Talking with Monica Aben about “That Kind of Happy,” Tone, and Authenticity

Monica Aben
Photo: Rebecka Slatter
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“That Kind of Happy,” the new single from singer-songwriter Monica Aben, transports listeners back to a time and place when happiness was different, and more genuine than it is in today’s world.

Aben explains, ‘That Kind of Happy’ is an ode to millennials as we were the last generation to grow up without cell phones. We were the last ones to know how sweet it was to be unreachable… Riding bikes to friends’ houses, calling landlines, and having to talk to our crush’s parents. We never knew how much we’d miss it. It’s an ode to simpler times, simpler ways of life. That’s the kind of ‘happy’ I’m longing for…”

Monica’s musical journey began at a young age, mastering the piano and guitar while growing up in a music-loving and rhythm-filled home. The profound connection between her poetry and melodies led her to discover her unique gift for songwriting, drawing inspiration from iconic talents like Keane and Taylor Swift.

Throughout her artistic voyage, Monica has overcome significant obstacles, including a major allergic reaction to a vaccine in her youth that took her out of social settings for a while and ultimately led her into songwriting.

The accompanying music video for “That Kind of Happy” was filmed by Anna Marie Aben and Kota Wade, with Monica herself directing and editing. The video mirrors the song’s essence, visually capturing the feeling of taking yourself out on an adventure for the sake of one. Escaping to nature, getting off the grid, and falling in love with life again. It’s a series of vignettes of life before technology crept into every moment of our lives.

Guitar Girl Magazine spoke with Monica Aben to discuss the differences between the UK and U.S. music scenes and her creative process.

What three things can’t you live without?

My filtered water bottle, a book of sorts to jot down my thoughts and feelings, and tallow for my skin and face… Can you tell I’m super health-focused?

Why do you make music?

I make music because I feel like it was something that I was put on this earth to do. God, the Universe, whatever you believe in, definitely gave me this gift because it wasn’t something I went looking for… I played piano from 3 years old and took lessons off and on forever, but songwriting and playing guitar came into my life after a year of battling serious health issues in high school. Pretty wild the path life takes us on.

What inspired your latest single “That Kind of Happy?” 

The general answer would be the boom of big tech and the loss of REAL genuine connection over the past 20 years slowly ate away at me… But I actually wrote ‘That Kind of Happy’ on 2/22/2022 after a morning adventure to Joshua Tree with my husband where we thought something magical (like the universe revealing its secrets to us) might happen on such an epic date! I remember coming home and sitting at my piano trying to write something GREAT cause I just felt like something was supposed to happen that day… besides my childhood house being listed for sale. After hours of playing the same riff on the piano, my husband came out from the office and said ‘Not trying to tell you how to do what you do, but stop trying to force something and just write how you feel…’ So I opened my voice notes, and the very first memo of this song begins with, ‘Ugh this is how I F****** feel.’ I remember sending it to my producer, Ben Alleman, and he wrote back hilariously kind words encouraging me to let the world have it, insisting people would relate. This song goes out to everyone who was born before 2000. Everyone who grew up without a cell phone, experienced dial-up internet, played outside all day, and only returned home when the sun went down. We were the last ones to feel that kind of happiness. We were so bored being so free and I think most of us are searching for that familiar feeling that’s becoming increasingly rare.

There’s a distinctive feeling of nostalgia throughout the track, would you say you were born in the wrong century?

I go back on forth on this all the time. In many ways, YES. I think I would’ve made an amazing early homesteader/pioneer-type woman. I definitely think I’ve lived many lives (but I won’t get into that). I’m slowly finding my place in this life. Writing this song allowed me to realize that JUST MAYBE I was actually born in the right time. Which is ironic since one of the first lines is literally ‘I hate the time I’m living in’ but all things can be true.

I see you were recently in London; how did you find the music scene in the UK versus the U.S.?

In my opinion, the US music scene is more about the ego, the vibe, the aesthetic, the clout. That’s why I never really wanted to pursue it here. I know those are rough statements, but behind closed doors, everyone agrees. It’s always felt so toxic to me. The second I made friends in the UK, it was all about who I was as a person, and what story did I want to tell. How to just be your most authentic self was praised there. I fully realize that there is a mixed bag no matter where you are in the world. But my personal experience was that the UK was much kinder and open to authenticity above everything else. They didn’t try to put me in a box or ask me to be edgier or sexier or cooler. LA has that not-so-subtle undertone and that doesn’t sit well with me.

Walk us through your mindset as you entered the studio to record the single.

I wanted it to be an anthem. I wanted it to build as it went on. Because I’m a classic storyteller with a soft spot, I initially wanted it to be a piano ballad. But after my producer, Ben Alleman, indulged me, we agreed it’s way too dark as a ballad and we wanted to tap into a bit of my inner rage! I knew I wanted big Paramore-esque drums at the end and Eric Jackowitz absolutely captured that. The hardest part to record was actually the bridge. My dear friend, April Bender was singing the background vocals and helped produce the bridge and she told me, ‘Relax, you need to sing this part as if you’re on my couch telling me how much you hate Los Angeles and can’t be here anymore! CHANNEL THAT FRUSTRATION!’ That is exactly what I did, Hahaha!

Monica Aben
Photo: Rebecka Slatter

What kind of guitar, amps, and pedals are you currently using?

I’m actually primarily a piano kid at heart! I write just about everything on the piano first and then translate it later in the studio to guitars. I’m a bit of a naturalist and I love to play my acoustic outside on a nice day and feel the vibration of the instrument. It’s really calming. Definitely helps my brain and nervous system to settle. I haven’t done the deep dive into the guitar world of pedals and amps just yet, and honestly, my wallet is grateful! But I am currently hunting for a Flea mic that will probably cost $4K, so send the good energy that I’ll come across one in a serendipitous way!

What is your definition of tone? And is your tone evolving?

I actually just recorded a new song two weeks ago where I feel like I found a new tone in my voice and production style that I’m really excited to explore further. To me, tone is the sonic energy. I’ve always felt mine was clear and emotional. This latest discovery is just a step further towards the softer side and I’m SO excited for you guys to hear that next year!

What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, TV, or other media?

I’ve been a lover of stories my whole life. My dad always played vinyl records from the ‘50s and beyond and my mother was a Polynesian/Hawaiian dancer (and those dances are all types of storytelling!). I think it allowed me to look for stories and inspiration everywhere, especially unique or unsuspecting places. I love meeting random people in coffee shops or antique stores. I generally end up hearing their life stories! Or being gifted books from friends and having those stories completely break my heart and inspire new songs. Most of all, I am most inspired on planes and while traveling. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve written some of my best songs on planes, trains, or in airports with no music or anything! Maybe it’s because I’m able to sit with my thoughts and detach from everything as if I’m outside myself looking down at my life, just an observer.

What can you share about your writing process?

I’m one of those people who prefers to write alone. It’s not that I don’t love collaborating, but I find my clearest ideas when I’m with myself and can formulate a chorus or a half song. Then if I have trouble finishing it alone or know someone whose perspective is the perfect complement to the song, I’ll reach out to a collaborator to help me finish it.

Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?

I’m really inspired by two friends of mine. Drew Thomas (UK) just released his EP ‘Meridian,’ and it’s truly a masterpiece. You can tell every song on it was a choice, not just a random selection. We performed at a showcase in Sweden last February and watching that live set felt like we had just witnessed a new era begin for him. I’m so excited to see what he does next because we need more authentic, fearless artists in the world. The other is Ali Stone. We met when she first moved to the States and became instant friends, she is the kindest, most hardworking, and talented individual I’ve ever met. She’s a writer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist (who can mix and master). And she does it all VERY WELL. But like Drew, my favorite thing about her remains her heart. She knows who she is, and she doesn’t compromise herself for anyone. She’s nominated for a Latin Grammy right now for her songwriting and to see someone achieve and keep following their dreams while staying true to themselves is rare and inspiring. If you can’t tell, authenticity is forever #1 for me. It’s the most important thing for artists of all mediums.

How do you define success?

To me, success is being wholly authentic and having my music reach and resonate with the people it’s meant to find. I think when you associate success with milestones you begin to set a toxic trap of never being satisfied and never celebrating the small wins throughout life!

What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs? New material?

There is a really fun music video coming out for ‘That Kind of Happy’ and I have three more songs coming between next month and February 2024! But as I touched upon earlier, some of the new stuff I’ve been recording has me SO excited!! I think everyone will really enjoy the next evolution… Until then!! XO

Follow Monica Aben Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Spotify

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