Gothic pow­er­house Cecile Monique

Kitch­ener singer who blends clas­si­cal and metal mu­sic more pop­u­lar in Europe than at home . . . for now


Like a mag­net, the charis­matic singer, her long, red hair flow­ing over a black corset, draws her au­di­ence closer to the stage at the Starlight So­cial Club in down­town Water­loo. This is not your typ­i­cal gothic rock/ sym­phonic metal crowd. Long hair, big beards and dark T-shirts with metal band lo­gos aren’t in abun­dance.

But it’s no­tice­able that mem­bers of the di­verse crowd here – friends, neigh­bours, fam­ily and fans, young and old – are wear­ing black clothes as Cecile Monique re­quested, and they’ve come to cel­e­brate her first full gothic sym­phonic metal al­bum, “Ge­n­e­sis.”

Monique, a Univer­sity of Water­loo mu­sic grad­u­ate who trained in opera, wrote the mu­sic and lyrics, pro­vided all the vo­cals, or­ches­tra­tion, ar­rang­ing and pro­gram­ming and co-pro­duced the al­bum.

With one foot in clas­si­cal mu­sic and the other in mod­ern rock and metal, the in­de­pen­dent artist says her al­bum re­lease party is “kind of like my goth wed­ding.”

It’s clear some of the au­di­ence mem­bers can’t quite be­lieve the pow­er­ful, op­er­atic sound that comes out of the corseted fig­ure

as her clas­si­cally trained so­prano voice soars to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of her band, three ex­pe­ri­enced rock­ers with an ex­plo­sive en­ergy.

“Come closer; I won’t bite,” Monique says, and tosses her head as she rips into an­other song.

Those who have been fol­low­ing Monique’s ca­reer, how­ever, know what the pow­er­house vo­cal­ist, com­poser and ar­ranger can do, and they be­lieve she is des­tined for big things, es­pe­cially in Europe where gothic or goth rock/sym­phonic metal is most pop­u­lar.

“I think she’s go­ing places,” says fan Sherida Schaus, who dressed in a gothic/punk/ vam­pire out­fit and drove 100 kilo­me­tres to at­tend the al­bum re­lease cel­e­bra­tion. “She’s got the look, the sound; she’s very tal­ented and a beau­ti­ful soul in­side and out.”

The 12 orig­i­nal songs in “Ge­n­e­sis” re­late to themes of post-apoca­lyp­tic re­birth, loss and sur­vival.

“It’s def­i­nitely her best work yet,” says Kevin Di­etz, record­ing en­gi­neer, mix­ing en­gi­neer and mu­sic pro­ducer who co­pro­duced “Ge­n­e­sis” with Monique.

“It’s a big un­der­tak­ing and it sounds huge,” Di­etz says. “The level of song­writ­ing, the ar­range­ments, per­for­mances, every­thing is at a higher level. She’s very adept at the ways of mu­sic pro­duc­tion be­yond the com­po­si­tion.

“She’s a very in­tel­li­gent and thought­ful per­son. It’s re­flected in her mu­sic, which I think is more ac­cepted and pop­u­lar in Europe.”

Shawn Sex­ton, host of the Rev­erend Ra­dio Show, a Hamil­ton-based metal show on 101.5 FM The Hawk, hears from fans when he plays Monique’s mu­sic, es­pe­cially af­ter she was cho­sen in 2016 as one of only five fi­nal­ists – and the only North Amer­i­can – to per­form in Ger­many at the largest gothic mu­sic fes­ti­val in the world.

As a rare fe­male-fronted act, Monique has had other in­ter­na­tional ac­com­plish­ments. And at last count, her mu­sic video of the gothic metal cover of “Reise, Reise” by Ger­man in­dus­trial metal band, Ramm­stein, had al­most 320,000 views on YouTube and the num­ber keeps climb­ing.

“I love it,” Sex­ton says of her mu­sic. “It’s a lit­tle heavy; it’s at­ti­tude, the mys­tique, the fash­ion.”

Glanc­ing at the crowd at the Starlight, Sex­ton adds: “This is a lot classier than the metal shows I usu­ally go to. Ev­ery­body ac­tu­ally lis­tened and dressed in black like she asked them to.”

Classy is the right word for Monique, who was born and raised in Kitch­ener, at­tended Catholic school, went to the Univer­sity of Water­loo on schol­ar­ship and has been in love with opera since she was a teen.

She can’t say enough about her sup­port­ive friends and fam­ily, in­clud­ing her mother who made her corset with chains, her “metal grandma” and her grand­fa­ther who used to give out her fly­ers at the mall. A song on the al­bum is ded­i­cated to her beloved grand­fa­ther, Joe Gar­mendez, who died in 2017.

“I wanted him to have his own song,” she tells the au­di­ence. “I ac­tu­ally had a dream that he heard it.”

She takes pains to in­tro­duce her band mem­bers, gui­tarist Sammy Duke, bass gui­tarist Daniel Cor­ri­gan and drum­mer Robert Crow­der, as well as thank the Re­gion of Water­loo Arts Fund for its fi­nan­cial sup­port of her al­bum.

Monique is de­scribed by friends as a blend of charis­matic, smart, hard­driv­ing goth rocker with a “dark, op­u­lent sig­na­ture style,” as one re­viewer called it, and a sweet, mod­est young wo­man who con­fesses to be­ing a nerd in high school and a fan of opera singers such as tenor Lu­ciano Pavarotti and leg­endary so­prano Maria Cal­las.

Monique has been per­form­ing since she

was a child, in­volved in char­ity events with her mul­ti­cul­tural fam­ily – her mother was born in El Sal­vador and her fa­ther in Poland – and do­ing can­tor du­ties at her church. She be­gan for­mal voice lessons at 15.

Her His­panic-Pol­ish fam­ily is be­hind her mu­sic 100 per cent. “My grand­fa­ther was al­ways ad­vo­cat­ing (that) if peo­ple get a chance to lis­ten, I think ev­ery­body would like it. He in­spired me to keep go­ing,” she says.

“We hope to make her dreams come true,” her grand­mother, Car­men Gar­mendez, said at the al­bum re­lease cel­e­bra­tion. “It is very hard, work­ing in that mu­sic. She de­serves it.”

Monique speaks four lan­guages – English, French, Span­ish and Ital­ian, as well as a bit of Ger­man – and is aim­ing to learn four more. Some of her mu­si­cal record­ings are in other lan­guages.

“I’ve al­ways been an over­achiever and a nerd,” Monique says with a laugh dur­ing an in­ter­view at a Water­loo café, where she stands out among cof­fee pa­trons with her fiery red hair, lacy black top and “su­gar skull” neck­lace that has a de­sign rem­i­nis­cent of Mex­ico’s Day of the Dead hol­i­day. She chose the week­end in early No­vem­ber for her al­bum re­lease be­cause of its prox­im­ity to the Day of the Dead and Hal­loween, she says.

Monique says she feels for­tu­nate she found gothic or goth rock/sym­phonic metal mu­sic at a time when she was start­ing to feel bored two years into her hon­ours bach­e­lor of arts pro­gram.

She had started train­ing her voice out­side school as well, with an aim to push to­ward a ca­reer in opera. She ex­per­i­mented with writ­ing mu­sic.

She thought about quit­ting. At 18 years of age, she knew it would be a “wait­ing game” be­fore a ca­reer in opera was pos­si­ble.

She was feel­ing mu­si­cally re­bel­lious. There is room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion in tra­di­tional clas­si­cal mu­sic, but not so much for in­no­va­tion, she says. “I was strug­gling to find my place. Where can I fit in best?”

Then she found Ger­man com­poser Lud­wig van Beethoven, a com­poser who

per­se­vered to write bril­liant mu­sic de­spite pro­gres­sive deaf­ness. He be­came her “per­sonal hero” af­ter she re­searched his life and mu­sic.

“I had to read his let­ters and per­sonal di­aries,” she says. “It was heart­break­ing to read; for him to start los­ing his most im­por­tant tool, his ear. He strug­gled with sad­ness and de­pres­sion. I read a sui­cide note.

“But he found the will and he was a man of faith. He re­ally kind of put his foot down and said ‘No, I will de­cide what comes of this and con­tinue . . . to do mu­sic that will leave some kind of mark. I will find a new way.’

“It was ex­actly what I needed to learn,” Monique says. “We got to know each other pretty well, me and Lud­wig.

“It was like some­one from be­yond the grave giv­ing you life lessons.”

When her 20-some­thing aunt in­tro­duced her to the mu­sic of Apoca­lyp­tica, it was like an ex­plo­sion went off in her head. Mem­bers of the Fin­nish cello metal band are clas­si­cally trained.

“It was elec­tric, am­pli­fied with cov­ers of Me­tal­lica and they were do­ing things that you wouldn’t think pos­si­ble with sym­phonic in­stru­ments and clas­si­cal tech­niques of cello. It was stylis­ti­cally in­ter­est­ing and melan­choly. It res­onated with me at the time,” Monique says.

“I credit them in par­tic­u­lar with my shift to metal and sym­phonic metal.”

There are three things Monique loves to talk about – Beethoven, Apoca­lyp­tica and gothic rock. “Goth is rooted in art and ar­chi­tec­ture,” par­tic­u­larly in the Mid­dle Ages with the pe­riod’s gar­goyles and or­nate build­ings, Monique says. “It in­flu­enced mu­sic, lit­er­a­ture and art. It’s con­sid­ered a sub­cul­ture; some peo­ple con­sider it a life­style.”

Monique con­nects to the gothic style, mu­sic, art and nar­ra­tive in lit­er­a­ture, such as the 18th-cen­tury gothic novel, “The Mys­ter­ies of Udolpho” by Ann Rad­cliffe, which fea­tures a fe­male or­phan and ter­ror in a me­dieval cas­tle. The work plays a role in Jane Austen’s novel, “Northanger Abbey.”

A gothic per­spec­tive ex­am­ines dark­ness and light, death and life, Monique says. Gothic fash­ion, of which there are sub­gen­res, is sur­pris­ingly mod­est, con­trary to some peo­ple’s mis­con­cep­tion that it’s “fleshy and risqué,” she says. Its in­gre­di­ents are black lace, corsets, gloves, fish­nets, heels, sil­ver jew­elry, pos­si­bly with a re­li­gious theme.

“I was raised Catholic and I don’t find a con­flict be­tween be­ing Catholic and goth; a Chris­tian faith or goth,” Monique says. (Along with her metal songs on YouTube, you’ll find a beau­ti­ful acous­tic ver­sion of “What Child Is This,” per­formed by Monique and her band.)

“The melan­choly na­ture and su­per­nat­u­ral, spir­i­tual themes and ex­am­i­na­tion of life and death can sound de­press­ing,” she says.

“But on the flip side, gothic ar­chi­tec­ture is rooted in Catholi­cism and the early church. Gothic mu­sic and my mu­sic are in­flu­enced

by sa­cred mu­sic.

“Goth for me is a state of mind, a per­spec­tive that shapes style and in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple,” she says. “When you get past the gloom and doom, then there are univer­sal and re­lat­able themes, ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions, pain, loss and be­reave­ment in goth mu­sic. There’s a nar­ra­tive; there are love sto­ries.”

Monique be­gan iden­ti­fy­ing her­self as goth in her se­cond or third year of univer­sity. In­creas­ingly, she wore black cloth­ing and darker makeup. These days, her style is a bit Vic­to­rian-in­spired. She is a veg­e­tar­ian, al­most a ve­gan, and doesn’t wear leather or fur.

She had a sense in univer­sity that she was a bit of an “od­dball vo­cal­ist,” an ex­pres­sive per­former who liked to throw her­self dra­mat­i­cally into the part.

She posted her mu­sic on Mys­pace, then a pop­u­lar so­cial net­work­ing web­site, and heard from lis­ten­ers who liked it. It gave her con­fi­dence.

“When you feel you are the most authen­tic ver­sion of your­self, then it kind of com­mands re­spect and peo­ple will get it or not. There’s some­thing em­pow­er­ing in that.”

She learned about com­puter-based mu­sic pro­duc­tion and soft­ware for or­ches­tra­tion and record­ing. She had a small key­board at home and bought three gui­tars to prac­tise riffs us­ing a metal rock style. She watched metal drum­mers’ feet and hand tech­niques.

She sang in the univer­sity choir and the cham­ber choir. She loved church mu­sic. It was all good re­search ma­te­rial, she says. “My pro­ject at the time was to learn as much as I could in as many dif­fer­ent ways as pos­si­ble. That’s what goth mu­sic is like; it takes in­flu­ences and makes some­thing new out of them.”

She fin­ished school in 2009 and headed to the stu­dio. In 2010, she won a New Ta­lent Award from FAC­TOR, a foun­da­tion help­ing Cana­dian ta­lent, in sup­port of her re­lease of three orig­i­nal songs.

Monique met gui­tarist Sammy Duke at a mu­sic store where she was teach­ing voice lessons. He was a fan of her style and they per­formed live to­gether with other ses­sion mu­si­cians.

Armed with an $8,000 grant from the Re­gion of Water­loo Arts Fund, a not-for­profit cor­po­ra­tion es­tab­lished by the Re­gion of Water­loo, Monique worked on “Ge­n­e­sis” with Duke, Cor­ri­gan and Crow­der in Di­etz’s home stu­dio in Mis­sis­sauga.

She hopes peo­ple will give her mu­sic a try. “Ge­n­e­sis” may not be every­one’s cup of tea, she says, but if they’d lis­ten to a song, it would be a “huge hon­our.”

“Mu­sic al­lows you to be in some­one’s life for four min­utes and that’s fan­tas­tic.”

She be­lieves Beethoven, a rebel him­self, would un­der­stand and en­joy her mu­sic if he were alive.

“I like to think if Beethoven were here to­day, he’d be the most metal mu­si­cian you ever heard. He’d be avant-garde and ahead of the game.

“I’d like to think he’d say, ‘I get you. I get what you are try­ing to do.’ ”

Along with band­mates Sammy Duke, Daniel Cor­ri­gan and Robert Crow­der, Cecile Monique played an al­bum-re­lease show at Water­loo’s Starlight So­cial Club.

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