Ferro Montanino: Hanging with Skrillex and drawing inspiration from boy bands

Dirty pop: Winnipeg musician Ferro Montanino began writing songs at the age of four and took classical piano lessons for seven years. In his music, he combines his classical training with his love for ‘90s pop. Dylan Hewlett

What’s it like to spend an evening with one of the world’s most popular electronic musicians? Ferro Montanino knows.

When Skrillex performed in Winnipeg in February 2011, he invited Montanino to the show after seeing Montanino’s piano cover of the hit Skrillex song, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, on YouTube.

Recorded at the Palm Lounge in the Fort Garry Hotel, where Montanino performs four times a month, the video has been viewed more than 600,000 times thanks in part to Skrillex promoting it on his Facebook and Twitter pages back in December 2010.

Montanino heard the song for the first time the day before making the video.

“I didn’t know who the hell (Skrillex) was, but I heard the song and thought, ‘This would make a wicked piano cover,’” says the 30-year-old, who studied music and computer science at the University of Manitoba. “I just listened to it a bunch of times and the next day at the Fort Garry, I tried it for the first time.”

It’s a beautiful rendition of what was originally an aggressive, glitchy dubstep track.

Turning pop hits into beautiful ballads is par for the course for Montanino, though. When performing at the Fort Garry, he likes to play classical piano versions of ‘90s R&B and pop hits, plus songs by Lady Gaga and Nirvana.

But as he notes online, when he’s not “fooling snooty old people into tipping me money for playing ‘such pretty songs’ (which probably happened to be by Slipknot),” he’s producing his own brand of heavy pop music in his home studio.

There’s something beautiful about the songwriting that happens in boy bands. There’s some genius to it.

Ferro Montanino

“My philosophy is simple,” says Montanino, who plays all the instruments and sings all the vocals himself. “Catchy and musical is good.”

The classically-trained pianist says Bach inspires his chord progressions, the Backstreet Boys inspire his melodies, Kurt Cobain inspires his visceral vocals, Nine Inch Nails inspires the grittiness and modern pop music provides the production aesthetic tying it all together.

“It sounds hilarious, but there’s something beautiful about the songwriting that happens in boy bands,” he says. “To me, boy band songs are like these very perfectly-sculpted gemstones, and it’s not easy to do.

“Most people trash-talk boy bands as just being a superfluous type of pop music, but I think there’s some genius in guys like Max Martin, who wrote (many) of the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys songs.”

Montanino has recorded and released four originals so far, all of which can be found online.

Recording is a time-consuming process because he does everything himself, but he says it’s worth it.

“I love having complete control over every single aspect,” Montanino says. “It comes back to the classical training where composers didn’t necessarily know how to play the tuba and the violin and all these different instruments in the orchestra, but they knew how to write for all of them.

“I’m taking that approach. I enjoy learning the ins and outs of all the instruments and exploiting them to the best of my ability.”

He hopes to release an album before the end of the year and plans to assemble a band to start playing the songs live.

“I just want to build interest in this music. I’m trying to do something a little different,” Montanino says. “I hope the weird mash-up of genres doesn’t scare anybody away. I hope it’s actually a little intriguing.”

Ferro Montanino performs “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” at the Palm Lounge.

The music video for Montanino’s song, “Timebomb.”

When rockers Smashing Pumpkins put out an open call looking for a new keyboard play, Montanino made this video.

Published in Volume 66, Number 28 of The Uniter (June 27, 2012)

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