The 21st Century Monads are without a doubt the most creative and musically sophisticated philosophical band currently in activity (the fact that they may be the only philosophical band currently in activity does not diminish the superlatives!). The members are Kris McDaniel (Syracuse), Ben Bradley (Syracuse) and Carrie Jenkins (Nottingham); they have already released two albums and are now working on their third. Their songs are usually quite funny, and very often display a level of philosophical complication on a par with Kant and Hegel and the other German dudes. Some of the titles are: "Utilitarian girlfriend", "The transitive property", "My paper was rejected again", "A priori", "I think I might be grounded in you", "In the land of P and not P" -- you get the picture.
A week ago I wrote a blog post on one of their new songs, "I like to see the ladies", which is now the theme song of the gendered conference campaign. Upon realizing that I was myself very curious to know more about this peculiar entity known as the 21st Century Monads, it occurred to me that there might be many others out there in the same situation. So I asked the Monads whether they'd be willing to give an exclusive interview to New APPS, and they graciously agreed. Here is the first part of the interview (two more to come), conducted by email (not surprising, given that the band records their songs also per email, or Dropbox to be more precise).
Catarina: How did the 21st Century Monads become a unified ontological item? How did the parts come together to form the whole? After all, we all know that monads don’t really interact with other monads…
Kris: Around 1996-1998, while I was in college at Western Washington University, I was a member of another philosophy band, simply called “The Monads”. The Monads consisted primarily of me and another philosophy graduate student, Shawn Larsen-Bright (who is now a lawyer), with some occasional guest guitar playing by Justin Klocksiem (who is now a professional philosopher). At some point near the end of our time together at WWU, we recorded a bunch of our songs, and then mailed a number of professional philosophers cassette tape recordings of the songs. The album was titled “A Sad of Affairs”. (The original album can be found on the 21CM website.) I’m not sure of the mechanisms, but somehow the Monads became a kind of underground hit. During grad school I would periodically get emails from people from all over the world frequently asking if there were any more Monads songs they could listen to. (For example, at one point there was even a site in Russian devoted to the Monads, the remnants of which can be found here (http://www.humanities.edu.ru/db/msg/7613).) Who knew there would be such an audience?
Anyways, although I continued to enjoy playing music as a hobby, I didn’t do much in the way of making philosophy-themed song music until relatively recently. In 2008 I bought an Intel IMac that I used as the core of a computer-based recording studio. Roughly around this time, Carrie Jenkins was writing and releasing original music of her own, most of which was not philosophically-themed, but all of which was wonderful. At some point prior to the creation of the 21st Century Monads, I decided to try my hand at adding additional instrumentation to one of her songs and then mixing it my home studio. Roughly at the same time, Carrie had created two fun remixes of original Monads songs (“The Skeptic Song” and “Counterparts”), as well as a fantastic cover of the Monads song “Modus Tollens”. (All three of these are available on the 21CM webpage as well.) We decided to collaborate on a cover of a song from the Doctor Horrible web-musical, of which we both were big fans. And she had recently finished and released a version of the song “a Priori”, which would soon become a part of the first 21st Century Monads album. When I decided to reboot the Monads, how could I not want her to be a part of the new incarnation? The first two 21CM songs released were “My Paper was Rejected Again”, which was completely done by me, and “a Priori”, which was all done by Carrie. Our first truly joint effort was “When Does Composition Occur?” Afterwards I asked Ben to join the band. Both Ben and Carrie are classically trained musicians who are serious multi-instrumentalists, and it’s really a lot of fun for me to get to make music with such talented people. It’s also a bit intimidating.
Carrie: I was so psyched to get an email from Kris asking me to be a 21st Century Monad. I was already a big fan the original Monads; like Kris says, they had a great underground following and their music made people very happy. Kris comes up with fun ideas for songs at an incredible rate and has the kind of energy that spills out of the songs so you can’t listen without being infected. I’m not sure I count as a “serious multi-instrumentalist” though. But it’s true that I am intimidating.
Ben: Kris comes into my office and he’s all, “dude, you want to join the Monads?” So I’m like, “OK I guess so, as long as I don’t really have to do anything, you dig?” And he’s all, “cool. Udaman.” And I’m like, “yeah.”
Kris: I should also mention our M.o.M. and D.A.D. Kevin Klement offered to host “My Paper was Rejected Again” when I first released it. After the 21CM formed, he took over all the duties associated with producing, maintaining, and updating our webpages and podcasts. Paul Prescott, who actually used to work as a graphic designer before becoming a philosopher, is our art director: in addition to creating our logos, he is in charge of the design and production of the cover art for our songs.
Catarina: But Kris and Carrie, had you met personally before Kris asked Carrie to join the band? I’m assuming you would have, as philosophy is a pretty small world, but if you hadn’t, it would be yet another funny case of internet match-making! I understand that Ben was mostly dragged into the whole thing and still pretends to be wondering what exactly is happening…
Carrie: Yes, Kris and I had met a few times. I’m sure I’d met Ben at least once too.
Kris: I’m trying to think of when we first met. Maybe at the Bellingham conference? I know that we talked about music at a philosophy conference before the 21CM came into being, at the Metaphysical Mayhem at Rutgers. That was the first time we had talked about music in person. I think you had just gotten your piano?
(To be continued...)