Mellowdrone: Music Straight Out of the Box
By David Chiu
Whatever one thinks upon hearing the debut of the L.A.-based quartet Mellowdrone’s debut album, ‘happy’ music doesn’t come to mind.On the contrary, the group’s debut album Box (3 Records/Red Ink) is rather a moody and atmospheric album that imagines collaboration between David Lynch and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor: a cinematic-sounding work that achieves middle ground between ugliness and beauty.
An amalgam of electronica and guitars, Box is a journey to the other side of the human condition that should appeal to both alternative and industrial rock fans. “Fashionably Uninvited,” the record’s single, seem to reflect what Mellowdrone is all about: arresting and hypnotic electronic beats, Bates’s airy detached voice, intense rock rhythms, and a chilling mood.
Mellowdrone founder Bates was originally from Venezuela before he and his family moved to Miami when he was 7. He attended Berklee College of Music before he headed for Los Angeles to form Mellowdrone as a one-man unit. A few years ago, Mellowdrone opened for ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr’s band the Healers on a European tour. Since then, Mellowdrone has expanded to a quartet and went on the road in support of the new album.
Bates spoke to NewBeats about Mellowdrone’s music and the career up to this point.
1. Even though Mellowdrone has been in existence for a while now, the band has just released its major label debut a month ago. How does it feel to finally to have recorded music out?
Like a cathartic blessing. Now I can let these songs go and work on new things. My mom is psyched.
2. The music is very moody and atmospheric; there are some eclectic elements drawn from industrial, rock, pop, and dance? Is that how you would describe your style and approach in making music?
Whatever is needed to make the song I’ll use. I’m not bashful in experimenting with which way to go with a song to make it work.
I’ve personally found it to be harder to stick to a style or genre of sound. That kind of militancy bores me. I enjoy too many things to just stick to one, so I use whatever is around me as a catalyst. Ultimately, I want shit to sound the way I feel when I take a hot shower or eat a nice filet mignon.
3. How was it like working with Tony Berg? As producer, what did he bring to the making of the record?
Musically, there are a handful of people whose opinion ill listen to. He is one of them. we speak the same language and have formed a relationship that is very resilient. We’ll go to the mattresses on some shit, call each other names, and then be cool the next day. That dude was born to love music. I also sometimes go on infinite tangents, and he’ll be the guy who’ll be like “time to come back now…” Finally, he’s been a dope friend.
4. It is interesting in the press bio that you mention the composer Angelo Badalamente, who inspired the song “Fashionably Uninvited” because that song and the rest of the album sound very cinematic. It could be on the soundtrack of a David Lynch or Warchowski Brothers’ film.
I wish man. David Lynch is the sex. His movies aren’t bad either.
5. Are the moody and dark sentiments in your lyrics reflect your own personal experiences, based on imagination, or a little bit of both? Is there a difference between Jonathan the rock star and Jonathan the person offstage?
Until recently, I haven’t been able to write shit as someone else. Everything on this record is autobiographical, almost bits of conversation. It’s a learning curve deal to me. I really enjoy familiar conversational phrases in new musical contexts.
6. I read the back story to “Limb to Limb,” and it is very harrowing. I’m sure for Tony it was a life-defining experience, so when you were composing the song, what mood did you wanted to evoke? Was it hard losing Tony at that time when you were on tour?
Seeing Tony in a coma and not knowing if he was going to live a normal life was one of the most nauseating days I’ve seen. In turn, I just wanted to write something to honor how fucked that shit was. Tony came to me with the music bit pretty much done, and all I did was write words. No double meaning, just earnest questions on what its like to fly through plate glass at 82 miles per hour.
7. Was the song “And Repeat” your tongue in cheek view of the music business?
It was one of the first songs I wrote and its a naive look at the music business.
Sure, the song was about some air dude being a douche, but I guess I’m just as much of a douche for writing a little ditty about what a douche he was to begin with. Thereby, completing the circle of life.
8. I did listen to the metal-influenced guitar solo on “Oh My” and it did remind me of Zak Wylde and that type of ‘80s playing. Did you like that style of pyrotechnic playing a la Wylde and Randy Rhoads?
I love it. its how I learned how to play instruments. What I love even more is that its SO taboo today. That was honestly why I threw it in there. I felt anybody whose gonna give me shit can suck it, cause Zakk Wylde is the dopest.
9. In relation to that, how was it like opening for Johnny Marr for his European tour? Were you a Smiths fan?
I absolutely was and am. I was blessed by that tour because I got hang out with Johnny Marr for 6 months on his bus, with his crew and saw the world and made friends. He’s just a genuinely nice guy and made me feel welcome.
10. Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
Here’s a list of the usual suspects:
Boyz II Men
11. You have released an EP with all the music handled by yourself and you performed solo. Do you like being a one-man band or working within the group dynamic?
Apples and Oranges. If I had to choose one, I love being within a group. When everyone is driving the same thing and you get to jump around and shit, its a lot of fun.
12. Was your first exposure to music when you were in Venezuela? If so, did you absorb those influences when you were there?
It was pretty much my dad playing whatever instrument around the house. He would play songs (top 40 hits, Peruvian folk songs, whatever…) and me and my little sister would dance around, making up words. My mom and I would listen to the Beatles on the way to kindergarten.
13. At what point did you decide you wanted to become a musician?
I never really had a deciding moment. Shit just is what it is.
14. You are quoted as saying in the press bio, “I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I just want to ride it for a little while.” With the record and the tour, how has the ride been? What do you want to accomplish next?
Just like anything else: really amazing, then harrowing, then depressing, then inspiring. That’s usually in the same day. Honestly, I just want to do and be responsible for cool shit. Like I said earlier, the feeling of a hot shower, nice steak and some sex.