Warbly and wobbly, built from detuned guitars, busted keyboards and found sounds, the music of American Monoxide has an off-kilter magnetism, steadily strange and catchiest when least expected.
"My only goal is to get it to the freaks it might appeal to," says Dimitri Manos, the musical juggler and poly-instrumentalist behind American Monoxide. Manos began the super lo-fi home recording project to have a creative outlet that neither requires nor allows for any other input.
"Monoxide is just a pure expression of being alone," Manos says. "It's the only [project] I have with no rules to it or how I get it done. It's super fun to just sit in my living room with a four-track and whatever random gear I have on hand and not be too deliberate about anything."
Having performed and recorded with Philadelphia's Dr. Dog since 2010, Manos is also co-leader of Golden Boots (with Ryen Eggleston) and Krab Legz (with Ben Schnieder), not to mention a contributor to numerous other Tucson bands over the years, including No Bunny, Galactic Federation of Love, Sugarbush and Tom Wallbank. (Two new Golden Boots albums and one from Krab Legz are in the works.)
But when he can carve out some free time, Manos turns to American Monoxide—the musical refuge where he builds songs from the ground up with no pre-conceived ideas. Recording what he calls "trashy jams," Manos says American Monoxide has a childlike quality, created with a sense of immediacy and no other intrusions.
"Music can be so businesslike, so it's nice to have the luxury to take the time to do something in the face of that," he says. "That band is a direct response to working with people, and it's pretty playful stuff in my mind because of that. It's so momentary to me, but I sit on stuff that's done. As long as a tune, after a year, retains the same playful quality, then I feel good about it."
Manos typically begins American Monoxide songwriting early in the morning, when he's not quite awake, creating the basic tracks off the cuff as ideas come to him. He then returns to the song at the end of the day, perhaps after a few drinks, to work out the vocals and lead guitar. Ninety percent of vocals are improvised, both melodically and lyrically, again as a response to the bed of music he's already laid down.
"My general method is I don't pre-write anything. I do something and then I respond to that and then respond to the response. Everything is as quick as can be," he says. "I record early in the day to negate taking myself too seriously. Then at night I have some drinks and wing it. That's not the best way to do everything, but that's the best way to do Monoxide."
Major national music outlets like Magnet, Paste and Stereogum have taken notice, previewing songs from Web Content (out on June 10) with praise for the album's weird, playful and offbeat funkiness, with Magnet calling "Get Into My Way" a "better version of Modest Mouse's early DIY demos."
"Monoxide is fun because it's grabbing instruments that I don't know how to use so well, tiny pieces of gear like busted keyboards, and putting myself in a world I don't know," Manos says. "There's a need to turn myself into a court jester in my own mind. There's nothing like a goofy novelty. You can't do that in the band you're being serious about."
But, Manos cautions, American Monoxide is never about "being goofy for the sake of being goofy."
"It's about shutting down the brain and seeing what the subconscious pops up. That's why I record during the two times a day I'm not completely present," he says. "There's a lot of validity to immediacy and immediate response. I shut off my brain to do the lyrics, and I find myself saying stuff that I'd have trouble openly expressing to people. It's like a slip, and it just opens a door to something I clearly think."
The potentially revelatory non-sequiturs that can emerge in the lyrics might not translate for others, but Manos finds surprising clarity in American Monoxide songs. Enough, certainly, to grow the project from an initial CD-R passed only to friends to the 2014 debut release In Flight Mode and now to Web Content, each recording serves as a snapshot of his inner thoughts at a particular point in time.
"It's such a diary feeling for me, a total document of a moment and I know I don't have to go back to it," Manos says. "It's almost like I do a song and it goes into a freezer. It's handled so lightly that the moment is forever immortalized by me not taking it so seriously. That's the safety net."
Though American Monoxide emerged as a solo response to Manos' frequent musical collaborations, it's become something that enhances rather than pulls his focus from other bands.
"I try to play with as many friends as I can because I love it. Monoxide is just the other side of the coin," Manos says. "There's so much percolating and so many cool people to play with, it's about finding the balance. It's not too hard to figure out how to get into a project that's rad. That's sort of the endless influence for Monoxide. Everyone's approach is so different and somewhere along the way I realized that all this shit works."
For Web Content, Manos pulled together 10 different small record labels to handle the vinyl release, each one putting out their own slight variations. The idea came as a way to work together to afford a larger manufacturing run.
"It's the school of fish model—a way to make it a bigger. We're all buddies, so it's fun to take on the experiment. Everyone gets some more exposure this way," Manos says. "For not having people involved, I've gotten a ton of people involved."
Local labels like Baby Gas Mask, Wooden Tooth, Hocus Bogus, People In A Position to Know and Manos' own Soild Gold each have a creative twist to their share of the vinyl release, with unique packaging or special add-ons.
"Since Monoxide about dodging people, for the release of it, I wanted the opposite. I got to get everybody on the block involved," he says. "It's very much in the nature of Monoxide to have this chaotic, throw-together bunch of ideas."