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.