Pay attention. There's a band in L. That band is called Mellowdrone. I say "band," but in reality, Jonathan Bates was Mellowdrone until very recently, when he recruited his friends Tony De Matteo guitars and keysScott Ellis drumsand Greg Griffith bass to join him.
Now, the four guys have set out on an eighteen-month tour around the U. Each one was "lovingly recorded in [his] bedroom," as he puts it, but no professional recording studio on earth could make them sound more perfect, or more intimate. Bates puts his impressive vocal range to good use, layering haunting melodies over satisfying, memorable instrumentation that you can't help but hum to yourself.
That is, you couldn't stop humming to yourself if you weren't Mellowdrone - A Demonstration Of Intellectual Property : EPK/EP (DVD) singing along to his witty, insightful lyrics. Go Get 'Em Tiger is no exception, and it is mainly songs from this latest EP with which Mellowdrone are winning over new crowds on the current tour. Recently, they stopped through Austin for the first time, and Jonathan and Tony were gracious enough to sit down with me backstage at Stubb's and let me pick their brains for a few minutes.
Hybrid Magazine: You've gotten a lot of attention from some prominent British bands, like Elbow and South. Has that helped you develop a large following in the UK? Jonathan Bates: No, not in the UK. They helped me out in the U. But we weren't really there long enough. We were only there for two shows, but the people out there were really nice to us at those shows.
Would you agree with that impression, or how would you describe your decisions musically and stylistically? JB: Well yeah, when I started playing guitar it was just to be good at something.
It didn't really have anything to do with music; it had to do more with technicality and being able to fit as many notes into one space, and you get to a point where you can do all that shit and nobody cares. It wasn't until [after that] that I started listening to songs and went, "Oh wait, there's something completely different.
So I just go with whatever the prettiest thing is. All of us are incredibly technically proficient with our instruments, but we've found that that's nowhere as near satisfying as playing beautiful melodies. HM: So you feel that that kind of technicality kind of separates you from your audience? JB: Well, it's left and right field. It's yin and yang. You know, technicality is like the dominant "Look at how cool I am," male.
And then you have the feminine side, which is about beauty, and both of them can't usually exist in the same plane. So, I'd rather be feminine than be this masculine tough guy, because I feel like all my favorite artists are the same way. From Van Gogh to Tim Burton, they all have this aesthetic and they're not technically Orientis Partibus - Mary Champion De Crespigny* - Children Sing And Play / The Brass Family Of The O shit in your face.
HM: Along the same lines, a musician-friend of mine once said, "Some of the best music could be played by anyone, but could be written only by a true Rocket Cathedrals - Be-Bop Deluxe* - Axe Victim. How do you think it relates to what you do? JB: Exactly. Because if you can play the song acoustic, or someone can play it at their home, then you've written a good song.
And if it can be played eight million different versions, then you've written Its A Wonderful World - Jan Garber And His Orchestra - The Uncollected Jan Garber And His Orchestra good song.
HM: And I heard a little bit about it from Guy Garvey of Elbowthat you layered several simple melodies on top of each other. How did you discover that process? How did you do that? A, I'd Mellowdrone - A Demonstration Of Intellectual Property : EPK/EP (DVD) done it before, and I started playing open mics. At these open mics, everyone had a guitar, and most of it was shit, and so was mine.
So I started working on my songwriting, but at the Mellowdrone - A Demonstration Of Intellectual Property : EPK/EP (DVD) time I started working on my presentation as well because I thought that, in order to stand out, and not become just another John Mayer - which I'm not having anything to do with, but can be easily mistaken for, initially when there's just some guy with a guitar - so I thought, why not just keep The Bath - Steve Lacy - Momentum lo-fidelity, but since I can technically do a lot of things, just do those things.
So I bought this little machine and would build loops on stage, and people were into it because I could involve them as well. I needed Mellowdrone - A Demonstration Of Intellectual Property : EPK/EP (DVD) at the time because I was keeping my head busy and wasn't thinking about Mellowdrone - A Demonstration Of Intellectual Property : EPK/EP (DVD). But then I got tired of that because I would have to play interpretations of songs, as opposed to the way they really were.
And I got tired of doing that. And they were all musicians and had their own bands, and everybody was just like, "Why don't we all play together? I like playing by myself a lot, but I like playing with the band a lot better.
HM: How about your recording process? You record in your room? How did you get started doing that? Every time there was a party or some kind of social event, I couldn't go out because I couldn't deal with the fact that I had to walk a quarter of a mile uphill in the fucking ice. So, I stayed at home and did a lot of drugs, and you know I did a little bit of recording at home with an analog four track. So I just stayed at home and fucked around and learned a whole bunch of new tricks on my own.
And it was great, because at Berkeley I had all these friends who had learned the "correct" way of recording shit, and they all sounded the same.
Then I came along and it sounded really different. So that's how we try to approach everything in this band now, is: "Everybody does it this way.
How do we do it that makes it comfortable for us? Just straight live. And it's the best thing we've ever done. I'm so insanely proud of it. As gay as it sounds, we're learning to accept ourselves and be ourselves as much as we can. All of us have been fucked around with our whole lives and have assumed that we're just pieces of shit, and we're JUST NOW realizing that, you know what? We're not that Mellowdrone - A Demonstration Of Intellectual Property : EPK/EP (DVD). And musically we're doing the same thing.
And it's great. Because we're all like, "Hey, you're not that bad. HM: It's been said that those who write more than they read are ignorant fools. Do you feel that's true for music as well, or do you think the ability to write good music comes independently of how much of a music fan someone is? JB: No. But, in order to be a great songwriter, you have to know what a great song is. You have to have good taste. And that's just personal. Like, if you're a country singer, you should like good country songs.
You know what I mean? Tony De Matteo: Yeah, well, listening to good songs is like doing your homework. You know, knowing what other people are doing.
TDM: I think, almost to be a musician you have to be a huge fan of music anyways. JB: But there's a lot of guys who don't listen to music; they just practice their instruments.
JB: Yeah, it was! Good call! All of us were really stoned, and having a really good time. And the crowd completely reciprocated back. It's like, when you're giving your all, and the crowd's giving your all back, it's orgasmic.
That was probably our best show so far. That, and playing the Troubadour in L. HM: So, are you referring specifically to the crowds, or do the venues help as well? JB: You can be in the coolest venue in the world, but if you're playing to a shitty crowd, you're going to be depressed afterwards.
I remember in Bakersfield, CA there was this place called Jerry's Deli, and the venue's literally a basement. There's no monitoring system. It's just two speakers out of a four-channel mixer.
We showed up and we were like, "Oh my God, this is going to suck. It was fucking drenching sweat down there, and we couldn't hear anything, but everyone was having a great time, and that was one of the best shows we've ever played. So, people make the venue, not the venue itself. HM: So what's happening with the record label? Starting your own? JB: So what happened was, Artist Direct used to be a corporation, and this guy bought it out. He's starting a new label. He's also a movie producer.
He produced The Last Samurai and other really huge movies. So he's starting a new label, and he's giving us our own money.
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