Monitor and the Merrimac
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Monitor and the Merrimac

Band Folk Bluegrass


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"Review: Monitor and the Merrimac - Grandma's Old Couch"

Posted on 6 April 2008 | 2 Comments

David Grazynski is a guy who (with the help of his friends) makes music as Monitor and the Merrimac and (though it might sound so) he ain’t a bearded mountain man from the hills of West Virginia. Based around his banjo playing and warbly drawl and augmented with percussion, harmonica, pedal steel, and other assorted instrumentation, Grazynski’s debut album Grandma’s Old Couch builds on traditional folk and old-timey roots music to become something all his own. Imagine Modest Mouse meets Woody Guthrie (but with banjos) and you might be close.

I don’t know where the stories told in the songs of Monitor and the Merrimac came from or where they are going, but they are both striking and easily enjoyable. Grandma’s Old Couch isn’t truly lo-fi but it sounds a bit tattered and timeless; it sounds like a new spin on something old. It’s a recipe mixing something bluegrassish with a little straight-up folk-rock music.

When I was a kid we used to visit a little cabin up in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. There was no indoor plumbing and only a wood burning stove to heat the place. We’d play cards late into the night and listen to the sounds of the FM radio static and the crickets. Grandma’s Old Couch wouldn’t have sounded out of place up there. -

"Merrimac He Roll Along"

He's like the old mountain man come to town
by David McMahon

The first reaction to seeing Monitor and the Merrimac is disbelief. What's that guy doing up there with the banjo? Where's his band? He can't really sing, I don't think. It's more of a holler and a mumble. But, maybe there's something to it...

It takes some balls, anyway. And why would someone put it all out there like that if it didn't mean something? See, the thing about it is, it's real lonely up there and he's gotta be in a real vulnerable place just standing in front of a bunch of folks with just a banjo, some old-timey songs and a smile.

Actually, this might be the best thing ever.

Intimacy is the key. When he opens himself up to you, he also brings you in. His voice may be cracked and lurching and his banjo style is nontraditional but the whole package is engrossing. You'll stagger through the songs with him. One of the strangest things about his live performance is his smile. It's unsettling to see someone seem so happy to be playing such heart-wrenching songs. Sometimes it seems like he steps outside of himself and realizes the absurdity of the whole thing and can't help but chuckle. But sometimes it just seems like he's getting away with something.

Monitor and the Merrimac is David Grazynski. I don't know how to categorize his music. It isn't freak folk, he's just not freaky enough. It's not quite anti-folk, there isn't enough rejection. It's not really hipster country, it's a little too authentic. It's more like the old mountain man come to town. Or the kid who grew up playing guitar in hardcore bands but fell in love with Smithsonian Folkways recordings and found Grandpa's old banjo. He's a storyteller in the American tradition, but of modern experience. It's sparse and claustrophobic and maudlin and exuberant and expansive, all at the same time.

Although he may be alone on stage, he's not alone in the scene. Local bands like the Mountain Movers and Diamond J and the Rough are part of a neo-Americana movement that gets a lot of attention through national bands like Wilco or Bright Eyes. In spite of the fact that Dave may fit in the movement, I wouldn't say he's of it. He occupies a unique space that's too real for retro, but not traditional enough for classic.

The debut album, Grandma's Old Couch, was released at the end of last year. On record, though, everything's a little different from his live show. He's not alone, for one thing. Some songs feature members of local Americana bands Titles (featuring the Weekly's own Brad Amorosino) and Quiet Life, and national indie darlings Mates of State. Live, the songs are skeletal but on disc, the fleshed-out bones kinda learn how to dance. It's got barnstormers, ballads and blues. But maybe the songs still have two left feet.

The down-homeness of Dave's craft echoes his dedication to themes of home and family in his lyrics. The title track is laden with an urge to preserve tradition. As the grandmother is a symbol of time passing, her couch is where our narrator experiences time rolling on. That grandmother character also appears in his "Bridgeport, CT" where she tells him "No matter how far you go, you'll always love Bridgeport." It sounds more like a curse than praise to me, but his hometown love is clear. "Lonesome House Blues" invokes that sense of isolation that being in your own place can breed. And every song about leaving home also seems to be about being lost. But he also explores other folky tropes like drinking and the weather. What is it with these back- woods types? He's also got a cover of Reverend Gary Davis' "Sally Where'd You Get Your Liquor From" that's probably sadder than it should be.

It's been my lucky coincidence to run into Monitor and the Merrimac a couple times over the last couple of years. Every instance offers a consistently magical, yet unpredictably shambolic set. Sometimes he plays old Civil War songs, but mostly it's originals. I first encountered him at Rudy's in New Haven. It was a lonesome night for me; I was wandering and yearning and, somehow, the universe sent me to the right place. Nobody was paying attention and the random passersby didn't stay to watch but that said more about their taste than the performance. He played strong and didn't seem to mind the lack of audience. The best show, though, was at Books and Company in Hamden. He played to a quiet group who listened and enjoyed. There's a subtlety in the music that rewards active, involved attention.

Very few performers so ably combine both joy and despondence. I don't know if it's all an act and I don't know if the question of authenticity even matters, but I know he satisfies the will to reach back to something approximating archaic America. He's not a museum act, he's not a revivalist; he's doing something real and vital. He's pursuing a discipline that doesn't exist anymore and he's doing it well. - Fairfield County Weekly

"Monitor and the Merrimac"

by Jeffrey Petrin, Editor

"I got my first banjo in the winter of '04 and I have been playing ever since," explains David Grazynski, the man behind Monitor and the Merrimac.

Granzynski, 25, started writing music the way most kids learn to on guitar, but the singer-songwriter found difficulties creating original compositions. "When I would play something on the guitar I would always try to mimic what someone else was doing. Early on it was 'well Kurt Cobain did it like this' later it was 'that sounds a lot like that Jimmy Page riff' or something like that... I always felt like I was playing someone else's songs."

The banjo is a very unusual instrument outside of country and bluegrass world, but that was exactly what Grazynski was looking for. "I wanted to pick up an instrument that I didn't have any preconceived notions about. I wanted to try to find an instrument that I never really listened to before so when I played it I wasn't trying to play something else that someone else wrote."

The years of guitar experience allowed Grazynski to learn to play the instrument, albeit in an unorthodox fashion, "I sort of play in a weird style of flat picking mixed with other elements of more 'traditional' banjo playing, I think to banjo purists I am a huge asshole because I went about it this way." He continues, "The banjo world, that I have seen, is very structured. You get a banjo, you learn rolls and runs and finger positions. You learn Cripple Creek and Foggy Mountain Breakdown. That kinda stuff isn't fun for me, it's too much like school, and I just picked the thing up, put a chord chart on my wall and started playing..."

The result of Grazynski's playing has manifested itself into the latest Monitor and the Merrimac album, Grandma's Old Couch, an incredibly unique record that, on the surface, has an old-time Americana sound, but with further listen reveals a more modern aesthetic. And while the record sounds quite accomplished, it started out almost as a fluke.

"It started last March when John Miller and Matt Wilson (of Titles) came over to the basement to do some recording. It was all going to just be a kind of fun experiment." The sessions quickly blossomed into something much more than Grazynski had expected. "Truth be told, when they came over to record, the idea of making a record was the furthest thing from my mind." However, the material that came from the recordings was something Grazynski wanted to do more with.

"After a week or so of just messing around with what we did I decided to go full bore at doing a full length and I spent the spring, summer and most of the fall working on it."

According to Grazynski, the album's title is a nod to the mood of the record. "The name 'Grandma's Old Couch' kind of tries to get a feeling across like 'hey, this is comfortable. It's familiar. You might not have noticed it before but it's always kind of been in the basement sitting there'" Granzynski continues, "I want people to listen to it and think 'I could drink a beer and stomp my feet and clap my hands to this song.'"

Although the record had a lot of guest musicians, Monitor and the Merrimac is a solo project. "I enjoy what I do solo.... I like being able to get up in front of people and play songs the way I feel about them at that moment." Grazynski explains.

That solo menatlity carried through into the recording process as well. "I found myself in a situation where I didn't want to totally rely on my friends to take time out of their days to come over. I have never been much of a drummer, but I bought a pair of brushes and tried my hand at it." Grazynski furthers, "Jason Hammel from Mates of State let me borrow some drums and between he and John Miller, I got quite a few drum lessons... also a lot of late night phone calls... 'How would this sound? Can I borrow this? How the fuck do you do this?'"

Grazynski is quick to show appreciation to his friends that helped with the new album. "I owe a lot to Sean Spellman from Quiet Life for recording a song with me. It seems that whenever one of those guys, any mentioned before, would record something I would get new ideas for stuff I could do on my own." Grazynski reflects, "Thinking back now and listening to the songs that I did most of the playing on I think, 'How the fuck did I do that?'"

Connecticut doesn't immediately conjure up images of country, bluegrass or backwoods swing, but Grazynski is pleased with its current popularity. "First of all, I think it's awesome. Secondly, I am not sure what it is... maybe someone is putting something in our water?" Grazynski jokes. "I think that people's tastes change and people make music that is pleasing to them." Grazynski hints that the current musical undercurrent has musicians playing what they love, not what's popular. "If someone listens to a lot of country music or roots music they want to make music with some of those influences because that's what they like listening to when NOT makin - Play New Haven

"Six to watch in '08"

Monitor and the Merrimac

If anyone is going to make it as a solo banjo player, it might as well be Dave Grazynski...and if it's going to happen for him, it'll probably have to happen now. He recently released his roots-indie album Grandma's Old Couch with help from members of Mates of State and Titles. It is a breath of fresh air in the rapidly stagnating neo-Americana movement. The songs are unsettling and the live performance is absurd and beautiful. He'll be at the Toquet Hall in Westport on Jan. 26. - New Haven Advocate

"Get Comfortable with Grandma's Old Couch"

Just picking up a copy of "Grandma's Old Couch," Monitor and the Merrimac's new CD, is different. The CD cover is a deep brown chocolate color, and it is smooth to the touch.

Made from 100 percent recycled paper, there is a distinctive, organic feeling. Much like the CD cover, Monitor and the Merrimac has a natural country blues feeling that you don't often hear today.

The group is led by Fairfield alumnus Dave Grazynski who, in true old-time fashion, plays the banjo while singing lead vocals with a crisp, Southern-sounding voice. Listening to "Couch," you would have no idea that Grazynski is a young guy from the North and not a Southern blues man from the mountains of North Carolina.

"Couch" includes a variety of bluegrass sounds, jumping from more traditional bluegrass like that of Bill Monroe on the track "Grandma's Old Couch" to a more rock-blended fusion like the Grateful Dead on the track "Quiet Life" or "Galoshes."

The inclusion of slower ballads such as "Family Jewel" provides a pleasant break from the other high-energy tracks.

Listening to "Couch" is like taking a trip to a different world one where people still gather around in small settings to really engage and listen to music. There is something about bluegrass that grabs the listener; it is hard to passively listen to "Couch" without being sucked in.

"Couch" displays a variety of styles and paces that shows the true power of bluegrass; at one moment it can make you want to dance while at others it is very reflective and heartfelt. In an era of hollow pop songs, it is refreshing to hear a genuine art form like bluegrass.

There is something refreshing in Grazynski's vocals. His accent while singing is thick, but thick in a good way.

It is with this distance that he manages to transcend what a stereotypical blues singer would sound like, making him hard to dismiss.

In a sense Grazynski is creating a new sub-genre of bluegrass: Northern bluegrass. You can pick up on this in songs like "Galoshes" - anyone who has ever lived in the South can tell you there are no galoshes.

As Grazynski sings the lines of the song, you can sense the breaking of his accent. It almost makes you wonder, "Do you have to keep the Southern accent to do bluegrass?"

"Galoshes," the last song on the track, is a perfect example of "Couch" as a whole. It starts out as traditional bluegrass but then pushes its way into a full-out rock song. This transition leaves the listener craving more tracks that push the boundaries of bluegrass. - Fairfield University Mirror

"Monitor and the Merrimac: Grandma's Old Couch"

Besides being a Civil War reference, Monitor And The Merrimac also serves as the moniker for Dave Grazinski's one-man banjo project. One listen to his new album Grandma's Old Couch, and you'd expect Grazinski to be about 30 years older and 100 pounds heavier. In actuality, Grazinski is from Connecticut rather than the deep south, and he's merely a 20-something rather than a world-weary old man in a tobacco-stained flannel shirt and worn overalls. That doesn't mean that Grazinski is incapable of creating timeless front-porch ditties built on intermingling banjo and rootsy acoustic guitar strums. In fact, he does so rather convincingly. With an unabashedly bluegrass sound and enough of a punk rock aesthetic thrown in to keep all the indie kids intrigued, one spin of Grandma's Old Couch is effectively like stepping into a time-warp that transports you straight to a middle-of-nowhere-mountain-town where the townspeople find their entertainment by gathering around the local tunes-man and listening to him pluck away at his banjo and sing at the top of his lungs. Production-wise, the album is rough enough around the edges to ring authentic, while being polished enough to impress. As a matter of fact, Grazinski recorded the tracks with equipment belonging to his friends in Mates of State. The resulting album is ironically refreshing considering its throwback roots. -- Capt. Obvious -

"Bands on the Bubble"

by Sean Corbett

Dave Grazinski is a one-man banjo-centered project named Monitor and the Merrimac with a focus on the American history that keeps the banjo alive today. Grazinski emphasizes the storytelling aspects of his songs by playing "at almost any location, with or without a public address system, with or without a floor or a roof or walls or electricity." Microphone? What? Just give him a stool and a beer and he'll make you feel like you're siting around a campfire in the Wisconsin wilderness. Bob Dylan did that kind of stuff once. Monitor and the Merrimac is a local American poet with a banjo who's catering to the People's need for something very real, a little "different" and a lot old-fashioned. Grazinski is working on a fully instrumented album, Grandma's Old Couch, with Mates of States' equipment and musicians from Titles—Titles? whodat?—and he'll be playing all around the area while it's being completed. - Fairfield County Weekly (Sept 07)


Grandma's Old Couch - streamed and hosted on a slew of MP3 blogs and many college radio stations around the country.



David Grazynski, who writes and performs under the pseudonym 'Monitor and the Merrimac', was born in the Northeast of the US in the early '80's, but his sound and subjects are timeless. He draws influence from American Roots music and the simplicities (and complexities) of life in general with the banjo to form songs in a time when storytelling is becoming a dying art.

Monitor and the Merrimac has just finished the debut LP "Grandma's Old Couch" with an unbelievable amount of help from Matt Wilson and John Miller (Titles), Sean Spellman (Quiet Life), James Durden (The Sons of Zebedee), Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner (Mates of State). Clocking in at just about 34 minutes over 12 songs "Grandma's Old Couch" combines the Monitor and the Merrimac banjo with full instrumentation (with help from friends above... and their great equipment).