Smile Politely

The psychedelic soul of Merry Travelers

6 members of Merry Travelers all facing the camera. Two members are sitting on yellow chairs, three members are standing behind the chairs and one member is kneeling in front.
Anna Longworth-Singer

Holly Monet has a vibe. A cheerful, sunny vibe that shows her kind soul even before you really get to know her. When I first learned about Monet’s band, I also felt a similar vibe, even before hearing much of their music. There’s something so efficient and refreshing about a first impression that beautifully describes something before you can fully experience it.

Her band, Merry Travelers, draws inspiration from the infamous Merry Pranksters and the beat generation of authors, as Monet revealed. The name itself pays homage to the vibrant and adventurous spirit that fuels their music.

Merry Travelers came together as a band in late 2016, with Monet and Charlie Harris, the bass player, as the co-founders. Monet and Harris, who are partners in life as well, embarked on this musical journey alongside a few other like-minded musicians. Over time, the band solidified its lineup, adding the versatile Cody Jensen on keys, also helping with arrangments and Louie Papas on horns, with a background in funk and improvisation, both of whom still remain part of the group. Later additions of Adiare Thomas on drums, bringing his gospel background and powerhouse energy, and Mark White on guitar, with a background in rock and jazz fusion, round out the current lineup.

When asked about their sound, Monet shared that a friend of hers described it as “psychedelic soul,” two words that capture the essence of their unique blend of influences. She cites bands like Lake Street Dive and musicians like Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones, and Grace Slick as major inspirations. Monet’s personal love for classic rock, with its bluesy rock ‘n’ roll vibe, also seeps into her songwriting. With Harris’s talent for musical arrangement and the distinct contributions of each band member, Merry Travelers have cultivated a sound that is undeniably their own.

Monet’s background as a writer informs her songwriting process, which she approaches with passion and dedication. She draws inspiration from the struggles and challenges of life, seeking to channel emotions into relatable stories. “I think struggle and suffering are the glue that holds us together,” she reflects. The collaborative process within the band allows for a vibrant exchange of ideas and musical nuances. Monet and Harris lay the foundation, while the other members add their personal touch, creating a chemistry that is palpable in their songs.

Monet and Harris are heavily involved in the local music scene, most of all through Rose Bowl Tavern. You can often find one or both of them there, helping to keep the iconic venue running on all cylinders. I asked them about the impact of being around so much diverse music on their own sound. Monet enthusiastically responded, “I’m constantly drawing inspiration, good or bad, from everything I hear. As I’ve become more involved in writing and making music, my ear, and brain have shifted. I find myself picking up on different elements and thinking, ‘That’d be so cool to try in our own music.’ The added exposure is undeniably seeping into our pores at all times.”

While acknowledging the importance of staying true to their originality, Monet also revealed that the band strives to maintain their unique sound by constantly refining their approach. She explained, “If we feel that a certain element sounds too similar to another band, we make adjustments. We have our own filter that ensures our music remains a true reflection of who we are.”

We discussed Merry Travelers’ recent collaboration with Triptych Brewing, a celebration taking place at Rose Bowl Tavern. Merry Travelers will be headlining the Triptych Brewing Tenth Anniversary Party at Rose Bowl Tavern on Friday, May 19th. Monet disclosed, “We were approached by Carrie Chandler, who thought we’d be a good fit for the event. She felt our music and energy would align well with the lineup. We genuinely love Triptych, and it’s an honor to headline such a celebration.”

Five members of Merry Travelers standing in a half circle, all with one hand extended out in front of them. All of their hands are touching in the space in front. They are smiling, and most of them are looking at their drummer.
Merry Travelers on Facebook

Exploring the dynamics of being in a band with her life partner, Monet admitted that it can be both complicated and joyous. “It’s important to learn when to separate the two, which can be difficult. Sometimes it’s hard not to take things personally. However, being in a band with Charlie is also incredibly fun and fulfilling,” she shared, emphasizing the delicate balance they strive to maintain.

Our discussion turned to Merry Travelers’ highly anticipated album, “Golden Daze.” Monet eagerly revealed, “It’s a nine-song album filled with original sounds. We’re planning to release a couple of singles along with music videos. I had the opportunity to co-write and co-direct the videos with some dear friends. One of them holds special significance, as it reconnects me with a childhood friend and our shared passion for filmmaking.”

With excitement building around the upcoming release, Monet shared her vision for the band’s future. “After the album’s release, we plan to continue playing shows and explore new territories. We want to reach more people with our music and connect on a deeper level. And of course, we’re already working on new songs.”

One upcoming event that Monet is particularly excited about is the Hogchute Opry music festival held at the Kalyx Center for Sustainability in Monticello, taking place on June 3rd. Describing the festival, Monet painted a picture of a magical gathering nestled in the woods, featuring three stages, including one in an old barn and another on the front porch of a historic house. The festival embraces a grassroots, low-key atmosphere, with attendees camping out or driving in for the night. The absence of phone service in the woods fosters a sense of connection and immersion in the music, that’s rarely available in festivals, or concert experiences in general, these days.

Six members of Merry Travelers either sitting on, sitting next to or standing behind a couch that looks like it's in a parlor. Three band members are looking into the camera. The band member sitting on the chair on the right is drinking something out of a cup.
Merry Travelers on Facebook

For this festival, Monet and Harris will be performing as a duo on the porch stage, infusing a folksy, hootenanny vibe into their set. They plan to invite local musicians, including Brad Olson, to join them on stage, creating an intimate and collaborative experience in this unique setting.

Another local festival they’ll be playing is The Moccasin Creek Festival, taking place June 22nd through the 25th on Lake Sara in Effingham. Monet describes Moccasin Creek as a small to medium-sized event with three stages, emphasizing its family-friendly and comfortable atmosphere. Unlike larger festivals, Moccasin Creek pays attention to detail and provides a more relaxed environment where people can truly enjoy themselves. Holly appreciates the festival’s mellow vibe, which allows families to attend without feeling stressed or overwhelmed. It’s a perfect opportunity for music lovers to discover and enjoy various bands, including Merry Travelers.

Looking ahead, Monet shared her excitement about the band’s summer roster of shows, which includes performances in Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, and the Champaign-Urbana area. The anticipation of releasing the dates and connecting with their audience fills Monet with energy and enthusiasm.

Merry Travelers’ story is one of serendipity, dedication, and a shared passion for music. Monet and her bandmates have created a sound that defies traditional genres, crafting a fusion of folk, indie rock, and psychedelia that is best described by the words “psychedelic soul.” Their upcoming album promises to showcase the evolution of their sound, as they bring their vision to life.

Triptych 10th Anniversary Celebration
Rose Bowl Tavern
106 N Race St
F May 19th, 5 p.m.
Tips for the bands encouraged

Music Editor

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