Time to bide

September 3

Monty Bevins settles down.

THESE STREETS ALL DISAPPEAR INTO A PORCUPINE HORIZON ‘TIL / SOMETHING NEW AND SHINING ARRIVES TO FEAST YOUR EYES ON / SEVEN YEARS OF RUNNING AWAY, FESTER IN THE DISARRAY – ‘BE HERE NOW’

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PHOTO: DEREK MORRISON, BOXOFLIGHT.COM

When Monty Bevins took to touring, he really took to touring. It was 2012. He was working in a bike shop in Wellington, playing a covers gig once a week in Miramar, and contemplating the end of a relationship. One day, he thought, “I’m not doing it, and I want to be out there doing it.” He packed his sensible Toyota to the gunnels with guitars, amps, bikes and a kayak, rolled onto the Interislander, and hit the road full time – proper full time. He never went home, because he just stopped having one. “That was me. Apart from spending six months in Brighton, Dunedin, I was of no fixed abode until 2019.” He played at least 150 shows a year for seven years, crashing on couches and spare beds and in the backrooms of venues. It was troubadour stuff, and it won him a loyal following.

Monty, who has just dropped his first full-length album, Time To Bide, is often called a singer-songwriter. And he is, in that he writes, composes and performs, his own material. But what he does is more interesting than that. For one, there’s the way he plays. It’s primarily acoustic, but he hits the strings hard, not in a power chord kind of way, but as if he’s trying to extract as much as he can from each plucked note, each strummed beat. His guitar becomes more than the sum of its parts. Then there’s the lyrics. More on that later, but if you don’t well up at lines like, “what’s a country dog / doing on a city sidewalk / how his teeth they chatter, leather tattered / feet far from home,” you are a husk of a human.

“The past is more than a story, it’s a sound”

Originally from Auckland, Monty dates his writing back to a poem he composed for his grandfather’s funeral when he was 12 years old. Music came slightly later, when he was 15, after his cousin showed him a few chords. From then on, says, playing became a sanctuary: “I took solace in playing guitar by myself in the corner of the living room. That was such a pure time.”

Monty moved to Dunedin to study Management and Psychology, where he ran into an old primary school friend who was running open mics. “I started joining him for gigs at pubs, and then I started doing my own gigs at pubs, and I never looked back.”

He headed for London, where he spent a year and half playing up to five gigs per week, hauling his guitar and two speakers on a trolley from venue to venue. In true OE-style, Monty often performed in bars

frequented by Kiwis, plying them with Crowded House and Fat Freddy’s Drop. He not only became what he calls “gig- hardened”, but playing those covers over and over laid the foundations for his future as a solo artist. “I tried to choose mostly good songs. I didn’t realise it, but I was learning to be a better songwriter.”

(Speaking of gig-hardened, I once watched Monty execute a very complicated guitar string swap while telling jokes, layering vocals on his loop station, and harmonising with himself for several verses. The man has three brains.)

Back in Aotearoa, he started to perform his own originals, and to develop his sound. I’ve seen it described as “soul-folk”. This isn’t far off. His music betrays an interest in lyrics as much as in musicianship, and there’s a complexity in the way they work together. “I like delving into multiple levels within a song, and getting those levels to connect,” Monty says. For example, in ‘Country Dog’, a border collie walking, out of place, on London’s Battersea Bridge takes the listener into a memory. When it hits, Monty’s guitar turns dissonant. The past is more than a story, it’s a sound.

“Close the doors, to the quarters that kept us through all those storms”

I’ve come seeking refuge from the wrecking ball / where tomorrow and yesterday mean nothing at all / high pitched organ sounds across the stones / like blood over bone

– ‘Time to Bide’

For one three-month stretch during his septennium, Monty streamlined things even more by ditching the Toyota to cycle 3000 kilometres from Cape Reinga to Rakiura / Stewart Island and perform 20 shows along the way. “I had everything needed to sustain me, with me. Such simple, clear, days,” he remembers. His friends set up a finish line in Oban, and a local fisher gave him a crayfish when he crossed.

The bike trip was fitting. Monty is a sporty guy. He’s done three Coast to Coasts, and while sometimes he thinks he doesn’t quite fit into either the world of sports or arts (“in multisport, I reckon people say there’s the muso having a go, and in music, people are like, there’s Monty, he’s sporty”), he also sees them working the same way. “If you go into depth in any one thing, the depth carries over in parallel to any other thing – I could talk songwriting with a table tennis player.”

In the song ‘Time To Bide’, he touches on what getting into the outdoors gives him; walking in the hills is a “refuge from the wrecking ball”. I know just what he means.

Fold the mast, roll the memories into the past / close the doors, to the quarters that kept us through all of those storms / park her in the grass
– ‘Catalina’

The album, Time To Bide, though, is mostly informed by the thing that took Monty off the road, the birth of his son Matai. He and his partner have settled up an isolated valley in Matapōuri, Northland, and “it has taken a lot of mental adjustment to go from wandering minstrel to attentive father.”

He didn’t set out to write a record about fatherhood, but as anyone who has had kids knows, they have a way of insinuating their little selves into every aspect of your life. Which is awesome, but not without its challenges. The songs on the album, Monty explains, were “a way for me to stay in contact with my craft, initially. I didn’t want to write kids songs, or about parenting.

“But I realised about three quarters of the way through it, that this will be a memoir for Matai, to know what his dad was going through the first two years of his life.”

In ‘Catalina’, the first single, an old tarped-over trailer sailer serves as a metaphor for Monty’s ambivalence about staying put. But he doesn’t leave it there. Because to see what’s in front of you, you have to stop long enough to look.

The bay is filled with pebbles / painted by the levels of lava in the ground / just before you go I’ve finally come to know / how lucky we are to be around
– ‘Be Here Now’

LAURA WILLIAMSON

Time to Bide is out now as a CD + digital package, including a scrumptious old-school lyric booklet with images, sketches, collages and every word of every song. Monty is touring in October and November to support the release. Montybevins.com


This article is even better in print.


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