Silversun Pickups’ Nikki Monninger on touring again, playing the hits and the challenges of playing the new ones

Silversun Pickups come to The Wellmont Theater in Montclair on Nov. 5.

Nikki Monninger is feeling grateful these days. First, the Silversun Pickups bassist is grateful that her daughter wanted to have matching costumes with her for Halloween—even though she could only find an XXL version for herself, she says, “I’m so excited that she still wants to match with me.”

Also, Monninger is grateful to be touring again, and the Silversun Pickups will be coming to the Garden State on Nov. 5, playing at The Wellmont Theater in Montclair. 

In 2020, the band was in the middle of touring in support of their previous album, Widow Weeds, when the world shut down because of COVID. Recently bands and artists such as Animal Collective and Santigold canceled tours due to COVID, and inflation. Monninger isn’t taking anything for granted this tour. 

“We take it day by day, and we are all happy that we are healthy right now,” says Monninger. “We are all excited to tour. We kind of have to let go, and hope everyone stays healthy because life needs to go on—for our mental health and everyone’s mental health because we were all separated for so long. It’s a leap of faith, and we want to bring happiness into other people’s lives.”

And on this upcoming tour Monninger and the rest of band—rounded out by Brian Aubert (vocals, guitar), Chris Guanlos (drums),and Joe Lester (keyboards)—are excited to play new material from their latest album, Physical Thrills, which was released on Aug. 19. 

Even though Physical Thrills isn’t a pandemic record per se, the latest release from the California alt-rock band does touch on themes of the pandemic. 

“When we come together, there’s a sound that happens,” explains Monninger. “This time with the pandemic was different. In March 2020 we were still touring and we had to stop. We all went home and went our separate ways. I had my twins at home doing online schools, and Brian had his son that he was taking care of.  For the first year, we didn’t see each other as bandmates. It was so nice when we started to get back together, and Brian had so many ideas that he wanted to share with us.”

One of those ideas was a song called “System Error,” a song that Monninger loves to play despite the challenges.

“When we first got back together, Brian started playing the first melody for ‘System Error,’ and I was like, ‘Wow, can’t wait to dive into this song,’” says Monninger. “It was really challenging to play that bassline, but I love that song because it’s angular but it still has chaos in it as well. It was a really fun, challenging song to record, and we just started to play it live. I was nervous about how I would play it live, but it’s a super fun song and I try to have fun with it. It’s one of my favorite songs that we recorded on that album, and instrumentally it’s really fun.’’

Monninger enjoys the challenges though, and was drawn to playing bass over piano and guitar because of the impact that the bass has on songs.

“I hadn’t played the bass too much before we started Silversun,” says Monninger. “But I always wanted to play the bass, and I’m so glad because it has become my favorite instrument. I love melodic basslines in songs, and I was drawn to listen to the bass in every song that I heard. Bass became my passion and here we are 22 years later.”

In those two decades-plus, the Silversun Pickups have released six albums, and have many hit songs such as “Panic Switch,” “Lazy Eye,” and “Circadian Rhythm.” Monninger is looking forward to playing old songs as well as new ones on tour. 

“Sometimes musicians get tired of playing older songs,” says Monninger. “But whenever we have a show I’m always happy to play the older songs. On Physical Thrills, the songs are more challenging for me, and the old songs feel like friends and family and I’m so happy to see them on the setlist every night. I’m grateful that we have so many songs in our repertoire now, and it’s fun for me to go back and revisit them. It’s like looking at an old photo album, and you remember living through those times and those old songs bring us back to different eras in our personal lives. I welcome playing the old songs and they make me happy.”

One new song to look out from Physical Thrills is “Scared Together.” 

“The song is about trying to find your space in all this chaos, and finding your way through this,” says Monninger. “With the making of this song, Brian really wanted a talk box on this song. At first our producer, Butch, was really hesitant about having a talk box, but Brian was really relentless and was excited about having a talk box. I liked the movements of the song, and parts of the song are unnerving and intense. Musically, I liked how it all came together.’’

Monninger and the rest of the band live in California, but they are excited to come to Jersey on Nov. 5 and have fond memories in the Garden State.

“We have always had great shows in New Jersey, and we love Montclair,” explains Monninger. “The people have always been so supportive when we came to visit. We used to play Maxwell’s in Hoboken a lot when we first started touring, and our first national tour included a show in New Jersey. Jersey has a special place in my heart, and we always love coming back.”

The Silversun Pickups will be playing at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair on Nov. 5. Ticket information can be found here.