In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern’s “Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band each week.
Members of the Columbus band Soul Monsters see music as an important alternative to their pursuit of careers in business, engineering and nursing. The students don’t want to make music their full-time careers but see it as an important escape.
Hiro Passalacqua, a fifth-year in nursing and a rhythm guitarist, said he needs the getaway from the stress of his classes.
“For me it’s an escape. Nursing school is really stressful. It’s nice to leave school behind for a bit and have fun making music. It’s a stress relief for me,” he said.
The band recently lost lead vocalist and founding member Chris Culbertson, who made the decision to move to Spain after spending this past January through July in Spain teaching English. He graduated from Ohio State in summer 2015 with a degree in Spanish.
“We’ll give him crap about it, but deep down inside, we’re fine with it,” said Max Heuft, drummer and a fifth-year in logistics management. “We’re honored by the fact that he really considered the band.”
Soul Monsters will continue as a foursome with bassist Joe Yamakawa, a second-year in marketing, and Heuft covering the vocals for the band’s existing songs. The band also is considering releasing more instrumental music, like the untitled demo it recently released while Culbertson was away.
Yamakawa has been a lead singer before, when he and Tatsumi Suenaga, a fourth-year in computer-science engineering and lead guitarist, were in a band called Soul Fighters. Culbertson became the lead singer when he and Passalacqua, who called themselves Tree Monsters, combined with Soul Fighters to make Soul Monsters in 2011.
When close friend and YouTube content creator Alan Becker, famous for the video series “Animator vs. Animation IV,” featured the Soul Monsters’ album cover in the video, the band started to gain attention on Facebook.
All of the members are half-Japanese — this isn’t a requirement, they promise — and that influences the band’s sound.
“Japanese music tends to have a lot of jazzy chord progressions that we like to use, and that are pleasing to our ears,” Yamakawa said.
Besides having a common heritage, the members of Soul Monsters all attended the same church on Indianola Avenue while they were growing up. Through the years, they have all been involved in the worship team at some time or another, and this helped them improve on their instruments and form their sound.
“A lot of the church music these days is ethereal and ambient and so that rubbed off on me,” Suenaga said.
The lyrics also are influenced by their involvement with the church, but not directly.
“We’re definitely a little more mild when it comes to what we sing about. We don’t describe ourselves as a church band or a Christian band, but if you look at our music it’s nothing about girls or drugs, it’s more about just emotions,” Heuft said.
Passalacqua can attest to the emotional quality of the band’s songs.
“I get really inspired by the emotion or the mood of the song. I don’t really know any of the lyrics. I feel like guitar is a very expressive instrument, and through it I can really express myself,” he said. “I’m a really quiet person and it’s kind of hard for me to formulate words very well, so through the guitar I can just play how I feel, and it’s very freeing to me.”
Suenaga started playing the guitar in eighth grade, the same time that he was interested in the video game “Guitar Hero.” When he asked to have his own gaming system, his father offered him a bargain.
“He told me either he’ll buy me ‘Guitar Hero’ or he’ll actually buy me a real guitar. I don’t know why, but I decided to get the guitar,” he said.
Like Passalacqua, Suenaga said the guitar helped him to communicate.
“When I was in eighth grade I was pretty antisocial, and I still kind of am that way. But through playing guitar and meeting with other musicians, I was able to socialize a lot more. That kept me interested as well,” he said.
Heuft said that if it weren’t for his friends, he probably wouldn’t be in a band at all. He started playing the drums from scratch two years ago when Soul Monsters’ previous drummer was injured.
“I’m basically in this band because these guys are my friends. I actually didn’t play the drums before this band, but I decided to because I liked hanging out with them and they asked me to join. If this band ended and some other random band asked me to play with them, I would just say no,” he said.
Positive experiences connected to music led Yamakawa to want to get involved in the music scene.
“Some of my most religious experiences have been through seeing really good bands or hearing really good music. I just wanted to be a part of that,” he said.
Soul Monsters will play its next show on Oct. 1 at 9:30 p.m. at Big Room Bar. Admission is free.