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Interviews & Features

The Mondegreens

Originally published in Synthesis Weekly: March 2015

Photos by Vince Latham

What’s that old saying about how “you’ve don’t know what you’ve got til’ it’s gone…” It seems that just as Chico band The Mondegreens are getting some traction in the local music scene and gaining fans, they’re hitting the dusty trail for a month long tour followed by a relocation to that rainy bastion that’s claimed so many of us, the Pacific Northwest. I recently met band members David Friedlander, Jack Knight, and Russell Rabut at everyone’s favorite watering hole (Duffy’s, obviously), for a chat about their impending CD release show, groupies, and the exuberance of youth. Enjoy.

Tell me about your new album.

Russell: We did it at the Origami Lounge, that’s where we recorded it all with Scott Barwick. Which was fantastic because he’s brilliant and he had a lot of really great creative input and was very welcoming. We expanded a lot of our songs in the studio, we worked out a lot of kinks and added organ and—

Jack: Yeah a lot of instrumentation that we don’t really have live.

Russell: And he [Barwick] was really patient about it. So it was really great working with him. Then we had it mixed with Chris Keene, which was equally awesome. We wanted to get as many great Chico minds on it as we could, that was the angle we were trying to take. Chris added a lot of really cool vibes and we’d heard a lot of really great things about working with him. We felt really lucky to be able to work with those guys.

Jack: It’s called Kid Tell Time, which is a, uh… I don’t know. [Laughs] We all came up with it.

Russell: There are a lot of unintentional vague themes that carry out throughout the album.

Jack: When we started we weren’t living in the same city, and we’d just separately write songs. When we had time together we’d bring them and flesh out the full song. So a lot of the songs are those, most of them actually, but the last song on the album, “The Sunset, Loudly” is the first song we wrote collaboratively.

Russell: And the way that we lined up the song order on the album, ended up being a chronology of when we started to now.

David: The first song is this really straightforward song, “Travelin’ Man,” which is really our roots: kind of Americana, folk rock. The album really does build and culminates with this much more abstract, synth-washed song.

Russell: It’s a lot of stuff we’ve had rattling around in the rafters for the past few years. Finally getting it down on paper and kind of locking down that chapter of the history of our band has been a big relief so we can move forward.

Can you guys talk about how The Mondegreens came to be?

Russell: We played together in high school. We were all friends and we knew each other through that, so we’ve been playing music together for a long time. At the house he [Jack] lives at now, I think that was the first show we ever played.

Jack: 876 [Redacted] St!

Russell: 876 [Redacted]! That was way back in the day. We all kept writing songs and playing music, and we all like to sing together. So everytime we’d get back into town, we would try to play. We’ve been doing this for a long time and then in 2012 we decided it was time to do it more seriously. We liked doing it, but we weren’t sure exactly what that would take, and how feasible it would be as we were still living really far apart from each other. But we wanted to give it a shot. In the last two years we’ve grown more serious about it. It’s going to be a ton of work, but it’s also exactly what we want to be doing. We’re just along for the ride right now, just to see how far we can take it.

David: It seemed like the most important thing that we all did when we all came home, was to play music with each other. Even when I was abroad for a year, Jack was abroad for nine months, and the first day we were back all together we went to the breezeway of Merriam Library and sang for about three hours. That was always something that invigorated us and made us the happiest. I think it was Jack very late at night at a Christmas party at his old house, he just came flying up to us and was like, “Yo. Let’s do this.” I can picture his face perfectly, he was the happiest camper in the world. We’ve definitely come a long way from drunkenly talking about it at Jack’s old house.

You three are all under 25, do you think your youth is a help or a hinderance?

Russell: I think it’s been a pretty big help for us. People appreciate the fact that we’re so young and are already really invested in this, but we’re also pretty naive about how hard it can be. And I’m sure someday we’ll be jaded, but for now…

David: I think being as young as we are is a total benefit, because when we get a little older I think it’s going to be really hard to be sick and sleeping on people’s floors. There was a point at which that happened on our last tour, when we were all sick and sleeping on someone’s floor.

Russell: Next to strangers.

So I heard you just lost a band member. Will you be looking for new drummer now?

Jack: Yes…

Russell: Yes and no.

Jack: We’re going on tour for all of March, and Matt isn’t coming for that, and we found a drummer for at least that long. We’ve been practicing with him, his name is Scotty Jenkins, and he’s awesome.

Russell: He picked up all the songs really quickly

That sounds like a made up name. Are you sure his name isn’t George Glass? [ed note: ask Jan Brady about her super-real boyfriend]

Jack: [Laughs] How cool of a name is that?

Russell: Sounds like a stage name.

Jack: He’s a real drummer, we swear! Anyway that’s been good, it’s not a permanent fix by any means. After this tour—

Russell: We’re moving to Seattle

Jack: Yeah, we’re moving to Seattle so we imagine we need to get up there first and then find someone.

Russell: We’re really grateful for the fact that he’s been so willing to do this, just leave his job and come on tour for a little while.

Jack: So that’s been going really good.

Russell: But also no bad blood with our old drummer.

Jack: It was sad.

Russell: It was really sad.

I saw you just got a new tour van, do you have a name for it yet?

All three: Yes!

Russell: We’ve been tossing around a lot of names for the van. David wants it to be Margot Vannenbaum, Jack wants it to be Sibelius, Because we got it from this Finnish guy. And I want it to be Bluecifer or Bluezebub.

Jack: What’s up with the devil theme?

Russell: I don’t know, but think about it—it works so well! We’re really excited to hit the road in that thing and not be in a Subaru.

So when you do try to find a drummer, what sort of qualifications do you have in mind?

Russell: Equal parts talent and style. But also he needs to be a homie.

Jack: Something we really examined is could we be in the car with him for a month.

David: Something that was really cool about Matt, was that three or four weeks before our first tour we were just going to be a trio, and have no percussion whatsoever. And he came up and just basically jumped in the car with an incomplete drum set and just made it work.

Jack: We joke about the fact that he’s going to regret not being a rock star for the rest of his life.

Do you have groupies?

Jack: No.

Russell: Nah. No.

Jack: Define groupie.

You define it.

Jack: If you mean girls that come to every show, then no. We have fans though.

Yeah, fans. I meant fans… that maybe… kinda want to… get it in you.

Russell: [Laughs] We played here [Duffy’s] a couple weeks ago with Ave Grave and Whiskerman, and it was a great show and stuff, but one of the best things about it is that we’d be looking out into the audience, and there would be people singing along with us who knew the lyrics. And that’s a super new thing for us. To have your lyrics sung back to you is a very strange and fantastic feeling. Very gratifying.

So, groupies.

Russell: Well that’s the thing though, we spent half the show singing Sean’s lyrics and losing our shit to him.

David: I think if anything we’re just the groupies for The Shimmies, Ave Grave, and Coyote Church. Anything Galloway, really.

Russell: If we ever have fans that are as dedicated to us as we are to The Shimmies, I’ll probably freak out.

Jack: I think we freak them out actually. We played a show with them in San Francisco, and I think it was the first show we ever played with them. It was at this place called Milk Bar, and we just all got pretty drunk and sang all their songs along with them. Afterwards Stephen was like “Have you been to all of our shows?” And we were like, between us, yeah, probably.

Anything else you want to add?

Jack: We’re really excited about this album release show. We have new shirts by Kyle Harper, designed by Emma Blankenship of The Railflowers. And the night after the CD release show, we’re playing at a town hall in Rumsey, California with The Railflowers. We’d love people to come see the show and camp out on the farm there that my sister works at.

Arielle Mullen