By Robert Saxton
Perhaps it’s unfair to open a profile on a talented local singer/songwriter with a comment about her appearance ahead of praise for her voice or some insight into her musical style or lyrical approach. At least it would be, if it were anyone other than Mel Monaco.
When Ms. Monaco strolls into a bustling coffee shop on a wonderfully sunny July afternoon to discuss her latest record, These Are Just Suggestions, she meets the gaze of those around her with a restrained but self-assured look with her breathtaking green eyes. She sits at the table, eager to chat about the EP that’s garnered so much attention, and suddenly the urge to draw some loose comparison to David Bowie’s anisocoria is nearly overwhelming. As a general rule, an artist’s looks ought not to enter into the conversation unless somehow pertinent.
For example, if one were having a conversation with say, a contortionist or even a look-alike, one could be forgiven for dwelling on the physical. In the presence of such a dynamic performer, however, it might be considered insulting, if not downright criminal, to focus solely physical attributes without even a single mention of Mel’s effortless alto vocals or her uncanny ability to captivate an entire room. Even without her band backing her up, Mel Monaco commands the attention of devoted fans and patrons alike; including those lucky enough to find themselves in the right place at the right time. Fortunately, track three from the sonically brilliant album is titled “My Eyes”, and it provides a golden opportunity to take the conversation in an ocular direction.
“Yes,” she laughed. “I’ve even been asked if they’re my real eyes.” After spending some time with the record, it’s clear that the track — one of seven on Mel’s most recent offering — has more to do with struggling to find true love and lasting affection, than with her actual eyes. Still, it’s difficult not to fixate. Geneticists can disagree all they like about the circumstances that coalesce to create rare colouring in the human iris. But when it comes to the rarity of Mel’s talent, there is simply no debate.
“I have it all visually happening,” she said. “And that is what makes a great performance.” Mel’s desire to connect with her listeners is undeniably apparent, and her considered, far off look betrays itself. “The imagery is happening in my head as I’m singing it, whether I’m the character or I’m seeing these characters as I’m singing the song. And […] that is the point that makes it a great show […] if I’m not doing that, how can I expect anyone in the audience to be feeling those same things.”
As a character in her own music, Mel’s numerous references to strength and discernment are juxtaposed against the often-painful life lessons that have afforded the 25-year-old songstress such a unique perspective. One example of the duality that inhabits the record occurs in the beautifully composed ballad “The Truth”. The piano-based song features a line in which we hear Mel state that while we “can’t run from a past/can’t escape,” we can “chose to feel and acknowledge.”
Both as a songwriter and as a young woman, Mel Monaco remains determined to transform the negative, collecting and packaging the choice gleanings as food for thought. In her remarkably catchy single “Cupid”, Mel confesses that “for a smart girl” she does “a whole lot of stupid.” When asked about that unflinching commitment to authenticity she stated, “I’m just being me, and letting it just flow out.”
As if that weren’t enough, Mel goes on to explain that she’s quite comfortable owning and exposing failures to provide rich and meaningful catharsis for her listeners. “I think I’m too young for everything to be going well,” she declared unapologetically. “Because a lot of time I think that’s what it is, it’s like you sieve yourself so much and see what comes out – like, where all the gold flakes fall, you know?”
Fortunately, the gold flakes seem to be falling anywhere Mel chooses to go these days. Her packed schedule is a testament to this fact. As a result, she has no desire to stop putting herself “through the meat grinder.”
“[I’m] happy, but that’s the funny part. It’s that constant reflection and constant reflexive attitude, I think, is what makes me happy – that constant analyzing.”
Notwithstanding, Mel conceded the process “can sometimes be very taxing.” Unwilling to play the victim however, Mel hopes that by approaching real vulnerability from a position of strength, she can inspire others to do so as well; taking chances in life and embracing failure with a win-some, learn-some attitude. In the upbeat and playful track “From The Mistakes”, Ms. Monaco admits to feeling pressured by the expectations of her critics and detractors, but she refuses to let it corrupt her purpose. She sings “maybe you’re judging me/saying I’m living too freely/but I’m living up to the potential that I could.” Of her shortcomings, she goes on to say, “I think it makes the world more picturesque.” And if the video for “Cupid” is any indication of what she means, one could hardly disagree.
With all this going for her, Mel still isn’t content. There’s more room for growth, and with plans to continue writing and recording as much as possible, we can look forward to the next phase in the steady progression of this homegrown gem.