Everyday Monsters: Fangs and Twang Shares the Horrors and Delights of Michigan and Out-of-State Creatures on Latest Album


Fangs and Twang's Joe Bertoletti, Billy LaLonde, and Andy Benes stand together in huddle in the street at night.

Fangs and Twang's Joe Bertoletti, Billy LaLonde, and Andy Benes uncover a new group of beasts on You Monster. Photo courtesy of Fangs and Twang.

After years of writing about monsters, Fangs and Twang didn’t expect to find them in human form.

The country-rock trio of Billy LaLonde (drums, vocals), Andy Benes (guitar, vocals), and Joe Bertoletti (bass, vocals) discovered some people started spreading monstrous misinformation at the height of the pandemic.

In response, Benes channeled that disbelief and frustration into the Ypsilanti band’s opening track, “You Monster,” from its fourth album of the same name.

Alongside explosive electric guitar, organ, and fiddle, he sings, “It’s hard to be you and me / When we can’t tell what’s true / It seems to me that we can’t agree / Even that the sky is blue.”

“That song came to me … and it was done in 20 minutes,” Benes said. “All of the lyrics and all of the music just came out, and that was what was on my mind. [It’s about] not having a common set of facts or a common language that we’re speaking anymore as people and how horrible that is.”

The title track also lays the groundwork thematically for the horrors and delights Fangs and Twang uncovers on You Monster.

The album’s 11 tracks explore the quirky adventures of Michigan creatures and out-of-state beasts through catchy, mythical lyrics and timeless country-rock, power-pop, and folk instrumentation.

“While you can name a monster in the theme for each of these songs, there are a lot of songs that are more about the here and now. There’s more of a sense of Michigan in the songs,” Bertoletti said.

“Our approach has always been to write whatever is coming and whatever the next group of songs are. They always tend to have some way of hanging together, but it wasn’t necessarily intentional because we were writing them over time and woodshedding them.”

Fangs and Twang started woodshedding tracks about mermaids, devils, snowmen, and other beings for You Monster in 2020 and overcame several pandemic delays to record and release it three years later.

I recently spoke to the band about the album’s creative process, select tracks and their associated “monsters,” their collaborators, upcoming live shows, and plans for later this year.

Q: It’s been four years since you released a new album. What’s it like to finally share You Monster with listeners?
Joe Bertoletti (JB): Like everyone, we went through a lot of ups and downs during the last four years. Besides the first three months, we never stopped practicing, writing, or whatnot. But we’ve had several stretches … within the last four years where we didn’t play for six months. That was weird and different, but we started ramping back up in the summer [of 2023]. Part of it was because we spent time recording last winter … and in the summer we had a good string of gigs.

We invested a lot in this record, [including] getting new visuals, putting out videos, and getting merch printed out. We also got a chance to play some new festivals and some new venues since June [2023]. It feels like we’re going into 2024 with a lot of momentum: we’ve got this new record and we’ve got a bunch of new multimedia things happening. I feel good about where we’re headed, and it feels like we’re beyond everything that's happened with the pandemic.

Q: How did the pandemic impact developing the songs and recording them for You Monster?
JB: We had to cancel the recording three times due to COVID. The initial vision was we were gonna go up north to Andy’s folks’ house and bring our recording studio with us. The first time we were gonna do that we had six, seven, or eight songs. We ended up delaying it by over a year from the first scheduled time to when we went in and recorded it. We ended up adding multiple songs.

Andy Benes (AB): All of our albums have been like, “OK, we have a chunk of songs, let’s go record ‘em.” A few of them are thematically linked because we wrote them during the pandemic. “Boxed In” and others have that theme of isolation or trying to find a connection there. This album feels more cohesive because we took more time to develop the songs. They had a lot more time to simmer before we went and did the final recording.

Billy LaLonde (BL): With some of the previous records, we got the material together, and it was good, so we went in and recorded it. After we recorded some of the other albums, some of the songs adapted or changed over time because they’d flesh out when we played them live. We had that honeymoon period to flesh the songs out live by hanging out and playing them and practicing because there weren’t a lot of things going on. We developed more songs, and they developed from that. That cohesion came from us spending more time together … and working on the material.

Q: Mermaids in the Bay” is a tale about mermaids rescuing people from underwater beasts and ghostly pirates in Saginaw Bay. What prompted you to write a song about mermaids? How does the track also serve as a tribute to living in Michigan, especially since it references spending time on the Kawkawlin RiverTobico Marsh, and port Au Gres?
BL: I love the state of Michigan and the four seasons. Some of the songs get written situationally, and “Mermaids in the Bay” came from playing a fun festival up in Bay City—Blues on the Beach—that they used to put on. I was hanging out with everybody in the morning and late at night, and they said, “Oh man, you guys should write a song about mermaids.” I said, “Oh, that would be great,” and then I’d go back to that and think, “I’m gonna write that mermaid song.”

The first verse is a tribute to my hometown of Bay City and that area. I just wanted to give a shout-out to everybody and everything I love up there. The second verse is just about how people sometimes are pirates, and you have to put them in their place.

Q: Who provided the vibrant fantasy artwork for the “Mermaids in the Bay” lyric video?
AB: The backgrounds that you see in there are AI-generated. Billy started messing with some AI programs and sent us all these different pictures … of what he was putting together. I grabbed a couple of those and then made the video and gave it that feel of the periscope moving around. The other videos are human-generated artwork. With this one, we dipped into the AI realm.

Q: The lyric video for the title track brings your frustration with society’s spread of misinformation to life visually. How did Fernando Iannicelli help you develop the concept for the video, which has now been included as part of the April 6 Michigan Music Video Awards?
AB: We found [Fernando] online while browsing through portfolios of different people’s work. [His] style patches different elements together, and we saw a couple of different examples he had done that were cool. We met him online; we didn’t talk to him in person other than communicating through messages. He was good with taking our input and working things in, making changes, and using different stuff he had found out about us and incorporating it into the video.

BL: I have a great series of selfies on my phone from when he said, “OK, send me selfies for the video.” I was happy with that video, and I thought the work was awesome.

JB: From the beginning, he got the concept and understood the song. He got what was underneath it.

Q: LunaTick” chronicles a tick’s perspective about living with the host person it has bitten and then seeing that person decline with the onset of Lyme disease. How did a receiving tick bite in the summer of 2020 inspire this track for you?
JB: That was my story. … I got Lyme disease in July of 2020, so I got sick pretty badly. I thought, “It must be COVID,” and I got tested for everything. It didn’t show up as Lyme disease right away because it was too early. I had spent time at my family’s house in Indiana, and my brother-in-law had gotten it there … and we were there for a week. I was working in my dad’s garden in flip-flops and shorts.

But there are also some call-outs in there to the formation of the band … and our original idea of it being red Solo Cup troupes and country music troupes with monsters. Luckily, I caught [Lyme disease] early enough, and I haven’t had any impacts from it since then. It was a lot of antibiotics, and it took three to six months for me to regain my strength and everything. It’s also about learning your lesson the hard way, and I’ve gotten loose about ticks again. I found one on me in Ypsi about a year ago.

Q: Seger Snowman” highlights an abominable snowman who wants to escape his daily life and visit places inspired by Bob Seger’s music. How did you develop this character and storyline as a musical tribute to Bob Seger?
BL: It started with a line. I was going up north with my son one day, and we were talking about the band. I said, “What song should we write about next?” My neighbor had a dog named Yeti at the time, and my son said, “You should write a Yeti song or an abominable snowman song.” The line was, “Seger’s always going to Kathmandu / Think he’s gonna visit the you-know-who.” Then, of course, we all got together, and it turned into a giant Bob Seger-abominable-snowman awesome masterpiece.

A lot of the lyrics came through while jamming at practice, and it started as a Bob Seger-abominable snowman one-liner. A lot of times, some of our songs will come from just a funny one-liner or a joke, and then all of a sudden, the next thing we know we’re writing a song about that monster.

Q: The video for “Seger Snowman” features artwork by Febi Rahmat H and studio footage of the band playing the song. How did the video come together for you?
AB: He just did that one image, which was perfect, and it was exactly what we were thinking of. I did the video and made it move a little bit. We had that footage from the studio, and we thought it would be cool to show us, especially since we’re all playing in the same room. That solo take—even though there are some overdubs on it—is all live in one take. It was cool to show it that way, too. For the most part, we would cut solos live and everything, so there’s a live feel to it.

Q: Melonhead” revisits the folklore of children with hydrocephalus who once lived at Junction Insane Asylum near Felt Mansion and were later seen in the forested areas of Ottawa County. How did that folklore inspire this track during the pandemic?
AB: It was another one we came across somehow. I saw it on the Internet … and I lived in Kalamazoo for four years, and I had never heard of that legend. But then I brought it up to somebody from West Michigan, and they knew about it. I came across the story and thought, “This is perfect. It’s Michigan, and it’s a weird, twisted story.”

I remember writing the music to that one. … It was the pandemic year, and my kids would do their school from home in the basement. A lot of times, on a day off, I would sit there with the guitar not plugged in while they were doing their thing, and I would just jam on the guitar. I remember writing both parts of that song in that situation. That was another one that came fast and was probably a little bit more me than collaborating [with the guys]. For the most part, we collaborate on everything, and the songs don’t get finalized until we all come together and everyone adds their thing.

Q: Why did you cover Ween’s 1997 track “Ocean Man” from The Mollusk album? What’s special to you about the band’s music, that track, and the album? 
BL: We’re all pretty big Ween fans. I saw Ween on The Mollusk tour in Detroit. I don’t know how we all came up with the idea for that song, but it was a resounding, “Hey, we should do this!” My friend introduced them to me in the ‘90s, and we saw them at Saint Andrew’s Hall.

JB: I remember nine years ago Andy and I—plus Mark [Wallace] and our friend Dave—were gonna do a set of love-themed Ween songs for … an Ypsi fundraiser. We got together and practiced it once. Doing Ween was inevitable. Someone suggested [“Ocean Man”], and we played it a couple of times before we went and recorded it.

AB: Ween’s video for “Ocean Man” is a cool, campy looks-like-an-old-monster-movie type of video. I’ve watched that video a billion times, and I think it crept in that way … because it works thematically.

Q: How did the tracks for You Monster come together last February during a weekend recording session at Willis Sound?
JB: We did the last record at Willis, and we were familiar with the space. We worked with Joe Sleep as the main engineer ... and he had supported the last one, which was recorded by Jim Roll. We booked a Saturday and Sunday and stayed overnight there, so we still got that going away and staying-away-for-the-evening experience.

We approached it like we do for all of our records with whoever’s playing on it ... we’re gonna do it live. We did 11 songs in one day with five players on each song, and we just kept going. We came back the next day and started doing vocals and overdubs. We finished it in a couple of evening sessions, but we got 95 percent of it done in those two days. It was great that we could keep to that original idea of having us go away and focus … and be in that space.

AB: We wanted to get comfortable and not worry too much about trying to nail a solo. We wanted to create a vibe that was conducive to getting a good recording of these [songs]. When we went away from the create-our-own-studio-type-of-thing, Willis was the next best thing because … we could set up and feel good in the space.

Q: How did engineer Joe Sleep help you shape the album sonically while recording it at Willis Sound?
BL: I think he used every line and plug that he could use. He had this thing built up on my drums where my bass drum was encased in a box. He said, “I don’t think we can run any more lines.” And Adam McDermott was there with lines and cables helping out. Between the two of them getting it all set up and having it all ready to go, we rolled in, and we were able to hit the ground running, and it came out nice.

JB: They’ve got a lot of great gear there, and Joe knows it all. We knew once it was all nailed in ... that what they captured was gonna be great. It also gave us a lot to work with in terms of mixing and things. We’ve known Joe for a long time, so it was just comfortable and easy.

Q: How did Mark Wallace (fiddle), Colin Murphy (fiddle), and Loren Kranz (organ, piano) help elevate their respective tracks on You Monster?
BL: Some of our friends that come together with us and play when we’re recording—like Colin Murphy, Loren Kranz, and Mark Wallace—are super-uber talented and super-uber nice. They get what we’re doing, and there’s already a friendship there. That helps out even more because when we all get into the room together. … It's like a special occasion.

Being able to bang those out like that is just feeding off each other and being like, “Oh sweet, Loren’s here, or Colin’s here.” Hearing the solos that they do, or what they add to them that we don’t usually get to hear, inspires us to take our playing up a notch, too. It always comes out super smooth, and it’s just a fun time to hang out with your buddies and do it.

AB: Loren’s on every song, and then Colin and Mark, we split up because they’re both fiddle players. We just divided the day in half: Mark was there for the first half of the day and Colin for the second [half]. We already knew who was going to play on which songs.

JB: They’ve always played live with us from time to time, but like Billy said, it’s rare to have all five of us, especially when there are six potential people. We had heard some of what they might be playing, but we also trusted them to bring what they wanted to bring. We’ve played music with Mark for 15 years. Andy and Colin go way back, and we’ve played a lot with Loren.

Q: You’re playing March 30 at Nancy Whiskey’s Detroit for the Corktown Music Festival and April 20 at Ann Arbor’s North Star Lounge. What plans do you have for your sets at those two shows?
JB: We’re picking from the whole catalog, and we pretty much always play from it.

BL: We go across the board, so we’ll try to pick the songs that work best dynamically for that room. We’ll hopefully bring an awesome hour of music that everybody will love.

AB: A lot of times, we’ll put the slower songs on the setlist, and then we’ll say, “No, let’s skip it,” and we won’t play them necessarily. We always tend toward the more upbeat, rocky stuff.

Q: What additional plans do you have for promoting You Monster this year? When do you plan to start working on new material as well?
JB: I think we may put out some more videos. It’s still early in this album cycle. … We have a lot of live videos, and Andy does a great job of putting them out. We also didn’t have any studio videos before this record, so we want to do some more of those.

The record came out digitally, but we also have vinyl. There’s a short run of vinyl, and it was [pressed] in Toledo at Little Elephant. They do custom hand-lathe-cut vinyl, and it’s cool because lots of places have big minimums and huge wait times. Little Elephant did a great job with it, was easy to work with, and had a pretty quick turnaround. 

BL: We’re going to try to up the videos and find new, interesting places to play. We want to set up a tour of Fangs and Twang visiting spooky places. We also have a shitload of [new] songs in the hopper already.

AB: We have six songs already in some form of completion. Most of those songs on the record we've had for so long that we've already started working on new material.

Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.

Fangs and Twang performs March 30 at Nancy Whiskey’s Detroit for the Corktown Music Festival and April 20 at North Star Lounge in Ann ArborFor details, visit the Corktown Music Festival website and North Star Lounge website