Interview with Mona frontman Nick Brown
Hailing from Nashville, TN, Mona are the real thing; authentic, down-home, rock n' roll, a mixture of the height of the Sun Records Elvis-era with postmodern punk , gaining a huge following in the U.K., these southern gentlemen are on a one-way ticket to stardom in the U.S.
As I'm following vocalist/guitarist Nick Brown up the stairs backstage at the Rickshaw Stop where along with the rest of his band Mona - guitarist Jordan Young, bassist Zach Lindsey, and drummer Vince Gard - are making their San Francisco debut, I can't help but see the resemblence to a young Joe Strummer; so uncanny, the tilt of the head, confidence and swagger, though accent from the South rather than England, I keep expecting him to break out into song with "Rudy Can't Fail" or "Car Jamming".
As we sit down in an upstairs loft, Nick self admittedly is concentrating on his game of Scrabble he's playing on his phone, unable to find a use for his "J", quickly realizing if he keeps up with his addiction things may pass him by. Conversation quickly moves over to what is coming up for Mona in the upcoming months including the debut album dropping in May, splitting time between the States and the U.K., and the ever important "3 F's".
RockMonthly: I understand you're playing SXSW.....
Nick Brown: Yes, we're playing Antone's and the Rolling Stone party. I actually said I'd never play it (laughs).
RM: It almost seems as though there are so many bands that play that some get lost in the mix...
NB: I believe we are genuine and real. It is a hard time in music because there are so many bands out there. I kind of see it as if everyone was making their own money.; if everyone was making their own money, it would be hard to tell what's worth anything. It's hard to tell what's real and what's counterfeit. It's frustrating especially for a band because there's a lot more having to prove yourself in there used to be in music, there's such a double standard now. In a band you have to jump through so many hoops unlike a graphic designer or an artist where you create something and people say that's cool but for a musician or band you create something and they just say oh you ripped off so-and-so or oh it sounds exactly like that band. I don't know...if people like it, they like it. It's just a funny time in music especially pop music. I don't know I'm just rambling now (laughs).
Good work and hard work will always prove better than anything else. My dad was a construction worker and knew that hard work would pay off and find the clientele he was looking for; he knew he needed a strong work ethic. Work ethic as a rock band is a little more intense(laughs).
RM: Do you think starting out in the U.K gives you an advantage now playing here?
NB: A lot of people think we were strategic about that and we were in some senses. After we were done mixing “Listen To Your Love”, which was originally a demo mix, we didn’t know what was going to hit. I e-mailed it from our basement in Nashville and next thing you know it's playing on BBC Radio One. Zion Noiz records really liked it, picked it up and from there we started getting an immediate response. It's a smaller place (the U.K.) and they just get a little more excited about live music still. Obviously there are places across the state that still love the live show but they're so spread out and not as close together as they are there, and it just seems more frantic there. Here you have bands that hold up residence and play at clubs once a week and they create a huge buzz but never go anywhere with it. That frantic-ness over there kind of comes with you to the states. Last night we played in LA and there were movie stars, actors and actresses, that whole Hollywood thing and they Facebook’d and Twitter’d about going to see this band that was big in the U.K. It's kind of like meeting a girl with an accent; automatically she's just a little bit hotter (laughs), you want her just a little bit more. They see that we’ve sold out all our shows in the U.K. and people see that, and want to be a part of that or see it happen. It definitely helps but I think it's a little bit silly. Now we go back to Ohio we can sell out of place but when we were starting out if I said to someone come see our band they would be like “Fuck you, I know you, I went to school with you, you can’t be talented” (laughs).
RM: Tell me about some of the songs off the upcoming album; Teenager…
NB: I saw teenager in the lyrics deal with human elements in a very simplistic way: “Love, Love/ You can’t find love” I think everyone can relate to whether you're homosexual Buddhist or a straight laced Southern Baptists or whatever everybody has that thing where you need something that's bigger than you whether it's God sex drugs whatever. Wherever you go to find it, it's kind of acknowledgment that humans are just not that okay by ourselves. Maybe we just need another human. Not to sound like a hippie or anything but I just want to write a human song, for humans. Their couple other bands that were in the same sentence as, you know, the up-and-coming bands of 2011 and we also get compared to other bands, bigger bands, and my thing is I don’t really give a shit about that. Big or new or whatever I want to be the most human band on the planet. And what I mean by that is whatever emotions we have the spectrum from light to dark, hate to love, crying, fighting… you know I always talk about the three F's, the three things we care about most; faith, fighting and fucking (laughs). Whatever those emotions may be if someone's died in your family, you're out getting drunk or just going to a party, whatever head-space you’re in I want to touch those emotions. I think there are some great bands that if you name an emotion you can think of them, like The Beatles. You can debatably say that maybe even only a handful of bands can do that, ever. Teenager is like that, just a very simplistic pop song. To have a grandiose idea in a three-minute pop song is kind of trite and naïve. You take someone like Bob Marley and he was very human, singing for humans, and that’s the kind of vibe we like to write about without being preach-y or any expectation. We like to provoke emotion.
RM: Lean Into The Fall?
NB: It’s about letting go; we don’t nearly control as much as we think we can. There’s a line where I sing “I like the way she looks/I hope she cleans/I hope she cooks/I’ll take her home for a second look” and I’m basically saying that I’m responding to this. I think we kill great opportunities, getting in the way of ourselves and I think we do that a lot. Not to sound Shakespearean or Hollywood because I don’t really believe in fairy tales like that…I’m sure you know people that live in the same town as you that say “I’m going to leave” and do something big or something like that, and they are just all talk and never really do anything and then there’s someone you haven’t seen in a while and you ask where they’ve been and they say that they moved to New York; they just do it. There’s a big turning point where you have to look at yourself in the mirror, and I’m sure there are a lot of musicians, actors, artists, and they look and they just see that look in their eye that just says quit fooling yourself, go back to school, do something else. I’ve never had that look in my eye, I just always hear “keep going” and there were times that I wanted to quit. This song was written when we were transitioning through members in the band and I was thinking I was OK to be in a band, to do this for a living. Kind of the Nestea plunge; just kind of let go and get out of the way. And it paid off, or at least, it’s paying off.
RM: And Lines In The Sand?
NB: I think all those songs are similar issues like you’re taking a stroll and this is a snapshot here and this is a snapshot there; Lines In The Sand is maybe a separation of things that are maybe holding you back as a Teenager to Lean Into The Fall. I think it’s really about “us and them”; if I don’t need you I’m going to walk away like with friends, the whole strain of a releationship, or family. It’s cutting off the cancer, clearing down the trees letting light in and see what good can happen. There’s a certain longing and fight in that song.
RM: Why was “Brick Shoes” left off the upcoming album?
NB: We wanted to keep the album short, and we had 14 songs so we had to kill a few children but we were really proud of those songs too so we’ll use them as B-sides; you know, we’re bringin’ the B-side back (laughs). I think those will be really for the fans of the music, being able to listen to those songs left off.
RM: What is your take on the comparisions people are making with Mona and Kings of Leon?
NB: I actually think it’s a little bit lazy, but it’s what humans do. Like with a new candy bar, you take a bite and you think “It’s kind of like a…”. I mean I don’t really care about the comparisions; it’s not like a studied the Kings-Of-Leon-Handbook or anything. We’re friends with those guys, and a lot of other bands, and we’re just all happy for each other, proud of each other. There’s no weird competition or anything like that. I remember hearing they were being called “The new Strokes” even though they didn’t even sound like them. I mean there’s obvious stuff and I get it but who else are we going to get compared to right now in music? Justin Beiber? We’re also four dudes from the same part of the world, from similar backgrounds, doing rock n’ roll, so I get it but then there are times we get listed as “Southern-pride rock” and I just think you really haven’t listened to us, have you? I mean we’re getting compared to one of the best bands in the last ten years; it’s not like we’re getting compared to Good Charlotte or anything (laughs). I mean, I’m not complaining. It will take some time, and that’s fine.