Eve Monsees is young, aware, informed, and she absolutely loves her adopted hometown of Austin, Texas. And why wouldn’t she? For up-and-coming musicians, whether it be Indie Rock, Western Swing, blues, country, Americana or Roots music, Austin is the de facto live music capital of the world. This is where the iconic Antone’s club was born, and continues on in its second iteration. Austin is also home to Antone’s Record Shop, known around the country for it’s history, ambiance, and inventory. Monsees owns the shop along with her husband, Mike Buck. Both are active in Austin’s music community, playing in bands, recording, and working for various causes in the city’s musician’s community, which is more like an extended family.
American Blues Scene was able to speak with Monsees about growing up with Gary Clark Jr., the original Antone’s club, and the recently opened “new” Antone’s. We also spoke about what it’s like playing in multiple bands, owning a historic record store, and much more.
Barry Kerzner for American Blues Scene:
You were actually born in Houston?
Yes, I was.
You moved to Austin when you eight?
Yes, I was eight.
You’ve been there ever since. So what keeps you there?
The people, and the music community is so great! You know, there’s a lot of great clubs here, and I have certainly watched it change a lot. Obviously, its grown a lot from the time I first moved here. I think the main thing that attracted me is that music community, and there’s just so many world class players in a concentrated area that are typically willing to help and share things with you. I’ve certainly learned a lot from people because of that.
A fair number of people are of the opinion that Austin is becoming more slick and corporate these days. Do you agree, and do you think that is a good thing?
There’s definitely a lot of growth and a lot of big money here in the city. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because people will spend money on music, but for the most part, we are seeing a lot of smaller businesses, including small venues that are having to compete with big out of town money, and I do think that that has been hurting the city a lot. Our city has continued to struggle with that, and how to deal with this massive population boom, the continuing rise of property taxes and cost of living, while hanging on to our culture, which made Austin so special in the first place.
I mean, it’s a constant battle, and our mayor has brought that up, time and time again. I know we’re searching for a solution and a balance. It’s difficult. It’s difficult as a musician, it’s difficult as a record store owner, and it’s just something that we’re gonna have to continue to work on. Because, it is sad to see some of these great places that have been here decades have to shut their doors because they can’t afford the new rent rates.
You own Antone’s Record Shop.
One of the cool things I noticed is that you have live entertainment in there occasionally! Could you talk about the shop and tell us what it’s like to own a record shop now, with all the other ways for folks to get music, and people not wanting to pay for music? How do you try to stay relevant and in business?
Right. So, the store was opened in 1987 by Clifford Antone. We’re still in our original location, but when it was opened, the nightclub was a cross the street. I started working here in 2001 when I was in high school. I worked one day a week for five hours, every Sunday. That was my one shift. Before I started working here, this was my go-to place for CDs or records, and I always appreciated everyone who worked here because I could ask questions and they were really good at steering me in the right direction. They were recommending different things when I was first learning how to play, so, it’s kinda like school for me in a lot of ways.
I know that’s something that we’re very conscious of. Yes, on Amazon it may give you a list of things you may like, after you buy something, but it’s hard to beat just having a conversation with somebody about a record that you both love. A minute ago, Omar from Omar and The Howlers was in here, and we were talking about how much we love Bo Diddley. It’s sort of a meeting place. A lot of musicians do come and hang out here, and it’s always been a place that’s always been near and dear to my heart. It is difficult in 2016, almost 2017, to be relevant as a record store.
We have seen the demand for vinyl go up, which is good, but CD sales obviously for years now have been declining. So, we do try and stay aware of what it is that people are looking for. At the same time, I think we’re in a unique position because of the history of Antone’s.
Again, getting back to the culture of Austin… We try to make sure that we have good representation of our local artists, and blues artists, and people who play bands in the night clubs, and Antone’s T-shirts. You know, that sort of thing because it’s something that you can’t find anywhere else.
Yes, we do have in-store performances, maybe a couple times a month. It’s not really anything set on a regular basis. It’s kind of if somebody approaches us that has a new record, and it makes sense to do an in-store, we’ll do it. We’ve had some pretty great ones over the years. So, it’s cool! It’s kind of fun taking a band that normally would be playing a night club at night and putting them in the middle of the record bins in the daytime, and having a kind of family-friendly gathering.
I feel like it’s an important place for a lot of reasons, and we’re doing the best we can to keep it going.
Let’s talk about the bands you are a part of.
The Unseen Eye has been on a bit of a hiatus. That was a band we put together just to have a blues band from time to time. Occasionally we play together, but not so much.
The Bluebonnets is all women. When I first started playing with them I felt like it was way out of my comfort zone – definitely in the rock, pop bag more than anything I’d done before. It’s fun, it’s different, and it’s all original material. It’s Kathy Valentine guitar and vocals, Dominique Davalos bass and vocals, and Krisy Mcinnis or Christina Comley playing drums.
I wouldn’t have envisioned myself doing that, but I absolutely love it. We’re finishing up a record right now which will be our third, which we hope to have out in the spring of 2017. We go through intense periods for a couple weeks, and then we won’t do anything for a couple of weeks. Maybe a month on, a month off. We did some shows where we opened for The Waterboys on a tour.
You definitely have a garage style, even when you play blues.
I guess everybody kind of has their own interpretation of it because people will come up sometime and be like, ‘Oh that reminds me of…’ and I’m like ‘Really? OK.’
You’re not the Dead Kennedys or Garbage, but there’s definitely a bit of the Clash going on in the background. It’s pretty varied.
Yeah! So – Eve and The Exiles… That was a band that Mike Buck and I started over a decade ago now. It definitely started out as a blues band and kind of evolved to more Garage, but kind of the idea being like that early Rolling Stones, ‘60s, when-Brian-Jones-was-in-the-band-kind-of-sound. It’s blues, but it’s also Garage and early R&B stuff too.
We’ve got three CDs out and the most recent one came out about a year ago now. That CD we mixed it up between Garage and blues for sure. There’s one cut that’s just guitar and drums, just Mike [Buck] and I playing. It’s kind of a Hound Dog Taylor style of guitar.
We’ve done some shows over the last year, particularly, opening for Gary, with that band, The Exiles. The Leroi Brothers is a band that Mike Buck and Steve Doerr founded years ago, and that’s always been one of my favorite band s to go see live. I guess roots rock would best describe what they do. It’s blues, Cajun, and kinda trashy rock and roll. They’re not terribly active, but we’ll play at least a couple of times a month. We are working on some out-of-town stuff, and hopefully a record, because they haven’t done a record in ages.
In each band I kind of have a different roll. In that band, I get to just be the guitar player.
That’s good though, because it keeps you fresh.
Exactly! If I only did one thing all the time, I might be really good at that one thing. It’s always a balance between all these things to keep all these balls in the air.
You grew up a few doors down from Gary Clark Jr., and one of the things that Gary said about you was “Eve Monsees. I wouldn’t be playing guitar, I wouldn’t be playing music if it weren’t for her. She took me to my first gig, and it all started from there.”
Yep. We’ve always remained friends. We were inseparable for years, when we first started playing. Then, we kind of took on our own bands and we kind of grew in different ways. Any time we play together, it’s like there’s just something there. I mean the best way I can compare this is like when you have a family member that maybe you don’t see every day anymore that you used to see every day, and you can just pick right back up where you left off with them. It’s a lot like that.
For example: With this Austin City Limits show, I knew I was gonna be playing with him on this BB King tribute, but we hadn’t discussed songs and I didn’t know if I was supposed to sing or not. So I thought ‘I’ll just work a BB song; “Woke Up This Morning,” that’s kind of a cool one.’ I worked on that to to have it in the bag. A couple weeks before the show, I got a rundown of the show that was sent from the producers that was sent, it had us listed as playing “Woke up this Morning” together. I was like, ‘That’s interesting. I wonder if he knew I was working on that.’ I talked to him about it the day we rehearsed, and it turns out he just independently picked that song. There’s just something about that when you grow up with somebody; there’s a bond there, I guess.
He’s really gone out of his way, time and time again to include me in different things he does, and that Grammy speech you just referred to, that was just – I was literally in tears when I saw that. It was just so sweet and heartfelt. He says that I got him started before he did, but because he got a guitar, I had someone to play with, and I think we both encouraged each other, equally. It wasn’t too long after I’d shown him what I knew that he was teaching me stuff that he was learning. He certainly learned things very quickly. He’s got a great ear, he’d always figure things out, and we were both so eager to learn things as quickly as we could. We had each other to show things to.
I appreciate all the kind words he said, and I feel like I owe so much to him as well.
Let’s talk a bit about Antone’s nightclub.
Antone’s night club is a huge part of my life, and Gary’s life. The first time we played there I thought, ‘Man, we made it!’ We couldn’t imagine anything bigger than that.
Playing that Austin City Limits show the other night; it was a similar feeling, on a different scale. When we were 15, we opened for Jimmie [Vaughan] and we got to sit in with him at the end of the night. This thing the other night, the grand finale where they had everybody up together; it was a similar feeling, on a grander scale.
That nightclub has just been a really important part of the Austin scene and now that Gary’s a partner there, it’s pretty cool.
We didn’t know that!
Yeah. He’s involved
We knew that they had moved the club to the new location on East 5th Street. So who owns that now, besides Gary?
There’s a few partners. Susan Antone, Clifford’s sister is back involved again. Will Bridges, who is kind of the main guy on the ground there I guess, who is someone we went to high school with as well. He’s a couple years older than Gary and I, and he’s super passionate about music. Getting back to the idea of preserving Austin culture, he’s involved in a few other projects around town.
In addition to that, he’s a good business man; he went to school for that. He has an understanding of business that maybe a lot of us that are passionate about music, don’t necessarily have.
So that club and that place has been a – especially when Clifford was around, it was – it gave opportunities to younger musicians to play with older musicians. Before your eyes, you could watch things being passed down from one generation to another. Another place I see that happening a lot is a festival in New Orleans called the Ponderosa Stomp. It’s every other year now, but Mike [Buck, Eve’s husband and drummer in the band] and I have been a part of that for a while. That’s where we got married actually.
One of the things that Jimmie Vaughan said about Antone’s was “It was really jumping here for many years. Clifford would go out of his way to hire everybody he could. You didn’t come play in Antone’s to help your career; you came to Antone’s and played because it was fun, and you never knew who was gonna show up.”
Just this past week, they had a show with Jimmie [Vaughan] and Billy Gibbons, Mike Flanigin and Sue Foley. It just feels like Antone’s is back on the map. It’s cool. It’s a great place to see bands and such a great place for musicians; it’s a musician’s hang out too. The new club is great. I hope you get a chance to check it out. They’ve really worked hard to put together something that honors the tradition of Antone’s and why it was started. There’s a little gift shop in the front so we’re sort of working with them on that. It’s a special place for sure.