Dancing in the audience at a Monster Paws show is kind of like being trapped inside a disco ball—in a good way.
Ask the band members how they describe their music, and the answers you’ll get will be borderline transcendental. “Songs that are fun to play,” says guitarist and singer Nate Santa Maria. On the band’s Facebook page, its genre is listed as “sounds like yer winning something.” Push a little harder and Santa Maria and singer/keyboardist Isaac Kappy will divulge adjectives like “electro” and “dance-pop.” But really, their first, more nebulous descriptions do a better job at pinning down their sound. It’s just plain fun. And yes, it sounds like you’re winning.
Shows often come with all the fireworks—multicolored laser lights, quirky hats (Santa Maria sometimes dons a fuzzy one that looks like a stuffed bear), techno beats that tickle your collarbone and even that aforementioned disco ball. This is happy music—with songs about summertime champagne bike rides and nostalgia for the glorious cocktail of poverty and youth—that makes the band and audience alike jump up and down with childlike abandon. All that jumping can be hazardous, though. At a springtime show at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, Santa Maria jumped so zestfully that he sprained his ankle on stage—and kept jumping.
Even outside the setting of a live show, Monster Paws have managed what few small, local bands can: They produced a smooth and professional-sounding album, which makes for a perfect road trip soundtrack. Kappy mixed and mastered the album, and Santa Maria helped produced it. The nine-song, self-titled LP (available for download on iTunes) was released in November of last year. Its CD release party was actually Monster Paws’ first show. That inaugural appearance sold out, and although the band’s only existed a short time, its history thus far has echoed the success of that first night. In fact, Monster Paws’ music is already finding its way onto television.
The idea for the band formed in the summer of 2009, when Kappy launched a karaoke night at a local bar. Santa Maria showed up the first night and said he’d help. “It was kind of our singing practice,” he says. They’d known each other for years (they met when dating a pair of best friends) but had never played music together. After a few karaoke nights, “I said he should be in a band with me,” says Kappy. Along with third bandmate Mario J. Rivera, Monster Paws was formed. The name, by the way, was the residual murmur from one of Santa Maria’s dreams. He just woke up saying it.
Kappy and Santa Maria (who are now roommates) write songs together. Their process is freeform—sometimes a song will start with a melody, sometimes a lyric. But in every song they write, their goal is to make it happy. “We wanted to make up songs that make you feel good,” says Kappy. “Music that you can smile to.”
“And lyrics that you can cry to,” tacks on Santa Maria, laughing.
The two didn’t set out with a theme for their first album. “We just said, Let’s do songs we really like,” Kappy says. “Let’s just make sure all the songs are awesome.”
Although they went an untraditional route—making and releasing an album before playing any shows—they say it wasn’t part of any grand plan. “When you’re doing live shows, it cuts into your recording time,” says Kappy. “We wanted to have everything together.”
Although Monster Paws is a new band, Santa Maria and Kappy are seasoned musicians, and both are classically trained. Santa Maria played classical guitar for ten years, and he’s been a member of another band, The Oktober People, for the last decade. Monster Paws is Kappy’s first band, but he started playing classical viola as a kid, performing in youth symphonies from age 12. He got a scholarship to the University of Arizona for his playing but tired of it at 19. He gave up his scholarship to return home to Albuquerque and go to the University of New Mexico. Well outside of symphony territory now, Kappy looks at home on stage with his wiry frame, signature ’fro and theatrical antics.
That last bit makes sense, since Kappy’s day job is as an actor (with parts in Thor, Terminator Salvation and Fanboys, among others). Santa Maria remodels houses during the day with his brother (“It puts hair on your chest,” he jokes). Both would like to see Monster Paws become self-sustaining, and they’re working vigorously toward that goal. The two are now working on a second album, which they hope to release early this fall. And with two music videos under their belts, they’re planning on putting out two or three more this summer.
The band’s music videos are also astoundingly glossy. Made with the help of a handful of friends in the film industry, “Champagne Bike Ride” and “Ray of Light”, due perhaps in part to their professional feel, have racked up hefty views on YouTube. The former’s gathered more than 36,000 views.
Monster Paws feels like it’s on the verge of something, and that’s a prediction supported by the fact that its music is now being used on a number of TV shows. “I got [our album] to a music supervisor for a production company,” Kappy says. “After that, now TV shows are contacting us independently.” So far Monster Paws music has been used on Real World: Las Vegas, Bad Girls Club and Khloe & Lamar, among others, and more high-profile placements are in the works (although the boys can’t give out any names yet).
Right now Monster Paws is in Albuquerque, but the band is hoping to get on tour with an established act to work its way further into the business. “I want to be in front of thousands of people,” Kappy says. “The more people there are, the more comfortable I am.”
Santa Maria agrees but focuses on a slightly different dream: “I want to wake up, get a cup of coffee and record.”
Story By Christie Chisholm
Photos By Gaelen Casey