- Posted on Feb 28th 2011 8:14PM by Kenneth Partridge
Into this grand tradition comes Mona, a Nashville-based foursome whose founders -- frontman Nick Brown and drummer Vince Gard -- grew up playing music in Pentecostal church. They've since gone secular, joining forces with bassist Zach Lindsey and guitarist Jordan Young, but they continue to play with gospel fervor, combining American roots music with stadium-sized rock.
Mona have already gained widespread acclaim in the U.K., and calling from London, Brown talked with Spinner about rock, religion and the timelessness of '50s fashion.
It says in your bio that you were forbidden as a kid from listening to secular music. Did that make you want to hear it more?
Yeah, I guess a little bit. It was just something where you cut off quote-unquote secular influences, or world influences, and tried to focus on a life of holiness, or whatever they wanted you to focus on. It wasn't like it was forced. That's just what I did. Once I got older, my dad and my mom started listening to [secular] stuff, just because it's honest. Rock 'n' roll is honest. I was blessed enough not to have super strict parents or super religious parents. They're more about the truth. They were listening to Bob Dylan and Otis Redding and early U2 stuff because it was just honest.
After your parents encouraged you to get into the classics, did you seek out more current stuff?
Not much, actually. I went older. Instead of going, "OK let's listen to this and see what's new," I said, "Let's listen to this and go older." I went backward, from Bob Dylan to Woody Guthrie to Charlie Poole. I was listening to stuff from the 1920s, and then I went backwards with soul music. I traced it to Elvis and back to see what Elvis was listening to.
When I was young, I kind of liked Nirvana, but then I did the same thing with that to see what influenced Nirvana, and I went back to the Pixies. I've always been really interested in the origins of things instead of looking to see what was happening in modernity. I was looking to see what caused what was happening.
Your music has that old-school spirit, but there's also a grand stadium rock quality. Was that a conscious thing, the mixing of those two elements?
It's not conscious, because [the songs were] written in the basement or a bedroom, so it wasn't these ideas of grandeur, these lofty motivations. I think being raised in church and seeing a couple thousand people every Sunday sing along, I'm a sucker for the chorus. I kind of write songs I would want to sing along with. Ironically, you translate that into rock 'n' roll, and that's a stadium band or an arena band -- and for me, it wasn't that thought out. I always say that at the beginning of time we were dancing around fires, beating on animal skins and strumming on horsehair, singing along. There were songs for funerals, songs for war. It's always been about the sing-along. I'm provoked by things that provoke.
Did playing religious music influence your sound? A lot of the early rock 'n' rollers, such as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, came from a gospel background.
Yeah I was raised in the same denomination as Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis, and I have hung out with Johnny Cash's son. These things are strong influences. It's not like I read about it in a magazine and wanted to be it. It was a part of my life. There's that conviction. These guys were raised in church and had their morals and were like, "F--- this. I'm doing rock 'n' roll." They did it 100 percent. Whether it was wine, whiskey or women, they were doing it, and they did it with conviction, whether it was right or wrong. You talk about Jerry Lee Lewis getting drunk and praying -- there was just a conviction about it, a passion about it, whether they were singing out of conviction or rebellion, they were still singing out of a real place. They weren't singing for an industry or chart placement or any of that bull----. They were singing because that's what they were doing.
So far, you've earned more buzz in the U.K. than the U.S. Was that by design?
Not by design. Whether it was Hendrix or Dylan or the Killers or Kings of Leon, [starting in the U.K.] just worked. So for us, looking at the examples, we always thought it would be amazing to come over here and do that. You watch old documentaries of Dylan in London, and it just looks badass. When we signed with management, our manager is in the U.K., so we started working ideas and stuff. It just kind of caught on here and a lot of it was a natural progression.
It seems like the visual aspect of this band is very important. You guys all have the pompadours and wear '50s-style clothes. Did you sit down and say, "Right, this is how we're going to look?"
It was stuff we've always been into. If you see my dad's senior [high school] picture, he looks like Elvis' brother or something like that. We've all kind of had traces of those kind of influences our whole lives. I just bought a classic Mustang. It's stuff we've honestly been influenced by and has been a genuine part of our lives. I've had super long hair as well, but I've always gone full circle and chopped it off. It's just something that's natural for us, and I think there's a simplicity to it. Nowadays, you look at some of these bands and how they dress -- it's like stage costumes. The way we dress is on and off the stage, on and off the video shoot. The 'Teenager' video -- I literally went to dinner and, with the same clothing I had on, went to the video shoot. I don't change.
Catch Mona's SXSW Set on Wednesday, March 16 at Antone's (213 W 5th St.) 10PM.
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