. Since that show, Tom and I always rounded up a group of friends to see them every December, and then again at their summer show. The thought of a documentary would grow stronger and stronger in my mind, until the summer 2013 show.
They played Verizon Amphitheater that night on a perfect summer night, and they were incredible. It was easily one of the best concert experiences of my life. We walked out that night blown away and floating on air. The very next morning, bright and early, I called my friend, producer Blaine Deutsch, told him all about the band, and my plan to make a feature-length rock documentary about them, and asked him if he wanted to be my production partner. Blaine loved the sound of it and we were off.
The indispensable Hannah Mendelson was my first call after Blaine, from the start she has been a rock star on this production. Rob Rosenwinkel is also a very important member of the team. This film simply would not be happening without their generous talent and passion for the project.
The production is currently self-funded by Halski Studio. However, we will be looking for funding help as we continue the production and move through post-production and engage the festival scene. Making a film is an expensive project, and in order to deliver a quality product, there are hard costs that cannot be avoided. There will be a Kickstarter effort, and we’ll have some very exciting incentives for fans to enjoy if they want to be a part of helping to make this film happen. We’ll be keeping our fans updated on these opportunities as they arise on social networks such as on our Facebook page.
Without necessarily giving a precise run-down of camera makes/models, can you give a general sense of how many cameras were used, how many videographers took part, etc.? Are/were you the DP on this film?
We are a Canon-based production. The project is being shot on C300 and C100, and we’re also shooting on Black Magic. I am the Director/DP. We’ve had the good fortune of having a fair number of talented shooters on the project so far.
What elements of the band's stage show do you find the most compelling, as a viewer/listener? Did any other elements of the stage show creep in a favored moment once you were watching from the perspective of a filmmaker?
I think the first thing I felt as a fan was their conviction. The performances all felt like the words and the music meant something to them, something important, something urgent. I had never heard those songs performed in that way before and it all sounded very real. I was immediately intoxicated by their conviction in the material.
I think the El Monstero sound is always the most compelling of all. These guys really bring the songs to life, and with a vengeance. I am always craving that El Monstero sound. The production itself is legendary, and with good reason. The performers, the video, the lights, the pyro, there is always a lot going on, but the whole thing has a legitimate attitude and an edge to it that feels very rock 'n' roll. It’s gritty, and as a fan in the crowd, you can actually reach out and touch the grit. It’s in the air. It’s not slick and over-produced. It has heart.
Seeing the show as a filmmaker afforded me the opportunity to see the band throughout their entire run of shows this last winter, from rehearsals, through to their road shows in Springfield, MO and Kansas City. So I had the opportunity to appreciate a lot of different aspects of the show you don’t really get to see as a fan. I would say being as close as I was, watching the show through the lens of the camera, it was their individual performances that really came into focus for me. Everybody on that stage is giving their all at every turn, and engaging with the show as a filmmaker was amazing in that so many individual details have been revealed to us.
To what degree is the film a pure concert film? What makes up the balance of the film? Q & As, behind-the-scenes glimpses, other?
This will be a rock documentary about El Monstero, there will be plenty of concert and performance to be sure, but that is not all there will be. As a viewer you will get to see and hear a lot of things you don’t get to see as a fan at their shows. Interview content, behind the scenes material, these kinds of things will be a significant portion of the film. This stuff is a blast and the fans are really going to dig it.
There's a huge number of people attached to each El Monstero show or series or shows. To what degree do you focus on the army of workers who fans may not get a chance to appreciate at shows?
We’re really excited to tell the El Monstero story and their army of performers and production team are a huge part of that. There are a lot of talented people who come together to pull these shows off, and we definitely plan to tell their part of the story. It has been a lot of fun to see these guys do their thing and we think the viewer will feel the same way.
From your perspective, how/why has El Monstero jumped from really good cover band to something much, much larger than that?
This is something we are intrigued by, and are looking forward to exploring in the film. The band puts their heart and soul into the show, and the production and the payoff is huge for the fans. These are truly incredible musicians and the show is world-class. They rock Pink Floyd for three-plus hours. They play a once-in-a-lifetime set list that includes most of The Wall and Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, and still leaves room for deeper cuts like this year’s stunning opener, "Sheep." Year after year, they always seem to be pushing the show to make it better. Every year brings some new twist, a new song, an innovative new stage design, something. It is essentially impossible to walk out of an El Monstero show and complain about what you got with a straight face. El Monstero performs Pink Floyd in a way that is both faithful to the material but also uniquely their own.
They are often described as Pink Floyd if they had seen too many Van Halen concerts. There is something about El Monstero that really brings the music to life in a way that is surprising and exhilarating for first timers, and once you have the taste of El Monstero in your mouth, you are always craving more of it.
Over and over again, we hear the same thing from fans leaving the shows, “That was the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life.” They are euphoric. You don’t expect to feel this way after seeing a typical tribute show. We filmed an 18-year-old in Springfield who was seeing them for the first time. When we caught up with him at intermission, he was beaming, telling everyone around him “This is the best night of my life, my entire life!” These kinds of reactions have been far more frequent than not. The word spreads, and it feeds the Monster.
There's a feeling in some quarters of the St. Louis music community that cover acts get too much attention in St. Louis, at the expense of original acts. Any feelings from your perch?
I can’t say I agree with that thinking personally. We think El Monstero deserves more exposure, not less. Spreading the word about El Monstero is our biggest reason for making this film. We think more people should know about El Monstero, and that what they are doing is unique and quite special. I can’t say I feel that way about every cover band out there.
From my perspective, El Monstero are taking music that was slipping from our collective radar, or not on the radar at all for many of us, and making it sound fresh and relevant again. There are whole albums, like Animals, that I had never listened to before first being exposed to those songs by Monstero. I now love Animals thoroughly. They’ve really turned me on to Pink Floyd in a way I never have been before, and I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. For the people who go to see Monstero, I think they re-invigorate Pink Floyd's music with a freshness and vitality that is really very exciting. It has been common for fans of Pink Floyd who have seen them several times, even in their prime, to tell us that they actually prefer seeing El Monstero. This is incredible to consider, but it is true and we hear it all the time.
We feel that what El Monstero is doing is not unlike a modern day version of the oral tradition. They are taking these incredible songs and powerful ideas and stories from 30 or more years ago, and retelling them with genuine faith in the material, but not before putting a touch of their own identity into them. The result is a lot more than what you would get from a typical cover band. It really is a powerful and oftentimes moving experience and we are lucky to have them.
Are there any rock documentaries or concert films that you feel influenced your work, in some form or fashion? Not to suggest that you're aping anyone's style, of course, but something may've perhaps crept in subconsciously, even.
Stop Making Sense is an influence on me. I find that film to have an urgency about it. It feels very real to me, very genuine and honest. That is definitely an influence on me. I tend to find myself alienated by bands, even bands I like, when I see them in a too-slick, over-produced context, such as an over-produced music video or rock doc. We tend to be influenced by the docs that present authentic portraits. Sound City is an influence as well, of course.
Obviously, there's a large El Monstero fanbase in St. Louis. Is that the limit of the movie's appeal, or do you believe that there's a much-larger, Pink Floyd-interested audience out there?
There’s a much larger audience out there for El Monstero than the considerable fanbase they already have in St. Louis, and we would love nothing more than to expose them to this band. We think this film and story will not only be of interest to the Pink Floyd fans out there, but also to fans of rock music and musicians, in general.
Lastly, how/when will the film be distributed? When and how will it debut?
Currently we are in production on the film. Once it is completed we plan to make a run at the festival circuit.
It will also likely be available through an online service such as Vimeo on demand. Currently the plan is for a St. Louis debut. When exactly the film will be finished is undetermined. We are working hard to finish the film in a timely manner, but also want to give it enough time to be as good as it can be. We were originally targeting fall of 2014, but spring of 2015 is probably more likely.
For those who are excited about the project, we plan to release material such as additional trailers and shorts in places like our Facebok page as we go along.