ON A MISSION
MONA ARE A BAND WITH AMBITION AND SELF BELIEF WHO ARE BUILDING A REPUTATION FOR THEMSELVES IN THE UK BEFORE THEY TAKE A RUN AT COMMERCIAL SUCCESS BACK HOME IN THE US. THEIR LEADER NICK BROWN STATES THEIR CASE TO CHRIS FAMILTON.
There has always been a grand tradition of American bands gaining success in the UK before being welcomed back to their homeland as heroes with an overseas victory under the belt. From Hendrix through to Kings of Leon, plenty of acts have been championed by the UK music press and given their fifteen minutes in that market’s fickle spotlight. Nashville quartet Mona are the latest to get the trans-Atlantic treatment with an image taken from The Clash and a big, anthemic rock sound that seems ready made for chart success.
Nick Brown, the frontman and mouthpiece for the band is quickly gaining a reputation for making bold and confident statements about his band’s intent. During our conversation it quickly becomes apparent how self-assured and committed Brown is to making Mona work; yet the initial attention in the UK seems to be as much lucky chance as a well executed marketing plan.
“We started putting out feelers to see what would happen before we signed to a label and it caught on here, it was just a snowball effect. It really happened faster than we could control it. We are starting to do things in the US now too – obviously we are about six months behind but its nice and historically things always seem to happen like that. Why we’ve been accepted over is because we aren’t native to them. Back in the States they hear about their own doing well and in a territory that’s not their own and it’s romanticised. Once again it just seems like whether you talk about Bob Dylan or The Killers – it’s kind of the way it’s happened to a lot of people.”
Mona’s debut album ticks all the right boxes in terms of big choruses, tension building verses and a clean radio-friendly production. It is surprising then to learn that the album was recorded by the band at home. Brown is also keen to point out that the band is best experienced live where he feels they communicate the most effectively with their audience.
“People gotta remember that we recorded this ourselves in a shitty little basement in East Nashville. Some people have heard it and they say to me that he production on it is over-produced which I think is hilarious because if you see where this thing was done and how we did it – I don’t think we could have done it any simpler but yeah I think we captured something special on the album but I think for me I’m very spontaneous and our live show is completely different and I never sing a song the same way and it’s always got a different attitude when you are playing to different people. Growing up the way I did and seeing pastors interacting with large congregations – that was my introduction to what a rock star is so we like winning over each crowd. It is definitely all about the live show with a rock n roll band.”
Any new band making waves is always subject to comparisons with those who’ve come before them. In Mona’s case they are being heralded by many as ‘the new Kings Of Leon’ or pilloried for their similarities to U2 on much of their debut album. This is where Brown gets a little more animated in discussing the band’s sound and where their influences lie.
“Those are the easy ones and its funny – let’s listen to Kings of Leon and the progression of the music. Those first three albums don’t sound anything like how we sound like now but if you’re taking it from when they blew up and the type of bands they went on tour with – which was U2, then it’s easier to say those things and we’re obviously an American rock band trying to do big songs so there’s not a whole lot of people you can compare us to anyway. We have a lot of influences as far as attitude and as far as capturing certain emotions. It is really across the board and we listen to a lot of music, not just rock n roll. If you talk about Kings of Leon who were brought up in the church and U2 which is a soulful, spiritual kind of thing and then you take me who’s a pastor’s son then you are going to have a lot of similarities. There is a lot of soulfulness there and a lot of things that you’re singing about that are human. I think content-wise I’m on a completely different planet than Caleb (Followill) who is a good friend of mine but we write and sing about different things from different perspectives.We take those comparisons as compliments and we know it is going to take time for people to figure out that Mona’s got their own voice and its own fingerprint but I think it can also be a lazy comparison. There’s a lot more there if you dig deeper,” Brown asserts.
“You can’t listen to people that are being lazy and just want to be critics. It’s about being positive and creating something, not tearing something down and what we do is rare these days – it is just four guys up there playing their instruments and I don’t care about anybody that is going to hate on us because at the end of the day what we are doing is a good thing for music – do you just want us to use a drum machine and do another thing? I would rather have kids listen to us and look at us and pick up a guitar and try to be creative rather than something that is flooded with just computers. I think musicians and music in general needs band like us – and it needs all the other bands too, not just us. People have said stuff like ‘saviors of rock n roll’ and ‘saviors of guitar rock’ but the thing is we’re not competing with other bands, there is plenty of room for everyone.”
“In the 60s and 70s bands tried to sound like each other. John Lennon was public about trying to sound like Bob Dylan. It was a good thing and now all of a sudden people go like “oh you sound like The Clash or U2, or you sound like Kings of Leon” or whoever. They said Kings of Leon sounded like The Strokes when they started and they said that U2 sounded like The Clash when they started and now they use it as a bad thing whereas I think it is a good thing. Some of the album reviews have said these things in a negative tone and I say “well thank you, you’ve just given me a compliment” so I don’t really give a shit. At the end of the day it’s just about doing what you do and being proud of it and being honest and working hard. We do music because we like music – not everybody should say that because a lot of people do music because they like fame or money. We like what we’re doing and I think that comes through.”
this interview first appeared in The Drum Media (Sydney)