Liverpool Sound City Preview: Mona interview

Posted on 20 March 2011
By Richard Lewis
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Its Saturday evening and Purple Revolver have managed to catch up with Mona who are one of the bands not to miss at this year’s Liverpool Sound City.

Nick Brown is in the mood for talking. Like Holden Caulfield in a particularly verbose mood, the lead singer of Mona has plenty of opinions to push forth.

But unlike the self-doubting hero of The Catcher in the Rye, he possesses an infectious enthusiasm about where the band are right now.

A mere six months have passed since they signed to Island Records, Mona (the name refers to Nick’s Grandmother Mona Brown) are the most-talked about group to head across the pond in a long while.

An incendiary performance on Later… with Jools Holland late last year and gongs from the BBC Sound of 2011 awards and MTV Brand New saw them sell out their present UK tour.

“Yeah, it’s been nuts,” the vocalist says on the phone before their evening gig. “Ireland, Germany, UK all the shows have been sold out, in Paris and Amsterdam the reactions were incredible. People already know all the words to our songs at gigs, people are posting entire shows up on YouTube, we haven’t even got an album out.”

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, childhood friends Nick and drummer Vince Gard grew up attending a strict Pentecostal Church, whilst bass player Zach Lindsey was raised as a Southern Baptist.

In the lives of all three, non-religious ‘secular’ music was banned.

With the addition of Kentucky-born Jordan Young and following a relocation to U.S. Country music capital Nashville, Tennessee, Mona was born.

The band’s rapid rise has seen critics showering them with praise, with comparisons to U2, Bruce Springsteen and The Clash abound.

The group seem comfortable with the reference points, as Nick explains, “You can’t argue with something that’s timeless, things are classics for a reason. We wanna shoot for that.”

As to whether the group had inkling they were to have such a meteoric ascent he is candid. “We knew there was a lot of anticipation, a lot of high hopes. It all seems to have simultaneously happened.”

The reputation the band have as being fixated with classic Americana, (James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis) is true up to a point, yet their listening habits extend far beyond Classic Rock staples.

“I loved the last Kanye West album,” Nick enthuses. “We’re meant to be purists, but I listen to a lot of hip hop, stuff outside of rock n’ roll. Maybe hip hop stole the soul of rock n’ roll,” he reflects.

“That confidence, swagger, charisma, the feeling that we can take over the world. As for the state of rock n’ roll in the present day the frontman is typically forthright. “Indie’s for cowards, man”, he says dismissively.

“For the DIY ethic that’s great, but as far as a genre it’s bullshit. I hate that kind of elitism. I come from Middle America man, it’s Starbucks, Wal-Mart and McDonalds. We wanna be for everybody. I hate it when bands are up in a tower like ‘Fuck you, you’re down there. We wanna be like, ‘Fuck you, come up here with us.’”

Whether the band’s burgeoning success signals a new wave of rock bands however, Nick is sceptical. “Hopefully man,” he sighs. “We don’t want it to be so and so and so, and Mona. We don’t wanna be associated with them” he says, not naming names. “I don’t think there’s gonna be a huge genre swing, those days are gone.”

In an age when it has never been easier to create music, the vocalist feels something has been lost in the process. “The easier we make it for ourselves with technology, in some ways the harder it becomes,” he states.

“Everyone I know has Logic on their MacBook and is making up songs in their room, which is great, but years ago when it was harder, it was more of a sacred kind of thing. Nowadays instead of meeting a girl in a bar or a coffeeshop you just click ‘Add as friend’ because you think they’re cute.

“Mentally and spiritually it’s sort of dulled people. I know it’s a cliché but people really ought to be taking the time to smell the coffee. Nowadays we’re all about the pace. It’s ironic though, ‘cos we’re as fast paced as anyone we know.”

Indeed, a quick glance at the band’s schedule reveals as much, as they have circled the globe at breakneck speed, taking in Europe and a large chunk of the U.S. in under a year.

“It’s basically three days on, one day off” Nick says of the group’s daunting itinerary. “Even on the days off though we still do press and promo, I’m still singing. Sometimes you wanna jump off bridge, but you can’t complain.

“It’s not about the hype or the pressure that some bands feel at this stage. You know, we’re working hard but we’re working smart. You can see why bands who drive eight hours to a gig to play to forty people split up.”

There doesn’t seem to be any let-up either, as the band next turn their attention to their homeland. “We’re kinda six months behind in the States,” Nick explains. “We’re playing the UK, then Europe, then we’ll move on to the States, then after that to Australia.”

In view of this, it seems that the band are in it for the long haul. Their contract with Island/Universal ensured they weren’t about to sign their lives away on a deal they didn’t approve of.

“Yeah, we’ve turned down offers for more money, it’s all about protecting the band, protecting the longevity of the band. Zior Noise, (their imprint) the label set up we wanna keep going, Island/Universal handle the distribution side of things. We wanted to work with partners who have the same vision. We don’t want something that has a hundred corporate fingerprints all over it.”

As the mouthpiece of the group and the focal point onstage, Nick takes the role of frontman/lead singer seriously, “If you don’t provoke people you need to find another job, that’s my role” he states.

“We wanna create something that resonates with people, we’re the most human band on the planet. That bully in school? Go and break his nose. That girl that you like? Go and tell her how you feel.”

Seeing that one guitarist left the band following a dust-up with the lead singer, his conviction sounds deadly serious. “We’re not gonna ask for money, we’re not gonna talk about Debt Relief, or Make Trade Fair. Fuck that! We just want people when they look in the mirror to come to their own conclusions, we want them to reach past the mundane. We want to provoke people who settle for apathy.”

Frontmen who have influenced Nick unsurprisingly include those not afraid to voice their own opinions. “Bob Dylan, he never apologized for what he did, John Lennon before he became too preachy, Bono before he became too preachy. You can see why people get messiah complexes when they regularly play in front of 50,000 people.”

Talking of which it’s encouraging to see that the singer’s self-deprecating side shines through. “I’m a little immature still to stay quiet, I’m Irish-Italian-Scorpio, so I can’t help but run my mouth!” he laughs. Following two gigs at the legendary South by Southwest festival in Texas, an event the vocalist describes as “Awesome”, the group will make a return visit to Liverpool for a headline slot at Liverpool Sound City.

Having played here twice before, it seems that Nick has build up a rapport with the place. “In different cities we like to feel we have our hands on the pulse of things, I walked around Liverpool a lot, it’s a really cool place” he says.

Mona will be playing the Last.fm & Virtual Festivals presents stage on the Saturday 21st May at the O2 Academy 1, Doors 7pm.

Liverpool Sound City wristbands are on sale now and will give you access to all the goings on. For more info visit www.liverpoolsoundcity.co.uk