It’s midday on an overcast afternoon. State is in a cavernous, up market hotel in Dublin’s docklands. Away from the minimalist artwork, bustling businessmen and echoing water-features, is a rock n’ roll star in waiting. Sitting in the plush surrounds of his sixth floor en-suite, is Mona frontman and ferocious loudmouth Nick Brown. In black leather jacket, rayban shades, and scuffed desert boots he picks at a plate of pâté, before greeting us with a knowing-smile.
Brown knows how to play the game. Snapped up for a major label deal on the back of one single, his band are tipped to take 2011 by storm. Already infamous for his outspoken interviews, in the space of 20 minutes Brown will talk of his bible-belt background, his hatred for ‘indie’ and his unflinching ambition to conquer the music world.
The debut album is self-produced; you must have had a very clear idea of the sound you wanted?
Yeah, I wanted it to sound big, but genuine. It’s kind of unheard of now for a rock band to be allowed to produce and record their own album having just signed up to a major label deal. I’ve learned a lot about recording through trial and error and in the end the meat and potatoes of the album was recorded in our basement. I wanted it to be…not epic, that’s such a dumb word, but lofty. Big without losing the heart.
Was it a long process from the initial idea to actually getting this album finished?
Well (drummer) Vince and I have been friends for a long time and working non-stop. The tone of my voice, the tone of the drums, we’ve been working on those for a long time and I very naturally go towards certain sounds. Then when we took (our recordings) to Rich Costey and he totally got it.
He was easy to work with?
Rich has done everybody (producer for Interpol, Glasvegas and Muse, Costey mixed Mona’s debut album). After one conversation we became friends. He’s the only person I’ve met on the planet that I really feel comfortable leaving the room and letting him do what he does. I mean I’m a total control freak, even with the band. It makes me good at what I do, but Rich Costey is a genius. I’ve nothing but respect for him.
I don’t believe in ‘indie’, I think its cowardice…
You mentioned earlier, working on the tone of your voice. When did you realise you could holler like you do?
When I sang in church as a kid, people used to turn ‘round to my parents to tell me to shut up, ‘cause I was so off-key and so loud…but I didn’t know! I was just in it, singing my heart out. I kind of grew up around singing and always did it. Roy Orbison, Jeff Buckley, Freddie Mercury, I used to think I could do that! So I’d put on their records and try to hit every note. I did it with female singers too. I tried it once with Whitney Houston, but couldn’t sing high enough (laughs). But the thing is, I never had any fear about going for a note. A lot of people get nervous about hitting a high note, but the willingness to do things in life is an advantage. I was probably too ignorant to be scared.
It’s rare these days, to hear an American band coming from an alternative scene with your outspoken ambitions. These ideas of ‘indie’ or ‘alternative’, they don’t really sit with you, do they?
I don’t believe in ‘indie’, I think its cowardice. I think it’s a bunch of cowards that are afraid to go for it, so the way they give themselves a safety net is to say ‘oh, we’re indie’. I’m from the middle of America where it’s McDonalds, Starbucks, Wal-Mart. It’s huge and it’s for everybody. There’s two types of elitism – those who say ‘we’re up here, fuck you’, and those saying ‘we’re up here, come along up here, let’s be better than this’. As far as independent, like do it yourself? I’m all for that, but as far as a genre, ‘Indie’? I hate it.
The idea of exclusivity?
Well people think of this (band), as sell-out music. This is all new. Indie is a very new, young, dumb concept. Was Bob Dylan indie? Were The Beatles indie? Was Led Zepplin indie? Was Nirvana indie? None of it was.
Okay, but 1950s pop culture; rock n’ roll, Rebel Without A Cause. That appeals to you more than anything going on today?
Yeah, I don’t really care what’s going on today. That’s the era when rebellion started, where the word ‘teenager’ was even invented. Where people started challenging what they were taught and first learned how to flick off their parents or their church.
Do you still listen to church music?
Well I like old hymns now. I don’t like Christian music. There’s a whole Christian music industry that I think is bullshit. But I like old, old hymns. That’s folk music. It’s soul music. It is rock n’ roll. I was raised in the same denomination as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, and my parents and grandparents came from that line of thinking where you say what you mean, you mean what you say, you are who you are and it’s unchanging. The world around you doesn’t change you; you change the world.
Can you feel that same elation, that rapture you felt in church when you’re playing with Mona?
Well when I write songs, I literally free-flow everything. I’m not thinking ‘oh that’s catchy’, I go into the (recording) booth and I don’t have a fucking clue what’s coming next. It’s natural, it’s unifying and really not thought through much.
I’ll keep going bigger, until I can’t or I fail….
Dayton, Ohio, where you grew up – was it a one-horse town? What made you move to Nashville?
It’s not that small a town, but it’s a dead town. It used to be a car industry, but with the recession it’s one of the top 10 worst economies in the United States right now. Musically, there’s no industry. We hit a ceiling, where it was either keep selling out the same bar or go bigger. Someone like me has to go bigger. So we went to Nashville and had to go bigger again. I’ll keep going bigger, until I can’t or I fail. I’m just the type who (pauses) I get into the ring to win. I don’t ever wanna’ place third or second.
What can you see getting in your way?
Nothing’s going to get in my way as far as I’m concerned. With myself and the other guys, we’re not that ego driven. Unless one of us goes crazy, gets some drug addiction, or a Yoko Ono comes along…
Do you feel like people have got what Mona are about? With all the hype surrounding you guys, is there a tendency for some people to miss the point?
Some people want to avoid us just to prove a point. They don’t want to give in to hype so they don’t give us a chance. Likewise some people are latching on to us for the same reasons. I want people to listen to the album and really say what they think. There are a lot of emotions this album touches on and I’d put it up against anything. I’m not gonna say it’s the best album of the last 20 years, y’know? But we’re humble and grateful and I’m immensely proud of it.
And there our chat ends. What’s next for Mona is still uncertain. Fuelled by the conviction of their infallible frontman, the future looks bright for the Bible belt band. Whether their self-titled debut will set the world alight, remains to be seen. Still, it will be very interesting to watch this space.
Mona’s debut album is out on Universal Ireland on 14 May.