Toronto girl band MONSTROSA write about their personal experiences with misogyny, homophobia, and mental illness on their self-titled debut album.
Toronto-based rock band MONSTROSA mix the edginess of 2000s emo rock, with the guitar riffs of heavy metal, and the political themes of Riot Grrrl. The all-girl band is a three-piece, made up of guitarist/vocalist Lauren Pryce, lead guitarist Emma Mochii, and bassist Shannon Fischer.
“We fully formed in June of 2019 and moved incredibly quickly from there," said Pryce. "Emma and I met in high school over ten years ago, where we bonded over our love of the band Muse and jammed regularly for years. I started writing original music, and after building up the courage and confidence, I reached out to Emma to see if she was interested in working on these songs with me. It’s pretty incredible being in this band with her after all those years."
The women met through mutual interests, including identifying as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
"We met our bassist Shannon at B.P.M. Music in Scarborough," said Pryce. "After a rehearsal there, B.P.M. owner Shawn Wludyka told us about a former student of his- Shannon Fischer. I was wearing a rainbow t-shirt that day and while describing her he mentioned that she
was gay. I later on found out from Shannon that she had told Shawn if he ever found a
band that he thought might be a good fit for her, to mention that she was gay. She told him “trust me, just tell them”, and I’m so happy he did. Finding other queer people who you connect with is something really valuable. I myself, and many other LGBTQ+ people I’m sure, struggle to find other LGBTQ+ friends and community connections. Meeting Shannon was a huge turning point because it meant I had connected with another queer artist who wanted to represent our community in our music.”
The friends combined their musical influences to create MONSTROSA's alternative sound.
"Our sound is a mix of heavy metal and emo rock," said Fischer. "We use a unique combination of heavy metal guitar riffs with melodic soft vocals. Front woman Lauren’s love for metal bands
such as System Of A Down, Lamb of God, and Gojira play a huge influence in her guitar
parts. Guitar-monies and chugging rhythms bring a heavy metal sound while Emma’s
fuzz solos reflect strong influences from rock acts like Muse and St. Vincent. While the
guitars and bass are rooted in metal music, the vocals are much softer than classic heavy
metal, hence the reason we call ourselves an alternative metal band."
MONSTROSA recorded their self-titled album in Scarborough.
"We went into the studio to start recording late January of this year," said Fischer. "We were simultaneously rehearsing for an upcoming show at The Cameron House, so while those rehearsals helped prepare us for the studio, we were also extremely busy- which came with stressors. We recorded our album at B.P.M. Music in Scarborough where owner Shawn Wludyka was our sound engineer. Having our music recorded professionally for the first time was surreal. The first time we heard our live-off-the-floor take of “Axes” we couldn't hide our excitement and joy. Recording gave us a chance to really bond. We spent long days together in the studio, we even brought food to create our own craft table, and became even closer friends than we were before."
Recording was a learning process for the young band.
"Having it be our first time ever recording, hearing ourselves back could be unpleasant at
times- which I think many musicians can relate to," said Pryce. "Hearing mistakes played back to you, or having to repeat a take over and over because it’s just not cutting it, is hard- but at the
same time it helps you discover your weak spots and drives you to improve them. All of us had challenging moments during our time in the studio, but we supported each other through it. Recording songs that are extremely personal to you and having them exposed in a studio is different than playing them live with an engaged audience. In this way studio recording, especially recording vocals, presented a challenge as it definitely brought to the surface some discomfort from vulnerability."
Overarching themes in MONSTROSA's self-titled album include empowerment for women and the LGBTQ+ community, fighting against the stigmas surrounding mental health, and overcoming trauma.
""Diagnosis' was written the week I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder," said Pryce. "BPD is an extremely stigmatized diagnosis and much of this stigma is steeped in misogynist ideologies. Women with BPD are stereotyped in society as “crazy,” manipulative, attention seeking and evil- words that even outside the context of BPD are often used to describe and dismiss women in sexist ways. BPD is also heavily stigmatized in the medical field, as I was unable to find treatment and was immediately labelled “a problem patient” after my diagnosis. In my final year of undergrad I was fortunate enough to do an undergrad thesis under the guidance of the incredible Nancy Johnston. For my paper I researched and wrote about the gendered stigmatization of BPD. I was awarded the Anita Fitzgerald Prize for my paper and 100% of the money I was awarded went to recording this song."
Although the song explores some bleak themes, Pryce wanted to include a hopeful message for those struggling with mental illness.
"The second chorus is purposefully different and meant to represent hope, because if you
keep fighting you can and will meet the right professionals who care about you and want
to help you," said Pryce. "The first chorus is meant to validate how hard it is to get help. The line “the help available is as fake as usual” is calling out therapists and medical professionals who
mistreat individuals with BPD. While I am a strong believer in therapy, we can’t just tell people to reach out for help without understanding how many barriers there are for individuals to receive this help, whether it's Transphobia and Racism across the medical field, or being given a stigmatized diagnosis like BPD."
A friend's experience with home invasion inspired MONSTROSA to write "Break In".
""Break In" was written for the band's friend Marco after his house was broken into," said Fischer. "Lauren was present the night it occurred and was left worrying about him as he seemed extremely vulnerable in that moment. Quite fittingly the demo of “Break In” was recorded and mixed by Marco in his basement, however Lauren never told Marco that the song was written about him as a message of love and care. “Break In” was re-recorded on our studio album."
"Axes" came from the bandmates' shared experiences with misogyny in the music scene.
"“Axes” was the very first song we set out to record in the studio," said Fischer. "The summer before last Lauren and Emma had been guitar shopping and were met all too frequently with sexist attitudes from men working in these stores. “She’s got a brand new axe” quite literally
refers to the new “axe”, or guitar, Emma bought that summer, which is a Music Man St. Vincent guitar- designed by one of her favourite guitarists Annie Clark herself. Lauren wrote the song both as a tribute to Emma’s badass-ery, as a musician and artist, as well as to give a middle finger to sexist men in the music industry, from the guitar shops all the way up to the highest positions in management. There are too many men in the industry who think it’s their place to gate-keep women out, and who treat women like they don't know anything about music. “I swear she’ll cut you in half”, so these sexist men better move!"
Pryce wrote the fourth track on MONSTROSA in dedication to her baby niece.
“Into The Light” was written the day my niece Kathleen was born, in dedication to her," said Pryce. "At Kathleen’s baby shower there was a picture book that guests filled with their
messages of love and advice. I couldn't come up with anything to write in the book that day, so I wrote this song instead. “I need you to know that when life tests you, I will be here, be here when you need me the most”, is a message I want her to grow up remembering through every single stage of life, since they all come with unique challenges.”
The fifth track describes a struggle for self-identity while battling mental demons.
"“Hollow” is probably the darkest song on the album," said Pryce. "Written about internalized biphobia, “Hollow” dives deep into the everyday struggles of someone living with a mental health
diagnosis and trying to survive. “The past is really hard to swallow”, is a testament to the immense impact trauma has on people’s lives. We hope that “Hollow”, despite it’s heavy themes, helps people feel validated. Internalized hatred about one's own sexuality is an incredibly painful thing to navigate, and we truly hope that one day LGBTQ+ individuals will no longer have to experience this pain."
MONSTROSA speak out against misogynistic violence with their instrumental track "Attacker".
"“Attacker” is the only instrumental track on our album," said Fischer. "This was a decision we came to in the studio, as it originally had lyrics. “Attacker” was written from our collective anger
towards the normalization of gender-based violence and harassment. We kept it as an
instrumental because we felt the vocals were stepping on the bass and guitar parts too
much- and who knows, maybe we’ll surprise audiences with the vocals live sometime.
Emotion doesn’t always have to be conveyed through lyrics, and we were happy with our
decision to make it an instrumental."
"Save You" explores the difficult conversation around working towards bettering yourself.
"“Save You” delivers a difficult message in a gentle way," said Pryce. "The bass and guitar harmonies create a dreamy verse, which is contrasted with a much heavier chorus. “So watch
yourself, because no one else, will take care of you and save you”, is both a scary concept and an empowering one. While having to navigate life with all our lived experiences can be exhausting, even leading us to the point of wanting to give up, there is power in knowing you have saved yourself, over and over and over again. Taking care of yourself is something that takes work to learn, and while we may not always have the capacity to do this work, we are worth it. No one is replaceable."
In "All Hail", MONSTROSA asks us to show our love for women.
"“All Hail” is our love letter to women everywhere," said Fischer. "Love in a gay way, a platonic way, in every way. We are women who care about other women, and we wanted to make that
message loud, simple, and clear in this song- also the guitar-monies are wild."
After the release of MONSTROSA, the women received glowing feedback.
"The feedback we have received has been really positive, which means the absolute world
to all of us," said Pryce. "A few special mentions would have to be Hes Bell’s fan art of our single
release art, and a cassette tape of our last live show recorded and gifted to us by Stan MacDonald. Many people have gone out of their way to tell us what their favourite song off the album was, or which songs really spoke to them. These kinds of messages are always really
touching to receive. We were surprised by how many people responded to the song “Hollow”, and how it touched on their own personal experiences. When we get messages like this it means we are reaching the people we want to reach. The audiences at our shows reflect this too, the vast majority of our audience being young women and LGBTQ+ folks. Sending uplifting messages to women, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with mental health struggles- as well as trying to make them feel seen was a deeper goal on this album that we are blessed to have accomplished on any scale."
The band are thankful to have had the opportunity to create with like-minded artists.
"We’ve also had the pleasure of collaborating with other artists," said Fischer. "Photographer and art director Zelina Aziz was the genius behind our Cameron House promo shoot, and we’ve had the pleasure of working with photographer and editor Katie Ferreira multiple times. Drag queen Alissa Brink- the Punk, Metal, Riot Fairy of Toronto, opened for us at Cameron House and we are hoping to do a video collab with her in the future. Playing on bills with other queer artists is such a gift."
MONSTROSA hopes their audience finds a sense of community and comfort in their music.
"Listening to music is a very personal experience, as people can draw many different meanings from a single song," said Fischer. "Even with our darker themes we hope that our music provides people with a sense of community and comfort, and a reminder that they are not alone. We want to spread a message of love, to the LGBTQ+ community, women, people living with diagnoses, and anyone else who has struggled to find belonging. We also want people to know that it’s okay to talk about mental health. No one is a burden and talking about your struggles does not make you an “attention seeker”. We want to break stereotypes about BPD, as Lauren has struggled so much with this stigma and wants to be the positive representation of women with BPD she never had. We also want to show that women have a place in heavy genres of music. Connecting with so many other women and queer bands online since the pandemic hit has been such an uplifting
experience and we are absolutely dying to play shows with all these amazing artists once it is finally safe to do so."
(Postponed due to COVID-19.)