“Revolution 9” by the Beatles was trippy. “Funk 49” by Joe Walsh and the James Gang was catchy. But Monk 9—the best band you’ve never heard of from right here in your own back yard—is both, and a whole lot more.
A costumed two-piece with its own mythology and die-hard fan base, Monk 9 is the high-volume brainchild of Oak Lawn’s Tom Repetny, a skilled singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who joined forces in 2008 with Bellwood-based drummer Joe Kernan, whom he found on Craigslist.
Known for his former band Three Dudes and a Dead Chick, launched in 1995 but disbanded a few years ago, Repetny has honed the unique sound and infectious vibe of Monk 9 over the past two years into what he can only describe as “high-energy, in-your-face urban space rock.”
Sci-fi is certainly front and center in this group’s gestalt, as evidenced by the duo’s distinctively bizarre attire, influenced by everything from Batman and KISS to the classic horror film “The Fly.”
Repetny, who wields a custom guitar designed to resemble a machine gun, dons scuba mask goggles and a 1970s style afro wig on top (given to him personally by his friend Chip Z'nuff, the bass player from Chicago rock band Enuff Z’nuff), complemented by a full black wetsuit, velvety black waist-to-toe skirt and indigo leather boots.
Kernan, also clad head to toe in black garb, has his own signature look that includes hand-made goggles consisting of two metal mesh juice strainers, white grease paint on his face inspired by Kabuki theater, and an executioner’s style full hood.
Together, they appear as formidable ebony-clad priests from some extraterrestrial cult—with the lanky and kinetic Repetny looking as if he were ready to shoot laser beams into your noggin.
“I thought up the concept for Monk 9 five years ago, when I was lucky enough to perform a musical tribute for William Shatner in Joliet,” Repetny said. “I played the Star Trek theme while wearing a homemade costume, and Shatner himself dressed up like Captain Kirk.”
Repetny always envisioned the band as a duo, due in part to his ability to play “slap guitar” like a bassist; instead of using a pick, he hits the strings with the side of his thumb and plays his guitar as more of a rhythm or percussion instrument, creating a twangy, poppy sound that yields some downright funkified chords when a song calls for it.
“A lot of people think the sounds I can make on my guitar are fake or looped. Some jump up onstage to see what the trick is, but they’re shocked when they realize that it’s really me making this music. They’re amazed that I can move my fingers so fast that it doesn’t look or sound real,” said Repetny, who credits this special technique to a strong left hand and who also plays keyboards and Moog pedals.
Kernan, meanwhile, is heavily steeped in a variety of percussion styles, and cites jazz drummers like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa as influences.
“What I love about collaborating with Tom is that he gives me the freedom to add what I feel like adding to a song and do a lot of freelancing. I never play a song the same way twice,” Kernan said. “I’m also working on contributing to the band as a songwriter.”
Monk 9’s new album, featuring 10 new tracks, is called “Down With Me.” While more than 90 percent of Monk 9’s current songs are originals written by Repetny, he and Kernan also enjoy performing covers, such as KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight,” which pumps up the audience at their live shows.
With any luck, you may be seeing Monk 9 on the boob tube sometime this year. The producers of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” TV program recently contacted the band and requested that they audition earlier this month for local judges at McCormick Place. While Repetny and Kernan had to sign a confidentiality agreement and aren’t allowed to discuss details about that audition, they are hopeful that they will get called back this spring to perform for a taping that may air on the program.
Additionally, “we’re planning a European tour for next May,” said Repetny, who also works as a videographer, photographer, producer/sound engineer (thanks to the full music studio in his basement) and runs a band camp for kids.
For more information about Monk 9's tour schedule and to purchase their album, visit www.Monk9.com.