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The Tri-Town Times, Lifestyles
SUNDAY, JUNE 30, 1996       
localscene by Tom Lounges

Painter-musician Clar Monaco reflects world influences


One listen to the debut album by Clar Monaco & This Naked Body determines this is a musical project unlike most.


Given the current climate of popular music, "In Trance" is unique with strong elements of Eastern culture permeating many of its 11 tracks. Yet this is very much a pop/rock effort that has been embraced by radio stations ranging from commercial giants like Chicago's WLUP and WXRT to college market radio nationwide.


Like the artist who created it, the album is not predictable or easy to neatly categorize.

Is it world music?

Is it alternative?

Is it dance?

The answer to these and more is simply: yes.

An established artist who's "neo-expressionist" creations with oil paints and canvas have been featured in exhibits nationwide over the years (including a lengthy run at Chicago's respected Art Institute in 1978), Clar Monaco brings the same abstractness to his audio creations as well.  A native of Spokane, Wash., Monaco traveled to the Windy City to complete his master's degree at the University of Chicago and now resides in suburban Chicago Heights with Gigi Wong, his musical collaborator, business partner and creative muse. Wong, a native Hawaiian, is the daughter of a well-known photojournalist and a spirited woman of vision.  Taking a craft she learned from her father, Wong now creates her own art through the lens of her camera.  The two met in Washington when Monaco was hired as an art consultant for the daily newspaper where Wong was working as a special events coordinator.


Wong helps Monaco with songwriting and plays such abstract instruments as a Chinese gong on their recordings. The visual and aural sides of both Monaco and Wong meet on "In Trance." A 1980 painting by Monaco graces the back of the al-bum jacket, while Wong's creative photography adorns the cover and illustrates the inner sleeve.


Being awarded the prestigious Virginia Kay Headberg Prize for one of his paintings in 1980 put Monaco in the limelight of the art world.  "That really kicked off my art career," he said. "My work was soon being featured in several art galleries and a work of mine got bought by the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. I’m now in collections from the West Coast to the East Coast."


Although a guitarist/composer who was always creating music during this time, Monaco was best known for his work with canvas rather than his songs.  "As my art was evolving, so was my music," he said. "I thought that maybe I could use my celebrity as an artist to help expose my music and started doing multimedia exhibitions. I began incorporating soundtracks into the art exhibitions."


The most successful such multimedia event was "The Bone Show," an exhibit of thought. provoking paintings featuring bones cast about in abstract imagery.  That visual display was enhanced by "a repetitious mock disco recitation of the words - `bone, bone, bone' - over this heavy rhythm groove."  That song, "Bone Theme," is one of the tracks featured on "In Trance."  The blending of his arts began to pay off in the mid-1980s, when Monaco took a tape of "Bone Theme" to Chicago night club DJs and it fueled the dance floors.


The success of "Bone Theme" in dance clubs inspired Monaco to leave the rock/punk band he had been playing with at the time, and assemble a group of like-minded Bohemian musical types under the name of This Naked Body.  The unit began to play out live at special art-oriented events. The Body's constantly evolving line-up now includes new drummer, Ken Vale. 


The name This Naked Body is often mistaken by the public as having sexual overtones, Monaco said, but in reality, it is about baring one's artistic soul and stripping things down to basics.  "It's about being honest with your art," he said. "There is a real beauty in honesty."  Thirsting for more musical input in his audio art, Monaco began to study Eastern instruments such as the sitar.


"In high school I was a huge Beatles fan," said Monaco. "If you listen to the 'Help' album there are instrumentals that feature the sitar and the table. From there I started listening to artists like Ravi Shenker and I would just be amazed at the sounds he would create."  Monaco has studied with world-renown concert sitarist Mushtaq Khan of Bombay, India.  Mushtaq honored his student by making a special guest appearance on "In Trance."  Special guests on the album include Raju Deshmukh (table), Robb Janov (violin), Nicole Fortner-Dolbrowolsld (cello) and drummer Brad Elvis of The Elvis Brothers.


Monaco himself plays a variety of other instruments on the album, ranging from guitar and bass to sitar and vintage Moog synthesizers. "I like to utilize all kinds of instruments and sounds in my mu-sic," he said. "The Beatles taught us that an artist should never limited themselves.  There's a world of great music out there, waiting to be discovered in other cultures."  Like every aspect of his creative life works, Monaco has retained full control with "In Trance.  He wrote and produced each track, and has released it via his own Raga Rocktones Records.  The label's home office is in nearby Chicago Heights, but it retains a branch office in Spokane.  Since shipping earlier this year, the album has sold respectably and generated a good deal of radio attention.


In the last two months, Monaco and Wong have spent a lot of time traveling for on-air interviews promoting their music.  This past Friday, the band was the guest of WNWI (1080 AM) in. Valparaiso.  On July 12 at 10 a.m., Clar and Gigi will be interviewed on WHFIT (88.5 FM) in Flossmoor.


The single from the album, "I Was Only Looking At You." is currently being marketed to radio.  "It's doing well enough that we released a special CD single of it to retail," said the label's promotions manager, Gail Lee.  That song had also been included on a special compilation CD released last year by the College Media Journal organization.  "We were one of the few bands chosen to be on that release from over 400 finalists from around the country," said Monaco. "The response we got from that one track is what inspired us to release this full-length project."  With the summer months being quickly consumed by radio, promotions, Monaco hopes to have This Naked Body doing live showcase performances by the fall.  "Radio is being pretty wonderful to us right now and doing interviews is a lot of fun," said Monaco. "But I really want to get back on stage and perform again.".


This Naked Body's live show is a visual one.  The band utilizes department store mannequins, custom back- drops and various stage props not usually associated with a rock style band.  "The music always comes first," said Monaco, "but our art background demands that we be, somewhat theatrical in our approach to live music as well.  

© Clar Monaco 1977-2016 / All rights reserved.

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