One Wanted: Interview with Ian Jacobs of Monograms
Written by Kyle Nutter
Photography by Rick Perez
Knowing that our environment shapes us is like knowing that we need oxygen to breathe. It’s knowledge of things we cannot change. For instance, if one lived in the middle of Kansas on a farm, it’s safe to say that individual will know how to erect a cattle fence. It’s not that s/he started out to understand fences. It was necessitated based on the environment one lives in. Living in NYC requires a certain lifestyle. It takes 45 minutes to travel 4 miles. Savings accounts are spent on brunch. The city environment is unforgiving. Life is simultaneously restrictive and ridden with opportunity. There are endless venues open all night but the train only makes one trip there and one trip back. It’s a place that makes relying on people difficult because everyone is so damn busy just trying to survive. Ian Jacobs of Monograms met up with me at a place that tries to be two things simultaneously to appeal to a larger audience and consequently survive in a tough industry. South 4th Cafe and Bar is a cafe during the day and morphs into a bar at night. We drank Bloody Marys at noon.
Monograms started as Jacobs’ solo project. It was born out of the unconscious desire to remove the obstacles of his last band. The main problem was rigidity. Everything was done by Jacobs’ and his bandmate. Writing, rehearsing, performing. In order for things to work, two people’s schedules and priorities had to align. And they did. But they didn’t always. And you can’t ask someone to avoid work for an unpaid gig.
There is freedom in doing things alone. Only one set of needs must be met. The process is lighter and goals are achieved quicker. The outcome relies entirely on one person. So, Jacobs began writing and producing music on his own. He would record loops and play them later on stage. With no one to rely on, Jacobs would have flexibility. And it was flexibility he was after. He removed obstacles to his success by removing liabilities. Monograms’ structure is a product of Jacobs’ environment.
With nimbleness, however, comes isolation. Objective self-criticism becomes necessary to combat attachment to the project. Jacobs once scrapped 15 finished songs because he didn’t like them. Although still holding the reins, Jacobs has brought additional members into Monograms. He found it was more fun to play with others, and the feedback strengthened the music. Regardless of the additions, the music of Monograms is interchangeable. Each part can be removed, added, or changed. This keeps the flexibility Jacobs sought. The songs shift and tweak the subtleties that make sound into music. It’s a model that works for Monograms, and after hearing their music, it works for me.