Prior to reviewing The Beautiful Monument‘s upcoming sophomore album I’m the Reaper, I felt like I wanted to get more of an understanding as to what the Melbourne band are about. So I took the opportunity to speak with vocalist/frontwoman Lizi Blanco.
Earlier in the day of our interview, I’d had the pleasure of a two hour massage and felt like I was on another planet, so I began by apologising for any vagueness that would surely might come in our conversation. Lizi was very understanding and pretty quickly our interview felt like two friends talking.
In my research for the interview, I’d come across the fact that Lizi’s first band was called The Ovaries. She seemed both amused and embarrassed that this information had surfaced.
Lizi: “Oh my god, no, that was… [laughs] Holy shit! The Ovaries is a band that I had when I was 18 and I lived in Brisbane. Then I moved to Melbourne and I was like ‘Fuck it, I’m going to start a new band.’ and then I ended up starting TBM.”
Kel: “Should I just forget about The Ovaries? They don’t exist?”
Lizi: “Oh my god, no, I think that’s so funny. I actually think that’s fucking hilarious. I haven’t heard that band name in a very very long time. I think TBM is 100% more mature than that and I actually fucking hated the name The Ovaries.”
By way of maturity, Lizi feels this is most apparent in the lyrics. Where The Ovaries made songs about “movies and video games and shit”, The Beautiful Monument is something far more personal and vulnerable. Lizi refers to the present state of the band as “a big diary entry” for her and she does this both for herself and for others. “It’s very very real life sort of stuff. So I think it’s kind of my way of saying it’s okay to not be okay, and shit happens and you’ll always get things hurtled at you, but life wouldn’t throw these things at you if it didn’t think that you couldn’t overcome them.”
Having had a listen to The Beautiful Monument’s upcoming album I’m the Reaper already, I agreed with Lizi that this was a great way to sum it up. And even while going into darker subject matter, there’s still an unmistakable presence of hope. This is deliberate, and Lizi shared her stance thus: “There’s always the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you’ve just got to wait a little bit longer. I’m a very big believer of ‘everything happens for a reason’, even if you don’t know what that reason might be straight away. It’ll come to you eventually, even if it takes a fucking year or two.”
The Beautiful Monument are no strangers to this in terms of a band, having had Shelby Ouston depart the band due to serious illness. Their light at the end of this tunnel of uncertainty was having Amy McIntosh and Alex Henderson join the band, bringing experience from their other bands (Liberties and Falcifer respectively). Fateful meetings seemed to have rebuilt the band’s lineup. “Amy, she plays bass for us now, we actually did our first tour with her band Liberties. That’s how I ended up meeting her. And Alex, I was out at BANG sussing out new bands and things like that. I had stumbled across Falcifer and accidentally became best friends when I was looking after her in the bathroom when she’d had a bit too much to drink.”
Kel: “That’s beautiful. I love those moments.”
Lizi: “So sweet. You never believe that that drink bitch that you meet in the bathroom is going to be a longtime friend, but she’s now my housemate, so I think it worked out pretty well.”
I was curious about the process of building the album and how it came about. Lizi shared that the arrival of Alex and Amy was just after she and guitarist Andrea Skoumbri had finishing recording I’m the Reaper with Sonny Truelove. Writing with Sonny as they went, Lizi’s poetry-slash-diary entries on her phone formed the lyrics. She said “I’ll listen to a song and then I guess if the feel of the music is appropriate, I’ll then add those lyrics.”
“Like for “Deceiver” for example, that song is about my brother’s drug addiction. When I listen to the music, I’m like ‘Holy shit, this is such a frustrating song. You want to punch things to it.’ So I thought it was perfect for the anger and frustration when it came to my lyrics. It goes both ways.”
I couldn’t help noticing an abundance of single-word song titles in The Beautiful Monument’s discography, so I had to ask about it. Lizi simply felt that it looked good. “My OCD kind of kicked in and I was like ‘Oh my god, it looks so nice and clean’, so then I decided for the second record, I’d do a little sneaky and make the first and the last songs two words, because it’s the second record. It was just something dumb. I don’t know, I think it looks nice. I’m very much that image dealio if that makes sense. If it looks appealing, I’m like ‘Ooft!’. [laughs]”
The mention of image led to me wondering about aesthetic in terms of the band, given that The Beautiful Monument wear all black and yet their music comes with amazing choruses you could easily find on a more pop-oriented release. I don’t think I explained my question properly though, because Lizi went into the clothing choice angle, revealing how comfort drives her choice for big shirts and jeans, which she wears whether on stage or not.
While in The Ovaries, they were told that ‘sex sells’, and comfort was definitely not a part of this, as they did what they were told. “We just bought some corsets and fishnet stockings and did the whole hot girl thing, which now if you think about it, it was pretty fucking degrading. But we didn’t really know any better at 18. And the scene wasn’t as vocal about this sort of shit back then as it is now. I think I just got tired of performing in really uncomfortable clothing and I was like ‘Fuck it, it’s not about an image, it’s about the music, and if they don’t like the music because of the way I look? Go fuck yourself, I don’t have time for you.”
I tried badly to reword my question about the bright sound versus dark appearance, and thankfully Lizi saved me, saying “Okay, right. So we kind of look like Marilyn Manson but we sound like Britney Spears. [laughs]”. Lizi explained that from as early as she has been making music, that had been the case. “Back in the day when I was doing acoustic shit when I was 16, I’d look like an emo kid but I’d get up there and sing really humbling indie shit, so appearances never really… I don’t know, I just really like dark clothing. We all do. It’s kind of our steez.”
Going more into what drives the band, Lizi shared that in an earlier interview she’d said that she’d like to think The Beautiful Monument are a voice for the voiceless. “I think there are so many people scared to be vulnerable. And don’t get me wrong, I was terrified to be so vulnerable. My whole life, my diary, which is now I’m the Reaper, is out on display for everyone to look at and judge. So I think it’s nice to sort of be that voice for people who are too afraid to come out with shit like this. I talk about drug abuse in my family, my mental health, loss and shit like that. Things that people are not willing to talk about because of judgement or whatever. So I think it’s cool to be a voice for people who are too scared to speak up for themselves.”
Comparing the upcoming album with the band’s first album I’m the Sin, Lizi shares that it’s a progression of sorts, and far more personal. She says “So I’m the Sin was quite focused on a lot of heartbreak and things like that, whereas I’m the Reaper is pretty much just putting an end to that. It’s the sequel essentially, but it’s also the death of I’m the Sin, the death of negativity, and moving forward. It’s a way of processing, that ‘Yep, I understand this is what’s happened in my life and I get it and that’s all cool and I’ve gone through this hard shit. It’s time to lay it to rest because life goes on.”
Though I’m the Reaper isn’t even out yet, I had to wonder (out loud) if future music would then reflect even more of a positive outlook and perhaps a growth perspective. Lizi was keen to, keying into her own positive shifts since releasing I’m the Sin to now, but was also realistic. She said “It’s really rare now to hear a song about genuinely being happy. I think a lot of people do resonate more with sadness and shit like that, like I totally understand it because that’s the sort of stuff I listen to, but there’s one track on I’m the Reaper where I do speak about how happy I am for the first time ever. It’s my love song, I call it, cause it’s called “Ida”, but I pretty much talk about this beautiful girl that I met and she’s completely changed my outlook on love. I was always very much like fuck this I don’t want to get married, I don’t want a family, I don’t want to do any of that shit because I was so used to getting hurt by people. Like “Manifestation”, one of our songs off the last record was literally a play by play of what had happened with my ex boyfriend. I sort of put up that wall and I was like “Fuck this, I’m never gonna let that happen again”. I felt like Ida’s the first time I felt like ‘This is okay. It’s fucking terrifying but I’m going to give it a shot because to me she’s worth it. Like, fuck it. Yeah, I’m hoping to write more positive songs, but shit happens all the time. It’s a lot easier to write about negative experiences because they stick with you more.”
In terms of other links between I’m the Sin and I’m the Reaper, Lizi refers to “Deceiver” as “Ashes” 2.0. The latter was about her brother’s drug abuse, and the former is about her other brother in the same situation. “It’s kind of like ‘Fuck, I’m going through this again’, after we’d both sort of been through it with one sibling, like why…? Mostly the confusion after all the shit we’ve been through: “Why did you turn around and do exactly what we were stopping someone else from doing?””
Understandably daunting going into such personal subjects that are literally close to home, Lizi shared that she spoke with her family before the songs were released. “I did speak to my brother about it. I did ask if it was okay for me to speak about it and be really honest about it. He’s so proud of everything I’ve done and he’s super supportive of my music so for him, he was happy to have me talk about it, and same with “Stay” when it came to my relationship with my father when I was a teenager and we just didn’t see eye to eye, because I was stubborn and he just didn’t understand how I was into all the ‘devil music’ and shit. You know, the typical teenager sort of shit. It was a bit weird for him to have like.. I’m the youngest, the only girl, and we’re in a Spanish family and I have tattoos, piercings, I like all this weird heavy metal shit… So it was mind-blowing for dad, but I have spoken to him. I love my father dearly. My dad is literally my biggest supporter, and I did speak to him about it, being like ‘This is what this song is about. Is it okay for me to say that when you are young you don’t always see eye to eye with your parents and that’s okay?’. I think the older you get, the more you sort of start to understand it. Or understand their views.”
Lizi has been overwhelmed (in a good way) by the impact that the songs have already had, especially “Reaper”, which released the day before our chat. “I had an influx of messages from people thanking me for putting their thoughts into words and music, and I had a lot of people message me saying ‘I recently lost my grandmother’ or ‘I recently lost a parent’ or a friend or… you know. There were so many people that came to me with their story. I couldn’t help but cry because I was like ‘holy fuck, something I’ve created has really affected people’ and that’s like so mental to me. And the fact that they felt like they could reach out and say ‘Thank you. I’ve been through the same thing.’ It’s absolutely a blessing and a curse, cause you wouldn’t wish loss or anything negative upon your worst enemy, but there’s something so comforting about knowing that you’re not the only person that goes through it. It was very very overwhelming, but in such a beautiful way. I don’t really know how to explain it…. Magical.”
The fifth track of I’m the Reaper is “Kintsugi”, and something that I definitely had to Google to understand what it meant. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver joining, recognising the breakage as history of the object, and something that makes it more beautiful, more than it being something to hide. Lizi shared that “Kintsugi” is about Shelby. “It got to the point where we almost lost her a few times. It was the scariest time of my fucking life. And when she’d kicked this thing in the arse and she’d start walking again, she’d start talking again. It was fucking incredible to see. She’s such a strong fucking human being and I’m so proud to say that she’s my best friend, but she’s just so much more beautiful now. Like the whole meaning of kintsugi, when something’s broken, you can just make it more beautiful, because like scars make you so much more unique, so much more beautiful, so, yeah we thought it was very very fitting.”
Also from the album, I acknowledged “Invisible” as being a track I thoroughly enjoyed. Unbeknownst to me, it was old school A Day To Remember influence in action and also Lizi’s favourite. Speaking about her favourite band, Lizi gushed excitedly: “Oh my god if I ever met Jeremy McKinnon I would probably pass out. That’s me being a little fangirl. Ugh, god I just want to be him. He’s so talented. Ugh. Stupid talented, it’s not fair. The best band in the fucking universe. Highly recommend. What Separates Me From You is my favourite album of theirs though.”
Recently signing with Greyscale Records, Lizi expressed her adoration for the Greyscale team and the roster. “Greyscale are just fucking awesome, and a lot of bands on the label are very very dear friends of mine too, so it’s kind of cool to be officially part of the family. Cause we were like unofficially officially part of the family, but now we’re like officially, like you can’t get rid of us, cause that’s like divorce from your children, like good luck. I’m so happy. Absolutely adore the team. We’re very very fortunate.”
Talking about our cats and kittens for a moment, we got onto the topic of upcoming shows. The Beautiful Monument are touring Australia in August with The Comfort and Tapestry. They’ve also been announced as being on the Day Of Clarity lineup. Two experiences that Lizi is excited about.
As something of contention lately, A Day Of Clarity seems fit to silence any protests about gender imbalance in festival line-ups, as every band on the bill features a female or non-binary band member. Though it’s an admirable effort on the part of the organisers, we were both in agreement that within the heavy music scene, it is a fact that the majority of bands have male musicians presently. With this, it seems to make more sense to reflect that truth, as opposed to push for something else. At least before it naturally happened.
Lizi captured it well, saying: “It is a heavily dominated industry with males and stuff, but fuck, that’s okay, girls are still out there, we’re still coming. Like it’s not going to change in a day. I know there are a lot of people that expect shit to happen straight away, but unfortunately it is going to take some time for it to be equal. But I can’t personally say I go to a show and say ‘Oh fuck, this band doesn’t have a girl in it. Well in that case, I’m not listening to them’. I listen to music. I don’t give a shit whether you’re a boy, girl, non-binary. I don’t care what gender you are. I’m there to listen to music. I am not there to pick on what gender you are. It wouldn’t make sense to me.”
I agreed, as nor would it make sense to me as a writer/editor for people to read my articles more because of my gender. Instead of working to positively encourage organic growth, the scrutiny upon gender can have the opposite effect, that the attention or success isn’t due to skill alone but due to a quota being met.
Lizi agreed, elaborating on the impact of this upon her music, saying “This is where I do tend to get into arguments with people. I don’t mean for it to come off negatively or anything like that, but when people are pushing this ‘You need girls on the line-up, you need girls on the line-up’, it then starts to make me feel like I’m only being put on shows because I need to fill a quota, not because people genuinely like my music. I do know that people are very very passionate about it. Like I have members in my band that are quite passionate about it. But my personal outlook on it is that I’m starting to feel like just a bit of quota, and it’s really disheartening. At times it’s made me not even want to play fucking music, because I’m like ‘I don’t even know if people give a shit about what I’m doing now, or it’s just because I am a girl’. Sick, I have a vagina. Dope, I didn’t know I could put that on my fucking resume. It’s SO DUMB.”
While talking, I had the pre-release stream of I’m the Reaper up on the screen in front of me, beside Spotify, which had I’m the Sin selected. It was easy to see the similarities in the artwork, inspiring me to ask if it was a continuation.
Lizi: “Yeah, it can be put side by side and look so aesthetically pleasing. [laughs]”
Kel: “Yeah, so I’m the Sin is his tension… is it a male? I’m assuming it’s a male.”
Kel: “Well WHY isn’t it female?! [laughs]”
Lizi: “Oh GOD. Because there wasn’t a girl there at the time. [laughs] There was a dude there, we were like ‘Sick, put the fucking sack on your head, we’re taking a photo of you.'”
Kel: “Yeah, so he’s all tense and he’s bogged down in the challenges and then I’m the Reaper…. It’s the death of that.”
We wrapped up our conversation there, with me keen to get far more familiar with the album, and share my review soon!
I’m the Reaper releases 28th June and is available for pre-order now: https://grysclrec.lnk.to/reaper[The Beautiful Monument photo courtesy of Ivan Souriyavong]