Mona are an indie rock band from Nashville. Their hard-edged sound catapulted them to fame after interest from MTV and the BBC. They were named in the BBC Sound of 2011 poll; an accolade that was rubbished instantly when Jessie J claimed the top spot. After some time away from the road, they are back on tour with a new EP: In The Middle. We sat down with front-man Nick Brown backstage at their Leeds show.
HN: On your new EP you seem to really be pushing the boundaries of your sound. Do you feel like the creative juices are really flowing?
NB: “On this we willingly went in several different directions at once. The first two albums were garage rock: a band playing in a room. On this one we definitely were open to experimenting. On ‘Don’t Shave My Coin’ I’m trying to channel Bowie, but I’m referencing GG Allin. It’s all over the map.”
“We just wanted to fall back in love with music, and that gut reaction to music. In the middle of the writing process it felt even more…all over the place. Luckily the EP works, it has a flow to it. ”
HN: As long as you don’t reference GG Allin in your live performances. We’ll be at the show later and don’t fancy having human shit flung at us.
HN: I want to talk about the the opening track ‘Don’t Shave My Coin’. Firstly, what does that actually mean?
NB: “So back in the day, with gold and silver coins, they started to put grooves into the metal. They would shave it down a tiny bit, so an ounce of gold would no longer be that value, it would be like 0.97 of an ounce, and so on and so on.”
“Now we are at a point with paper money, which is actually supposed to represent physical gold, where it doesn’t really represent anything, it’s all bullshit. We’re being driven and controlled by a thing which literally doesn’t exist.”
“So by ‘Don’t shave my coin’ I mean: ‘Don’t fuck with me’.”
“The lyric “There ain’t enough time in the night for what you got on your mind” is basically saying: even if we explained all this we don’t have enough time to get to the bottom of it, because it is so fucked up. So yeah…it’s a little deeper of a song topic than I’d usually go to!”
HN: Being British I assumed it was some kind of Americanism, but when I Googled it nothing came up.
NB: There’s like “Don’t shave my coin purse”? It’s from Family Guy apparently.
HN: That is LITERALLY the first hit that came up.
HN: The title track was the single from the EP, and I can see why. I read it as about being a little bit at sea, being in a transitory period, and being alright with that. Would you say that’s where you’re at?
NB: “Yeah 100%. Not just a transition to another thing, but also from one perspective to another…”
“…let me tell them to shut up for a second.”
We wait for a few moments whilst Nick leaves the room to berate some eager techs hammering the drum kit on stage.
HN: So, transitional?
NB: “Yes, but it’s not necessarily leaving the place you’ve been, it’s just seeing the new place as well. This doesn’t have to be the bridge we jump off of. It’s seeing the world through other peoples eyes. With these songs there’s very shallow meanings but then also very deep meanings, deep topics.”
HN: Like inflation?
NB: Yeah! Fiat money, and Egyptians and aliens and all kinds of stuff.
HN: ‘Shooting the Moon’ was the first I heard of Mona. That is such a big, loud, messy anthem. My interpretation of that was of a guy who is being eaten up by jealousy, the inner monologue of this paranoid guy. What was the inspiration for writing that?
NB: “There is one word that comes into most of my songs and that is ‘longing’. That can be romantic, it can be ambition, and sometimes it’s pure anger and competition. It’s like you’ve got to the bar and some guy bumps into you, and you’re drunk and their drunk and it’s like: “fuck off mate”. This song is that point where they actually go too far. ‘Shooting the Moon’ is that emotion of: you can’t get out of this.”
“Yet it’s a pretty humble song if you break it down. The guy is having this wave of ambition because he’s humble enough to admit he’s not where he wants to be. It’s not posturing. It’s not like ‘I’m up here’, it’s definitely saying ‘This is where I’m at, I’m down here.'”
“That’s a place in most peoples lives. It’s hard to admit that you aren’t where you want to be. It takes a certain amount of vulnerability and humility to make yourself better. It’s almost like an a-ha moment of: ‘I can do better.’ Like maybe your dating a girl, but your parents hate her. Maybe I could do better. Or you’re drinking eight pints a day. Maybe you should take a break.”
HN: Touring Europe is good for the beer though.
NB: “But then there’s also needing to eat lots of bread. So maybe just stick to shots.”
HN: But then that’s all people eat on the continent: bread and cheese. So you’re in luck.
HN: Mona is coming up to being a ten year project. If you could go back, and see your younger self, would you have some advice for him?
NB: “Yeah, like a lot. I would need weeks of therapy sessions with myself. The whirlwind nature of it is part of the beauty, but there’s always things I’d do different. I’m not sure I’d sign that record deal. There was a lot of hype, and some people were really turned off because we were just shoved in people’s faces. It wasn’t a cool look.”
HN: At the time there were some pretty flesh-eating reviews of that first album.
NB: “Oh yeah, but we never got an honest review. It was either: the saviours of rock n roll, or fuck these guys. It was kind of fucked up for your head to process. Even the good ones you’d think: we aren’t this good, we aren’t this cool. ”
“Some people thought we’d been put together, like a boyband. We were just a bunch of poor white trash, who recorded (the album) in a flooded basement. But then it also got us in the game, so you have to take the bad with the good. We’re hard to kill. We just keep cockroaching along…”