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Q&A With Ami Shalev of Monotonix

Naked and Free

Getting naked on stage, surfing across the crowd, or climbing the stage structure are all ways of acting freely, but when Monotonix’s lead singer, Ami Shalev says he wants to be “free” it means more. After being banned from most venues in Israel, Monotonix has extensively toured internationally. Read accounts of the band’s show and you’ll discover that not only does its take on garage rock sound great, but its performances break boundaries between strangers, stripping fans of their concerns and bringing them together in a raucous party. SF Station spoke over the phone with Ami Shalev from his home in Israel. He arrives in San Francisco with Monotonix at the Rickshaw Stop on January 28th.

SF Station (SFS): Did you get in trouble in school for being a class clown?

Ami Shalev (AS): Yes, you could say so, but not really a troublemaker because since the beginning of high school I barely ever showed up for school.

SFS: When you’re off stage, do you like to be the center of attention or do you need time alone?

AS: Usually I like to take my time and be alone, but sometimes I like to be with friend in a very mellow way. I’m not young, you know. I’m forty-six years old.

SFS: In light of the fact that you’re forty-six years old, I hear that your performances are very engaging. How do you recover from them?

AS: When I’m not touring, I’m doing a lot of sports. I’m running, biking, and working hard to maintain my body. It’s tough to recover from the shows so I’m always keeping myself in good shape.

SFS: So to be a part of Monotonix you have to train not just as a musician, but as an athlete?

AS: The music is like 20 percent of the scene, and the other 80 percent is the physical act that we’re doing — and to tell you the truth, I like it.

SFS: How did your live show start to evolve from playing in the middle of the floor?

AS: I played in a band before and every time I performed I felt like I was in a cage or a prison on stage. This band [Monotonix] allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do, and take my energy and excitement of the show to the level that I wanted it to be. To get my excitement to translate into a physical act, it makes me feel free and good.

SFS: What is it about feeling free that feels good?

AS: The thing that makes me feel good is that I can do whatever I want during the show. I can jump. I can run. I can climb. Do whatever I want. It’s not just being on stage and committed only to the music.

SFS: I imagine that hoisting the drummer on someone’s shoulders, or getting naked — that’s the free to do whatever you want that you’re talking about.

AS: Yes, of course. I would like to perform without clothes because it makes me free. After the first song it’s very hot, and I sweat — so it makes me feel free. The whole idea of this is to feel free, and to have fun.

SFS: Is Monotonix’s need for freedom a result of potentially everyday feelings that surround Israel’s perils of war and looming military issues?

AS: The situation is that we are a young country, and we can’t avoid that we surrendered to enemies, but people want to live like the normal people in the Western world, I must say. I guess you’re right that it’s a bit conservative in terms of peoples’ dress and haircut, but I guess inside in the state of mind, Israeli people are very free-minded about things.

SFS: After three years of doing this type of set, are you still free since there are expectations now that might limit you? What is the next step to be free?

AS: The other thing that will make me feel free is to be a support band for the Canadian band Rush. They got a contract with NASA that if there is a rock concert on the moon, Rush was going to be the band that plays. So I want to be the support band for Rush in this show. We can’t be without clothes because we’ll need oxygen masks, but I guess it will be free because there is no gravitation on the moon.

Monotonix perform at Rickshaw Stop on January 28th. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. The show starts at 8:30pm.