Press the bottom buzzer and head to the top floor of the Hi-N-Dry
and the air feels thick, like a sacred space. The former home of
Morphine frontman Mark Sandman now stands as a temple to low rock, and
devotees of the unmistakable format can rest assured that a new family
of low rockers plans to keep it alive.
“We haven't changed the configuration,” said Dana Colley, the
saxophonist, on a recent rainy night's visit to the recording studio,
which, no longer zoned residentially, he maintains with former
Morphine-mate Billy Conway. “It's pretty much the way Mark had it.”
The freight elevator opens up to a room at once cavernous and yet
warm, filled with oriental carpets and galleries of guitars, the walls
adorned with work by local artist and musician Asa Brebner, lights dim,
air fragrant. Hi-N-Dry is a label and studio, the home base of a
community of musicians who use the loft as a base for collaboration.
The balance of homage to the past and grappling ahead to the future
seem to drive the newest configuration, with whom Monique Ortiz is
gearing up to record with her new band, A.K.A.C.O.D. It's there in the
Graceland of the movement that she drives the low rock she may have
been born to play.
Ortiz, 34, made her name as the leader of Bourbon Princess with her
trademark fretless bass and low, silky voice. Her entrance to that
chapter of Boston music reads like a fairy tale. Tired of Lancaster ,
PA , she discovered Morphine while watching Spanking the Monkey ,
for which the band did the soundtrack. And from a chance encounter with
Sandman, she now sits in the company of Colley and Larry Dersch, of
Binary System, Either/Orchestra, Concussion Ensemble, etc. Monique
assembled with A.K.A.C.O.D, and spoke of where the band with the
acronymical name is heading.
The low rock sound of the Morphine trio was something to which Ortiz
immediately responded. Life in Lancaster , Pennsylvania was growing
“So I bought a ticket to see Morphine,” she said. After a show at
the Trocadero on May 5, 1996, she met Sandman, who suggested she move
to Cambridge .
She described Lancaster in the mid-'90s as a difficult creative
climate. “I was really burned out on the bands I was playing with,” she
said. “I felt oppressed. They didn't want me to sing,” and they didn't
support her efforts to write her own music. She hungered for
collaborators more driven by bass and low frequencies.
That September, she moved to Cambridge . Her time here has also
included work with The Collisions, The Twinemen, and Orchestra
Morphine. “Ten years went by really fast,” she said. Boston bands
played sounds she responded to, and collaborators here listened and
“Going back to Pennsylvania , it feels like there's nothing there,” she said. “This is definitely home.”
Her smoky, velvet voice entwines naturally with Colley's legendary
saxophone. At a summer show at the Middle East , Ortiz and the band
grooved through a low, driving set of rolling deep bass, a ghostly
Morphine-like essence inevitably discussed by those who were there to
The theme of loss to this group is impossible to ignore. Colley ruminated on the topic in the loft of his former bandmate.
“If you experience the loss of something, it influences every angle
of life from that day on,” he said. “But it's a point of growth. We are
trying to find a way to have our own voices, our own imprint if you
will…. What matters now is the forward progression.”
That includes continuing to mint the low rock sound, although the
members of A.K.A.C.O.D hesitate to label their music any more
“You're always defined by your past,” said Colley. “Maybe it has a
sound, and it's low rock for sure. I'm not afraid to own up to where
I'm coming from.”
Where Ortiz comes from is a place where low rock could have very
well been laced through her very DNA. “The reason I can say the
fretless bass is for me is that I can't figure out when or how I knew,”
she said. Her first instruments were woodwinds. She grew up listening
to Roxy Music and Talk Talk. “I feel very limited playing fretted
instruments… That kind of breathing, the sound of a fretless bass goes
very well with reeds—they work well together.”
But what's in a name? Saving the painfully inevitable seafood or
cash-on-delivery jokes, it seems the name attempts to place more focus
on the musical product and less on the label.
“It's kind of ridiculous,” said Ortiz of the name. “There are so
many bands out there now,” she said, and to try too hard at a label may
just be a waste of time. “This name seems like a happy accident.” She
explained that if people care for the sound of the band, the name
itself loses relevance in comparison to the content. “I used to think
that Ween was a stupid name for a band,” she said, but once growing to
love their music, it was never a second thought, and added the same for
Godspeed, You Black Emperor! “After a while, the music makes a name; it
doesn't really matter.”
So far, the process of the newly formed outfit – Ortiz, Colley, and
Larry Dersch or an occasionally alternating substitute on drums make up
the “C.O.D” portion of the name —has been loose, the band rehearsing
minimally other than playing out together. Their process pays homage to
the “Sandman school,” injected Colley, referring to Sandman's habit of
recording bits and rolling over them, examining them and letting them
grow. A record is due out before too long, as is an official web site.
Meantime, MP3s are available on the band's myspace page ( www.myspace.com/akacod ).
The “Sandman school” method has worked for Ortiz, she said, who
describes the process as freeing. “I never realized how rigid I'd
become,” she joked. “It really opened things up. [Dana and Larry had]
this idea that you don't have to throw things away. We record
everything; the things we don't like, we put aside for a while and come
back to it later, or not at all.”
Ortiz said that the process has consisted of the band convening,
hitting play at the beginning of a session and seeing what happens,
with “no solid timeline” for the recording. Colley followed that the
next couple of months will include time to stretch out in the studio
and further develop the ideas created at live performances so far.
“Recording here has been like coming home,” said Dersch. “It's so
relaxed here but not in a way that makes you lazy. You think and work
Ortiz said it's a change from her room at home. “Playing in this
room makes me feel like I'm 15 again,” she said. “There's no pressure.
It feels very natural.”
And her company is no small part of that.
“It's kind of hard playing with people you really looked up to for
so many years,” said Ortiz. “It's fun playing with all great musicians;
but that's when the self-conscious thing kicks in. You think, ‘Damn, am
I good enough?'
“When I moved here,” she recalled, “I couldn't play and sing at the same time.”
Colley added, “It's still the hardest thing. It's like rubbing your
stomach, patting your head and chewing gum, times a thousand.”
For Dersch, he said that he can hardly remember a time before
meeting Ortiz. “It's like Monique has always been around,” he said.
“Monique is unique with an M,” he joked. “I really take to her stuff. I
can really get in there with her. It's a joy to play with her. She
writes great stuff with a lot of depth, and it's a lot of fun.”
Colley said that the past year has been a big one for Ortiz. “Within
the past year, I've seen a lot of personal growth with Monique and her
songwriting,” he said. “I'm fortunate to be around her.”
Ortiz's past includes time spent as a veterinary technician. She
speaks of her work modestly, although band members laud her abilities
as “gifted.” That's work that for now she has put on the shelf, other
than by helping out friends once in a while.
“I feel extremely passionate about it, but I had to step away,” she
explained. “When you work in a shelter, you have to put animals to
sleep a lot, and the general public doesn't understand. They are very
quick to call you a murderer and I needed a little break.”
The local Boston community continues to inspire Ortiz. “I always
really liked Milo Jones and Thalia Zedek; they take a lot of chances,”
she said, describing them as “beautifully abrasive.”
Otherwise, Ortiz said she currently enjoys Mark Lanegan, Dead
Meadow, and Lungfish among her listening choices. “A lot of heavy
shit,” she laughed.
Colley, on the other hand, cites younger influences.
His playlist: “The subtle variations of a seven and a half month old
child as he pours his emotions through tiny lungs in the wee hours of
A.K.A.C.O.D. performs live at The Noise 's holiday party at the Abbey on Saturday, 12/16/06. They go on right before The Rudds.