Pasadena’s The Letters Home delivers ‘dirty soul rock’ to the Old Towne Pub
By Carl Kozlowski 05/14/2014
Maroon 5’s Adam Levine may brag that he has moves like Mick Jagger, but anyone who sees Pasadena-based The Letters Home knows that their lead singer, Andrew Monheim, could give Levine a run for his money. Frankly, with all the hip-shaking, high-stepping, whirling-dervish energy he displays while leading his band through rip-roaring sets of their self-described “dirty soul rock,” Monheim could solve the state’s power crisis if his energy could somehow be harnessed.
The Letters Home, not just a party band, rooting lyrics in concerns far beyond sex, drugs and rock and roll, will be displaying its electric mix of talents during its hometown debut Thursday, May 22, at the Old Towne Pub.
“I forget about myself for an hour and try to give everything I have to the audience,” says Monheim about the intense focus he displays in each show. “It’s all for them. The more they give us, the more we give back. People joke with me that they can always tell when I get lost on stage. There’s a switch inside of me that just goes off.”
As the band’s keyboardist, with Mike Gattshall on drums and Joe DeCicco on guitar and a brand-new horn section, Monheim enjoys the introspective process of writing the lyrics and crafting the melodies as well. He especially likes to write songs from the point of view of people who are lost from the official versions of history, with one song about people in El Salvador who were murdered at the hands of government assassins, and another from the perspective of a frustrated, overlooked writer.
“I collect a lot of stories from news, videos, interviews, conversations and reading,” says Monheim, who lists as influences acts ranging from Al Green, Prince and Pearl Jam to INXS and Hall and Oates. “People sometimes contact me with stories that they want told — stories that have never had a chance to come to light. I put a lot of time in making sure the lyrics and the melody serve the people in the stories. Above all, I try to keep it soulful and funky.”
“Most of my writing is reactive to the rhythm that Andrew and Mike bring me,” says DeCicco, who handles much of the instrumental grooves. “I work better when I just react.”
Monheim formed the band two years ago when he and DeCicco met while studying music at an Arizona college. After growing to hate the intense heat, they first moved to North Hollywood because they had heard it was “the mecca of recording,” but soon found themselves despising their small apartment even more.
Moving to Pasadena saved their sanity. The duo was able to move into a house and establish the AndromiDen Recordings studio inside. Described by Monheim as “a quiet place in the hills,” he notes that “bands and artists walk in and immediately get inspired to start writing and recording.”
“That’s really what sets us apart from a larger studio with more resources,” adds DeCicco, who loves everything from Rage Against the Machine and The Roots to Beethoven. “We’re focused on keeping it creative. All the gear is customized because we’re audio geeks. We build our own microphones and preamps. We mainly use vintage tube gear, and we can fix anything in-house. We repair microphones and amps for other musicians and studios as well. We also have an organic garden in the back.”
The final piece in the puzzle fell into place when Monheim invited Gattshall — whom he had previously worked with making microphones at another company — to join them.
“After two Saturdays rocking out, we knew we needed to be playing together,” says Gattshall, a jazz-fusion fanatic who lists Tool, Rush and King Crimson among his favorite bands. “The music was just writing itself. We would play 30 minutes straight and write two or three songs every time we met.”
Indeed, this is a heady time for the band musically as they prepare to release two singles this summer, following on their debut EP “Warm Ink.” But they are even more excited about the addition of the horn section to their live shows, which often include a spot-on rendition of David Bowie’s classic “Let’s Dance.”
They also made a big move in March by playing the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. They found the lengthy car rides each way to be well worth the reaction, which Monheim describes as “humbling” because the band was so surprised to receive a rave reaction from first-time listeners in the middle of the nation.
“We follow the old Iggy Pop quote, ‘We don’t care if it’s five or 5,000 people there, we’re going to have fun,’” says Monheim. “Whenever the whole crowd is really into it, it’s our best show. We played an awesome show at The Viper Room and had a blast. They had just built a catwalk into the audience and we got to run out and get closer to the audience. We also played a packed show at Rafa’s Lounge in Echo Park. There were a lot of sweaty bodies piled into the room that night and everyone in the room was moving together as one. It was unreal and we hope to do it again right here at the Old Towne Pub.”
The Letters Home performs at 11 p.m. Thursday, May 22, at The Old Towne Pub, 66 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. Admission is free. For more information on The Letters Home, visit thelettershome.com. For more on AndromiDen Recordings, visit Instagram.com/andromiden.