By Lauren Schwab
There is a place where moonshine, mountains and music all come together in Tennessee. When you walk to the melodies on the Island in Pigeon Forge or follow the sound of the banjo through The Holler in Gatlinburg, you will likely find yourself rocking in a chair or dancing with strangers to the sounds of Monroeville.
Their style is like no other, captivating visitors from across the country including myself. I first heard Monroeville in June 2016. I asked for an interview without hesitation, knowing this group was unique. Read it here: Monroeville Inspires the Next Generation to Make Music of Their Own
I listened to their music on the drive home. I am captivated by their melody, stories of love and positive words. For me, music has always been a way of expressing myself. I could tell the lyrics and instrumental chords were carefully paired. I am not the only one, as Monroeville has built a large following of fans on social media who plan their trips to Tennessee around when the band will be playing.
I planned my trip in excitement to hear the band play and get a chance to catch up with them after their album Worlds Apart has been released for the past year. The boys did not disappoint, inviting me to dinner to hear their story and share their goals. I quickly learned how Monroeville fans are their family and each song is a like a page in the family album.
Q. “Rocky Top” is a highly requested song for those visiting the Tennessee Mountains. How do you create a set list and decide what original music to play or songs people want to hear?
A. “There are things I want to accomplish in every set, but you have to work with what your crowd is, here especially. People don’t pay to come see us and most of them didn’t know music was here, they just walked in. You have to cater to what they are feeling like. If you play too much they don’t know you loose their attention. Every crowd is fun in its own way,” said Matt Munsey, producer, lead vocals and mandolin.
While each band member is multi- instrumental with vocal talents, they all comprise what is Monroeville with their specific roles. They are authentic in their music and personalities, each one joining the band in different ways in time.
Slaying in on the banjo is McCoy Borg. “I’ve been with Monroeville almost five years. I met Matt 12 years ago, he was playing here and I was playing with another band at the time. He moved away for a while and when he came back, I lost my spot with the other band and been playing with Matt ever since. He’s been a huge inspiration to my music.”
Masterful Bassist, Paul Watson, remembers watching Monroeville play from the audience years ago and told himself that was the band he wanted to play for. “Matt wanted me to fill in three years ago. Then as soon as I put the phone down with another guy asking me (to play for a different band) Matt called me and wanted to hire me. It was awesome.”
Rocking Guitarist, Chevy Watson, played on a record that was Grammy nominated by the world’s fastest banjo player, Todd Taylor. “I played for a couple years with him (Todd Taylor) and branched off doing different stuff. Paul (his cousin) and I went to a bluegrass festival and heard Monroeville playing. No one else in bluegrass was playing like that. We had a good time listening and Paul knew he wanted to play with the band. When Paul told me he got hired on, I was helping him move to Newport and we decided to go listen to them. Matt told me the other guitar player was going to quit and asked if I’d be interested in taking a job and I said alright!”
Character is important to the Monroeville brand. Matt learned the integrity of Paul when he was searching for a bassist. “I knew about Chevy before Paul. I didn’t realize what Paul did. Chevy had been filling in with us every few months. I needed a bass player first so I called Paul and asked if his cousin Chevy played bass too. Instead of saying he played bass, he said Chevy could play. Paul was honest even though it was the job he wanted. So that told me about his character,” said Matt.
“I was determined to carve out a music of my own, I didn’t want to copy anybody.” – Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass
Q. How did you create what is Monroeville’s unique sound, style and brand?
A. “We all grew up playing bluegrass, but we like every kind of music. To me it’s always been about combining elements of different music. That’s how bluegrass got started; Bill Monroe took a little bit of blues, Irish music, rock n’ roll, and soul. He created his own style and called it bluegrass. That’s why we call ourselves Monroeville. Not because we are a bluegrass band, but because of that concept of creating his own sound. My favorite quote by Bill is ‘I was determined to carve out a music of my own, I didn’t want to copy anybody.’ That’s what Monroeville has been about since the beginning, creating something original,” said Matt.
Q. What is the inspiration and concept behind the album Worlds Apart?
A. “With this album, these guys had just started in the band. I went through many band changes, so with this album I produced the whole thing. I wanted to challenge myself. I had talent to work with, so it was easy to get these guys to play whatever. We started recording the CD before a couple of these guys were here. We worked on it for two and a half years. I spent that time writing songs and getting a whole flow of an album together. I’m a big believer in following the energy or a vibe. I don’t want to plan things out too much because I like it to be flexible enough to go its own direction. This album did that because we went from going to New York City to record with an orchestra to cutting stuff in a studio in St. Louis, Missouri with our drummer (Evan Pitchers). Then we worked some in Florida while we were there, so it grew over a couple years into the album. I was letting the songs come to me. Some of the songs were spontaneous while we were in the studio recording,” said Matt.
Q. Why is the message of the opening track “Push On” important to share right away on the album?
A. “Part of the mission of Monroeville has been to create original music, but the other part is positivity. One of our successful songs before this record was ‘Be Natural’ it was an encouraging song. ‘Push On’ comes from a personal place for me, but I wanted to write it to apply to anybody in what they’re going through. It also spread over the genres as a band. It’s a little bit country, rock and with the orchestra on top of that, it’s a good introduction to our original sound,” said Matt.
Dinner continued with funny story telling, inside jokes and laughter. It is clear the guys are friends and it’s part of their success.
Q. How is the friendship between band members and how do you work together?
A. “We are all friends and they are easy going. We keep each other in check, we are honest with each other and that’s a good thing. When you can’t say what you’re thinking to something that needs to be said, that’s when you get frustrated,” said Matt.
“Yeah, been meaning to talk to you about that Matt (laughter),” said Chevy.
“We work so much it’s hard to schedule practice, but you have to. We are going to start doing one day a week and split it up over the month. So one week will be writing then one week we will do a video for social media and focus on different things each time we get together,” said Matt.
Q. How is social media important to share your music and create a friendship with your fans? How does Facebook Live help?
A. “I would like to create content on a regular basis. It can be hard with as much as we work. We had positive results with the Facebook Live. Our first live video was our Christmas party a year ago. We ended up reaching about 300,000 people,” said Matt.
Q. Many people comment on Facebook where they would like you to come play, are you planning to tour?
A. “We definitely want to. It is expensive and live music is tough to get into touring unless you have a sponsorship that helps you pay for everything. We haven’t left here because we can make a living playing here and don’t have to be gone, but we are kind of selling ourselves short if we don’t,” said Matt.
“We are the guys next door that happen to be rock stars.”
“I’m beginning to understand it’s not about getting some huge break. That can happen, but it’s more about one fan at a time. We can build a relationship with fans. Every day we have thousands of people that hear us play. If we can just get a handful of people everyday that we connect with, they become apart of something bigger than the band, it’s like a family. Those people support you in some way; as long as you’re playing they’ll always be fans. Once I learned that concept, you can build off that. Monroeville has a brand. We are the guys next door that happen to be rock stars… You have to be true to yourself. Nobody is going to get your dream for you,” said Matt.
Next time the moonshine, mountains and music call you to Tennessee, be sure to listen to Monroeville and introduce yourself to the guys. They would be happy to make you a part of the family and join you anytime your music player is near.
To keep up with Monroeville visit their website and follow their social media pages and be sure to watch their live videos!
Photo Credit to Monroeville social media