Interview with Robbie Russo & the Monkey Butlers
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I’ve always been a passionate music fan. Was singing for as long as I can remember and at some point, rather than just performing, the ability to transform stories and emotions into song inhabited me and needed to be heard. This was probably around the age of 15/16 and since then I’ve been singing my heart out ever since. I’ve fallen in and out of the teaching profession a few times now, so I’d probably be doing that now; as have most of my fellow music student compatriots.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Seeing the world always broadens your horizon, however that’s been harder to do of recent. I spend most of my downtime reading and watching old films. I’d they’re able to capture one’s imagination, even in the briefest sense, then they’re able to inspire.
How long has your band been around?
We have now been trying to make things work for going on 6 years!
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
We all met while studying music at the university of Birmingham. But I’ve gotta say, unlike a lot of British/britpop bands, our location has never really crept it’s way into our music. Not even in a sense of dialect. All our songs are usually too flowery and theatrical to embody some kind of localized dialect. However, I would say that stories and characters and all the fun we had at university has inspired a few personal songs for myself. My time at university will always hold very dear to my heart and always be a source of inspiration – for all the drunken mayhem, heartbreaks, glorious highs and crashing lows. Three years of extreme living condensed, would have been great if I’d got some studying done too though.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
God it took us bloody ages to come up with a and name. By about the third week of trying out names we had settled on the fact that people liked monkeys. We were trying out all different variations like ‘king Monkey’ and ‘the monkey men’; it wasn’t until our guitarist, Richard Schaeffer remembered an episode of the Simpsons that comically referenced monkey Butlers that we knew we struck gold. Aye it’s a bit strange and laughable, far from cool – but we think that’s what represents us best. Fools trying to give off an air of grace and professionalism, when really we’re just clowning around having a good time!
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
I cherish all our shows but I think, because we are such perfectionists and masochists, the ones we end up remembering are our bad shows. There were a few acoustic ones we did, one for a Christian union, one for a university event and one for a race relations event. I think they all stood out in memory just for, how shall we say, poor reactions!
But we like to make sure every gig is a memorable one. I think we can safely say that once an audience has seen us play, they are not quick to forget us. We like to leave lasting impressions xox
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I think it’s got to be the Indie longue in Selly Oak. By know means the perfect gig venue, but we did so many there while we were at university and the atmosphere is always great and Ash, the owner, treats us very well. So I’d definitely recommend heading down there on a busy night for some music.
As for places we’d like to play: any festivals. Literally any!
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I’d like to see something really wild. A line up of us, The Who, Iggy Pop, The Doors’, Elvis, James Brown and why not Billy Joel to open the set and ease us in. I think that would be a rather eventful night!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Just enjoy it! Don’t do it for anything else but the enjoyment of music. Once you have that down, you won’t lose it and it will be a fruitful source to which you can return often.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Don’t release an EP during the pandemic, spend your money on a manager and don’t drink so much!
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
This changes all the time. I have songs that mean so much for to me when they were written, ones that I can come back to and see that I’ve left myself a message that I’ve forgotten or ones that I’m just really proud of. I’d say currently it’s a song called ‘Boy and his Guitar (if I were a sculptor)'. A strange little song but written with nothing but love in mind and I think it shows. You’ll have to listen and let me know.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I think our personal favorites to play are Me and My Shadow and I am the Man. For quite strange, long songs, they never become tiresome and always manage to pick us back up. The energy just never leaves those songs and we hope that comes across in recordings.
As for requested songs, it’s usually our one’s which incorporate the most audience interaction, such as Mr Jones’ Flower and I am the Man. But I miss the early days when people were shouting for Beauties, one of our quieter songs – though back in those days most people were just shouting me to get my kit off!
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
That’s the thing really. I’m often in a bit of a predicament about whether this music thing is really worth it. How far can talent get you and what makes a master? Because most of the songs and poems I write are mere convulsions. One is inhabited by the muse and I’ve taught myself to follow her until the song is finished. The longest I’ve probably ever spent working on a song is about an hour. They write themselves; whether it’s a lyrical idea of just messing about on your guitar, once that gem of inspiration comes, you have to follow it and pin it down. So I’m left wondering, if these songs come with such ease, have turned into mere expressions of the soul – of what use and purpose are they really? Would it be better spending hours crafting the perfect tune and melodies? I’ve never tried. Perhaps I’ll write a musical and get back to you x
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Usually honesty and self-perseverance. No matter how sad all my songs get, I always try and give them a happy ending or have pockets of hope in them. Writing songs is therapeutic and one usually feels better after having expressed themselves, so I like that feeling to come across. And if that inspires expression in other people, in anyway, then our job has been done!
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
There’s always a few bumps along the road here and there, but nothing has ever thrown us off the true priority – making great music. As long as the show goes on, we’re all fine and dandy.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
We’re getting back in the studio soon, so keep your ears open! Our lead singer also just dropped a new EP of demos that are definitely worth checking out: