It starts with an a-capella, something you don’t hear in the beginning of prog-rock albums these days. Then it kicks in and takes you on a ride through genres and sounds that comprise one of the best and most unique albums I’ve heard in a long time. I’m referring to Maps of Non-Existent Places by a seven-piece New Jersey band called Thank You Scientist.
This debut album needs to be heard to be believed. The band was named the top unsigned act in the tri-state area after their debut EP The Perils of Time Travel and funded their first full-length after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Showing this album to my friends, I heard comments comparing them to everyone from Frank Zappa to something straight out of the mind of Mike Patton. Tracks like “Feed the Horses” mix soaring vocals with a variety of instruments you’ll hear nowhere else. I had the chance to speak with Tom Monda, who covers the fretted and fretless guitar, acoustic guitar, shamisen, cello, and vocals. He put the band together, so naturally the first question was how he put this diverse group together.
“I met Ellis [Jasenovic, saxophone], Andrew [Digrius, trumpet] and Russ [Lynch, violin] in music school. Sal [Marrano, vocals] came into the picture through a craigslist ad, which was like a one in a million craigslist success story that didn’t end up in someone getting a kidnapped or touched inappropriately… Odin [Alvarez, drums] and Greg [Colacino, bass] have been playing together since they were little kids. One of my close friends introduced me to Odin and we started jamming on some material I was writing. It wasn’t long before he suggested that Greg come into the picture. After a bunch of random dudes who didn’t stay in the band for very long, the lineup kind of coalesced with the seven people that are on our latest record.”
If you take a gander at the band’s Bandcamp page, you can get an idea of just how many instruments these guys incorporate into their music. “Suspicious Waveforms” has string sections that sound straight off a Devotchka album immediately followed by a barrage of jazzy horns. When asked about how they decided on the sound of Maps of Non-Existent Places, Monda said, “I knew a vague direction of where I wanted to go when I formed the band, but it was really when the lineup stabilized with the seven guys we have now that it took shape. The Perils EP sort of hinted at it, and we felt it sort of emerge on Maps, and the next one will be an even wilder ride!”
Now usually I loathe asking this one, but with you guys I’ve got to know. Who are your influences? When listening to your album I heard traces of everything from Protest the Hero to Devotcha.
Monda: “There are tons of diverse influences in the band! I can only speak for myself. I’ve never heard Devotcha, I have heard Protest the Hero (from one of my guitar students a while back). My major influences are Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Pat Metheny, Mr. Bungle, Ralph Towner, Lenny Breau, Yes, Genesis, Tool, King Crimson, Shudder to Think, Farquhar, Jawbox, Jon Brion, Jellyfish, Bjork, Brecker Brothers, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Beatles, Harry NIlsson, Shostakovich, Ravel, Radiohead, Ron Thal, Allan Holdsworth, tons of traditional Japanese and Indian classical music… too much more…”
One of my favourite tracks on Maps is “Carnival.” It shows the best of the band’s musicality while rocking out throughout its six-and-a-half minute run-time. That’s another aspect of this record worth noting. Track duration lasts from five minutes to well over nine. It’s so much to take in that listening to this album could easily be an activity in and of itself.
Said Monda, “We just wanted to make an immerse album that would make people want to listen carefully all the way through, and something that they would want to come back to. For an album to be effective it needs to be different. Beating someone to death with the same type of thing for an entire record makes for a tiresome listen. I tried to take a hint from albums that I consider to be really fucking perfect and noticed that although they had a definitive “sound,” each piece was so singular, and filled a specific need in the context of the record. Albums like The Beatles’ Abbey Road, for instance… or Mr. Bungle’s California, Tool’s Aenima, Beach Boys‘ Pet Sounds, etc…”
That being said, what didn’t work? I’d love to know of any ideas or grooves you had that didn’t make it onto the album.
Monda: “If we kept everything we wrote we would probably be five albums deep right now. We constantly throw out, dissect, reassemble, and mess with parts. We have a song for the next record that we wrote about five different bridges for. We obsess over every minute detail. We like to be confident that we are putting the best possible piece forward, and that sometimes means driving ourselves absolutely crazy. But everyone in the band has the same goal – to make great art – so we deal with it!”
The album ends with “My Famed Disappearing Act,” which I consider to be the best song. It showcases everything the band is capable of, along with a ferocious guitar that does prog-rock proud. Maps of Non-Existent Places is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. It is only a year old but according to Monda, there’s a new record on the horizon. “We’re writing a new record! It’s coming along. We’ll be touring the US this summer… check out our facebook for dates soon!!”
Personally, I’ll be highly interested to see what happens with this band in the future. You can check them out through the links below.