With the release of her new single and video, “Coward’s Castle,” Lauren Silva is one step closer to the release of her debut EP–the culmination of work that began with the launch of her musical alter-ego, Monti The Artist, in 2014.
Produced by Josh Stevens, the singles we’ve seen so far paint Monti as a bold idealist under glossy top 40 finish. “Echo” is an empowerment anthem for the forgotten in the pattern of Kesha’s “Hymn,” but with a different kind of optimism in its youth choir sing-along chorus. “Coward’s Castle” is an electronic fanfare introducing Monti’s own autobiographical character, scorned, abused, and reborn in phoenix fire. “Watch me burn, burn, burn / this lying man,” she belts.
In another sense, the EP’s roots go much deeper than the past few years. The righteous purpose of Monti’s music radiates from Silva’s own troubled background as a young runaway dodging a flawed foster system. Now, as an artist, and as founder of the Hope Generations nonprofit, she seeks to use her power to benefit those facing a similar struggle.
In the midst of finalizing the EP, Monti spoke to The All Scene Eye about her artistic principles, plus the work Hope Generations aims to do in the near future.
I’m excited to talk about the new single and the video–how is 2018 treating you so far?
It’s been amazing. We released the first song, “Echo,” we released the second one, “Coward’s Castle,” and it’s been really exciting to see how everyone is taking to it. Whenever you put out music, you always hope the listeners are going to get what you’re putting out there, and it seems to be working. I’m beyond thrilled. We’ve got a busy 2018 coming, too.
“Echo” was a video that focused on this other artist, fashion designer Reggie Snowden. “Cowards Castle” seems like it’s introducing you to the world.
Kind of–it’s actually interesting enough, “Echo” was about Reggie, but it was also telling my story vicariously through his, growing up and stuff. It had both sides to it. With “Cowards Castle,” it obviously is more directly personal.
Notice how I’m not in either video. My whole intention with music is to tell other people’s stories, and put them out there, and give people a space to have their voices heard, and their stories told. We did that on purpose. But it still has me in it, without me actually being in it.
One of the last shots of that video is the actress running away from the camera, and turning back, and then the name “Monti” superimposed over her. That name becomes representative of other people as well as you.
It’s so cool that you caught that. Again, even with that actress–and her and I are in touch, and I know a little bit about her background–it was a chance for her to feel like she could tell her story artistically through that. But then it was like, this is also mine.
Basically, it’s the same intention as the “Echo” video, where we were able to give Reggie that place to tell his story. We gave both actors [in “Coward’s Castle”] that place to tell their stories, but it’s also my story, vicariously told through them. Like I said, I’m very passionate about wanting to create opportunities for others to be able to express themselves, maybe in a way they never got a chance to. That’s what “Monti” really represents.
Tell me about the dynamic of working with Josh Stevens. What is it like between the two of you when you have a writing session?
Interesting enough, Josh Stevens is turning into my most favorite co-writing partner. We didn’t know how it would be. The first time we went into a session together, it was to write three songs, and you never know how it’s going to turn out, or how the vibes are going to be, or how you’re going to gel, or not. The first time we went in the studio, we came out with “Echo.” It was really organic, and it was great. We also had Matt Champagne on percussion, who came in and just had a kick and a snare, and he started playing. Josh Stevens and I just started writing.
I also actually had one of the youth from the nonprofit, Hope Generations, with us. Funny enough, his name is Josh as well. He’s an aspiring recording artist, and that was his first experience in a recording studio and in a writing session. I found the room definitely influenced and produced the record, which is what made it so amazing, and so–as real as it gets, you know?
After that, continuing writing with Josh, we discovered that we have a really great connection. The songs just came, boom boom boom. That’s how you know it’s like, “ok, these are meant to be.” With me, as a writer–and it’s cool, because Josh is like this too–if you find yourself having to try too hard or force it, we just stop. We move on to something else, or sometimes we just take a break, and then we come back, and boom, it comes out. We make sure to never force it at all. It’s like the song wants to be born, you know? We just let it take its course.
Are those three songs what ended up being the EP?
We have “Echo,” we have “Cowards Castle,” and then we have one more song. We’re still figuring out what we’re going to with that. It looks like it’s going to be a three song EP, or it might be four songs. We haven’t really decided yet.
That EP has been a long time coming. I’ve heard you describe it as “the EP of [your] life.” What is it like being at this stage after such a long lead-up?
Right now, Stadium Music Enterprise is my team, and with everything that’s developed, I finally feel like as myself, as an individual, I’m in a place where I actually know what I want to say to the world, what I want to leave behind, as my message and legacy, and it took over a decade as a recording artist to get that part.
I’m actually seeing that once you can get that, I think everything else falls into place. People start to get inspired by it, or get what you’re doing. I think half the battle is being able to get yourself and get what you really want to say and what you want to do. In the past couple years, I’ve been able to do that.
From that came Josh Stevens, and Stadium Music Enterprise, and everything. Those actors, and Reggie Snowden, everybody who’s a part of it, because now they’re all able to relate to it. My whole message, and my whole me-getting-myself is also getting them and giving them an opportunity for themselves to be gotten as well, if that makes sense. That’s the way I’m passing it on. Now, with all this coming together, that’s why it feels like I finally know what I want to say to all of you, and now everyone is getting it, so it’s all happening, and that’s what makes this, I feel like, the EP of my life.
Can you tell me more about the nonprofit, Hope Generations?
Yes, Hope Generations, wow. Another thing that basically just wanted to be born. A little bit of my background, being on the street since I was 12, and all the things I faced, and challenges I persevered through, I had people that took me in and showed me that I had purpose, and showed me a different way, and that there was a different world that I could enter into if I chose to. Naturally, I started doing the same thing for youth, whether it was befriending them on the streets, or taking them into my home, or just inviting them to all the things I was doing.
Over time, it started to become something. It was a very natural way of living for me. I would have a videographer come and take photos, and that was also a part of the experience for the youth, to be in front of cameras, and all that. One day I was invited to come perform at House of Blues Downtown Disney, and they asked me, “we would love to show your work on the video, because it’s an empowering youth event, and we would love to show what you do.” Literally, I was like, “what do you mean? what do I do?” And they were like, “aren’t you a nonprofit?” And I was like, “uh, no, I work with a lot of youth, but that’s just my passion.”
Apparently it had gotten out, and so, literally, this is how it went. I called the videographer, my friend, and I was like, “hey, do we have footage, where we could put together a two-and-a-half minute video or something? We just got invited to show it at Downtown Disney House of Blues.” He was like, “well, what is it?” Because usually when you have a business or something, you have a focus, you have something you’re showing. We didn’t have anything. He’s also an incredible director and all that. So I was like, “you’ve been a part of all this, let’s put something together and see what we come up with.” It just rolled from there.
I sent the video, and a mentor of mine who’s also a branding consultant has a real passion for humanity, and she called me after seeing it, and she was like, “congratulations, you’re a founder of a nonprofit!” And we came up with the name, and the vision statement, and it all just rolled from there.
About a year later, we became 501(c)(3), so now we’re official. It literally rolled like that. Now, here it is, Hope Generations. It goes together so beautifully, because everything I do as Monti the Artist raises awareness and also stands for the purpose of Hope Generations, whether it’s me telling my story vicariously through someone else, like the “Echo” video, or if I’m making it directly personal by telling my story in “Coward’s Castle.” It all still serves the same purpose, which is for others, and I’ve got to tell my stories in order to do that. So yeah, it’s really happened all organically. That’s how I trust it as well; It’s not forced.
Given that it’s such an organic thing, do you have any goals for the next couple of years? What’s the direction you want to see things go from here?
It’s funny you’re asking me this, because we’re actually figuring that out as well right now. What I’m realizing is that I’m really passionate about transitional housing for youth coming out of foster care and transitioning to adulthood. There’s a lot of disconnect there; all the support and everything kind of just falls off. Then they end up falling off. I’ve done a lot of work with the adult homeless, and I realized a lot of the adults that are homeless on the streets that we see, they were foster youth. They basically never got out of this mentality of bouncing around or having to gravitate to wherever will give them a home.
What happens is they phase out. After a certain age, they don’t have any more benefits or help, and growing up, they weren’t taught the things that we’re usually taught in our home, on how to do things and discipline our lives. One of the things I’ve started to do, at least for Hope Generations for the next five years, is to have transitional housing, some kind of program that I’ve been developing. We’ve also got a seminar we’re coming up with for self-defense for abused youth and human trafficking survivors.
So stuff like that, creating programs, but it’s kind of the same concept where it’s something that I want to make available for others to show up in, however they see themselves fit. Whether they’ll be program directors, or the house moms that will live in the transitional housing with the youth, all that. Like planting seeds all over. That’s what I see the future of Hope Generations being.
A lot of people are aware of the issue, but it’s interesting to hear your side, and how there are very concrete things that can be done.
It comes from life experience, and that’s what I’ve realized, too. The part I can offer is because I lived it. Even with the program I was creating, I started it in my own home. The transitional housing. Again, it was like how Hope Generations developed. I had no idea what I was doing; I was just doing. Basically, avoiding the things that didn’t work and doing the things I remember that did work.
What I found was when people really believe in you, and love you, and express that in a way that you’re not used to–I’m talking about me, this was for me–that was what was the most powerful, and that was what led to my transformation. Obviously, organization and structure to that is very important. But the heart of it, and the intention, and the authenticity of it is the most powerful tool I’ve seen. That’s the way I’m creating all this stuff, by basically going back and remembering how and what worked for me, and making sure I avoid the things that didn’t.
Because there’s a lot out there that–everyone is different, right? What I have seen, the majority of work is the things I’m staying focused on, and there’s a misreception of some things. You think you have to have all these things in a certain way that’s been done before. There are some things, I’m just like, “do they not get that this is not working? Let’s try something new.” I’m not really going by what anybody else is doing, or what’s been done before. I’m strictly going by being that youth that went through it. Coming from that point. It’s a whole experiment, you know? But we’ll see.
I’m also blessed to have great people around me, a board, and people that also will steer it a little bit, or at least give me their professional input on a different perspective, which is very important as well. I think we have a good team and a good balance of it all.
Do you mind if I ask what some of those things are that don’t work?
There are certain kinds of therapies and approaches that I’ve seen. That’s all I’ll say. There are certain approaches–I’ll just say it, medications too. I’ve seen that the quick fix-it solution is to just throw medication. One of the things I was working on with another organization is to replace psychotropic drugs with artistic activities, and see how that goes.
For me, again, from experience, I believe that art is powerful. I think everyone is an artist, too, in some way. Every single profession, there’s an art to it all; art exists in everything. When you’re able to present something that sparks that, and ignites that in people, it gives them a brand-new self in some way. I really believe in that more than a lot of the medications they’re so quick to throw at the youth, and at people.
I’m not saying for all. Some do, but for me, it only made situations worse. I didn’t ever really need the medication. I needed the support, and the love, and the direction, and just to be shown. Everyone is different, like I said, but I’ve been able to see that same track history with a lot of the youth I’ve worked with personally that have been in my home. So that’s one I would say, mainly.
Do you have any musical new-year’s resolutions?
I never thought of them, but now that you ask, it’s goals I already set for this year, which was definitely to do an international tour, to the UK and Europe. And it’s already happening; that’s in the works, we’re talking about it. So that’s good, if you’re already starting to accomplish your resolution in the first month, yeah?
What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen?
There’s not just one! Pearl Jam was phenomenal, I saw Austin City Limits a few years ago. Also Outkast, their 20 year anniversary show. Unfortunately, some of my great influences, I wasn’t able to see before they passed away–Michael Jackson, Etta James, Whitney Houston.
Stevie Wonder is still–oh! Stevie Wonder. I got to see him, and the thing with him was, I got to be on the stage in the wings. I got to see him from right behind. There were a lot of artists there, we were all getting schooled. [laughs] And also of course, admiring. I remember, I looked back, and all of us had our mouths open. So that was great.
I had a chance to see him recently, and I missed it.
Make sure you do, he’s incredible, he’s still killing it, and he gives great hugs. He’s really tall, he gives great bear hugs.
[sighs] I should be so lucky.
He actually told me–you didn’t ask, but one of the things too, the timing of it was amazing. I was living in Austin, Texas at the time, and I was on my way to Los Angeles to record with a big producer for the first time in my career, and it was a trip I was so, like, “oh my gosh, this is a dream come true!” And Stevie Wonder comes on the plane, of course in first class. Then, after, I was walking, and I asked if I could speak with him–he had his whole family with him–and I got to speak with him, and spend a little time, and he told me, “keep doing what you’re doing until your wheels fall off.” That’s when I knew, I was like, “ok, this is a whole new chapter, a whole new everything.” And so, since Stevie told me to do that–
That’s a commission you can’t ignore.
Exactly! And I just want to encourage everyone to keep doing what you’re doing until your wheels fall off, like Stevie Wonder said.