At one point, Daniel Monkman, also known as Zoon, was educating indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. Somewhat of a nomad from his late teens through early 20s, Zoon, a person of First Nations heritage experienced victimization when he was younger, which led to drug and alcohol abuse, and led him on a journey to rediscover himself, come to terms with his past, and make music.
Referring to his sound as “moccasin gaze,” the Ojibwe-born singer and songwriter says he found music through spiritual guidance and 12-step therapy, all leading to his debut album, Bleached Wavves (Paper Bag Records), out June 19.
Zoon, a name derived from Zoongide’ewin, an Ojibway word that means “bravery,” “courage,” and “the Bear Spirit,” opens up another chapter in his self discovery on third single “Light Prism.”
For “Light Prism,” Monkman wanted something gentle with no chorus with a vocal melody, so he spliced it from scratch and created his own abstract instrumental.
“‘Light Prism’ is a memory college,” Zoon tells American Songwriter. “Parts of it are from my time teaching around Turtle Island, while other imagery is of my home town of Selkirk. Selkirk was effected heavily by drugs and gangs and with that came deaths of youth I had known. ‘Light prism’ is also about reflection and being able to put things to rest.”
Writing Bleached Wavves was like a form of exposure therapy, says Zoon. “I had to force myself to confront the source of my anxiety and depression in order to find enlightenment,” he says. “Years prior to recording this upcoming album I wandered through Turtle Island writing about my past, trying to triangulate the source of my depression.”
Through this journey, he did “moral self inventory,” which he admits was a harsh process, but says it was the push he needed to rediscover his purpose.
“I transposed journal entries into poetry and ideas for an album, but I was never able to create the sonic textures that you hear on the record today,” says Zoon. “When it came time to properly record guitars and textures, I wanted to be easy on myself. I realized that during my journey down the ‘spiral staircase’ I was very harsh with myself, so throughout the album I made the music very vulnerable and soft.”
Light prisms are a collection of memories, and Zoon tapped into a state of reverie from childhood through adulthood on the track from his time on the First Nations Reserve, his struggles with addiction, and friends and family who have passed away, including his best friend Barret Peterson, who is mentioned throughout the album—the song is dedicated to Peterson and Glenn Olson (oosan).
“Light Prism” is a hypnotic, melancholy gaze that travels in time (and life) through its soothing trance and earnest lyricism.
Cloudy prisms blur each figures in the video, directed by Drew Rutty, who says that Zoon allowed him to experiment with new lighting techniques and create a visual experience that helped form the backbone of the video. By the end of the shoot, Rutty also became Zoon’s bassist.
“Over the course of editing and adding a shifting pool of color and light to the footage we had, Dan asked me to join the band as bassist,” says Rutty. “Even though the video features no one on bass, the reality is that the bassist is in the video by way of its creation and editing.”
Now living 45 minutes outside of Toronto in Hamilton, Monkman says it was hard to find the right group of musicians, but when he met Rutty the two connected instantly.
“In the video we’re missing the bassist but in a weird way were not because Drew was filming but not yet in the band, and I remember at the shoot thinking to myself how I was planning on finding a new bassist,” says Zoon. “I really like how it all worked out.”
Another Bleached Wavves collaborator, Chris Chu from the the dream pop band The Morning Benders, co-produced and mixed portions of the album, and while it was a dream to work with Chu, collaborations are a scarce occurrence in Zoon’s world.
“I’m usually very protective of my music, because what I create is very emotional and personal, and I hold everything I do close to my heart, so my collaborations have been minimal,” he says. “I’ve noticed that the more confident I become with my art, the more collaborations I participate in.”
Monkman doesn’t just sit down and write songs. Most of it comes together by improvisation, which often unravels more. “Light Prism” dives into Zoon’s battles with social anxiety and how it led him to live a very nomadic life.
“[Through] a nomadic lifestyle, I found myself planting trees in northern, extremely rural communities and drifting around Turtle Island,” says Zoon. “I gained a lot of inspiration from being on the road and from being isolated in the woods, and a lot of that inspiration found its way into the creation of ‘Light Prism.’ But the song itself is just a collage of memories from my past, present and future.”