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This Monky's gone to heaven

With the release of their hugely impressive Turbulence album, LA/Irish outfit Saucy Monky have emerged as genuine contenders. As the critical plaudits continue to mount up, twin lead vocalists and songwriters Cynthia Catania and Annmarie Cullen step up to the mic.

Olaf Tyaransen, 12 Oct 2004

In common with many Los Angeles residents, Saucy Monky’s Annmarie Cullen and Cynthia Catania have had more than their fair share of celebrity encounters.

According to the band’s rather light-hearted press release, Annmarie once had her van’s battery recharged by none other than Jean Paul Gaultier when she broke down in Beverly Hills (“He wasn’t much of a mechanic but he was very nice!”). We also learn that in a previous incarnation as ‘the meanest waitress in California’, Cynthia has had the pleasure of serving coffee to Madonna, Sheryl Crow and Eric Clapton.

Apparently though, it was rather less pleasurable waiting on the actor James Woods.

“Oh – he was just a bitch!” Cynthia exclaims. “Nah, it’s just the service industry – I’m trying to forget about those days actually.”

“Oh go on – tell the story!” Annmarie cajoles her. “He’s not gonna read it!”

“Oh, you think I should tell the story?” she smiles. “You want me to elaborate? Nah, people are multi-faceted so maybe he was just having a bad day. He was just being really pissy. There was a homeless guy sitting about a foot-and-a-half from him and he was having a tantrum that the homeless person was in the vicinity of his table. And then he was just mean to the help, so I wasn’t very impressed.”

It transpires that Annmarie has a James Woods story of her own.

“When Naimee [Coleman] first came to visit me in LA, he pulled up beside us at traffic lights,” she says. “We were going, ‘Hey – there’s James Woods!’ And he was obviously having a great day because he rolled down his window and he was, like, ‘Hi girls!’ And Naimee asked, ‘Can I film you?’ and he was like, ‘Sure!’ And he asked where we were from and when we told him, he was like, ‘Ireland? Up the Ra!’ Ha, ha! I’m serious! We were laughing and going, ‘Tiochaigh ár lá!’”

Saucy Monky’s day may not yet have come, but the LA-based indie band are doing their damnedest to make things happen. Right now, they’re nearing the end of a whirlwind Irish promotional tour that has seen them play a number of blistering showcase gigs (they’ve still got dates in Cork and Galway’s Roisin Dubh to go) and do numerous press and radio interviews to promote their just-released DEBUT album proper, the hugely impressive Turbulence.

It’s midday Monday in mid-September and we’re sitting in a near-deserted bar on Merrion Row. The girls have just recorded an interview for The Buzz with Bianca Luycx and in a few hours it’s a session for Tom Dunne. They’re a funny pair – pretty, sparky, saucy and most definitely rock chicks (they’re both carrying guitars). In person, as on record, they complement each other well, occasionally finishing each other’s sentences.

Co-lead singers and guitarists, the girls first met up one fateful night in 2001 when they were accidentally double-booked to play the same slot at a Hollywood venue. Discovering shared musical influences in the likes of PJ Harvey, the Pretenders, U2, Prince and Aimee Mann, they hit it off immediately, and when Annmarie was invited to host a songwriters’ night at a local music club in Venice, she invited Cynthia to come along and jam. The girls soon hooked up with Carson Cohen and Adam Marcello on bass and drums, and almost by accident Saucy Monky was born. They hadn’t planned on forming a band but, as Annmarie says, “It just sort of happened.”

“Yeah, the whole Saucy Monky thing came together very quickly,” Cynthia explains. “I think we did a college tour within two or three months of forming. It was all really organic. We had so much fun doing it. It just brought the joy back into the music. Sometimes when you’re too hell-bent on a goal, the joy evaporates. But that was the really wonderful thing about meeting Annmarie and starting this band. It was really joyful.”

Originally from New Jersey, Cynthia had worked in the New York music scene for years before moving to LA in her mid-20s. “It was exciting to see what was going on in the rest of the country because New York is so isolated, as many cities are in their own way,” she says. “But there were all these really interesting singer/songwriters that were happening when I moved to LA. It was really encouraging. You know, in the past I wrote and I grew up playing keyboards and stuff like that, but I didn’t pick up a guitar until I moved to LA. And even just that, for me, changed my life.”

Annmarie is originally from Dublin, but moved over to LA seven years ago.

Her first cousin was murdered Sunday Independent crime writer Veronica Guerin.

“I was in the States when it happened,” she says sadly. “I didn’t come back immediately. Bernie [Veronica’s mother] told me not to. I came back a few weeks later when all the fuss had died down, because apparently that’s more important. You know, to people who’ve suffered a bereavement it only really hits home a couple of months later.

“But to be honest with you, I wasn’t very familiar with Veronica’s work, but she was the funniest person I’d ever met in my life. A lot of people don’t realise just how funny she was. She was hysterical, always a great person to have around. She was hugely charismatic and I’m not surprised that she got so many people to talk, because she just had the gift and the power to do that. She was a great mother and a great cousin. It was just an awful shame.

“We’re very close still – myself and Bernie. Sometimes I get a little bit of pressure from my family to come back home and stuff like that because they miss me and I understand that. But Bernie understands that Veronica had a passion and a calling and she followed it because she couldn’t but. You know, when something is that strong. Bernadette gets that with me – you have to follow your heart. And I really appreciate that about her. She’s a strong, wonderful woman.”

Although Annmarie is the only Irish member (Marcello and Cohen are also American), the band visit these shores regularly. They were last over to play at Oxegen and all going well, they’ll be coming back here again early in the new year. In a few days time they’ll be returning to LA to launch Turbulence over there and play a college tour.

Although the band’s first (mini) album Celebrity Trash was also critically acclaimed when it was released in 2003, but the girls profess themselves much happier with their latest effort.

And while the first single from the album is an inspired cover of Divinyl’s ‘I Touch Myself’, the rest of the songs are the girls’ own. Do they collaborate on the songs or write them separately?

“We’ve done it all the different ways possible at this stage,” Cynthia explains. “Sometimes Annmarie comes in with a chorus and we just come up with verses together – or vice versa. We have an undeniable chemistry together.”

“We’re pretty diverse with our lyrical subject matter as well,” Annmarie adds. “There’s a lot of despair, but there’s also a lot of hope. Or desperate optimism!”

On the song ‘Boyz’ [“Get over it/You can live without her/You can live without the shallow conversation”] you seem to be selling your sisters out . . .

“We wrote that one together,” Cynthia laughs. “It was a germ of an idea – just poking fun at some of the Los Angeles stereotypes. You know, there’s some funny personalities in that world. I think those personalities exist in Dublin as well, but we were just poking fun at plastic surgery and all those LA things. And being a girl and feeling inferior to someone who might get attention for having certain attributes – whether they’re natural or false! That’s all it was really.”

Of course, as an indie band without a major record deal (the album is released on Cynthia’s own OlivoiL Records label), the members of Saucy Monky live in each other’s pockets most of the time. They supplement their income with occasional sound engineering but generally most of their money comes from gigs, album sales and the occasional TV royalty (they’ve had songs used on Dawson’s Creek and a few MTV reality shows). Do things ever get tense?

“Not really,” Annmarie laughs. “But luckily we don’t live together. We see each other enough already anyway!”

Not only do they not have a major record deal, nor do they have a manager – which makes what they’ve achieved to date even more impressive.

“No, we don’t have a manager,” Annmarie admits. “I don’t even know if I should say that, but we don’t. We’ve been approached but I guess we’re just still waiting on the right person, because I do think a lot of people jump into that too soon. It’s a bit like taking on a boyfriend or a girlfriend. You kinda get blindsided by the fact that someone wants to manage you, and you get impressed by that, and they make you feel important, so you rush in. But this is so important. This is someone who’s gonna take up to a fifth of what you earn and can really make or break you.

“I used to be managed, when I had my solo project, by the Christina Aguilera crew. And they were great and stuff but it taught me the lesson that you have to keep your eye on your own backyard, because nobody’s gonna care about it as much as you do. And you need to oversee it. I’m not saying be a control freak but you need to oversee everything and get briefed on everything because the wrong manager can do more harm to you than no manager.”

Turbulence is out now on OlivoiL Records

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