“I’VE WANTED to put out this record since I was a kid,” says Joshua Spacek. “So I’m putting it out. And then I’m gonna see where it takes me.”
He’s talking about Let’s Make Love Come True, the long, long (long) awaited album from Monarques that’s had Portland music insiders gushing since it was completed all the way back in April 2011. After many trials, tribulations, lineup changes, red tape, and plain old luck—of both the extremely good and absolutely horrible varieties—it’s finally seeing the light of day via a self-release from the band. Trimmed down from its nine original tracks to a brisk seven, Let’s Make Love Come True is a valentine to true love in the classic pop-song sense: shared milkshakes, letter jackets, those last slow dances of the night—and, of course, love’s subsequent nuclear fallout of heartache and betrayal.
“I was listening to a lot of really early R&B music,” Spacek says, who writes the band’s material and delivers it in a gymnastic, smooth, soul belt. “Songs about drinking too much whiskey and staying out all night long—a lot of Etta James songs that Berry Gordy wrote. He wrote most of her big songs and played piano at a lot of her sessions. And that spurred a fascination in Berry Gordy, which led to Motown and his factory approach of songwriting. I had a very prolific summer when I discovered all of that, and that’s when I wrote the majority of the stuff on this record. I felt like these were classic themes that everyone can identify with.”
With a sweet but never sugary rock ‘n’ roll thrust powering through the record’s lushly reverbed production, Monarques explores the twin, towering themes of redemptive love and the exquisite hurt that comes from things getting shitty. And, following some auspicious beginnings, things did get pretty shitty for Monarques, even as they initially seemed headed for unmistakable success.
Spacek formed the group after leaving Portland rock band Oh Captain, My Captain to write more upbeat, straight-ahead pop songs. Perhaps fittingly, Oh Captain’s Jesse Bettis and Joe Bowden—Spacek’s old friends—have recently become part of the Monarques lineup, joining Spacek, guitarist Michael Slavin, and bassist Richard Bennett, who was the first Monarque to join.
“I took out a Craigslist ad to start Monarques,” says Spacek. “That’s how I met Rich. Because of all of my influences and everything that I had written in the Craigslist ad—doo-wop bands, the Kinks, the Beach Boys—I got nothing but 50- to 60-year-old men sending their résumés. Stuff like, ‘I’ve been gigging for 25 years!’ But then Rich was like, ‘I just moved here from the East Coast a week and a half ago, and I’ve always wanted to be in the band that you want to start.’ He showed up at my rehearsal space, and two weeks later we were in the middle of getting ready to record an EP and play our first show.”
After accruing a local buzz around their joyous, good-time shows of maximum R&B, a New York label expressed interest in the band throughout Let’s Make Love Come True’s recording process, which was helmed by Beau Raymond and largely tracked live in a week, without using headphones or a click track. The New York label’s overtures resulted in the band turning down other potential offers, but after recording wrapped, and on the eve of a tour with new gear, the arrangement fell through. Some members had to quit the band for other obligations, the bills racked up, and the momentum was gone. Monarques’ last show, barring a Valentine’s Day cover set, was in January.
“It’s been difficult to progress because of a lot of things,” admits Spacek, who’s relieved and excited that the band’s purpose has been renewed with the record’s release. “Right now, we’re just focused on the summer and promoting the record and sticking with that for the time being. And then we’ll turn our attention to the next thing. It’s been a tough year. It’s been a hard year for me, just personally, and dealing with all of the band stuff, the ups and downs. It has not been easy to ride all the waves.”
But Spacek remains positive about everything he and the band have gone through. “We’ve been lucky with everything, really, when it comes down to it. Because people come to have fun at our shows, which is great. And we’ve always had fun. Monarques was designed to be fun and to have a good time—that’s the driving force.”