Thanks so much to Jenni Taylor for the interview! The Mondo Crescendo was one of those great fuzzy pop bands that appeared in the late 90s on the west coast of the US. Before that, they used to be called Juniper and were based in DC. You can read my interviews to Douglas and Scott from Juniper on the blog as well, to give you a wider perspective of those days.
++ Hi Jenni! Thanks so much for the interview! I noticed you still make music with a band called The Vexers. Care to tell me a bit about them?
The Vexers were a project that Mike, (the second bassist for the Mondo Crescendo,) and I started with a guitar player we met in LA named Tres Warren right after the MC disbanded. It’s long defunct now. The Vexers ended sometime in 2004, if I remember correctly. We put out a full-length and an EP on Ace Fu Records out of NYC in around 2002-2003ish. We toured relentlessly and after a while, I decided not to do it anymore.
Post Vexers: The drummer, Boz took on the roll of front man and formed a band called Mountain High. Mike Hammel, (Mondo Crescendo, Vexers,) married his sweetheart and, I believe, is possibly still making music in Philly. Tres and his friend Elizabeth Hart moved to NYC and formed the Psychic Ills. I moved to Nashville in 2009 and I’m moving out of the country at the end of September. I get my musical kicks playing on the streets when I’m in the mood, or on my front porch with friends when the weather’s right. I haven’t got any plans to start an official band, tour or make records at this point in my life.
++ So like a year ago, I interviewed two of your former bandmates about the great band that was Juniper. After you split, some of you continued playing together as The Mondo Crescendo. How did this work out? How did one band develop from the other? What would you say were the main differences between the two bands?
++ As Juniper you were based in DC, and it seems there was a very cool scene of indiepop bands there around that time (mid 90s). Did you feel part of the scene? Where were the places were the indie kids would hang out? Any favourite bands then?
Hmmm. I’m digging deep here to try to get this straight for you. I’m going to tie these next few questions together so I can paint a better picture.
I’d been living in Richmond, VA with a friend of mine named Buddy Apostolis, (RIP.) This was in 1995, I think. I couldn’t make my rent so I had to move to Virginia Beach for a month or two. I’d met a band from VA Beach at a show in Richmond, (this is horrible, but I seriously cannot remember their name.) Anyway, I looked them up when I landed in Virginia Beach and went to one of their shows. They happened to be opening for a band from DC called The Ropers. The Ropers guitarist was Mike Hammel (Mondo Crescendo, Vexers,) so that’s how I met him. About a month or so later I moved to DC to kick it with Mike.
I got a job at a coffee shop and that’s where I met Douglas Armour (Juniper, Mondo Crescendo.) Doug was really good friends with a kid named Brian DeGraw, (Cranium, Gang Gang Dance,) and Brian is Scott DeGraw’s (Juniper) brother. Doug and I decided to start a band, him on drums, me on guitar — so we needed a bassist. I think we made a flyer…. one way or another Doug got Scotty into the fold. The three of us formed Juniper. This was all in 1995, I think.
I wasn’t from DC and from the second I stepped foot into that town, I didn’t find it very welcoming. People have deified that city and that time-frame like there was some kind of miraculous community or movement going on…. I don’t know where they get that from. The DC I knew wasn’t anything like that. I came from a punk & garage rock background and I was new to the idea of “indie music,” and new to that town. People seemed to take themselves way too seriously from my point of view, and there was a lot of shit-talking and big egos. I felt like I really didn’t fit in, even though, I think at least musically I probably should have. I was just coming from a different place and it felt like the whole town knew it. Juniper put out a couple of records, played some crazy shows – but none of that made me feel even a little bit more comfortable there.
Someone had been slashing the tires on the Juniper tour van while it was parked on the street in front of a house we lived in on Irving Street in the N.W. Every time I’d come out and see the fucking tires were slashed again, I’d nearly blow a fuse. I had to take a bus to the metro and then the metro to a tire store in the South East. Then I’d have to buy a tire, roll it back to the metro, roll it onto the bus and then roll it all the way fucking home. This seemed to amuse my neighbor, who was that dude from Circus Lupus and my roommates, one of which was in Slant 6, but I certainly wasn’t fucking amused. That shit happened three or four times before I started making threats. I think a lot of those passive aggressive kids started to think I was a loose cannon. But whatever — the petty vandalism stopped.
So people want to talk about the “DC Indie Scene.” It was not exactly what I would call an open-arms welcome. The last straw was when MUNCH Records called us up and asked us to make a video for the Juniper single “Making Gerard Smile.” Doug, Scotty, Mike, our good friend/roadie Nathan, (RIP) and I were setting off some fireworks in the alley behind our house as a part of the video shoot, and my own roommates threatened to call the cops on us. I thought, “What a bunch of fucking Nazis.” That was it for pretty much it for me and “the DC scene.” I started making plans to move the band and anyone cool who wanted to come along for the ride to San Francisco.
As far as good DC bands: The Ropers, Cranium, Crom-Tec. the Make Up. I’m at a loss for anything else. Mike Hammel was involved in the DC indie scene when I met him, so he can fill you in on more of those kinds of bands.
As for how Juniper became the Mondo Crescendo — Juniper never really “broke up,” we just sort of morphed into the MC once we landed in San Francisco. The music took on a bit more of a garage tone, which seemed to reflect my own personal musical past and the experiences I had with the DC scene. The epic move out west and the passing of a rough year or so had a grittier result on my style at that time. The shimmery, dream-noise sound that Juniper inhabited slipped into a place and a vibe where I’d once wanted to be, but had somehow grown out of. Scott decided he didn’t want to stay in San Fran after a few months, so he left the band. Mike Hammel just sort of moved into the bass role because a.) he could do it, and b.) he was bandless since the Ropers broke up right before we left DC. Doug, Mike and I changed our name to the Mondo Crescendo and released some records. I think the main difference between the two bands at that point was that Juniper was this childlike expression of the desire for unity, and the Mondo Crescendo was the beginning of the realization that unity is an illusion.
++ Where does the name The Mondo Crescendo comes from?
I believe Doug came up with that. It means, “the world of increasing volume.”
++ And it’s when you move to Los Angeles that you become The Mondo Crescendo right? Which city did you like better? And why the move?
We became the Mondo Crescendo after moving to SF and with the departure of Scotty. We started touring the West Coast as much as possible and met the Furry Things, a band from Texas living in LA. Then we met Tristeza at a party in Santa Barbara and formed a pretty tight bond with them. Jimmy (Jims) Lehner, Tristeza’s drummer, is one of my nearest and dearest friends to this day. He’s credited in the “thanks” section on a handful of Mondo Crescendo releases. In fact, I named the MC EP “Get Faded,” after what Jimmy used to say about getting fucked up. He’d say “Man, let’s get faded.”
Tristeza were based in San Diego, which is closer to LA than SF and while San Fransisco was beautiful, it was so expensive that we began to feel a bit trapped by it. We had made some good friends there, but the cost of living kept us from being able to tour as much as we’d wanted to. With the help of Ken Gibson, (Furry Things, 8 Frozen Modules,) we packed up our shit and headed down to LA. Doug brought his future wife, Lisa, and the four of us blazed. We might have brought a friend named Joe Bay with us, I can’t remember. We found a couple of houses in Echo Park. Mike and I moved into a place, and Doug and Lisa moved into a place a few blocks away. We found an old beauty salon right down the street from our houses and turned it into a recording studio called “Last Time Around,” named after a Del-Vettes song. Even with paying for three separate places, it was still less expensive than SF, if you can believe that. This was before Echo Park was a hip neighborhood, so rent was dirt cheap and packs of wild dogs roamed the streets.
++ What aboug gigging? Did The Mondo Crescendo gig a lot?
Oh yes. Every band I’ve ever been in gigged like a mother fucker. I might be a lot of things, but no one could ever say I wasn’t a hard worker.
++ You released many records with Blackbean and Placenta Tape Club. How did you end up in that label and how was your relationship with them?
Roque, I honestly can’t remember how I met Mike Landucci from BBPTC. It might have been at a show, but seriously, I don’t fucking know. My LA years were chocked full of drugs and booze. It was a weird town and a weird time. It seemed like drugs were just fucking throwing themselves at me — at all of us — and I mean, free, too. Now I don’t want to sound like a cautionary tale or on the other side of that, like I’m advocating anything or any life style, because I’m not. I’m just saying that there are times in my life that I remember like it was a dream, full of gaps and blended together like they happened to someone else – and then there are other times in my life that I simply can’t remember at all. Meeting Mike Landucci falls into the latter category. It’d probably be best if you asked him.
As for our relationship with Mike – it was overall good. We may have had our moments, but Mike and his family were awesome people. He was always ready to entertain my crazy cover-art ideas and whatever else I wanted. He took us out to dinner. I think he even did my laundry once or twice. He was a family man, a gardener, a great father, a good dude.
++ The album was released in Japan, right? Any anecdotes about that?
Ken Gibson (Furry Things, 8-Frozen Modules) did the remix of TV Screen for the Japanese release. That was too cool of him!
++ Before talking any particular release I wanted to ask you the gentle distortion but distortion nonetheless you made with The Mondo Crescendo, it was such great fuzzy pop! A year ago so many bands were doing the same and living the hype. Who influenced you and what kind of sound you were looking for at the start?
When we moved to San Francisco, I went shopping for guitar pedals at this killer vintage equipment shop and found a Super Fuzz pedal that “allegedly” belonged to Jimmy Hendrix. After plugging that thing up, I just wanted to use it on everything. So, I guess that’s part of what influenced the sound. I’d also been listening to a lot of super-heavy 1960’s R & B Psych / Northern Soul and Garage from bands like Les Fleur Des Les, The Fox, John’s Children, Shadows of the Knight and so on. There’s no way that stuff wasn’t rubbing off on me in a big way.
++ The Get Faded EP was released on CD by Blackbean and Placenta but there’s also a vinyl version released by Dial Records. Never heard about them. Care to tell me a bit about this label?
Sure. ( ) Dial Records was the brain child of our dear friend and mutual DC escapee, Mike Donovan. He started it so that he could self-release his own SF based band, The Del-Velum with Mike Wiley (who took the cover photos for Get Faded,) and Rick from Thee Imaginary Boys. I’m not sure if they released anything after Get Faded, though.
++ “A Boy and his Itch” is one of the first singles I ever bought from eBay, I have some sort of special appreciation to it. And on top it is a terrific song. I have to ask, is this song based in a real story?
I wrote that song about Rex from the Summer Hits. We had a weird, on-again, off-again friendship that culminated in him smoking crack out of a toilet paper tube while I was having my 22 or 23 birthday party dinner. It really bummed me out. “Four Hits to set aside. He’s only in it for the ride.”
++ One of my favourite songs of yours is of course the single “California Sun”, a perfect rush of perfect pop. I guess you got inspired by San Francisco? What’s the story behind the song?
Although “California Sun” was released while we were living in San Francisco, I’d begun writing that while we were still living in DC and trying to get the hell out of there. It was my day-dream that people would be nicer, freer and more relaxed in California than they were in DC. I was just longing for happier times and more of a connection with the earth. “I’ve not been down with anyone, cause there’s no one here I want to know. I’m bored and tired with everyone, so I guess it’s time that I should go.”
++ And talking about inspiration, how did the creative process work the band?
I think it all unfolded pretty organically. We all lived together in San Francisco, so I’d pick up my guitar and start writing something. Then Doug and Mike would catch wind of it and we’d take it from there. I’d do a lot of writing in my bedroom, we practiced in Doug’s room, and had a recording studio in the garage. It was a self-contained thing – just free flowing.
++ And what would be your favourite Mondo Crescendo song?
Like most of my bands – I’d have to say many of my absolute favorites never made it to vinyl for one reason or another. I guess I’d pick “On The Beach,” which is, I believe, the b-side to “California Sun,” or maybe, “Check it on Out,” (off of the YN&VWI release,) because it’s so cheeky.
++ What about the album “Young, Naked & Very With It”. What does that title mean? 🙂 And how do you think it has aged?
That was a caption out of a 1970’s nudest magazine that Doug found and brought home. We just thought it was the funniest thing ever. I think we ended up using the actual photo that accompanied the quote as the cover art to the “Free/Italia! Italia!” CD single that BBPTC released in advance of the album. It was this hilarious looking dude with a mustache and some long-haired blonde chick, buck-naked, skipping through a field holding balloons. Like, “Yay! Being naked is greeeeeeat! We have balloons!” It was just so preposterous that we had to use it.
As for how the album aged, is it horrible to admit I haven’t listened to it in years? Haha.
++ So what happened? Why did you call it a day?
I don’t really know. There were probably a million reasons. Under a close microscope, I’m sure it was petty- fighting, drugs, whatever — but what I really think? I think that band and that time had run it’s course and it was time for all of us to move on and do something else. Life is an organic thing– it’s got to keep going, doing new things, changing, evolving, devolving, dying off and springing back up in a new way. As people, we all needed to take our own separate paths. I know I did.
++ Looking back in time, what were the best moments of being in The Mondo Crescendo?
The friendships. The fusion of like minds. Traveling with your partners without the confines of society’s rules and boundaries. That and making people dance.
++ And now you are in Philadelphia with the Vexers right? So here’s the most important question: Jenni, do you have any tips for moving coast to coast? 😉
As I mentioned earlier, the Vexers ran their course as well and ended in 2004ish. I’m in Nashville as of now and next month I’ll be moving again — this time out of the country with no plans to return. I’ve been called a “perpetual transient,” and I’ve got to say, it looks to me like that’s a pretty decent assessment. How do I move? I pick a new place. I make up my mind to go no matter what. I save as much money as I can in whatever time-frame I’ve given myself, and I sell off everything I own that can’t be taken with me. And then I just go.
++ Thanks so much Jenny! Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks, Roque. It’s been a pleasure.