Music comes not from lesson or rote but the open soul. Celeste Griffin, Monarchs' lead singer, began her music education in the piano at age eight. It lasted less than a year. With little to no formal training, it was on a sultry Birmingham, Alabama day in June, 2007 when Celeste again laid hands on her mother’s old piano and stumbled upon her first song, Notes of Disease. The pot began to boil and Celeste yielded to the flame. Three years later Griffin’s recognized ability to whisper southern family secrets and belt the grief of lost love has landed her at the biggest venues in Austin, the “Live Music Capital of the World.”
Griffin's music is her own. It is dripping with thickly woven emotion, a personal testimony to a collective memory that bonds family, friends, and lovers. Monarchs blurs the genre lines, grazing soul, folk, rock, and southern boogie in any given song. Her voice is powerful and poetic, chords resonating in a distinctly Alabaman tune. With the occasional 'Roll Tide!' interspersing applause and her charming southern drawl coating song break commentary, its hard to forget Griffin's southern roots.
Monarchs' first two albums glow with soft Alabaman sunshine, intimate portraits of a young woman finding musical inspiration in the laughter of her friends, the lazy flight of Birmingham fireflies, and the joy of youthful optimism.
Her first album, The Oak EP, was recorded in 2008 on a four-track tape recorder in a women's bath house on an abandoned industrial site outside of Birmingham. Produced by Taylor Hollingsworth of Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, the release came a mere six months after that sultry June afternoon. Those Words, Those Frames was recorded in Birmingham in 2009, in an old grocery store repurposed into a music studio.
Griffin moved Monarchs to Austin in 2008 to study Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas. Its no fluke that Griffin wrote her Master's thesis on the repurposing of old buildings into spaces promoting art, community, and economic development. She has put her faith in art as a uniting force, the point at which community and place intersect.
For Griffin, music is family. The gravity of family plays an integral role in Griffin's songwriting, songs often telling the story of great relatives that lived before her. The name Monarchs is itself derived from the dysfunctional and regal duality of royal families, the idea that we are all queens, kings, and members of the family that embodies our unified existence. The Monarchs project has been a success carried on the shoulders of many, with friends and family collaborating to assemble the creative, mosaic whole.
This past summer, Monarchs recorded its first full length LP with producer and friend Mike McCarthy, producer of Patty Griffin, Spoon, and Heartless Bastards. Titled The Rise and Fall, the album holds major advancements in writing and production quality. Longtime friend and Swiss Army musician Van Hollingsworth, credited for his central role in the development of Monarchs and its unique sound, currently plays on guitar. Alongside him are band members Phil Aijarpu on bass and Josh Halpern on drums. Rise and Fall is slated to be released on July 12th, 2011.