As you submerge yourself in the music of Daniel Monkman, you can hear the influence of his First Nations heritage driving the themes and thoughts working their way through his songs. As a member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, he has faced persecution throughout his life, turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. However, he eventually began to course correct and entered a 12-step program that helped him focus his attention towards music as a way to deal with those memories and the ongoing harassment tied to his cultural traditions.
Under the guise of Zoon, he melds strains of First Nations music with concentrated doses of shoegaze and opaque pop techniques. He released his debut record, Bleached Wavves, last year, and it found him digging into ideas of self-identity, personal renewal, and redemption. Today, Monkman has announced a new EP entitled Big Pharma, which is set to be released June 21 via Paper Bag Records.
“Big Pharma is about me trying to bring awareness about the pharmaceutical industry and their lies,” he explains. “I talk about how they destroyed my community of Selkirk Manitoba and many more small towns and cities. A whole generation completely changed in just a matter of five years, Families torn apart and loved ones lost to addiction and overdoses. Our treaty card ensures that our medical insurance is covered but a lot of the time the only medication that’s available for free is the stuff that’s most addictive. I found this alarming and made me connect the dots linked to an underlying form on genocide happening right under our noses.”
The 5-track EP will feature guest appearances from Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Cadence Weapon, Michael Peter Olsen, Sunnsetter, and Jasmine Trails. Exploring a denser shoegaze aesthetic overflowing with blooming dream-pop flourishes, his work continues to illuminate the musical histories of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, and Ride. Despite its numerous rhythmic layers, the music feels spry and light on its feet, never relying on the heights of it influences for connection but rather carving out its own corner where it can indulge its desires without restriction.
Along with the EP’s announcement, we have also gotten our first hints of it with “Astum”, a track that finds an equilibrium between pop’s elastic movements and shoegaze’s volatile rhythms. The song moves along gently, swaying with each sweetly sung word and doused in lite-psych vibrations. Confronting themes of addiction and personal worth, it uses a certain pop buoyance to convey heartache, redemption, and resolution within the span of about four minutes.
“‘Astum’ was the first Cree word that my late father, Glen Olsen, taught me as a child. It means ‘hurry up’ or ‘quickly.’ He would walk in front of me and at the door say ‘Astum, Daniel! Astum!’ Thinking of it as a game, I’d run towards him as quickly as possible.
I thought about this and what the word means in my now adult life, especially now in my musical career. Passing down language was something that I prayed for as a kid. I remember wanting to attend the reservation school to learn but our Ojibway teacher disappeared one month earlier and never came back.”
He continues: “‘Astum’ also touches on active addiction and the challenges that it brings to an individual. While in active addiction, it’s extremely difficult to function in the known society and it leaves you feeling even more lost. I reflect on how it’s really sad and you watch a lot of good people leave because it’s impossible to keep a firm grasp on reality. You’re longing for a great relationship but know it could never happen because you’re constantly trying to numb out past traumas.”