What I’m Listening To is a series where we talk to exciting artists and musicians and get a five song slice of their current playlist.
“Anything you’re working on should never become too comfortable. Otherwise you’ll start to sleepwalk through the experience, instead of really connecting to it.”
Jeremy Greene, singer of Sacramento’s glam rock band Mondo Deco and this month’s curator of the What I’m Listening To playlist has been musical since a young age. “My parents had an old beat-up piano that I’d write little classical sounding songs on, and at 13 I picked up the guitar. I became obsessed with it immediately.”
He bought a “$100 electric knockoff” guitar to fuel his obsession, but couldn’t afford an amp. “I would practice in the bathroom or kitchen to hear what the hell I was doing.” After four months of this, Greene’s parents decided the guitar was more than a passing phase and bought him a little $50 practice amp. Greene only had a couple months of lessons under his belt before he began teaching himself. “Musically I found myself getting bored in any specific genre. I would bounce around from different styles of writing every 6-12 months.”
By the end of end of high school he was playing bass with a multitude of different bands, trying every genre from punk to jazz.”[N]one of it lasted too long. I loved picking up new tricks in those genres, but inevitably went back to where I started, garage rock.”
Mondo Deco began during a long phone call between Greene and drummer Billy Ewing. At the time, Greene was playing with Goodness Gracious Me aka GGM in Sacramento and Ewing was living in Monterey, but planning to move back to Sac. The two had grown up playing shows together in various punk bands in high school. They talked about their love of the “early years of glam rock, power pop, and garage bands like Easybeats, Bowie, T. Rex, Sweet, and more modern groups like Eagles of Death Metal, and Supergrass. We wanted to start a band that captured that same kind of energy.” To do so, they brought in their friend Tiffany Yokoi on keyboards. Greene then met their bassist Steve Robinson in a recording class and roped him in as well. The line up called themselves Spread Eagle but “never made it past a half a dozen practices.”
Ewing and Greene kept playing for another year or so before meeting Kolton James. James was playing with Order of the Golden Mirror but looking to branch out and do his own project. He gave Greene his demo CD after a GGM show and it was exactly what they were looking for, “[b]ratty rock n’roll with sincerity.” The trio started immediately and wrote a dozen songs in a few months. They then reached out to Robinson and started booking in 2010. The name Mondo Deco came from the open lyric of Jimmy Jukebox’s song ‘Motorboat,’ though they later realized it was also the name of an album by the The Quick.
At first the goal of Mondo Deco was to get “asses moving at shows, and make it a fun experience. The song writing started off as deliberately over the top, without too much second guessing.” The band would evolve considerably over the next six years. At the beginning they went in for showmanship: all white suits, back-up dancers, stage lighting, and theatrics. “[A]t a certain point found that it was an unnecessary distraction. After years of playing together, and an album under our belts, our sound and songwriting [became] … more realized. We’re not completely against some of those elements coming back at some point, but the music should always comes first. We branched out in more directions musically and became a better group by going back to basics.” Robinson left the group “on the best of terms” last year and they recruited Shawn Tindall in his place.
“Great rock music at its core is about a gut feeling,” Greene says, “over intellectualizing music tends takes the joy out of it.” Because of this, he values sincerity over technical perfection. “Technical playing and perfect technique doesn’t grab me as much as someone that plays with a primal, committed energy. If music taps into something that helps you feel something deeper, than its doing it’s job. It obviously helps to know how to play, but as a musician don’t forget how it felt in the beginning.”
So what is Jeremy Greene listening to? “I’m so tempted to write about my favorite album choices, but I can play by the rules. That said, any song I list here the album is worth owning. Here we go…”
Alabama Shakes – ‘Gimme All Your Love’ – (Sound & Color)-“Alabama Shakes are one of the best groups out today. Brittany Howard’s vocals are second to none in modern music, and dynamically the band can’t be touched. The first time I heard ‘Gimme All Your Love’ I got chills. You can tell a song moves you when as soon as its over, you have to replay it … Alabama Shakes are brilliant songwriters, and the production on this album is some of the best I’ve ever heard.”
Leon Russell – ‘Delta Lady’ – (Leon Russell)– “[A] few names came to mind right away, and Leon Russell was on the top of the list. For the last year Leon Russell’s debut album has one of my favorite albums. Kolton and I geeked out on this album after several drinks, and played it front to back at least 3 times in a row. The difficulty came in deciding which song to choose from this record. I can’t necessarily say if this is my favorite song from this album, but it does have one of my favorite moments on the album. Here comes that chill factor again. Whether it’s goosebumps or feeling your heart sink, it’s always a beautiful moment when listening to music. It comes at the breakdown at 1:52 seconds into the song, and it floors me literally every time I hear it.”
Run The Jewels – ‘Crown’ – (Run The Jewels 2)– “Dammit. Choosing only one track was especially hard for this record. It’s so great from start to finish. At first I landed on ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’, but had to go with ‘Crown’. The beats keeps your head nodding all the way through, and the lyrics draw you in and keeps you there. I’ve dug Killer Mike since I first heard him with Outkast, and El-P’s beats are some of the most original out there, ever since the early years with his label Definitive Jux. The two of them together is a match made in heaven.”
Thee Oh Sees – ‘Sticky Hulks’ – (Mutilator Defeated At Last)–“I first heard this song last year at Burgerama in L.A. After working the crowd into a frenzy they performed ‘Sticky Hulks’ and a calm washed over the crowd. I was hungover and the heat was helping to remind me of how shitty I felt. For whatever reason it seemed like the only cool breeze I felt that afternoon was during this song. Maybe my attachment to this song stems from that memory, but honestly I could have chosen several of these tracks. This album is a perfect reminder of why they are considered the kings of modern psych/garage rock. They’ve influenced the sound of what garage rock is today. Their production style is mimicked heavily, and with nearly 20 years of albums to back it up, it’s easy to see why.”
David Bowie – ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’ – (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars)-“So this one I feel like I’m cheating a little bit. I’ve listened to Bowie to the point where I don’t put it on as much. Not because I no longer enjoy, but you have to keep exploring. This song however has always been my favorite Bowie song, and since he’s one of my favorite artists I figure it should make the list (sorry Shakey Graves, QOTSA you’ll make the list next time). It’s a perfectly written song and his vocals on it to this day cut me to the core. We had the good fortune to play a tribute show that Melissa Uroff put together in his memory, and oddly enough the only song I messed up badly was ‘Rock and Roll Suicide.’ It’s a song I’ve played countless times on my own and felt completely confident in performing. I’d like to think Bowie’s ghost noticed I was having a little too much fun and messed with my head during our set. Next time I’ll have a little more reverence for the Thin White Duke.”
What is on the horizon for Mondo Deco? “We’re now busier than ever.” Greene says. The band released Supercassette H/MD, an EP with Honyock on Mechanical Bull Records last April, and are mixing their next full length, and yet unnamed album this month. They are also shooting several music videos to accompany the release later this year. Catch Mondo Deco live at Old Ironsides with Vasas on July 29th. Learn more about the band here.
Words: K. Hules