Mellowdrone is a music project founded by Jonathan Bates in the late 1990s. The style varies from soul, hardcore, indie rock, and electronic genres.
During his three years of exile in Boston as a scholarship student at the Berklee School of Music, far from his Florida home, Jonathan Bates pulled further and further away from all that the city represented. “There wasn’t much to do except get drunk, do drugs, or get into fights,” he remembers. “And it always seemed to be snowing. So I started to write music.”
Beginning with … boredom never sounded so sweet, a home-brewed EP that he produced in 1999 and gave away to strangers on the street, Bates put together a body of work under the name mellowdrone. “I didn’t want to use my own name because people might come to expect me to do only one kind of music,” he explains. “With another name, I felt that I could do anything.”
The disc made its way to L.A., and Bates, convinced that “Berklee really sucked,” followed. Essentially homeless for several months, he crashed on the couches of friends, picked up odd jobs, but mainly concentrated on writing new material. Once he got his own place he pieced together a makeshift studio, with a bargain-basement computer, a tinny Casio keyboard from Radio Shack, and a few guitars.
From this jumble of mismatched gear came the second mellowdrone EP, glassblower, on January 1, 2001, which Bates sold exclusively on his website, mellowdrone.com. Word of this odd, somewhat solitary, and frighteningly talented artist began to spread: Ryan Ayanian spent three months tracking him down in order to sign on as his co-manager, and producer/A&R executive Tony Berg, whose track record includes discovering Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Beck, made mellowdrone one of his first signings after coming onboard at ARTISTdirect Records.
“Jonathan isn’t afraid to take on difficult subjects,” he explains. “He does not write with inhibition. And that individuality is also manifest in his recording process, which is the most unusual hybrid of DIY and state-of-the-art I’ve ever encountered. His recordings have a homespun quality, yet you’re dazzled by the sonics. That, coupled with his songwriting and his talent as a musician, distinguishes him from anybody I’ve ever heard. Plus, he can make me laugh at will – which gives him a power over me I’m not altogether happy about.”
As an opening act for Elbow, South, Remy Zero, Starsailor, and other headliners at West Coast shows, mellowdrone added stage chops to studio wizardry, both in group and solo settings. “One moment he’s playing something beautiful and mesmerizing,” says Ayanian, “then all of a sudden he’s a total smart-ass onstage. At one of his earliest shows a few girls sitting in the front were laughing. Jonathan stopped in mid-song and said, ‘Hold on…will you laugh again, please?’ He totally put this girl on the spot, but she did laugh, and he recorded it and wove the sample into the rhythm of his next song. He had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand.”
Citing influences that range from film score composer Danny Elfman through French avant-gardist Erik Satie to his “favorite Beatle” George Harrison, Bates has taken the next big step in his career with the EP a demonstration of intellectual property, an ambitious project conceived specifically to break free from pop clichés and force people to look at themselves and their world in unfamiliar ways.
“I don’t want to be preachy,” he insists, “and if I took myself too seriously I’d be the first guy to make fun of that. But with everybody sick of what’s going on but not doing anything about it, if I can say something through music that makes people really question the way things are, then that’s all I really want to do. But who gives a fuck what I think anyway.”
For more info on the band please visit the official home page.