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Q&A on MONA with manager SAUL GALPERN, founder of Nude Music Group - Oct 31, 2011

“The UK is more open to listening to new bands and giving them a chance – but the UK also spits them out as fast as they can chew them whereas in the US it is all about the long game.”

picture US rock band MONA attracted feverish industry interest when they emerged last year, with labels clamouring for their signature, critics hailing their debut single “a slab of hard-worn, heart pulsing rock and roll”, and the annual MTV and BBC polls tipping the Nashville band for success. But how can you transfer such insider excitement to the marketplace?

We ask manager, Saul Galpern, how the buzz was generated, why US rock bands are launched in the UK first, and what’s needed to get music fans as excited about the band as those behind the scenes. As the founder of the legendary Nude Records, the label that introduced Suede (No.1 UK, SWE, DEN, FIN) to the world and in the process kick started the Britpop movement, Galpern knows a thing or two about how it’s done.

How did you first encounter MONA?

I got turned on to them quite randomly. I met someone at a club who told me I should check out certain bands and then forwarded me a list of them on Facebook.

Once I heard MONA I knew there was something magical about what they were doing – although it needed tweaking.

What was it about MONA that made you want to represent them?

Once I spoke with Nick Brown, the main leader and visionary of the band, on the phone, I felt his confidence and belief was so extraordinary that I needed to investigate more. I flew from London to Dayton, Ohio, to see them play a two hour show to a bunch of rednecks and the musicianship coupled with Nick's presence was so believable that I knew I could help spread the word. They had also recorded a bunch of new songs that were streets ahead of the previous material.

I am a believer in timing and also felt there was a spiritual kindredness between us all that felt right.

The band were not a wholly new act at the time and had already released some music. What things did you then work on together to build them up to a stage where you felt they were ready for a record deal and to start releasing music?

It took a lot less time than I had originally anticipated. The main guitarist was replaced and Jordan [Young] fitted in instantly. Nick sometimes played piano on stage and it was decided to keep it all electric and go full on rock and roll.

Once those changes took place they then wrote what I thought was the song to launch the band with – 'Listen To Your Love'.

There was considerable interest in the band from A&R and publishers. Firstly, what was your plan for generating an insider ‘buzz’ and then what was it that really prompted industry people to take notice?

It was really just about focusing people on the music once the word had spread.

Creating the word was really about playing the tracks to some key non-label /publishing bods and friends in the industry who are movers and shakers and get them to tell other people. It took a couple of months but once it spread it was like fire. Then hiring a top press company to generate the buzz online and in print followed. I’d read Malcolm Gladwell's 'Tipping Point' and that inspired me greatly.

Initially we had two tracks online and a great self shot of the band taken in Nashville and some other 50s-type visuals that were distinctive and in line with the identity of the band. Label A&Rs who made contact were then played tracks and the ones who were the most genuinely excited were then followed up by being given a sampler.

We made a very cool video, dropped 'Listen To Your Love' as a 7” release on the band's own Zion Noiz label, and, following an NME piece and Radio 1 plays, that created interest online and retail.

A series of rehearsals were then staged in Nashville. Everyone that wanted to come and see it had to have a specific date and time to attend. The band blew everyone away with the songs they played and their swagger. The exciting performance they created in the room was so intense and electric.

Following a reported “A&R scramble” for the band’s signature, what was it that convinced you to sign with Island and Mercury?

It was important to the band to have both US and UK label involvement as they are from the US but the vibe had started in the UK. Universal as a whole have the worldwide muscle.

We were impressed with the dedication and vision that Island had presented for the band in the UK and I thought it was a very strong team. In the US I have known Dave Massey (HQ interview) for many years and they also gave a good case for us choosing them as our home. They were not only prepared to sign the band worldwide but have dual signatures to make it a joint venture across the territories – although the ledger lies within the UK company.

There were the other major labels very keen to sign the band and despite receiving a better offer elsewhere we felt that the international combination and stability outweighed it all and would be beneficial in the long term.

Although an US band, they have launched in the UK. Why is that?

There are exceptions to the rule but history has dictated that using the UK first is a much quicker, almost fast track, way to launch rock artists. Everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Bon Jovi made a dent right away in the UK but it’s in more recent times, over the last 10 years, where acts such as The Strokes, Kings Of Leon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, White Stripes all created the buzz initially out of the UK.

I think the UK, and it's audience of rock fans and the media, is more open to listening to new bands and giving them a chance – but the UK also spits them out as fast as they can chew them whereas in the US it is all about the long game.

The band were tipped for success in 2011 as part of BBC and MTV’s annual prediction polls. How much of a help or a burden are such forecasts? Don’t they place an undue level of expectation on an act’s debut release?

I think the obsession for lists is something best avoided if you can as it does put bigger expectations on the artist’s success. In the future I would try and launch an act away from all the New Year tips to give them an identity and mystery and stop unnecessary judgement's being made too early.

A lot of the successes this year have actually been acts that weren't tipped at the beginning of the year.

The US release comes almost a year after the UK release. What’s happening in the meantime to make sure the release makes the impact that you want?

They haven't really spent that much time in the US market as more time has been spent in building a European story, but now we are ready to start building a plot. They have played several small runs throughout the year but now will do some extensive touring, firstly throughout November. And then we’ll be looking for opportunities in the new year for supports to build a fan base and create the buzz.

The fact that they are exceptional live is the band's strength, which we will exploit and will put them in a great position long term. All the coolest and best artists that have broken have had a slow burning career.

The album is set for an early February US release and will include additional and exclusive material for this market. It will also involve working the traditional models such as radio, which will be a key element to get on board and help build the plot, especially as MONA have potential big songs that will connect via radio and TV.

We are also working on providing new exclusive content for various social networks and on strategising sync opportunities. What’s especially important is trying to lock in the perfect movie fit for a MONA song. They’ve already had a couple of exposures already in this area via a Vegas ad and a couple of TV usages.

You’ve successfully created a strong insider excitement about the band but how do you achieve a similar level of enthusiasm in the marketplace?

I think timing plays a part in breaking an artist, and if you have belief within your team, some classic songs, and a great distinctive live band that could change peoples lives then talent should and will win through no matter what is happening within the market. Genuine classic artists will come through in the end as the public will stick with you if you are honest.

Interviewed by Barry Wheels

Read On ...

* Then Sony SVP David Massey on the difficulties of cracking the US market