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

Follow @theskins on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.