Married in music: Eli and Mary Chartkoff of The Monolators

The Monolators are the kind of band that can take a pop music monument like ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” inject it with a concentrated shot of their distinctive style, and produce an homage that stands on its own—not an easy feat.

Since their first incarnation in 2002 as married duo Mary and Eli Chartkoff, The Monolators has swelled to include Jillinda Palmer, Ashley Jex (bass), and Ray Gurrola (guitar).

Their catchy songs like “We Fell Dead” that lodge themselves in your ears and refuse to leave—not that you’d want them too.

I caught up with Monolators founding members Eli and Mary at Pehrspace, after they debuted their newest band, Dawn of Sequins. They are preparing for both a new Monolators performance (at Pehr on Monday, August 1) and an appearance as Your Mom/Your Dad (at L.A.’s Got Talent: Fashion Night at Sancho on August 19, for whom the duo co-invented a DIY “Walk your own look” runway show).

I’d like to start with a random question to get to know something different about you guys.
Mary: Sure

Do you like airplanes?
Eli: I used to like airplanes, and then I met her and she hates airplanes, so now I hate airplanes. She used to hate them a lot more, though, than she does now.

Mary: Yeah, I’ve gotten over it a little.

Eli: But just the terror of going on airplanes made me hate airplanes, so now I don’t really like airplanes that much.

Mary: I transferred my anxiety to Eli, isn’t that nice?

That’s sweet.
Eli: We’re getting on a plane in about a week  I like getting out of Los Angeles for a little while, but I’m not looking forward to the plane part.

So you guys were just talking about how you have three other bands, and you just debuted as Dawn of Sequins—how do you approach writing music for your different projects?
Eli: I think sometimes we say, “This band needs a song, so we better write something in that style.” Sometimes we’re just writing material with no particular band in mind and it will become clear that it belongs to one band more than the other. And for Dawn of Sequins, we’ve been stockpiling songs that we’ve both written and we didn’t really know what to do with them. We wanted to play them, so we decided we’d form a new band so we could take care of that.

How is Dawn of Sequins different than Your Mom/Your Dad, which is also just you two?
Mary: I would say that it’s a combination of YM/YD and the Monolators because it’s both of us singing. The Monolators are right now mostly Eli songs—Ray also has a song—and Jillinda wrote a song too. It’s not that I’m not allowed to [write songs for The Monolators] or anything, I just haven’t.  So Dawn of Sequins is kind of a combination [of YM/YD and the Monolators] because Your Mom/Your Dad is mostly my songs. We both sing in Dawn of Sequins, and also in The Monolators I play drums. In YM/YD we switch off playing keyboards, and Eli plays bass in YM/YD, and in The Monolators he plays guitar—in Sequins he plays bass and guitar.

Eli: And I think that generally YM/YD is sillier.  We’ve talked about giving some of the songs from the Sequins to the Monolators.

How long has The Monolators been going on?
Eli: It’ll be nine years in the fall.

And you guys met, and started dating and playing music at the same time?
Yeah, we met at a bar [laughter]… at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and I overheard someone asking her how her drum lessons were going, and I thought “Oh, drums! It’s hard to find drummers!” So we started chatting and then we had a date, but it wasn’t actually expressed as a date. We were just getting together to “play music.”

Mary: And then we went out to dinner.

Eli: So we both knew it was a date, but we never actually said “date.”

How does you relationship affect the way you approach your music, and your relationship with your bandmates?
Eli: I’ve talked to a lot of couples who are couples in bands and they feel that it’s awkward but I think everyone who’s known us—we’ve been a couple so long, it’s our 10-year anniversary in a week—so we’ve been together so long that it’s like we’re a unit, so I don’t think that’s been an issue.

Mary: I don’t think so. When someone joins one of the bands, they know what they’re getting from the get-go. And hopefully we work well enough as a unit that everyone feels comfortable. And it’s not like we’re making out during band practice or anything like that.

Eli: I think also it’s been good in the sense that our relationship comes first—it’s not like a Eurythmics things where the band would ever come before the relationship.  I think that’s been good, to learn how to work through musical differences in a positive way rather a really petulant negative way.

What do you guys have planned for the Monolators’ show on Monday?
Is that this coming Monday?

Mary: Yep, this Monday.

Eli: Well, I think it’s gonna be all five of us.

Mary: Yes, it’s going to be pretty good.

Eli: We haven’t played—all five of us—together since…

Mary: …Since January.

Eli: So it’s been a long time.

Okay, is there anything you guys want to add before we wrap up?
Eli: Monday Nights at Pehrspace… If we hadn’t been able to become part of that, I don’t know what we’d be doing. It’s such a big part of our lives.

Connect with the Monolators

See Mary and Eli at L.A.’s Got Talent: Fashion Night this August 19

And don’t miss them this Monday at Pehrspace…

Image: Geoff Geis

This week it’s the Sean Carnage / Kyle Mabson Monday Night Six Year Anniversary celebration, part one!

Featuring Geoff Geis‘ “Princess” release party

with The Monolators

Plus Sisterfucker & Mind Cemetary (Oakland, member of No Babies)

Starts 9:30pm / $5 / all-ages

Pehrspace—325 Glendale Blvd., in Historic Filipinotown RSVP

Add SEANCARNAGE.COM for updates & more

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