‘I think music (and art) is the expression of life, if all you have is music in your life then your music has no substance,’ says Monarchy’s Ra Black.
The London synth-pop duo release their debut single Gold in the Fire over a decade ago and have subsequently refined their unique take on dark electronica mixed with pop polish over three albums.
Alongside their own work the band have been invited to create remixes of tracks by artists including Ellie Goulding, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Kelis and Marina and the Diamonds.
Most recently, the band released Mid:Night in 2019, reaffirming their stature as dance-pop masters.
While their previous records have been delivered with a four-ish year gap in between, Monarchy have already issued the first single from the follow up to Mid:Night.
The dancefloor sweep of Glow Vision marks an evolution for the duo while retaining the musical character that fans have come to love.
Ahead of the release of their new record, which is due later this year, we caught up with Andrew Armstrong (producer, DJ) and Ra Black (vocals, lyrics) to get some insight into what comes next for band…
What’s the thinking behind your latest single Glow Vision?
Ra: I’m quite science focused, so I’ve always struggled with the romantic tropes we have to tell stories. I wanted to express the idea of believing in fate without believing in fate. So I reached for a science fiction metaphor; having a kind of precognition super power makes this possible.
Andrew: Ra wrote all the lyrics for this one. I remember him working on it for a while. Then when I finally got my dirty hands on it, it kind of flowed quite quickly. I knew the vibe I wanted for it, synthy and French and smooth. I remember we struggled a bit with the middle eight, and we ended up going for a big chord change just to keep the track moving along.
It’s the first taste of your new album which is due out next year. What can you tell us about the record?
Andrew: I think this continues our exploration of a lighter side of Monarchy. I am really happy with the tracks we’ve written; I feel it’s concise and really encapsulates this period of our lives.
Ra: Although we wrote this one faster than Mid:Night, I think we found our feet with Mid:Night and this next album is a continuation in that direction. It’s not 100 percent finished yet but it’s feeling like it’s sitting nicely between acceptable and advanced.
What motivated such a quick turnaround of albums?
Ra: Yeah, things just flowed more easily with this album. It is also nice knowing we have a team around us that are keen to get our music in to the world. I’m also less hung up on delivering a ten to 12 song album. The amount of time it takes to go around the sun feels like a much better concept than the antiquated limits and expectations of a CD.
Andrew: We took a bit longer with the last album because we were moving to a new record label and so on. This time, we’ve got the machine up and working, so we could keep the pace going. I think it’s important not to disappear. The days of one album every three years is in the past, and I noticed we release an album, and people on social media two months later are ready for another one. It’s crazy.
What’s been inspiring you musically while making the record?
Ra: I think music (and art) is the expression of life, if all you have is music in your life then your music has no substance. I still spend a lot of time thinking about and listening to music but these days I’m more concerned with living life and then expressing that life though music.
Andrew: I have a huge playlist that I put on shuffle play all the time at home. For sure that’s influenced it. Things like Parcels, L’Imperatrice, Polo and Pan, then also some things like Kaytranada. And of course, old music, anything with Nile Rogers, and some 80’s disco.
Can you tell us a little about your approach to writing songs?
Andrew: we approach every song differently. Sometimes we sit down together and write some chords, write some top lines, think about some lyrics. A typical ‘jam’ situation. Other times Ra comes to me with a more complete verse and chorus, and then I look after the music more. We definitely don’t have rules on how it happens. We just do whatever it takes to make the song work, to our ears.
Ra: Yep, no rules is really the best thing. Sometimes I like to set some artificial limitations or play some games to help kickstart a new idea or to resuscitate a fading idea. e.g. only three instruments allowed, write five different harmonic ideas that work with the one melody, write new music to some dance choreography etc.
Do you know when a track is working during the songwriting process?
Ra: Sometimes it takes imagination. Sometimes it’s hard to progress the initial idea ‘cause it stands up on its own. Sometimes the initial idea is a potato and you know you have to cook it and add things to it to make it palatable. Sometimes the initial idea is an apple, and it looks and tastes good on its own, but you want to make apple sauce, but then when you do, you miss the simple crispy apple.
Andrew: I think we do. It’s rare I will really like a song, and Ra doesn’t, or vice versa. Or maybe I like one aspect, and he doesn’t like a different aspect, so we rework it until we’re both happy. But for sure, you can get an idea when a song is working.
You’ve previously remixed some really high-profile artists, do you have any remaining dream collaborations?
Andrew: So many! Pharrell Williams. Kaytranada. Aura. L’imperatrice. Lizzo. Through to Grace Jones. Roisin Murphy. I listen to a lot of music, and anyone that I listen to, I would love to collaborate with.
Ra: Collaborating is a great joy in music. Even if it doesn’t flow amazingly well at first, you always learn something. The people that pop in my head right now are; Tove Lo, Janelle Monae, Kimbra, Tom Misch.
What’s your take on the synth-pop scene at the moment?
Ra: I’d say music feels like it’s in a good place. I’m not a fan of genrefying music. If you write music because you want to fit in to a genre, you’re starting with a very uninteresting goal. If you want to progress a genre, historically speaking, you open yourself up for quite a bit of hate. Once a genre is established, almost by definition, it’s stagnant.
Andrew: I think it’s pretty healthy. Thanks to the streaming services, radio isn’t as important anymore. People can be huge on Spotify, but not a whisper of them on radio. I think that allows sub-cultures and small scenes to flourish. Of course, every so often someone really big comes along and makes a synth pop track, and everyone gets excited again and says it’s back, and then six months later everyone’s forgotten about it again. We just keep doing what we’re doing through all of that.
What’s the last great piece of music you heard?
Andrew: Fancy by Isaac Delusion. Love it…
Ra: If You Think It’s Love by King Princess
What’s next for Monarchy?
Ra: Really looking forward to getting our new music out. Then; listening, experimenting, learning.
Andrew: Keep on writing. Keep on touring. Every day a new day.