From the syncopated, funky fun of "Get 'Em Outta Here," to the neutron-bomb impact of "Going For The Angry" to the gloomy, evocative haze of "Tired," Sprung Monkey's new Surfdog/Hollywood Records release, Mr. Funny Face, is a study of opposites. They're fun loving guys who write thoughtful, serious lyrics. Who mix absolute shred with tongue-in-cheek tales about their hometown San Diego scene. Who place creative inventiveness above following the current rend du jour. "If you try to chase it, you're always one step behind," explains vocalist Steve Summers.
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The members of Sprung Monkey found their passion in life early on: "I went to see Kiss when I was six years old," recalls guitarist/brother Mike Summers. "From then on, I had this drive. My parents let us do what we wanted -- my dad was a musician also, he played sax in big bands, so he understands." Once Steve completed the Sprung Monkey line-up ("They said 'You can be the singer if you want,' he recalls with a laugh"), the band quickly developed a local following.
In 1994 and 1995, Sprung Monkey was voted Band of the Year at the San Diego Music Awards. Casg from club gigs -- where Sprung Monkey also did brisk business selling their demo tape -- financed their first, self-released album, situation life. They made their Surfdog Records debut, Swirl, in 1996. "Fresh harmonious sounds," enthused the Gavin report; "an eclectic mix of beavy guitars, light melodies, groovin' bass lines and eccentric drum slams." San Diego's SLAMM 'zine praised their unpredictable musical paths…Sprung Monkey's imaginative instrumentation shines."
Surf/Skate/snowboard video director Taylor Steel discovered Sprung Monkey's music and used it in all four of his films; as a result, the band has a substantial audience in surf-crazed Australia, where they've toured several times. "We love it down there," declares Mike Summers. "It's fun if you like to drink, and the people are really nice." Sprung Monkey was able to get their first taste of arena-size audiences as well as rabid, souvenir-collecting fans. Says Steve, "They want everything from you, your hat, your sunglasses -- I came back with nothing, gave it all away." Sprung Monkey's involvement with the surfing community also led to their participation in both MOM, Music for Our Mother Ocean, albums, which benefitted the environmental Surfrider Foundation. "We're down for supporting that cause, we respect the ocean," says Mike.
Sprung Monkey also appeared onn the very first episode of a then-obscure TV show called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "We were a band in a bar," says Mike. "It turned into a really cool little thing, actually." In 1997 the band was part of the Warped Tour and tours with Blink 182, Sublime, Sugar Ray, Tool, and Pennywise among others. Other touring memories have not been as positive: Mike recalls "tabasco and mustard sandwiches, having no money. We also wrecked our bus once and had to fly home, that was pretty gnarly. The front left ball joint broke and we ended up on the other side of the freeway and got hit by a truck full of live pigs. It was a big mess, like from CHIPS. I'm surprised no one died."
The songs of Mr. Funny Face emerged from Sprung Monkey's real-life experiences. The infectious, upbeat "Get 'Em Outta Here" is "about life in San Diego," Steve Summers explains. "Going to the beach, the clubs. There's a great scene down here: jazz, house, punk, ska, reggae, rock, everything. The chorus is all the things we don't like -- tweakers, aggro cops, violent hate-crime type people, wannabe gangsters -- get 'em outta here." Mr. Funny Face's title track was inspired by another true story: "I used to work at a surf shopp at Ocen Beach," Steve recalls," and there was this Downs Syndrome kid who'd come by every day. One day, these other kids were like, 'there's the kid with the funny face,' and started picking on him. So I went outside and said, 'hey, knock this shit off.' This song is about him -- no matter what they didm it didn't seem to affect him, he'd just smile. He was above it. A lot of times, we're so judging, and we don't realize we're going down with our arrogant ship."
"White Trash," on the other hand, is about "a friend we took on the road with us, he was always, like, 'you got a cigarette. I got no money,' just those coniving tactics that you realize aren't friendship. You're a taker, you give nothing." The gorgeously hook-laden "Super Breakdown" concerns "a premature midlife crisis," explains Steve. "It's strugling, but realizing nothing's going to change until you make it change. Instead of wallowing in your little depressed pond, step up and step out."
Overall, Mr. Funny Face makes a leap of faith to a new level of sonic maturity. "When we first started out, it was just about gettng buzzed, having fun," admits Steve. "And then I realized, we're getting bigger, we're starting to get fan mail, people listen to me. I should try to say something." That's a goal Sprung Monkey have accomplished, just about perfectly.
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