MonoNeon On Surrealism, Nas, Frank Zappa, Richard Pryor & Quilting

Having made the slow transition from boy-wonder to bonafide pro, MonoNeon has a new Grammy nomination, a signature instrument and an ever-growing fanbase gleefully watching his career progress in vibrant technicolor.

Speaking with Q104.3 New York's QN'A, MonoNeon a.k.a. Dywane Thromas Jr. gave some insight into the melting pot of influences in music, visual art, comedy and his own family that have boiled into his exploits thus far.

But intrigue from his unreal aesthetic is backed up by his music. Just like Mono takes everyday items like quilts and Afghans and fashions them into clothing, he takes familiar elements of jazz, funk, hip-hop and fusion and stitches them into something surprising, whimsical and heartfelt.

Mono got his first paid gig at 12 years old and he admits that the momentum of his solo career is fairly new for him. He won a Grammy for his contribution to Nas's 2020 album King's Disease, earned another Grammy nomination this year for his guitar and basswork on Cory Henry's Operation Funk record and he waded deep into the funk-fusion weeds for an acclaimed collaboration with John Scofield and Scary Goldings.

"Whatever the moment is, I just adapt to it," he says of collaboration. "I don’t think about toning nothing down, I just go with it."

And he's proud of his Grammy recognition, but he's also at a tipping point where it's time he be recognized for his own vision: "I want to get nominated for my s—t!"

Learn more of his story via the video player at the top of this page.

Read MonoNeon's QN'A below!

See MonoNeon live with his solo band next week in New York City, Boston and Washington D.C. Get his full list of tour dates here.

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen for Fender

I love the Fender Sessions video for your new signature bass, the way you incorporated your family. Do you feel like they understand what you're doing?

I think they just embraced it. I don’t know if they understand it. They just embraced it. They know it’s me, they just accept it and embrace it. Yup.

George Clinton narrates the Fender Sessions spot. When did you meet him?

Sometime last year when I was working on a feature for my album that’s coming out eventually. I contacted him to get on the song that’s on the record. He’s doing vocals on it.

[The album is] done. Just waiting on putting it out and when.

Is the upcoming album like what you've done up to this point or is there something extra surprising on there?

It's eight songs. I don’t know what you’d call it. Me and David just writing songs together. Whatever happens, we just put it on the album. I really don’t think about if it works or not, I just want to put my music out.

Your solo music is very unique, but you’ve also done some great collaborations. Do you even feel like you need to tone down your style when you’re working with someone like Nas or John Scofield?

Whatever the moment is, I just adapt to it. I don’t think about toning nothing down, I just go with it.

Getting a signature instrument is a huge moment in a music career. When did you feel like things started happening for you, like this was a possibility?

Really early on [I started getting gigs] when I was a teenager. At 12, I was doing professional gigs around Memphis. I went on the road with the Bar-Kays when I was pretty young. They used to let me sit in with them.

Really early on I started doing professional gigs. I started touring as a solo act kinda recently. I’ve always done my own stuff, but actually being on the road doing my own music really just happened recently.

When did you start designing this bass with Fender?

Late 2020. That’s when they came to me with the idea. Before I did the signature I did some ad for them, for their [production line] basses.

Did you know right away what you wanted?

Yeah, I already knew the colors I wanted, yeah. There’s a few basses I have that are built to my specs, but this Fender is a totally different thing.

You always play a right-handed bass upside down as a left-handed player. Was there any temptation to change the design of your signature bass to better fit your unorthodox style?

I did tell them to put another strap pin on the other horn, just to test it out, and I didn’t like it. I’m so used to playing that way with the strap and I have to go underneath the strap to play in the upper register, so we just kept it that way.

I could have told them to make the bass a leftie. But I’m so used to the whole ergonomics to how it feels when I flip it over, with the bigger horn at the bottom, I’m so used to it now, doing it how I’ve been doing it.

Yeah, I get that. Not the strap thing, that’s a little weird to me. I feel like the bass would be off-balance when you stand up. But you do you.


Did playing bass the way you do make it hard to learn from other people?

Not really because my influences were right-handed bass players. I really wasn’t aware of any instrumentalists that played like me. I didn’t see them when I was really practicing. It was Stanley Clarke, it was Victor Wooten, it was Larry Graham, it was Marcus [Miller], who else? Oteil Burbridge.

I was just looking at them, listening to them. Really I was just trying to get my thumping s—t together, so I was listening to Vic. Playing upside-down, the whole thumping thing can be kind of a task. It can be hard. When I heard Victor Wooten, that really set me down to work on my thumping.

When you have time off, do you feel any pressure to write or make videos.

I’m at home pretty much sitting around thinking about s—t I want to do. Writing. Practicing. Conceptualizing stuff, just thinking of stuff. Sometimes I record, sometimes I don’t.

You talked about your dad being a big influence on you, musically? Who are some of the other artists important to you as a songwriter?

Well, especially a lot of stuff that comes out of Memphis: Willie Mitchell, Al Green, David Porter, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding. That sound, Denise LaSalle, all the blues stuff.

Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart.

The Philly soul stuff.

I’m influenced by a lot of stuff. I try to listen to everything.

How about fashion? What influenced your aesthetic?

Well, it just developed over time, and it’s still developing. The whole quilt thing, I guess it came from my childhood ‘cause I used to carry a blanket around when I was younger. I just like comfort and feeling comfortable and feeling warm. Even when it’s hot outside, I just like to be covered up.

I think that comes from me having a bit of social anxiety. I like to be covered up. My style just comes from really doing what the hell I want to do. My momma still don’t understand my style.

But I do like fashion design. I like Jeremy Scott’s stuff. It just comes from the whole dadaism thing. Surrealism. I really don’t paint — that’s probably one of the reasons — I dress the way I see s—t, with the whole dadaism thing and surrealism.

There’s a lot of humor in your music; are there some comedians that you would consider influences?

Richard Pryor. I love a lot of Blacksploitation movies, yeah. Who else? Flip Wilson. Primarily Richard Pryor … Jim Carrey, he’s another one. He’s a great painter too.

What do you have coming up that people should look out for?

My European tour next year. I’ve toured there before. I did only a few countries [last year], but this tour is kind of a big thing. It’s called ‘The Quilted One’ tour.

And my album next year. And some other s—t hopefully. I’m just going to continue putting out music. I don’t give a s—t, you know?

How about playing bass and singing at the same time? That’s not a skill a lot of bass players learn.

That s—t is hard!

I’m actually better than I was, but sometimes I have to simplify my bass lines to sing certain things.

How about this Grammy nomination?

Yeah, that’s on Cory's album [Operation Funk]. That’s pretty dope. He got nominated last year for his album, and the one I’m playing on got nominated. It’s pretty cool. I’m playing guitar and bass on it.

Any chance you’ll be there are the awards?

No, probably not. I don’t know. I want to get nominated for my s—t!

But that’s so great that he’s got nominated for that album, especially a funk album. ‘Cause that’s just complete funk, that’s great. It’s really opening doors for a lot of people.

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