Live @ O2 Academy 2 Oxford
January 22, 2011
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

As one of 2011’s hottest new acts – ranking highly in lots of ‘Ones To Watch’ lists – Mona (who are managed by Suede’s former label boss, Saul Galpern) are a band armed with stadium-sized songs and even bigger dreams! Understandably, press time with the group is now extremely precious, although I was still fortunate enough to be able to put 10 quick questions to the guys before their rocket-fuelled gig in Oxford supporting The Walkmen, where all of Mona’s talk of writing music with “honesty and worth” (think Springsteen playing The Clash’s songbook) was more than proven! But before our interview, and for the benefit of those of you who may be unfamiliar with the band’s backstory, here’s their complete official biography to feast your eyes on…

“Devotion. Faith. Abandonment. The ecstasy of salvation, the salvation of ecstasy…There’s a thin line between rock’n’roll and religion, and nowhere thinner than in the intense, sharp, sweat-drenched, duelling-guitar euphoria of Mona. The four-piece Nashville-based band – or family, or gang, or band of brothers – are young, charismatic punk preachers. They’ll testify to the thrill they get from hunkering down in a Nashville, Tennessee basement, writing and recording the best debut album of 2011. They’ll hymn the praises of visceral rock with heavenly fireworks in its soul. They want to convert everyone they come across.
This, by the way, isn’t the old God-and-the-devil schticky music-biz hyperbole. Three-quarters of Mona did learn their music – how to play, how to perform, how to work a crowd – in church: frontman/guitarist Nick Brown and drummer Vince Gard in a Pentecostal Charismatic congregation, bass player Zach Lindsey in a Southern Baptist congregation. For all three, while they were growing up, secular music was frowned upon, and transporting an audience – the congregation – was paramount. For all four – guitarist Jordan Young completes the line-up – imbuing secular music with honest passion and true grit is what Mona are all about.

Mona keep the faith, “but it’s definitely our own brand, We’ve had to walk away from a lot of the bullshit of church,” says Nick, as verbally forthright offstage as he is forcefully charismatic onstage. We’re all family people. We’re all mamas’ boys. We all try to be good brothers, to be good sons. The same thing with the band – we’re a family. But obviously with the band we’re more like a family in the Mafia sense. We’re a fucking gang as well. It’s all hugs and kisses on the cheek – but if you fuck with us, we’re vicious,” adds the singer who dispensed with the services of his previous lead guitarist by “breaking my fist on his face”. With in-band fraternalism this zealous little wonder, perhaps, that “Mona’s never lost a bar fight.”

Mona are Sun Studio’s Million Dollar Quartet (Presley, Perkins, Lewis, Cash) rebooted 54 years on. They’re rock revivalists, in the sense that they like, as Nick puts it, “the golden age of the United States – the James Dean, Marilyn Monroe type stuff.” This iconography and idealism, he says, informed the writing of Listen To Your Love – and the reasons why it became their first single. “It felt kinda reminiscent of some of the old stuff,” he says of the song, released on already-rare and already-pricey seven-inch vinyl only. “Even Roy Orbison-type melodies. But still, a little bit of a punk thing in there. It just felt like a good first introduction, a first impression.” Nick and Vince grew up in Dayton, Ohio. They met via their church musical group. Says Nick, “I needed a drummer and Vince needed an outlet. We didn’t even get along as people, as friends, at all, it was more of a musical connection at first. The friendship thing developed much later. But at first, growing up in church and having a little bit of a chip on your shoulder, you want someone that’s gonna play aggressively and have fun with it. And both of us were very zealous, even in the church, very passionate people. He beat the shit out of the drums and I used to break pianos.” As musical “support act” to the pastor, they learnt how to improvise, and jam, to follow the flow of the service. “That’s kinda how we view rock’n’roll now. I know there’s a lot of stuff that’s about scheduling – with radio and TV and the market now, they want you to fit in to a thing. But we’ve always prided ourselves on the timelessness of the experience. Just let it happen. Even when we write we don’t book writing sessions or schedule time to write. We just get together and whatever happens, happens.” Zach Lindsey is from Bowling Green, located in a dry (booze-free) country in Kentucky. Whereas for Nick and Vince non-religious music was banned (Vince: “but my mom would play me Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police and tell me not to tell my dad…”), in the bassist’s church non-religious music was tolerated. “I was born listening to The Beatles.” With musical options dead in the water in Dayton, Nick and Vince moved to Nashville. Why? Nick: “It was five hours’ drive away as opposed to 14 hours to New York or 26 hours to LA. And way cheaper. We’re a bunch of poor kids.”

Once relocated to America’s Music City, they ran into Zach on the local gig scene. He in turn introduced them to Jordan Young, an old Kentucky friend who had grown up in the farm town of Breeding. Having gone through serial line-up upheaval – including the bust-up with the unfortunate guitarist with the broken face – Mona was complete. “Now we’re four horses pulling the carriage,” says Nick, who’s worked on the “idea” for Mona for years – not least because the band is named after his grandmother. “There’s a lot of people that wanted to be in this band. There’s a lot of people that locally support this band. But as far as having people that understand their roles, and being happy with their roles, it’s chemistry, man. It’s just like a relationship. It’s a marriage.” Nick’s top-to-bottom vision for Mona encompasses everything from the archive pictures picked to feature on the largely monochromatic design of their MySpace; to only making the odd song available, and briefly (“too many people have artistic bulimia,” he spits, “eat and puke it up and they’re onto the next thing. So we made people saviour it”); to creating their own label Zion Noiz; to hammering out a major record company deal that, unusually, stacks things in the band’s favour. In 2011, Mona won’t be hard to find. They’ve already caused a rumpus in the UK this autumn, with the buzzed-about release of Listen To Your Love and two crushing-room-only London shows at Rough Trade East in Brick Lane and at The Flowerpot in Kentish Town. Their next release is the aggressively melodic Trouble On The Way. Nick: “It’s pretty self-explanatory – there’s a sound on the horizon and the volume’s gonna grow. And even though we are full of ambition and very grandiose, at the end of the day it’s about having our own voice and our own career. And we wanna do this for the rest of our lives. And at the end of the day, despite that huge, dramatic claim,” he says with a grin, “we’re just four dudes making some noise in a garage and just having fun.” After that, Teenager is scheduled to be their first fully commercially-available single. Nick: “It’s the song that sums up being a chump, dealing with love and hate and very basic human emotions.”


The only thing slick about Mona is their hair. The rest is arm-pumping, vein-throbbing, knee-jittering, raw-throated, singalong rock’n’roll. Thank God they’ve come.”

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.In Keith Richards’ Autobiography, Life, he says that for him, “playing music is almost like riding a wild horse.” But how would you describe the feeling?
Nick: “Have you ridden a wild horse (looking at the guys)?”
Zach: “I’ve never ridden a wild horse…”
Nick: “No, neither have I, but I’ve ridden a horse before…”
Jordan: “I regularly ride wild horses (jokingly)!”
All: (laughing)
Nick: “I don’t know about the horse thing, but there’s definitely no feeling like playing music! I mean, there’s spirituality, sexuality – any experience you have – if you’ve been onstage, they all kind of collide into one. So yeah, there’s nothing like it!”

2.When recording, are you a one take live type of band or do you like to explore different production techniques for individual tracks?
Nick: “Once we get it down, we’re pretty stubborn. You know, if we don’t get it within the first take or two, we start to get frustrated. I mean, we spend time with the arrangement before we record it, and a lot of times, if we don’t think it’s ready to record, we don’t even have anything rolling. Just because once we get it locked down in our heads, we’re pretty proud of being able to nail things pretty fast. Vocally too, I’m the same way, like they’ll be there with me sometimes and if I don’t get it the first time, we might just quit for the day. It’s all about ‘capturing’ the moment, and sometimes, when something has been rehearsed and it’s the twelfth take, you can just tell because there’s no life in it. Sometimes, it’s better just to wait and revisit it. We’re The Osmonds – we do it in one take!”
All: (laughing)
Zach: “We’re the one take wonders!”

3.Is it liberating being able to experiment in a studio / having moments of discovery?
Nick: “Yeah, I mean, we all have fun crafting sounds and tones, stuff like that. But honestly, it’s the combination of all of us together that’s the interesting part, more so than (pausing), we know a decent amount about gear and we have good equipment and we’re always looking, but we very consciously try to stay away from a lot of technology, just so that it’s us making the noise. If it’s a bass line with a vocal melody and there’s a countermelody on the guitar, whether there’s reverb or a million effects or nothing on it, we want it to have the same magic you know? So we focus more on the songwriting and the actual melodies of things, more than we do the technology.”

4.If you had the opportunity to, would you ever like to ask a musician how they achieved a particular sound?
Nick: “I’m obsessed with reverbs, I mean, if I hear reverbs on anything, I’m curious as to how they were created. Are there any guitar tones that you love Jordan?”
Jordan: “Johnny Ramone (laughing).”
Nick: “Yeah.”
Jordan: “But that’s pretty straightforward, you just kind of plug in, turn up and play!”
Nick: “We’re all about bare bones, a lot of it you know, we like it to be straightforward!”
Vince: “I have a lot of respect for the way Jimmy Page recorded John Bonham, especially When The Levee Breaks, and we were actually just talking about that the other day. They did it at the bottom of the staircase – awesome beats and awesome tones!”
Jordan: “Awesome beats!”
Nick: “Yeah, awesome beats!”
All: (laughing)

5.Do you like albums to have a cohesiveness all the way through, or to be more eclectic?
Jordan: “I think The Beatles got away with that…”
All: “Yeah.”
Nick: “But because they were The Beatles, it was still cohesive (laughing). Once they got to that stage (pausing), I think all of the great albums, there is a line that connects – it doesn’t necessarily need to be uniform – but there has to be a theme or an idea that makes things special or relevant. I think there’s a lot of schizophrenic albums and a lot of dated albums, where it feels like one song has just been written and you can tell that somebody was like, “Let’s hurry up and get that out,” and tracks 3 through 7 they’ve had sitting around, and then the rest of them somebody else wrote, so it kind of just feels disjointed. There has to be a flow to everything and all of my favourite albums kind of do feel very cohesive.”
Jordan: “But if it’s a good album, it doesn’t matter if it’s schizophrenic, because it’s good and that might be the one thing that makes it good. But then, you might have a bad album where it’s like, this is a jazz song and this is a freeform metal song…”
Nick: “It just has to make sense! You could have the most mellow song in the world, right next to the most hard rock song in the world, but if there’s a tone (pausing), sometimes it’s not necessarily the music, it’s the attitude of the band or the album.”

6.Is there a specific year when you think a lot of great records were released?
Nick: “That’s a good question!”
Vince, Zach & Jordan: “That is a good question!”
Jordan: “I probably wasn’t alive for it, I can tell you that much (laughing)!”
Zach: “’67 had a couple of really good albums!”
Nick: “He would know!”
Jordan: (laughing)
Nick: “Zach’s like the music encyclopaedia! For me, I wouldn’t even know enough to know.”
Jordan: “Yeah”
Nick: “I don’t think we were even born when those eras would have been. But nothing recently, no.”

7.Do you have a favourite artist or group who only ever made one LP?

Nick: “I’ve thought of one, but I’m not going to say it out loud!”
Vince: “That’s funny…”
Nick: “You’re thinking of the same thing (looking at Vince)?”
Vince: “I’m thinking of the same thing!”
Nick & Vince: (both laugh heartily)
Nick: ”No!”
Jordan: (laughs heartily)
Vince: “Next question (laughing)!”
*Mona’s Press Officer, Andy, says Jeff Buckley*
Vince: “Jeff Buckley, yeah, that’s true!”
Nick: “It’s kind of unfair though, because he died, but we’ll go with that one – that’s much cooler!”
Vince: (laughs heartily)

8.Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard once said, "One of the things that attracted me to songwriting, was that there's a relatively finite amount of space you're given to make a statement." Would you agree with that?
Nick: “Hmm, I didn’t know all of these people said this stuff!”
Vince: “No (laughing)!”
Nick: “It goes back to what we were talking about earlier, it’s simplicity and it’s just saying things straightforward. I don’t write lyrics that are overly artistic or overly poetic and I don’t write music that’s overly clever, like, “This is the weirdest chord in the world and this is the craziest sound.” It’s like Paul McCartney writing simple love songs, straightforward is the best I think.”
Vince: “Yeah.”

9.Continuing with this train of thought, some songwriters feel like they’re antennas that can never switch off, is this the same for you?

Nick: “Yeah, definitely! There’s definitely something about people that have it and people that don’t. What’s weird is, is that I’ve heard a lot of people that I really respect talk about this, where you just can’t not write music! I definitely feel we’re all like that – we’re always channelling (pausing), sometimes it’s almost like, what’s that movie with Jim Carrey where he’s God and he hears all of the voices and he can’t turn it off?”
Vince: “Bruce Almighty.”
Nick: “Yeah, it’s almost like that you know? We have a million songs or rhythms…”
Zach: “Even at soundcheck today, we started jamming and Nick started free-flowing some lyrics.”
Nick: “Yeah, we write very spontaneous! Most of our stuff, you can’t find a pen or a pad anywhere around, and if you do, we probably didn’t use it. It was probably a pizza order or something like that!”
All: (laughing)
Nick: “It started out being lyrics (laughing). But no, we like ‘capturing’ the moment you know?”
*Mona’s Press Officer, Andy, asks me if I can make my next question the last one for today, as the band are soon due onstage*

10.Lastly, if your debut album could sit between any two albums in your record collection, which ones would they be?
Nick: “Shit, that’s a good question!”
Vince: “Yeah.”
Nick: “I don’t know, Nevermind and…”
Zach: “The Joshua Tree?”
Nick: “The Joshua Tree would be a good little balance.”
Jordan: “Yeah, that sounds good!”
Nick: “What would you say (looking at Jordan)?”
Jordan: “For me, it would be (inaudible) and Rocket To Russia.”
Vince: “I’d say Led Zeppelin IV and…”
Nick: “Leon Russell?”
All: (laughing)
Vince: “Leon Russell, yeah!”
Nick: “I mean, I don’t know, I’m sure if you go back to our families’ houses, it’ll probably be framed in front of all of the albums!”
All: “Yeah (laughing)!”

A very special thanks to Mona and to Andy @ DawBell, for all of their time and help.

Oxford Set List

Lines In The Sand
Say You Will
Lean Into The Fall

“Listen To Your Love”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?