Off the Cuff with Claiborne: Mike Gagnepain

Kevin Gagnepain is one of our city’s most talented musicians. He was signed to Capitol Records in the ’90s with his band Stir and had the hit song “One Angel.” He’s been performing since 1999 with El Monstero, covering the Pink Floyd classics. They’ve shared the stage with Living Colour and Don Felder from The Eagles. El Monstero loves giving back to the community and has donated more than $200,000 to nonprofits like Heat Up St. Louis, Kids Rock Cancer and Crisis Aid.

How did El Monstero get its start?
It started as a side project for Stir. We were home for the holidays and wanted to do something different. We started a cover band just playing bars around town so we could practice between tours. Every night, we’d close the show with a melody of the second half of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. We thought it would be cool to do a whole night of Pink Floyd. We had our first show over Thanksgiving weekend in 1999, and it was a success.

Tribute bands come and go. What has made El Monstero so successful?
I think we’ve lasted because of the people in the band. We’ve had some changes, but the current lineup, with one exception, has been the same since 2006. The fans also play a big part. Since our shows are around the holidays, they’ve become a tradition for some people. El Monstero is just something St. Louis has propped up. We can’t claim 100% of the credit for our success.

You play with some big local musicians. How did you get everyone together in the same room?
The collaboration started with Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” It has a guest vocalist, so from year one, we’ve brought someone in for that song. Then a few years later, we had a guitar part that wasn’t getting played in the song “Money.” We know every guitar player in town because we all grew up in the local music scene together. We could find someone to play that part. That grew into having a different guest every night. When you’re a tribute band, you have a limited catalog of music. Bringing in guests is a way to keep the show feeling new and fresh. Plus, we get to share this experience that we created with our friends.

As a musician, what artists do you gravitate toward?
I’ve never been the kind of person who thinks the music I like is cool and everything else stinks. My high school and college years were during the late ’80s. I liked new wave and hair metal. I grew up playing classical music on the piano. I think there are a lot of positives with music today, especially with the move from digital production back to real instruments.

What inspires El Monstero to give back to the community?
Being part of the fabric of St. Louis is important to us. Over the years we’ve been able to make some donations to nonprofits. We don’t always advertise it, but we do like to thank fans for being a part of it. In reality, they are making the donations through us. We’re working together to make St. Louis a better place.

What’s your go-to food after a gig?
I actually have more of a go-to before the gig. When we play at The Pageant, almost every member of the band eats chicken soup from Mi Ranchito.

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