Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Blake and Dante of Space Monkey Mafia. Together we discussed how mafias operate in space, their creative process, being banned in California, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you Space Monkey Mafia them at Music Shelf. How are you?
Blake: Usually I like to deflect this question with a question like “how are YOU?” But since I’m the interviewee, I’ll answer honestly. I’m doing amazing. We are so incredibly stoked to be interviewed by Mustard on Music Shelf. Let’s get crazy.
Dante: Thanks so much for having us, Mustard! This is my first experience being interviewed by a sentient condiment, so my emotions are all over the place right now. I’d say I’m feeling a really high-octane mix of excited and anxious jubilation.
2. Space Monkey Mafia floats somewhere within the hydrogen-rich nebula NGC 2174. Could you share how you became a mafia within this system? How does everyone meet? When did you decide to become a mafia?
Blake: In the scientific community, NGC 2174 is known as the monkey head nebula. It earned this name on account of the diverse assortment of primates that reside within the system. In NGC 2174, you don’t choose the mafia life, but rather the mafia life chooses you. Though we don’t all come from the same planet (and half of us are apes, not actual monkeys), we all met when we received a transmission from Earth one day. The message was from a singer named Billy Joel, telling us to travel to his home planet and start a band so we may fulfill our destiny. This proved a great opportunity to extend our mafia’s reach into new territory, so we took him up on his offer and never looked back (mostly because we were running low on bananas back at NGC 2174).
Dante: A couple decades back, the ruling family of monkey monarchs on NGC 2174 were violently deposed after it was revealed that their claim to the Banana Throne was illegitimate (the situation was actually surprisingly similar to the plot of Wreck-It Ralph). The resulting power vacuum has led to a volatile political landscape where order is maintained by powerful organized crime families. We met as low-level members of one such organization, but, as Blake explained, we have since chosen a life of ska music here on this banana-rich planet rather than spend our lives trying to grind our way up the mafia ladder back on NGC 2174.
3. Space Monkey Mafia is confronted by another mafia. What mafia is it and why? How does the dispute get settled?
Blake: It’s a common misconception that mafias are violent toward one another. The only way organized crime really works is if you’re able to be cordial and keep an open line of communication with rival mobs. Our favorite is the space orangutan mafia from the Orion Nebula NGC 1976. Those guys can party.
We maintain good relationships with all mafias, so long as nobody snitches, disrespects, or crosses territory lines. In the rare case that one of those things does happen and there is a dispute, we settle it the old way – a skanking battle to One Step Beyond by Madness.
Dante: Sam has gotten into a lot of hot water with the Fanduel loan sharks ever since sports betting became legal in the US. Fortunately for Sam, loan sharks have notoriously bad rhythm and we should easily be able to out-skank them if they ever decided to come a-calling.
4. Has NASA contacted Space Monkey Mafia? What human job would everyone in Space Monkey Mafia like to do?
Blake: Classified. As to your 2nd question, I’ve always aspired to be a member of the royal family. Now that’s a mafia who has it figured out – massive influence and hordes of wealth without having to actually work or pay taxes.
Dante: All I can say is they haven’t not contacted us if you catch my gravitational drift. For a human job – I would love for Space Monkey Mafia to grow large enough to start our own olympic rowing team with me as the coxswain.
5. Your sound is rooted in 90s/00s ska and punk with a pinch of contemporary. Who are some artists that influence Space Monkey Mafia?
Blake: Space Monkey Mafia has one and only one artistic influence – Billy Joel.
Dante: Streetlight Manifesto, Less than Jake, and Green Day are all influences that we collectively drew on especially in the early stages of the band. As a vocalist, I’d probably name Steven Tyler and Rachel Price as major influences in my style.
6. What is Space Monkey Mafia’s creative process?
Blake: All of our songs are actually traditional folk songs from our home planets. For instance, Day After Day is the national anthem of Joe’s home planet Bananulon, while Oligarchy is actually the pledge of allegiance on Tim’s home planet, Amazonia. Sometimes we take creative liberties and change the words up to make the songs more relatable to Earthlings. For instance, the real lyrics to Chicago are “You don’t have to go to Polaris, the hydrogen levels, stellar winds, and high energy radiation in Ursa Minor create insufficient survival conditions for simians anyway.” Sometimes less is more, you know?
Dante: Our process differs depending on who is the principal songwriter for a given tune. For example, Blake and Tim like to write out and arrange full songs before bringing them to the band, whereas my songs require at least one year of very involved left-hand-path ritual magic before I can even start on a verse which is why my songs tend to be few and far between. I don’t want to pigeonhole us into one creative process, though, I’d love to see us write more tunes collaboratively through jamming or maybe recruit a few acolytes to help expedite the ritual magic.
7. Rather than focus on social media campaigns Space Monkey Mafia developed the fanbase via live shows. How does Space Monkey Mafia feel about the current music landscape? What are some of your favorite ways to engage with fans at a show?
Blake: The internet is a strange place. Few know this, but the internet is an actual place. We’ve been there. When people speak of “the cloud”, they are actually referring to the Barnard 68 nebula, where hard copies of all your tweets, tiktoks, snapchats, gifs, nudes, and music float freely. We found there is a LOT of content floating around out there. While most of it is porn, there is also a lot of music content. All of this is a weird way of leading up to saying – while social media campaigns and internet content are a necessity for bands to stay relevant this day in age, we’ve found that the best way to authentically engage with fans is at a live show. The love and energy from a dancing crowd wearing our t-shirts and singing along to our music brings us a million times more joy than internet likes. That’s a genuine human connection that no AI bot generated art/music/entertainment could ever replace.
Dante: I think Blake summed it up perfectly, although I do want to add that one of my favorite parts of our development as a band in the past few years has been connecting with other ska bands around the globe via the social media-driven communities. Without the internet to amplify the voices of some truly dedicated artists (looking at JER), ska wouldn’t be experiencing the revival it is today.
8. In 2019 you released the EP “Captain Crook.” Was this EP inspired by an actual villainous crook? Could you share more about this EP?
Blake: Funny stories from the road have inspired the titles of all our albums. Captain Crook is an EP, so this story isn’t about an experience we had on the road, but rather one we had at sea. The year was 1718 and we had made the bold decision as a band to trek through the cold waters of the upper Atlantic on a wooden schooner to expose our music to new markets – Finland specifically. The trans-Atlantic voyage was smooth and unremarkable until we crossed through Copenhagen and our schooner was intercepted by Danish pirates. Their captain was a mammoth of a man with fiery red hair, one blue eye, one black, and a ferocious white badger named Björk sat upon his shoulder. Needless to say, we didn’t put up a fight. Though the pirates took our ship and left us floating in the Baltic Sea, it’s worth mentioning they could not have been nicer about it. While we were treading the cold Scandinavian waters waiting for someone to come rescue us, we got to talking and reminisced over a time on our first tour when we rescued a cat from the subzero winter in Crookston, Minnesota and named him Captain Crook. In that moment, we decided to name the EP after that cat and draw him in a space suit for the cover art (shoutout Emily). The royal danish navy showed up 4 hours later, and fortunately most of us didn’t get frostbite.
9. If a human eats money does it lose its value? Is that why they cannot eat it?
Blake: Money loses its value just by existing. That’s why I like to spend all of my money on things I can eat, such as groceries, house plants, art supplies, and my dog. If I could, I would eat the money itself, but I don’t because 1. It don’t taste very nice and 2. Destroying bank notes is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 333: Mutilation of national bank obligations, which includes “any other thing” that renders a note “unfit to be reissued”.
Speaking of the law, we are legally obligated to disclose that Space Monkey Mafia does not condone ingesting currency. Anybody at our shows swallowing dollar bills or coins (yes, it happens) is doing so by their own volition and Space Monkey Mafia assumes no responsibility for the digestional consequences of said behavior.
10. Two years later you released your album “Banned From California.” Are you legally allowed to speak about the ban? What was the process putting this album together?
Blake: Gavin Newsom blocked us on Twitter and made us sign an NDA. Our lawyers are in talks with Netflix to maybe someday tell the true story of the ban, in the form of a 12-part docuseries. Be on the lookout for that in 2037!
Dante: All I’ll say is – we didn’t start the fire.
The process of putting the album together was a hectic one to say the least. We got hit by the pandemic weeks after we started recording, so the process ended up being drawn out a year longer than we had planned.
11. How did Space Monkey Mafia keep their creative inspiration flowing during the quarantine? Did you develop any new techniques to your process?
Blake: In all seriousness, it was a brutal time for everybody. Here is the general timeline of how the pandemic played out:
We rang in 2020 while on tour down in Florida, playing a bar in my hometown Melbourne. We toured through New Orleans and Texas, then returned to the frozen tundra of Minnesota mid January and began recording our album, Banned from California. In February, our new trombone player Sam joined the band, which was coincidentally around the same time our original drummer Riley left the band (which put recording on hold indefinitely). We had touring plans for spring 2020 and were scrambling to find a new drummer until the world shut down. Early in quarantine, we tried to make the best of it – doing a lot of livestreams from our own apartments to keep ourselves and others entertained. Then in the summer of 2020, George Floyd was murdered in our neighborhood triggering a global uprising. Music wasn’t at the forefronts of our minds for the months following that. Eventually in late summer/early fall, our community finally started showing signs of healing, covid cases started coming down, and we could do small gatherings, so we all took a camping trip to the north shore together with our partners and started scheming plans for the future of the band. We got back into a regular rehearsal schedule and did some full-band ticketed livestreams. It wasn’t at all the same as a real concert experience, but it was something. And it kept our chops fresh. Our good friend Zach Spicer was subbing for us on drums throughout this time.
Unfortunately, we lost a lot of friends and family to the pandemic and the strain that quarantine put on people’s mental health. There were ups and downs (mostly downs), but come summer of 2021, we were finally able to play live shows again and we sold out our first show back. It was an incredible breath of fresh air. The trials of the pandemic changed us as people, but as a band, it certainly brought us closer together. To put a bow on this story, we went on to find the perfect new drummer, Eric, then we finally finished & released our album. We’ve continued recording & releasing music into 2022 and have no plans to slow down.
12. Your newest single “Its Always Sunny in Quarantine” plays off situations that are happening throughout human society. Is this song based off actual events?
Blake: Sort of. About a year ago, I ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. She told me a story of how she stepped out of quarantine after a year and a half in isolation to kiss one boy, and he gave her covid. Fortunately this was when the more mild omicron variant was dominant, so she recovered fully. I told her that story would make a great song, and sort of just ran with it. I remember writing the chorus on my drive home from the studio that day. When I got home, I just made up my own story for verse 1. Then a couple weeks later during Christmas time, I myself got a jolly ole case of covid, which was the inspiration for verse 2.
Dante: Not only did Blake knock it out of the park with the songwriting, I really like that this song gives us a catchy and irreverent way to call attention to the fact that the pandemic isn’t over. As covid becomes endemic, we still need to be checking on our immunocompromised loved ones who can’t come out to shows and be taking precautions where we can. It can be tough to bring that up in a live show setting (we aren’t trying to make anyone feel guilty!) and I think this song sets the tone right for that message.
13. What is next for Space Monkey Mafia?
Blake: Our calendar for spring & summer is filling up fast. We don’t have any solid announcements yet, but we plan to hit the road cross country again in 2023. We also have a whole album worth of material ready to record.
Dante: As we alluded to earlier, back on NGC 2174 we actually have the technology to convert memes into energy, making them an incredibly valuable raw material. We’ve got a pretty lucrative deal with a rival mafia to sell extraction rights for all of Twitter’s memes, but we’ve gotta move quick before the whole site goes up in flames. I’m guessing that’ll be most of our workload in 2023.
14. Where can readers listen to Space Monkey Mafia?
Blake: Our music is streaming everywhere, but if people want to support us, they can buy our music, CDs, and merch on https://spacemonkeymafia.bandcamp.com/