Breathing While Black: MonoNeon on His Newest Music 

A mellow organ lends a laid-back vibe, while the bass plays a simple octave pattern. It's the perfect track for a Sunday afternoon, made all the more unhurried by slippery jazz chords and an original melodic hook that could almost be a Stevie Wonder sample. Let's chill, y'all!

But then the lyrics kick in, and you realize this song is not about tuning out the world's problems. Evoking transcendence and contemplation more than the peace of forgetfulness, this track zooms out to 30,000 feet as protests rage in the streets below. Taking in the words, you realize, as you muse on the racist systems that surround us, that you are sitting on a cloud with MonoNeon.

"Breathing while black/We been unheard far too long/Marching, protesting/How many times do we have to do this?" It's a bit disorienting to hear such thoughts from a composer whose previous titles include "Women, Water & Weed," "MYPA (Masturbate Your Problems Away)," and "Fart When You Pee."

click to enlarge MonoNeon - CATHERINE ELIZABETH PATTON
  • Catherine Elizabeth Patton
  • MonoNeon

But while the five-string bass wunderkind, who played with Prince in his final years, is more widely known as a member of Ghost-Note or for YouTube jams interpolating bass notes over dialogue by an "angry grandpa" or Cardi B, he has touched on politics before — as early as 2016's "Ain't Nothing United About America." Now this newest single, released on June 1st, weaves an atypically minimalist soundscape to drive home an even more immediate political message.

With the worldwide protests against police brutality and racism still going strong, I emailed MonoNeon for more details on how he crafted this musical demonstration, and he replied with some thoughtful answers.

Memphis Flyer: Was "Breathing While Black" a direct response to recent events, or had it been in the works earlier?

MonoNeon: I wrote "Breathing While Black" immediately after seeing the video of George Floyd's murder. Then I started seeing things again about Eric Garner and Sandra Bland. Everything messed me up! Like, damn, why are these things still going on? To see George on the ground like that, uncomfortable, repeatedly telling the officers, "I can't breathe," and not one officer cares to help. ... The whole situation sucked! While the song came from being saddened by George's murder, the song is for every black man and woman who has dealt with police brutality. It just sucks that this world can't get rid of this racism crap!

How has the quarantine affected your life and playing?

I've been chillin' at home in Memphis, writing whatever and recording whatever. A lot of my gigs and tours were canceled, and that was hard to deal with. But it's all good! I've been kicking with my mom, grandma, and cousins.

What are you looking forward to in the future? Any new releases or tentative tour plans with Ghost-Note or others?

I for real don't like looking forward to things. But yeah, Ghost-Note recorded a whole new album before COVID-19, so hopefully that will be released sometime next year. I might release another album next year, I don't know. I'm just doing shit! I definitely want to do more of my own music on the road.

I assume you did these new recordings on your own, programming or playing everything?

Yep, I'm singing and playing everything on my two recent singles, "Am I Trippin'?" and "Breathing While Black." I programmed the drums on a Yamaha RX11, keyboard sounds from a Yamaha DX7. I primarily write songs from the guitar. Two singers I think about when I'm singing are Mavis Staples and O.V. Wright. I honestly want that sound in my voice. I especially listen to Mavis every day. She bad as hell! My dad played bass with Mavis and her dad, Pops Staples. Hopefully one day I will get a chance to meet Mavis.

MonoNeon's new singles, "Breathing While Black" and "Am I Trippin'? (Overthinkoverlove)," are available on all streaming services, YouTube, and Bandcamp.

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