Secret Sessions: Exclusive Interview with Mondo Cozmo

Josh Ostrander, known on stage as the legendary Mondo Cozmo, lit up The Casbah in San Diego on March 2, and he’s ready to do it again on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” this Thursday, March 23. Ostrander hails from Philadelphia and entered the music scene in 2000, when he fronted the band Laguardia until 2005. He then moved on, becoming the front man of Eastern Conference Champions. In April of 2016, Mondo Cozmo was born —“Mondo” originating from the 1969 John Waters’ comedy “Mondo Trash,” and “Cozmo” being Ostrander’s dog’s name—with his debut single “Hold On to Me.” The single was accompanied by a tear-jerking music video starring actress Anna Faris. Soon to follow was “Shine,” which hit #1 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart this January. I got to speak with this superstar about working with Anna Faris, his tour, the funny story behind his lyric music video and much more.

We started off talking about his incredible music video for “Hold On To Me.” If you haven’t seen it already, make it your next priority. Mondo Cozmo grew up in a retirement facility in Philadelphia. This sparked the idea and collaboration from which the video was born.

“I asked my buddy Anna [Faris] to do it and she was just like, ‘I’ll do it,’ in a heartbeat. We shot that video for zero dollars and everybody who was in it just wanted to be a part of it,” said Ostrander.

M.C. said that when he wrote the song he was working two jobs and was label-less, and that the song was a prayer written for himself.

Shine,” which has hit over 2 million Spotify listens, is an uplifting, soulful mixture of cannabis, Jesus and guitar. The lyrics mention Jesus—as well as getting high—several times, but Ostrander says that to him, the song isn’t about religion.

“I think it’s a song of hope. I wouldn’t call myself religious at all, but when I wrote it I was like, ‘this is the closest thing I’ll ever write to like, “Let It Be.”’ You know what I mean? Or songs like that—they tap into this thing that’s maybe like a little bit bigger than yourself,” said Ostrander.

Of course, we had to discuss the fact that M.C. is besties with Anna Faris and her husband, Chris Pratt. He spoke extremely highly of their support and friendship. He then told me how he became friends with the couple.

“It was just a friend of a friend—we ended up going skiing together. I’m a terrible skier and Chris is a terrible skier, so we bonded over falling down this mountain together,” he said.

He also praised Faris’ role in his “Hold On to Me” music video and explained that the whole thing was unscripted and completely authentic. He mentioned that Faris normally can’t leave the house without being recognized, but in this project she was able to spontaneously dance with the residents of the retirement home.

“The people there all had dementia, so they didn’t know who she was. They thought she was a worker, so it was a really cool thing,” Ostrander said.

We also talked about his “arduous” endeavor to create a “Shine” lyric video, which actually only ended up taking him half an hour to complete.

“I didn’t know what a lyric video was. I guess it’s this popular thing, where the lyrics pop up from the song. It was like 8 in the morning and I was like, I don’t want to do a lyric video. So, I took my phone, and taped it to a mic-stand and I put it down on a table and I drew it all out and then I fast forwarded it in iMovie, and that was the video,” Ostrander said.

“People spend a lot of money,” he said, laughing. “It took me like half an hour.”

Ostrander had no shortage of hilarious stories. He was signed before the label (Republic) saw him perform, because at the time he was independently writing and creating music in his guest bedroom. They asked him to make a video of himself performing live in his house, to make sure he could play acoustic guitar. To this, M.C. had a strategic response.

“I was like, screw you man! I’ve been doing this for so long.”

“My girl was out of town, so I got all liquored up, I set up the camera—same camera—I set up my phone, and I shot it behind me, and I put on some like really tasteful ‘70s porn on the TV, so that’s going, and then I performed the songs acoustic, like with the TV right there. But while I’m recording I’m like, man, this sounds really good, they’re gonna release this. So when I finished it I went into iMovie again and I loaded up—you know in Star Wars, how the names roll up—I put everybody’s phone number that works at the label. So I was like, there’s no way they’ll ever put this out,” he said.

Ostrander’s iMovie skills continue to amaze me.

We talked about his early days at ECC. He happily reminisced about the band, but stood by his decision to leave in order to produce music more quickly. ECC didn’t disband contentiously – Ostrander just wrote songs quickly and wasn’t able to get the music out at the same pace.

“In a weird way, I had to quit the band to get music out. Looking back I know I made the right decision. It was a really, really tough, dark time for me. I was bumming, ‘cause I lost all my friends. It was really hard, but I feel good now,” he said.

There are some perks to the solo life though, said Ostrander. Being the sole decision maker, moving quickly and not having to answer to anybody are a few advantages he particularly enjoys.

Mondo Cozmo will be continuing his tour into the summer, with a short stop this Thursday, March 23rd on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Friday, he’ll be in Toronto, Canada with Bastille, and will continue on throughout the U.S. and then into the summer at several music festivals. M.C. credits Nirvana for igniting his passion in music and said, looking forward, that Pharrell Williams is an artist he’d love to collaborate with.

Also in the near future is the release of Mondo Cozmo’s highly anticipated full-length album. He said it’s completed, currently being mixed, and should be released this summer. He said he had the unique experience of creating the record “in reverse” because he was able to get “a feel for what people like” by releasing singles. He’s written 15 to 16 songs, and expects that 10 will be on the album.

M.C. is psyched to be on the road, and is happy this will be a busy year. He professed so much love and humility toward his fans. He said his fanbase has grown into something of a movement, and while he is happy for himself and his own growth, he’s also happy for his fans’ role in the success.

“I think I’m just a lifer, this is just what I do. This is the only thing that makes me happy at that level. And to give people that happy, it’s pretty cool. I feel like really humbled by it and I feel like I put my time in, and I’m ready.”


KCR Secret Sessions: Exclusive Interview with The Skins

To understand The Skins, you’ve got to listen to them. Their EP “Still Sleep” dropped in December and has already been widely praised. What genre is it? Well, the catchy choruses will make you want to dance like a pop song would, the underlying beats and rapping personify hip hop, the dramatic guitar element is a tribute to classic rock, and you can sing your heart out to the soulful vocals. Not to mention some influences from funk, blues and whatever else The Skins decide to throw in.

BAYLI Photo by Brittany Harper

The five-member band was established in Brooklyn. Siblings Reef (drums), Bayli (vocals), and Kaya (bass/ vocals) met Russ (guitar) and Daisy (guitar) at the School of Rock. What began as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath covers turned into an energizing blend of musical interpretation that is blurring the lines of traditional genres and producing an unmatched and unique sound.

After making a name for themselves in New York, they were signed onto Rick Rubin’s label Republic Records. Currently, they’re touring the nation with DNCE. I sat down and spoke with them before they tore up the stage at their first stop in San Diego.

What was the hardest part about getting here?

Daisy: “Yo, bringing 18 bags to the friggin’ airport to get them all here. But, we got them here and nothing got lost!”

Reef: “We got to the airport and they were like, ‘We’re gonna need a bigger truck.’”

Sure, having a big group does mean a lot of luggage. But, having five different minds has undoubtedly contributed to The Skins’ almost inimitable sound.

Bayli: “The Skins is just really all about diversity. We’re super collaborate in every way collectively—we’re family—but we’re also individuals. It’s like growing up, it’s like going to high school; we had to take that time to really find ourselves.”

However, even with all their combined ideas and sounds, they still thank their rock-and-roll beginnings for giving them an edge.

Reef: “When we went to music school that was sort of the thing there, rock and roll.”

Daisy: “Being in the rock world first and then coming into where we are now I think was really helpful, because we kind of learned how to be a tight band before anything else. We still have the tightness that we had when we were playing very technical music.”

Band member Daisy playing guitar, purple background

DAISY Photo by Brittany Harper

Their ability to breathe new life into traditional music is what got them signed by legendary Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin.

Russ: “Back when we initially played for Rick we were doing this cover of ‘Mercy’ by Kanye West, but it was like a heavy-rock type thing and that’s kind of what attracted him towards us in the first place.”

After they graced the world with their debut single, “Bury Me” featuring D.R.A.M., they released their long awaited, five-song EP “Still Sleep” in December.

Bayli: “We feel so blessed that it’s even out and happening, we’ve been waiting for years. Like working on the sound and the music, and so it’s been like four or five years.”

Reef: “[Laughing] Wait-working.”

What was the inspiration for your EP?

Bayli: “In terms of sounds and the music, just experimenting with different sounds over the years, but then lyrically and conceptually really just like New York City, our city, and just our experiences. The things that we saw on the news, the things that were happening socially, culturally in the city. We pulled a lot from just our everyday experiences.”

Daisy: “We tried to come and smack people in the face with our music.”

guitars, Russ, red jacket

RUSS Photo by Brittany Harper

Blending a bunch of different genres together makes an awesome sound, but it’s almost impossible to label.

Daisy: “We’ve been saying Genre Z just because, one, that’s bad a** and two, it kind of makes sense because it really is a bunch of genres mixed in together.”

They also shared some funny stories about working with Rick Rubin. Apparently, he raises his own chickens, is into water aerobics and has an incredible beard.

Bayli: “[The morning after] we met him he left us a carton of eggs—he has chickens—with a note.”

Reef: “And glacier water.”

Bayli: “He was really sweet and really welcoming and really personable with us the first time we met him.”

Reef: “I was like Rick, all the classic records are cool, all the name drops are cool, but I really just wanna know how you condition or shampoo this beard.”

Drummer, Reef, purple backdrop

REEF Photo by Brittany Harper

As would be expected, the band has a long list of diverse inspirations.

Daisy: “Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They’re the reason I picked up the guitar. I heard that first album and I was like, I need to play guitar like that.”

Bayli: “Amy Winehouse is like my favorite, I have this Amy tattoo.”

Reef: “I grew up listening to mostly ‘70s and ‘80s music, old R&B and funk.”

Kaya: “I’m definitely into Young Thug right now.”

Russ: “Really crispy, clean pop productions. Anything Max Martin does.”

Daisy: “And you can hear it, everyone’s like ‘Oh, I can hear a tinge of that.’”

KAYA Photo by Brittany Harper

The band is more than a melting pot of different sounds, they’re also a melting pot of different people. And, just like with their music, they are blurring divisive lines and setting a modern example of inclusion.

Daisy: “It’s nice that we have a voice for all different types of people. All different shapes and sizes, all different colors, and we always try to send a positive message.”

Bayli: “I was always nerdy and weird and different. Even being in Brooklyn and liking rock music in the hood, or like dressing differently. We’re just all about self-love and self-expression.”

The Skins have come a long way from playing classic rock together on the weekends. They are ignoring traditional musical norms, blending personalities and genres to create a transcendent and inclusive sound that has something for everyone. Their music is ahead of its time, and points to the (hopeful) future blending of many genres. In their hit, “Bury Me,” Bayli sings, “Baby I wish you knew that we could break the rules.” It’s clear that they already have, and maybe it’s time for the rest of the music industry to follow suit.

group shot, six people

Left to right: Daisy, Bayli, Reef, myself, Kaya, Russ. Photo by Brittany Harper

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I was able to interview a reggae singer named Hirie. I went to one of her concerts and she was so energetic, uplifting, and I really enjoyed the show. Hirie is a nice, friendly, and positive being and she will be coming back to San Diego this year: Friday, May 20th, at 7:00 PM, at the Observatory North Park and on Saturday, June 18th, at 12:00 PM, at the Oyster Fest in 849 W Harbor Drive. Feel free to check out the interview below and be inspired more than you know.

This is a picture of Hirie (on the right) and me (on the left)

Hirie (right); Me (left)

G: If you could tour to a remote place, where would you go?

H: I would probably want to go to South America and just explore. We did a road trip down to Los Cabos. There are a lot of people in those areas, we ended up in a lot of villages, they don’t see a lot of people coming through. So, it was really cool just to hang out with the kids. We brought our instruments and exposed the villages to stuff that they haven’t heard. That’s kind of rewarding in itself.

G: If you could only see in two colors what would it be? 

H: Blue and Green

G: Why? 

H: Blue kinda like the ocean, green could be grass or forestry and mountains. Those two are my most appealing colors when I’m trying to buy a dress. There’s nothing like a blue sky on a sunny day.

G: Are there any talented musicians in your family and friends? 

H: Dad plays guitar, Grandpa plays flamenco and my Great Grandpa I believe, did the same. My mother, she plays guitar and she sings really well, and my sister plays the piano.Yeah, there is a lot of music in my family, whether they just enjoy it or they play an instrument, it’s something that we all enjoy.

G: So singing was something you knew already and not something you learned along the way?

H: I always enjoyed singing as a kid, I was in a lot of the school plays. I would emulate a lot of artists when I was little it was Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. I grew up with a lot of opera too, so I would always imitate Andrea Bocelli or similar types of Italian opera singers. It just came naturally to sing, whether I was technically correct at it, that took me a minute to learn, you know. I’ve always just sung for fun.

G: When did you first join a band?

H: I think I formally started my own band, it was just before the band Hirie when I met my sax player Chris who originally played the keys for me, we formed a band under my real name, and we did a couple of shows. Then at that point is when I put the album together and then formally started Hirie. It was an interesting process I’ve always tried to have somebody back me whether it was on the Cajon or on the guitar. Even in high school, I had a friend who sang with me and she played the guitar with me and so, I played the guitar. But a real band was Hirie and that was 2 and a half years ago.

G: If you could inspire a movement with your music what would it be?

H: Definitely, to be kind. I feel that our society has a real issue with being mean or degrading. It is not like a lot of the music on the radio helps us be kind. It’s more take care of yourself; you know I am me and I am the only thing that matters kind of thing. I would love to just make people aware of the pain that happens in the world, and the suffering. Not necessarily highlighting on the suffering but giving people the kind of music that would inspire them to help other people, other animals, other things. You know, think not just of themselves but of everything that cannot speak for itself.

G: If you could write a song about food, what type of food would it be?

H: For me, It’s more of a process that I would write about such as, cooking. I love garlic, onion, olive oil, and coconut oil. I am trying to be more natural with my food; less process, less cooking, more raw. I would sing about the joy of cooking, preparing food and making food for people. I love preparing meals and having people who come over and enjoy it.

G: What do you like using your music for?

H: I like to write music to just explain things from a different point of view; to inspire and artists need things from a different angle or expression for growth. Some people have a hard time expressing themselves. I think sometimes they are able to express themselves through someone else’s music. You know especially for me when I see art or a painting on a wall it might trigger some emotion in me that I might have a hard time expressing. So, I might be able to better understand what I’m going through and how I feel through something else. I find it, in my case, it is nice to write music that might be able to help somebody else with whatever they are going through, to do something about the situation they are in.

G: What is the biggest discovery that you’ve gained in life that made you who you are today?

H: That’s very crucial. The biggest discovery is learning how to be a mother. That definitely changed me for good. It makes you think differently, it makes you more patient, more resilient and I waste less time on things that don’t matter. Bringing life into the world is a whole other thing it is such a life changing experience and you learn how to adapt. Bringing a human-being has been the most powerful discovery I’ve had.

G: How do you balance your schedule, know what you don’t really need to do and know how to say no to yourself?

H: I chose to not get distracted by things that don’t matter. The way that I gage what doesn’t matter is just whether it positively benefits me, my family, my career, my spirituality, my health. If its none of the above then I definitely put that down on my to-do list. Getting my nails done doesn’t really affect my family or my career. So I would pick songwriting for an hour versus going out and doing something that is a temporary materialistic need. Given one could argue that it puts them in a better mood but there’re other things I could prioritize like, maybe a date with a friend – and going to the beach. Going out would have the same effect on my body as doing my nails would. Not saying my nails aren’t done right now because they are. For me, it is important that I’m doing things that benefit not just myself but benefit other people.

G: If you could have a business not related to music what would it be?

H: I would want to teach, have a space for learning, whatever that would be or have a restaurant with a music venue inside it. I am a social person, I like to be around people. I like to learn from people and socialize. Just a job where I could help someone or understand something a little better or provide a space for people to learn and grow would be really cool for me.

G: What are your top personal and career goals?

H: To be a good person and be happy and spend less time doing things that are not important and be less materialistic. On the business side, just continue playing music and going on tours and traveling.

G: What would blow your mind if it were to happen?

H: A tour with Slightly Stoopid.

G: What type of un-ordinary power would you have?

H: Power to make people move out of the road so, I can drive without being blocked all the time.

G: What places have you toured that you really enjoyed going to?

H: I really like the East Coast because I have never been exposed to a culture like that. I have always been by the beach, by the mountains but all the way over there it is so cold. Yeah, I guess I have always been more on the Pacific side of things and it would be really cool to explore the East Coast more. I am definitely into the history, the older buildings, the weather and how it affects the way people live – like snowboarding and skiing.

G: Would you ever join a show like the Voice or American Idol?

H: No, I wouldn’t. I pride too much on being myself and on those you are molded into some form that they want and I’m just not down to do that.

G: What do you like to do when you are not at work?

H: Spend more time outdoors, being around people, or being alone with myself reading a book. Definitely, anything that would just enrich me; be helping other people for sure. But what I tend to have to do lately is work on Hirie stuff, on my laptop researching, connecting with people on emails, or phone calls; at rehearsals that’s been 12 hour days. What I secretly long to do is discovering more about myself because we are always changing and growing and learning. You need to allow yourself time to find a new better version of you or you’re just going to be stuck in your rotation and you might not be happy.

G: What do you to help you relax from a busy life?

H: Music makes me happy, listening to other music. Going to live concerts, going to the beach. Driving, being on the road, going on tour, flying, visiting other countries that I don’t understand.

G: You tend to write chords before you write your lyrics but, do you ever just write something and you end up making a song out of it?

H: I used to do that more and sometimes I will have a thought and write a song based on whatever I wrote down. But I do tend to jam out to some chord progressions and then write music that way. It is not to say that I don’t get inspired by something I wrote down.

G: What inspires you when you write music?

H: Everyday experiences, emotions, something somebody else might be going through, how that made me feel and how inclined I was to base a story off of them. Nature inspires me, violence, commosityanything and everything.

G: What would you do to change the world?

H: Be kind, inspire happiness and positivity in the world definitely makes good things happen. The nicer you are to somebody else, the nicer they might be to the next person, and I just believe in karma and sparking something like that.

G: You have a busy lifestyle, do you ever get stressed out? how do you maintain the positivity while you are on tour?

H: You get stressed out, you get sick, you get worried, you get anxiety, you get depressed, I get all those things like anybody else. I deal with it in different ways depending on my diet, if I am eating really fast I might feel worse because I am bloated and I am in the corner moping. If I am eating healthy and I am working out it might be easier to shrug off something that would typically really upset me. It is just how you take care of yourself and how aware you are that you have an issue. If you just kind of ignore it, it is going to fester and it is going to multiply into something really bad. If you are good to yourself, to your body, and everybody around you, it is easier to maintain sanity along the road.

G: What did you use to want to be, when you were younger?

H: I used to want to be a psychologist: to help people with their problems, listen to them, and give them the space to express themselves. I always lent an ear to my friends and family. I took pride in being able to provide confidentiality like that and help relieve tension.

G: What books do you like to read?

H: World War II books, mythology, conspiracies.

G: What is something that nobody would expect from you? 

H: That is a hard one, I don’t know what people would not expect. I do not know what people think, to be honest. I am really sarcastic. I feel like I can be really nice but I can be sarcastic. I think that is something that people don’t know. Even with band members, a lot of them come and go, when they get to know me it is a different experience than when they first met me. I tend to put on more of a facade where I am really nice but once I get to know you I find it okay to make jokes and throw jabs here and there. I can be kind of a boy and a lot of people don’t expect me to be as rough as I am. 

G: What makes you laugh?

H: Everything makes me laugh, I am not a serious person. 

Listen to some of Hirie’s music below,