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Gwyneth & Monko are on the move in more ways than one. In the past three years, they've driven over 80,000 miles and played over 300 shows while living out of their Volkswagon Van and camping out in Walmart Supercenter parking lots as well as driveways of friends and strangers alike. In the fall of 2010, amidst tours to the southwest and northwestern U.S., they were able to fit in time to record at Old School Studio in northern California. Gwyneth & Monko’s self titled album came out Febraury 15, 2011 and reflects the style the pair has cultivated on the road: somewhere between folky acoustic and indie rock.
As a way of documenting their tours, Moreland has been doing small watercolor sketches after shows and posting them on their blog. “It’s become a fun way for our fans to participate in what we do on a nightly basis. They can see snapshots of where we go and characters we meet along the way,” explains Moreland. You can view the tour journal at http://gwynethandmonko.blogspot.com/
With the release of Gwyneth & Monko, they have been keeping up the pace with their national tour circuits and plan on continuing that trend. Fans of their previous record will still find their sound heavily influenced by old-timey and Americana. Lyrical stories weave their way through the album and are made intimate by Moreland’s vocal stylings and Monko’s intricate instrumentation, which fans have grown to love. “We were excited to bring in guest musicians on pedal steel, bass and drums for this project” says Moreland “and we both play an array of instruments that we didn't play on the Good Old Horse EP, including Electric guitar, fiddle and banjo” Their new work brings them out of the folk mold to appeal to a larger audience while keeping true to their musical roots. The opening track “Found In Benson” from their new album was featured in the CMT’s 2011 spring playlist.
With a voice that invokes Jenny Lewis’ solo work crossed with the intimate folk of Gillian Welch, Moreland strums her guitar in subtle chords while Monko accompanies her lyrical stories with trickling mandolin, steady acoustic guitar, and folk accents. Gwyneth & Monko sound as if they come from classic country roots, perhaps off a farm in Tennessee, but it is really northern California they call home. 11 O’Clock Rock in Knoxville, Tenn., says, “It’s fair to say that Gwyneth & Monko sound as pretty as they look.” Good Old Horse, Gwyneth & Monko’s debut EP, is full of earnest folk sentiments that ring with purity. Lyrics lace together fictional female characters, while the down-home style mirrors the musicians’ earnest lives stemming from their childhood into young adults and touring musicians. Kevin Gustafson of Blogcritics says of the EP and the pair, “Gwyneth & Monko focus on having the essentials: a singer with a moving voice and an amazing musician in Michael Monko.”
Moreland’s lyrics and musical style reflects her small town life in Mendocino, Calif., (population 1,006), a city rich of nature and history. “My parents moved to Mendocino in 1972 after graduating from Stanford University where they fulfilled their dreams of living in the ‘back-to-the-land’ way and raising their five children,” affirms Moreland. As a child, she grew up in a household with no TV, CD player or junk food. That lifestyle resulted in a young woman who values the simple things in life. Growing up listening to her parents’ Bob Dylan and Joan Baez albums, her childhood has clearly translated into her adult musical life. Ironically, although there was no television in her childhood home, Moreland’s aunt was Donna Reed of “The Donna Reed Show”.
Monko grew up in the San Francisco suburbs incongruously playing hard rock while listening to bluegrass in high school. As he got older, alongside the bass and guitar, Monko was drawn to classic folk and country instruments like the fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. He enrolled in Berklee College of Music online to continue his studies in theory, harmony and music production. It was as he was defining his folkier side that fate stepped in and he met Moreland.
Monko and Moreland formed as a band after the 2009 release of Moreland’s solo album Wishbone. When she was getting ready to tour for Wishbone, she searched for an accompanist and fortune gave her multi-instrumentalist Monko. Almost, immediately upon touring, the pair began writing music together. Monko’s diverse musical past easily blended with Moreland’s earthy and classic country vocals creating a new sound that has resulted in the two recording projects they have done together so far.
In the midst of their heavy national tour schedule, they have been greatly inspired by the people they have encountered and are proud to say that they are already elbow-deep in brand new songs. During this upcoming summer they will be preparing to record another full-length album, much to the delight of their fans.
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