Mônica da Silva, 32, has always made music a family affair. The singer-songwriter was once part of a childhood sibling band. Currently, she’s one half of Complicated Animals, touring the country with two beloved dogs in tow.
The now-L.A.-based indie duo, which consists of da Silva and her fiancé, Chad Alger, 30, boasts an otherworldly sound that’s inspired by indie pop, 1980s synth pop and bossa nova, the latter of which is rooted in da Silva’s background.
The singer-songwriter’s mother is Brazilian, and the family split its time between the Amazon rainforest of Brazil and chilly Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a stark contrast, to say the least, both geographically and culturally, which led to da Silva’s varied collection of musical tastes: “I feel like I’m into such different [sounds] just because of the wide span of how different things were — they’re complete opposites!”
She grew up listening to vintage bossa nova, Brazilian singers such as Seu Jorge and international music (including bands with Arabic vocals), along with classic dark and moody 1980s bands like The Smiths.
The da Silva siblings began attending music classes at early ages and each gravitated toward different instruments, with Monica playing both flute and piano. They formed a family band called Nectar, which toured the country.
After Nectar, da Silva eventually moved to Chicago in 2007, where she met kindred spirit Alger after he posted a Craigslist ad — “not in a weird section!” da Silva notes with a laugh. Having studied Afro-Cuban jazz and Brazilian music, multi-instrumentalist Alger was looking for musicians to start a Latin or Brazilian project. It was right up da Silva’s alley and something she’d been itching to do again: “I was in an indie pop band at the time and we didn’t do anything with Portuguese or any of the Latin styles.”
Alger and da Silva have been together pretty much ever since that first meeting, da Silva says. They played together in Chicago before moving to Alger’s home state of Florida for a few years, then eventually made their way west to Pasadena in 2017. They came for both the musical opportunities and familial connections: Da Silva’s brother and sister, who are both still musicians, also live in Los Angeles.
In April, just a year after moving to L.A., Complicated Animals released the dreamy ’80s-synth-inspired track “Show Me.” “The subject matter of [the lyrics], ‘show me that you want me,’ was a sexy but darker idea for a song,” da Silva says. “It was more edgy for us.”
“But it’s also about everyone being so caught up in devices, and about being engaged in what’s happening,” she adds. “Once, after a show in Massachusetts, we were walking around this town and literally everyone was looking down at their phones. It was almost freaky”
In addition to “Show Me,” the duo is also currently recording a new batch of songs at their Pasadena home for an upcoming album. It’ll be Complicated Animals’ first since the six-song 2015 EP In This Game.
Moving to L.A. also means that Complicated Animals can tour by car up the coast of California with the couple’s two mutts, a golden retriever mix named Penny Lane and a border collie mix named Juju. The dogs will come along for the ride and stop at all the dog beaches along the way. “That’s what I love about California,” da Silva says. “I feel like it’s so much more chill.” The duo is also planning to tour a lot this summer, so the dogs should have plenty of extra beach-chilling time.
On their upcoming tour, which includes a stop in Ojai at Ojai Underground Exchange, da Silva and Alger will be performing both Complicated Animals songs and music from da Silva’s solo project, which is more Brazilian and international fusion. With Alger on guitar, da Silva will be on both flute and vocals, singing in English, Portuguese and Spanish — a truly worldly affair, still rooted in familial history.
“It’s a complicated family tour with animals,” da Silva laughs, “Hence the name.”
Complicated Animals performs on Friday, May 25, at 7:30p.m. at Ojai Underground Exchange, 1016 W. Ojai Ave, Ojai. For more information, call 340-7893 or visit www.ojaiartsexchange.com.