By Tess Cagle Spotlights drench the Mohawk’s indoor stage in blue on Oct. 22, and Angie Calderon and Taylor Ortman ascend the steps to take their places for the evening. A switch flips, and they put on their alter egos, LIONGRL and G-Monk. Through the power of compromise, the “hip-pop” duo has wedded their favorite genres to craft a sound all their own.
At first glance, the name LIONGRL + G-Monk is bound to elicit double takes. Originally part of four-piece band called Cyma, Calderon says the duo felt like creating a separate name for this project would have been redundant, and instead opted to craft individual personas.
Ortman earned the nickname “G-Monk” in high school. A natural redhead, the “G” stands for ginger, while “Monk” is short for monkey, because of Ortman's love of jumping around. Calderon’s LIONGRL came about while she was in college and became interested in astrology. “I’m a leo, and I have always felt that I connected with that sign very well, because they’re lazy, prideful and stubborn,” she says. “And then, LIONGRL came from the idea that I’ve always seen the music industry as very male-dominant. Lions are only males, unless they’re lionesses. Thats why I’m LIONGRL. I’m declaring my equality with the rest of the guys.”
Ortman says he and Calderon started making music together exclusively last December, almost by accident. What began as just hanging out, quickly transformed into collaborating. “It was instant,” Ortman explains. “I would just write a track, and then we would put lyrics on it. It was way easier for it to be just me and her.”
Calderon says it was easier to make creative decisions as a duo than with an entire band. “It’s hard to make decisions with a band because everyone has different opinions, and you have to compromise about things,” she says. “We’re just two people that have similar tastes in music, so it was easier for us together to write songs and stuff.” In addition, Calderon says she and Ortman have incredible chemistry. “It’s something that’s bigger than us,” she says. “We’re just great at creating things together.”
Calderon and Ortman still occasionally butt heads, because they each prefer to play different genres of music. Ortman says he prefers “dance-y, upbeat, electro music,” while Calderon prefers “more chill music, like R&B and trap.” Instead of allowing these differences to hinder their sound, the duo finds ways to combine their styles.
“White Keys,” the first song they wrote together, exemplifies this combination. The song starts off calm, with a slow drum beat, and then switches to include more EDM influences. “Angie wanted something that sounded happier,” Ortman says. “I always use the black keys, which have more minor scales, so I tried to use a major scale instead. That’s why it’s called ‘White Keys.’”
This penchant for compromise has led Calderon and Ortman to create an entirely new genre, that they call “hip-pop.” Still, Calderon says it’s hard to define their music since “it’s still traveling in different directions, because it’s a fusion of different genres together.” She says the duo is inspired by electronic artists like Phantogram, while also drawing from “‘90s girl music” like Jewel and Janet Jackson, who both influence much of Calderon’s melodies.
Calderon and Ortman’s creative process can take several forms. Sometimes, Ortman creates a track and Calderon writes the lyrics and melody independently. Other times, the two of them write the whole thing together, freestyling into the twilight hours. Calderon says they have written entire songs in one sitting. “A lot of our songs relate back to us, but we try to make them relatable to other people by speaking about subjects in a generic sort of way,” she adds.
Currently, the duo plans to lay low and write more songs. Calderon says they hope to have new music online by the end of the year to bolster their online presence. “We don’t see the necessity to rush things too quickly,” she says. “We’re still trying to figure out where this is going, because at first it was just a fun thing.”
They do agree that after playing larger shows, like October’s Ditch the Fest Fest, they see the project becoming serious and long-term. “I feel like that show opened a lot of doors for us,” Calderon explains.
The two musicians have pretty simple goals regarding how they want their music to impact the community. “I just want to move people,” Calderon says. “I hope that when people listen to our music they feel something from it, whatever that may be.” Ortman says he just wants people to dance and have a good time. “I want the audience to lose whatever’s on their mind and be able to be in the moment, just enjoying where they are,” he says.
On this night, the audience stands inside the Mohawk in a room that fits 200 people at best. But Ortman already has his sights set on something better. Sitting outside on the venue’s upper balcony after their set, Ortman points to the outdoor stage. “I want to play on that stage,” he says. “That’s my goal.”