INTERVIEW: Jennifer and Rick of Baroque Monody

I’ve always been a fan of band interviews. (The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1991 “The Edge” Radio Interview is one of my favorites – I had have it on CD, and [nerd alert] I listened to it so much I’m sure I still quote from it.) Being fascinated with the band wasn’t always a requisite, either (I have a huge box of Guitar World magazines that proves it). I just liked learning about how people got into music, why they started playing with their band, what it was like to write and record and tour… It’s always been intriguing to me. Now, a musician myself for decades, I somehow find band interviews to be just as interesting (or maybe more so) because I know a little more and can compare my own experiences with theirs.

We had a great time interviewing Jennifer and Rick of Youngstown, Ohio’s Alternative Rock band Baroque Monody. We talked about their band, how they got into music, stage presence, gear, what inspires them, the Youngstown music scene, and lots more. We hope you enjoy!

Today we’re glad to present…

Of Music and Mind Interview: Jennifer and Rick of Baroque Monody

Of Music and Mind Interviews Baroque Monody
Interviewing Baroque Monody at Cedars in Youngstown, OH. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Baroque Monody was formed in Youngstown, Ohio in 2013 by Jennifer Rose and Rick Polo. The band has independently released three albums: Empress(III)/Emperor(IV) in 2014, Aphrodite Laughs in 2016, and The Four Loves in 2018. The first two were recorded at MindRocket Studios with Josh Roman and the most recent was recorded by Floor Baba in his studios (mixed by Josh of MindRocket). Interestingly, all focus on a theme or concept (Empress/Emperor Tarot, unsung female icons, and C.S. Lewis’ works, respectively).

Though the rhythm section has changed over the years, Jennifer and Rick have stayed a constant in Baroque Monody. Along with being musical partners, they are also married (they met when they formed this band and started dating shortly after). For live purposes, Jennifer sings lead vocals and plays guitar and keyboard, and Rick plays guitar; however, when they’re writing and recording they perform on whatever instruments are necessary for the music.

Jennifer and Rick don’t get caught up with genres. They’ve been described as Doomwave, Goth, Shoegaze, Space Rock, Post-Punk, and more. Refreshingly, they just do what they want to do – go where the music takes them – and that’s what they sound like. You can hear their musical evolution on their albums and in their live performances, and as you’ll learn in this interview, they are always striving to challenge themselves.

Learn more about Baroque Monody, listen to their music, find their upcoming shows, and be the first to hear about their next release by following them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Bandcamp.

Jennifer and Rick Talk About Being Musicians

Jennifer and Rick of Baroque Monody
Jennifer and Rick of Baroque Monody, performing at Cedars in Youngstown, Ohio. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Do you play in – or have you played in – any other bands/projects aside from Baroque Monody? If so, tell me about them.

Jennifer: I was in the first version of Sam Goodwill and also Steven and the Damned.

Rick: I was the bassist/keyboardist for Industrial Rock act The Denial Stage and then alt-metal band Relic for a year or so. I also played in a ton of punk and hardcore bands as a teen, too many to name.

Tell me the story of how you got into music.

Jennifer: I was always around music as a child. My mom is a musician who performed a lot, and my father is an avid record collector. My mom introduced me to piano at pre-school age and I began to take lessons after that. From there, I turned to guitar, sang and was a Riot Grrl in the 90s.

Rick: My grandfather played guitar and my grandmother played organ, but I never really developed an interest in music until around age 11. At 14, I got my first guitar and quickly learned three chords the punk rock way. Eventually, I slowly allowed myself to get better and took playing more seriously. Also, because of my love for Nine Inch Nails, I took to learning bass and synth/keyboards shortly after.

You’re both multi-instrumentalists, but what do you each consider to be your primary instrument?

Jennifer: For me it’s piano because I’ve been playing it the longest and I just think in terms of that instrument. I also teach piano so it plays a heavy role in my life.

Jennifer of Baroque Monody
Jennifer of Baroque Monody. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Rick: Guitar by default, but I don’t really give it much thought. In my first real band, I was bassist, so bass is still on my mind a lot. But guitar is my one true love, I suppose.

Rick of Baroque Monody
Rick of Baroque Monody. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Jennifer: He likes to practice his wah…

Jennifer and Rick Talk About Baroque Monody

Jennifer and Rick outside Cedars
Jennifer and Rick outside Cedars in Youngstown, Ohio. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Tell me how Baroque Monody formed.

Rick: Jennifer and I met and formed the band in early 2013. I was basically looking for a female singer to juxtapose some of the darker, sludgier material I was working on at the time. Jennifer was leaning more in the direction of Shoegaze and Post-Punk, a lot of music I had a deep appreciation for. We decided that there was a lot of common ground and to combine our ideas into her concept that was Baroque Monody. Our first album is literally split into Sides A and B, with each side containing music and lyrics written by each of us respectively. We chose the Empress and Emperor tarot archetypes to represent each side, and explored their symbolism throughout the music. On later records, there was more straight up collaboration within the songs themselves.

Baroque Monody's Empress/Emporer
Album Cover. Artwork by Steven Andrew.

How do you describe your music?

Rick: We like to view our band as pallet of colors and the music as the canvas. Each color is a sound or style we like to pull elements from to use in the greater work, but without leaning too heavily in one direction. We are moody and atmospheric, heavy but not completely metal, and more recently, we’ve added electronic elements to further complicate things.

Tell me about your gear and set-up for the band.

Jennifer: When it comes to my guitar, I’ve always been passionate about analog and true-bypass sounds. For the sound I’m going for – fuzz, flange, delay, things like that – I feel there is really only one pure way they can be presented and that is analog.

Rick: Playing in a band with Jennifer has definitely influenced my sound and set-up. Prior to Baroque Monody and up to it’s early days, I was your basic guitar-into-amp distortion player. But I always had my wah (running joke). However, she inspired me to view it in a different way. I love reverb and layering chunks of sound. Always looking to go bigger and louder.

How does your gear or set-up affect your sound?

Jennifer: It’s the foundation of the sound. All of the writing is based off ideas conceived through these particular sounds.

What can someone expect from a live Baroque Monody performance?

Jennifer: A band that puts everything into their performance.

What’s your favorite song (right now!) from each of your releases, and why?

Jennifer: “Empress II” from Empress/Emperor (2014) because it took on a very interesting and organic transformation from its conception to the final product. 

Rick: “Empress III” from Empress/Emperor because it has a very spacey, psychedelic vibe. It has a great dreamy riff from Jennifer and was the first song we worked on together and we talked a lot about Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd around the time of writing it. It holds a special place for me. 

Jennifer: “Winehouse” from Aphrodite Laughs (2016) because I think it represents my musical background with part of the song having a more Shoegaze sound and the other taking a turn into Grunge. It’s interesting to see how that music from my youth has shaped my songwriting. 

Rick: I’m torn when it comes to Aphrodite Laughs. I love “Lee.” Jennifer and I wrote that one together and it really shows a leap in our songwriting from the first record to the next. Lyrically, it’s simple and to the point. It’s still unlike anything else we’ve written. I’m also partial to “Carpenter” from the record because I never would have saw myself writing something like that.

Jennifer: “Storge” from The Four Loves (2018) because it was a song of Rick’s that I wasn’t even sure if I could do anything with, but it ended up with this cool post-punk vibe that I never would have expected. I’m proud of the melody and synth lines in the chorus. 

Rick: “Eros” from The Four Loves because it’s just a really cool song and is very fun to play live. 

Stage presence is really interesting to me. How do you define or explain it?

Rick: We’ve never really given much though into our stage presence as individuals, but rather let the music do the speaking. We don’t have choreographed moves or rock star poses or any of that. It would not fit our aesthetic whatsoever. We just present the music with the level of energy and passion that it calls for.

Speaking of stage presence, what do you like best or least about performing live?

Jennifer: I’m somewhat indifferent. I don’t come into it with any predispositions either way. I obviously hope it’s good and well-received, but I can’t let anything get in the way of me giving the performance.

Rick: I enjoy playing live, especially when the crowd is receptive. There have been instances where we’ve been on a misplaced bill or had a rough time slot and it just didn’t seem to click. I guess that’s every band, and those kind of situations make you step up and improve. These days, I just go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

Jennifer and Rick Talk About Their Inspirations

Jennifer and Rick
Jennifer and Rick. Photo by Trevor Richards.

What are your main inspirations for the band – whether musically, lyrically, emotionally…whatever.

Jennifer: [Takes sip of wine.] Kittens.

It was suggested that I include this for reference.

You’ve noted PTSD and trauma as influences in your music. How do PTSD and trauma affect your music?

Jennifer: I find music to be a way of communicating such things in a way that I can’t really talk about or articulate in basic conversation. I don’t have to call anyone/thing out by name, but I can address situations with lyrics and poetry often in the third person. I like to keep it vague, but open enough that maybe others can relate to it. These songs are meant to be shared with others who can maybe find something relatable in them.

Rick: I’ve never been much a fan of artists who give a story before each song. It ruins the magic. Jennifer and I are on the same page in that these aren’t our songs, they’re everyone’s songs.

Jennifer: I think it comes down to the individual’s interpretation really. The songs aren’t so vague that you can’t find those emotions in there, but they’re not so clearly defined that it has to be pinpointed to one particular instance or experience.

We’ve talked about how you create and perform music. Now let’s talk about why you create and perform music.

Rick: It’s a release on an emotional level, sure enough. But music is also very spiritual. I guess there’s just a need in me to do so. Music is always present in my life and it’s very much a part of who I am, and performing it is like sharing a piece of my personality that I just can’t articulate in any other way.

Jennifer: It’s my primary function. I can’t help myself.

Here’s a big one. What does music mean to you?

Jennifer: I tell this to my students or anyone I may be playing with: Basically it’s nice to have structure, meaning taking lessons or having a band, but what really matters is how it affects YOU. Not others, but yourself. It’s nice to get to play with friends and perform on stage, but at the end of the day, to quote Jim Morrison: “Music is your only friend until the end.”

Rick: I can second those statements. Music is a means of expressing yourself. And it’s okay to express yourself in many different ways. Too many music fans or musicians stick to what they feel they need to in order to fit in to a scene, or a band, or what have you. But music doesn’t work that way. It speaks to you when, and how, it wants to.

What challenges do you experience as a musician – whether in Baroque Monody specifically or as a musician generally.

Jennifer: Sometimes I feel like I’m misunderstood because I’m coming from a background of formal study in an informal setting.

Rick: When you want to pursue a project with a level of seriousness and professionalism, you have to walk a fine line. You don’t want to be all business, you want it to be fun, because that’s why you should be doing it in the first place. But almost each individual musician has their view on just how serious they are, how much they want to commit, and what it means to them. So getting to and staying on the same page can be a challenge.

Despite these challenges, what excites you about music and compels you to keep at it?

Jennifer: The possibility of creating something new, possibly a new genre. One day when I’m dead, I’d like people to look back on my work and think, “Whoa, how’d she go from A to B to Z?” One day I could make Jazzy Gangsta Rap, you never know.

Rick: I agree that playing with different sounds and genres is exciting to me. It’s fun to challenge yourself with something new rather than repeat what you did two years prior.

You’re married. How does that affect your music?

Rick: Like we said before, Baroque Monody is a band that puts it’s music up front. We let the music do the talking. I guess because we are so close in both the musical setting and in our personal lives, our vision is going to be a bit more focused. But I can’t say that it affects the actual music any more than that. Sorry to let you down, but don’t expect the Polo family to sell out like that lousy Partridge Family did. Hold on a sec.. gotta take this call… Netflix is offering us $20 Mil…

Jennifer and Rick Talk About the Music Scene

Jennifer and Rick of Baroque Monody
Jennifer and Rick inside Cedars. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Tell us your thoughts on the Youngstown [Ohio] music scene. How does it compare to other places you’ve lived or played?

Rick: The Youngstown scene is going through a really fun and interesting upswing. We’re seeing more new faces than we have in the last few years, and there have been a lot of newer, younger bands that are stepping it up, taking risks and just killing it. We have a handful of friends from out of town who love coming to Youngstown.

What Youngstown bands are you excited about and why?

Rick: We try not to come off as partial, because we are just excited about the scene as a whole. There is so much talent swelling through this town. We would just encourage people to immerse themselves in what’s happening now.

What advice do you have for musicians who are just starting out?

Jennifer: Just really focus on your songwriting/craft. Don’t worry about keeping up with or fitting into a “scene.” Let the music do its thing and guide you.

What advice do you have for musicians who have – like you – been creating and performing for a while?

Rick: Congratulations! It’s not easy to keep a project going for more than a couple years. So much can change in a year. And It’s easy to get discouraged. Bad shows happen to great bands. But don’t let yourself be discouraged. If you have something more to say with your music, don’t hold back.

Jennifer and Rick Talk About Their Goals

OK, last question. What are you musical goals?

Jennifer: To make honest music that hopefully speaks to those who listen.

Huge thanks to Jennifer and Rick of Baroque Monody for taking the time to talk at length about so much related to music and being musicians! It was interesting, fun, and inspiring – just gotta keep on playing! Thank you for reading this interview, checking out our photos, and listening to their songs. We hope you enjoyed! Let us know what other bands you would like us to interview by contacting us! Be well!