Sacramento goth stalwarts Razorblade Monalisa look back at a more than decade-long career with their latest album, Ignition/Fade
Post-Punk/Goth OGs Razorblade Monalisa will celebrate more than a decade on the Sacramento music circuit this month with the release of their album Ignition/Fade. I met with two of the founding members, Jules Alcouffe and Bino Prassa, to discuss the intricate web of music and metaphors they continue to melt together, and their organic transformation as Sacramento’s original post-punk goth kids.
Alcouffe and Prassa met more than a decade ago at a Sacramento goth dance party. Alcouffe was already making music but felt a little lyrically parched and was searching for a fresh set of lungs and a new mind to weave verses into his post-punk melodies. Prassa was that one goth dude at the club with the notably more dramatic dance moves than everyone else. Let’s just say that Gary Numan was blasting, and Prassa was totally and absolutely feeling it. That night, the two guys would discuss a mutual passion for all that is sci-fi, tastefully moody music like Joy Division and cyber-punk. Alcouffe knew Prassa was what he had been musically seeking and was pretty much like, “Beam Bino up, Scotty.”
When Alcouffe was 3 years old, he saw the first Star Wars movie in theaters; around this same time, his older sister exposed him to David Bowie’s delightfully twisted world of Ziggy Stardust. Before Alcouffe could even reach his teen years, he had already developed an intense interest in the galactically gnarly and musically dramatic.
“From an early age, I had been exposed to so many out-of-world things,” says Alcouffe. “Once I started to combine my literary and film interests with my desire to create music, it was very obvious to me that I wanted to create music with sci-fi and darker literary influences. My music endeavor, Razorblade Monalisa, wholeheartedly encompasses that.”
Razorblade Monalisa is in large part influenced by the ‘80s post-punk scene. They read as dark and mellow. Tinges of Joy Division, Gary Numan and early Duran Duran seep through keys and mumbling bass, with a surprising, awkward sense of melody that we see from bands like Sonic Youth.
Alcouffe semi-regretfully came up with the band name, one that honestly takes a little warming up to. It is a direct reference to the cyberpunk novels, Mona Lisa Overdrive and Neuromancer by William Gibson. The characters, Molly Millions from Neuromancer (a mercenary who has retractable razor blades beneath her fingernails), as well as Mona (a young prostitute and key character in Mona Lisa Overdrive), were specifically in mind while naming the band.
In addition to the Gibson novels, Jules said he “read an article in the ‘90s about painting over certain bits of the human anatomy with fig leaves, some of these paintings being hundreds of years old.
“I just found it so disgusting,” Alcouffe says. “There was a quote that said, ‘covering up the genitals of famous figures with fig leaves is like slicing out Mona Lisa’s smile.’ These paintings are OK for like 200 years, and suddenly they have to be covered up because of tourists… It’s sad.
“Razor blading the Mona Lisa because it offends you is idiocy,” Jules continues about the influences of his band name. “I guess that’s the point with our name. There has been some contention over the name and we recognize that. But its meaning certainly outweighs its initial response. Art is raw, and should remain raw.”
The new album, entitled Ignition/Fade, comprises mostly re-recorded songs that span the group’s labor of love as it stands.
“This almost counts as a best-of album, it covers nine years worth of work. The first track, ‘Eyes,’ is literally the first song we ever recorded together. We kind of wanted to go back and re-record some older songs properly, and we had an opportunity to with this album,” Prassa says.
The album starts off with quoting the iconic sci-fi film, Blade Runner, and is loaded with William Gibson and Paul Morrissey references, notably the Andy Warhol-produced Blood for Dracula film. The song title that was truly well thought out, however, was “Dolly.” “Dolly” is reminiscent of the opening song for Twin Peaks, but the actual title is directly influenced by the twin peaks that sit on the chest of Dolly Parton—get it? And of course, there are enough obvious Star Trek-inspired songs like “Red Shirts” and other outer space sonnets to make you feel momentarily untethered to planet Earth.
As far as playing such a unique blend of music in the Sacramento area over the past decade, Alcouffe and Prassa say that Sacramento has been extremely supportive, and that venues like Old Ironsides, The Colony and the Starlite Lounge continue to help maintain a supportive environment for musical expression.
“I think our band and the genre we play kind of slips through the cracks in this area in the broader arena. We get pigeonholed as a ‘goth’ band a lot (mostly by and because of our fan base), but over the years we’ve received heaps of praise from punks, metal-heads, indie rockers, and more from some of the odder, crossover gigs we’ve done. I think we talked a little about our versatility or ability to defy categorization as a double-edged sword,” says Prassa. “ We can add a little variety to just about any kind of rock show without being completely out of place.”
Alcouffe is the reason this album really happened. “I figured if it wasn’t going to happen now, it will never ever happen,”
he says. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. The illness has made his energy level plummet, making live performances and recording tasks exhausting.
“The ongoing battle he is facing lit a definite fire under his ass and as an extension, lit a fire under the band’s asses,” says Prassa.
Alcouffe breaks out in laughter, “Bino, c’mon! Considering I have colon cancer, I wouldn’t say that!”
Alcouffe has an incredibly respectable and calm outlook on his music and the way he currently conducts his artistic endeavor. It’s about taking it one day at a time, and truly plugging his heart and mind into his legacy of work. There’s a sadness to his music, an elaborate display of intelligence and a heavy dose of sardonic happiness that makes the goth genre so mischievous.
“I have a metaphorical gun pointed at my head, and I don’t know when it’s going to go off,” elaborates Alcouffe. “You gotta do stuff now, otherwise you might not have time. That goes for everybody, no matter what your situation is.”
Razorblade Monalisa will have their album release party for Ignition/Fade Nov. 14, 2014 at the Starlite Lounge. Also performing will be The Common Men and DJ sets from ChattNoir and Dire Delorean. You can preview and purchase Ignition/Fade for $8 at Razorblademonalisa.bandcamp.com.