Progressive rock quartet from Buellton in California, Temple of Switches released recently their self-titled debut album, and about it I talked with guitarist Mike Monda, drummer Jay Heffner, singer and keyboardist Kevin McConnell, and bassist Joe Monda.
How long have you guys been knowing each others? When did your musical journey begin?
Mike: Joe and I are brothers. Jay and I have known each other since high school, and Kevin and I since around 1981.
Jay: Mike and I got together when we were in high school, we played intensely for several years. After that, the reality of life caught up to us, marriage, kids, working careers etc…
I took 13 years off from even picking up a pair of sticks, Mike took 20 years off from guitar! It finally took a shitload of nagging from myself and Mike’s brother Joe to convince him to pick it back up. The result was; it’s as if we never took time off, we picked up right where we left off.
Joe: My journey began when I was nine years old. I decided that I wanted to play the clarinet, so I brought it home and started learning to read music. I quickly changed to the baritone saxophone, which was larger and heavier than I was at the time, then settled on the alto saxophone which I played in the jazz band throughout high school where our band competed, and won, every festival we competed at. After I graduated, I had the opportunity to buy a ’75 Fender Precision Bass at a price that I couldn’t pass up, and I spent the next few years cooped away in my small house learning every Rush song that I could.
Have you guys been involved with any other projects or bands before? Are you involved with other bands presently?
Kevin: I started with a guy who wrote his lyrics on an order pad while working at his parents burger stand. He had a big voice, like Tom Jones. He would sing his lyrics to me and would figure out the chords on the piano. That evolved into a metal band we called Avatron.
Mike and I played together here and there – even at my 18th birthday party way back in ’82, among other places and times. He used to whistle out his lead parts back then… I knew he was a genius the first time we played together.
Mike: I have had four or five bands over the years, just small time stuff. One common thread through all of them was good friend named Dale, a bassist that I wrote tons of material with. We had a great writing relationship. Our styles dovetailed well. Some of that material is on this CD. TOS is my only band now. I work full time.
Jay: I’ve been involved with several projects but none as intense as this band.
There is a “raw,” I would say a pinkish side in your sound. Tell me about how did you go about establishing that sound?
Kevin: That’s probably distortion because Mike doesn’t know how to mix, Ha!-
Joe: You have your influences that you listen to growing up which definitely have an effect on your sound, but it’s rare to develop a sound, like this CD does, that can’t be pinpointed by saying something like, “This band sounds just like…,” enter name of band here…
Mike: Thanks! Love the “pinkish” term! Music and color are great parallels, I always thought of our sound as Fuscia (seriously). If you mean the Floyd type of pink, it’s probably because of the gear Kevin uses, and my style is more melodic and flowing than technical. I used nine different guitars on the CD. The timbre of the sound is just as important as the notes you are playing. I think David Gilmour is an excellent guitarist. He plays tasteful, beautiful lines.
Jay: Too many bong hits I suppose.
There is also a bit of folk influences in your music, especially in guitar parts. Who is to blame for this?
Mike: Interesting, never though about our style that way. Perhaps it’s influence from albums like “Physical graffiti” I try to stay away from “power” chords and use a lot of open strings and minor chords.
Kevin: Mike is to blame for everything!
Joe: I blame Mike. [laughs] It’s all his fault.
What are themes that you explore in your lyrics?
Kevin: My ideal song covers both the darkness and the brightness that we experience in life. I always think of Mike and myself as “chocolate and peanut butter” when it comes to writing lyrics. We’re so different yet we complement each other so well.
Mike: Kevin and I collaborated on almost all the lyrics on these songs. I write deeply personal, abstract lyrics. Kevin is more of the fist in the air “yeah let’s rock, life is great”! type of guy. For instance, I wrote the first half of “The Positive Side” about a love lost and the lyrics are pretty depressing. Kevin added the lyrics at the end which are like a verbal smack saying “get over it, it happens all the time”!
Then listen to “The Vortex”, those lyrics are all his. There is nothing depressing about that song. It’s pure adrenaline.
Joe: To me, it takes a naked look at reality.
Are you satisfied with where “Temple of Switches” album landed?
Mike: We are still waiting for it to land. We have been promoting it in different parts of the world and it seems like they really like it in Brazil and eastern Europe. So far it has been well received. I am very happy with the final outcome as far as the sound. There is nothing I would change.
Kevin: I am so thankful that Mike decided to re-release the CD! No one else could’ve done it ñ thank you, brother!
Joe: I am very happy with the Temple of Switches album. What happens with it at this point is up to the rest of the world, but I am very happy about being able to play with these great musicians!
What’s the touring life for Temple of Switches like? How often do you play?
Jay: Not enough.
Kevin: We recently had to cancel all of our world engagements. Our agents and attorneys are presently working out the details of the next world tour, which may or may not include an orbit around the moon ñ stay tuned.
Mike: Honestly we have never “toured”. We are a small band from a small town with a big sound. There are not many venues for this type of music here.
We spent a ton of time rehearsing and working on the music for the CD. When we first released it in 2014 we had a dispute about royalties with an ex band member and had to retract the release. It sent the band into a tailspin. Now that we’ve ironed out our issues and re released the cd we’re kind of holding our breath, waiting to see if it catches fire.
How does a Temple of Switches gig look like?
Mike: Lots of color. We think the visual part of a show is very important. Your retinas soak in as much as your ears do. We try to match the mood of the music to the color of the lights. We built a home made computerized lighting unit that is controlled via MIDI through my effects pedals, so the lighting changes in synch with the changes in the songs. Lots of home made lighting fixtures as well. Some day we’ll have a lighting guy and roadies.
Jay: Extremely electrifying, lot’s of high energy with a lot of lighting trickery.
Kevin: We like to practice our show the way we are going to do it. We never can practice enough, but at least we all know what to expect when we’re on stage. It’s a lot of fun. Each show is a little different because we don’t have a computer controlling everything – only our feeble minds and a bunch of switches.
Joe: To us in the band, it looks like the inside of a sausage making factory… Haha, but to the audience, it seems to have them spellbound.
What are your plans for the future?
Mike: We are going to start with a clean slate with new material and stick with our business plan which is to write and perform music that is melodic, dramatic and intense.
Kevin: We all want to get together again and write new stuff, it’s just a matter of time.