Bassist MonoNeon’s colorful aesthetic was inspired by the subversive Dada artistic movement pioneered by French artist Marcel Duchamp.
Are you particular about a direct box or any type of gear?
Not really, as long as it’s warm and not cold. I like my sound to be warm. I don’t like recording with headphones. I would be in the studio with Prince and he wanted me in the control room with him to record because he knew that playing with headphones would get silly.
How would it make you silly?
You get really silly with the headphones. I really can’t feel the bass with headphones on.
Would Prince have you play with an amp as well?
No. I can’t remember what he plugged me in to. It was some type of preamp. I wish I had paid attention to that.
What type of bass is your 5-string?
It’s a Lakland. I think I bought it off Reverb, my current one. I bought my Vintage Creme Lakland when I was playing with Prince at Paisley Park in 2015. There are some clips on Prince’s Instagram with me playing that bass at one of the “Paisley Park After Dark” shows.
Do you experiment with tunings?
Really standard. I haven’t really messed with any other tunings. The low string is tuned to B.
Tell us about your quarter-tone bass.
That bass was built by the builder Tim Cloonan for CallowHill Guitars. Tim is no longer with us. He built that bass in 2014, I think. I told him to do whatever he wants with it. I just wanted a quarter-tone bass, that’s all. I think it is 35" scale length.
Do you play fretless, too?
That’s where I started on the microtonal stuff, on fretless. I have a Fender and a Yamaha fretless.
Did you take the frets off?
On my Fender I did, it was a fretted Fender. It’s a Jazz-style bass, and it’s passive. I got someone to take the frets out.
What guitars do you have?
I have a Yamaha—I think it is called a Revstar—and an old Peavey that I don’t play much. My preferred guitar is the Yamaha.
What do you use for pedals? I’ve seen you with the DigiTech Whammy.
That’s my primary pedal. I just like it. I really started using it because of Prince. I’ve always had one, but when I started to play with him, I started using it a lot.
He encouraged it?
It was always on the pedalboard and he really liked that pedal. He used it in a very cool way. It influenced me being around him.
How so, like when you use it to jump into another register?
I have a TC Electronic phaser that I use sometimes.
If I do use fuzz, it’s the Danelectro fuzz pedal, which I got from Prince, too.
What about an amp and cabs?
I’m really open about that. I like TC Electronic cabinets. They don’t break up for some reason. I also use EBS cabinets.
What about a head?
The TC Electronic Blacksmith or anything with a lot of headroom.
Do you own a head or do you just use whatever’s there when you tour?
Sometimes I send in a rider for a particular amp. I give them options. It can be an EBS or TC Electronic or Aguilar. But if I don’t get that, I’m really straight, as long as it sounds good and is not distorting.
Like an old SVT wouldn't do it for you?
Well sometimes. I played an Ampeg recently with NPG and it was cool.
What was your composing process for I Don’t Care Today (Angels & Demons in Lo-Fi)?
Cardi B was a muse for the album. Some of the grooves came from the songs I created from Cardi B’s rants—at the end of the videos—the grooves came from that. Those songs are just written from moments I was in. I already knew what type of album I wanted to create. I finished it pretty fast. Some of the artists I found on the internet. Like the first song, “I Don’t Care Today,” is this girl, she posted Instagram stories. She was singing that, “I don’t care …” She’s from Japan and I found it and I put it on the album. So, it was just random stuff like that that inspired the album.
Do you sing on it as well?
Yeah, I sing on the majority of the stuff on the album. I just don’t sing in public. I’m not ready yet.
How about the drums?
I got Daru Jones from the Jack White band. I got Amber Baker; she’s the drummer from Unknown Mortal Orchestra. But most of the drums are sequenced—just played on a keyboard—on a MacBook Pro.
You did it right on the computer?
I don’t have a MIDI controller. I usually play the drums on the keypad on my computer.
You lay down the bass first and then play the drums over that?
Yeah or the other way around. I create a pattern and then I loop it.
And the guitars and bass are done through the Apogee?
Yeah. But for some tracks I use my Universal Audio plug-in stuff. I have the Apogee Twin interface and I use some of the mastering plug-ins for my album, too.
You do everything yourself, even all the mastering?
Yeah, I guess you could call it that. It’s just really trial and error, because I hate waiting for people to do my stuff. If I had patience, my album probably would sound better. A lot of my stuff probably would sound better, if I had patience to let people master and mix my stuff. But yeah, I do everything.
After a slow intro, Thomas starts cooking at 1:46 in this clip during a set with Jonathan Scales Fourchestra in 2016.
Watch MonoNeon display his rapid-fire bass technique and incredible groove while playing with Ghost-Note in Los Angeles in June 2018.