Heavily influenced by the art of French-American painter, sculptor and writer Marcel Duchamp, MonoNeon – also known as Dywane Thomas Jr. – has certainly become one of the more enigmatic rising stars of the bass world in recent years.
He was one of the last musicians to work with Prince before the visionary’s passing in 2016 and has been spotted jamming with the likes of modern blues hero Eric Gales at NAMM, also performing on Gales’ latest album The Bookends.
This year, the Memphis-born musician was also chosen as one of the campaign artists for Fender’s revamped American Professional II series, promoting the new Jazz Bass model within the line…
“It’s super-cool to be part of something like this, and I don’t take it for granted,” he tells Guitar World. “The new instruments are great and hopefully people will dig ‘em. I got asked by [Fender Head of Signature Artists] Michael Schulz to part of the campaign and yep… I was definitely down to show love to Fender!”
What you like about the feel, sound and features of the new model?
“I love the feel of the neck and fingerboard on the new version... it’s a smooth muthafunker. Jazz Basses cut through well on pretty much anything, but also sit nice in a mix.”
Tell us about the moment you decided to become a bass player...
“My dad is a bass player [Dywane Thomas] and my granddad was a jazz pianist [Charles Thomas]... so you could say music is in my blood! My dad gave me my first guitar at the age of four and I’ve been playing around since then.
“He plays bass right-handed but for some reason when he put the guitar in my hands I flipped it and played it lefty upside-down.
“I remember when I first started playing I use to practice to songs on the radio and records – music by Denise LaSalle, Ann Peebles, Al Green, The Bar-Kays, Johnnie Taylor, Parliament and more. I would also find records my dad played on and practice to that, like Denise LaSalle’s I’m So Hot and the Pops Staples album Peace To The Neighborhood. I used to practice bass to that shit all the time.”
So it would be fair to say your dad was your first musical hero?
“Yup, my dad was my first hero, and I still wanna be like him on that bass! Even though he wasn’t around much because he moved to Italy in the mid-'90s, people around Memphis would tell me how funky my dad was and tell me stories about the bands he played with, what recordings he played on et cetera. So I took that and used my imagination.”
What can you tell us about your Ready-Made Bass and how it came about?
“The Ready-Made Bass is a term I use to refer to any bass where I put a sock on the headstock and write my pseudonym on the body. That whole idea came from Marcel Duchamp…”
Ah yes, you’ve spoken in the past of your love for Marcel Duchamp and Dadaism. What is it about those avant-garde perspectives that inspired you and how does that connect with your note choices and music?
“It’s the freedom, the anarchy, the rebellion, the autonomy that I gravitate towards in Dadaism. Marcel Duchamp was the first Dadaist I became aware of from reading about stuff on John Cage.”
You ended up working with Prince in his final years. What was he like in person and what did you learn from him musically?
“Prince originally hired me to be Judith Hill’s bass player for her new live band – that was early 2015. Then around late 2015 Prince invited me back to Paisley Park to play in his band.
“It was me on bass, Kirk Johnson on drums, Donna Grantis on guitar, Adrian Crutchfield on sax/ewi, and of course Prince playing keys, guitar and singing. We played about six live shows at Paisley.
“We also recorded too. Prince released one of the songs called Ruff Enuff January 2016 on Tidal. On the recording it’s Prince on keys and guitar, Kirk on drums, Adrian on sax/ewi and me on bass.
“Prince just let me play, he really didn’t tell me what to do unless he heard something he wanted me to do…”
You’ve also been known for some legendary jams with Eric Gales, playing on some of his last album The Bookends. What do you think is the secret to his guitar sorcery?
“I’ve always wanted to play with Eric Gales and it finally happened! Eric and my dad played together too I think, they are both from Memphis. I use to go see Eric’s brother Little Jimmy King (RIP) at BB King’s Club in Memphis when I was younger.
“But yeah, Eric Gales invited me out to Los Angeles to record songs with him for The Bookends album and it was amazing being there with him! There’s no secret to Eric Gales’ guitar sorcery… what he has is determination, fearlessness, God and the deepest love for the music!”
As for the technique side of your playing, what helped build that speed and dexterity?
“Honestly, I don’t know, haha! For speed and dexterity, just keep doing things over and over again. Learn songs and then see if you can make them your own! You should try to transcribe stuff. It doesn’t have to be a complete transcription but just go out and find things that you can use in your own playing. And write songs, even if it’s just a bassline!”
What are the best solos for a funk bassist to learn?
“I would say listen to Don Blackman’s music, The S.O.S Band, Bernie Worell, The Ohio Players and stuff like that. I feel like once you learn those songs and solos, playing will come eventually.”
What do you have planned for 2021 – any more dream collaborations on the way?
“I am planning on releasing another album for 2021. I have a few dream collabs, one is writing a song for Mavis Staples to sing… hopefully that will happen! I would love to do more stuff with DOMi and JD Beck because I love playing music with them. But beyond that, I really don’t know what I wanna do... I just do stuff, I guess!”
For more information on the American Professional II Jazz Bass, head over to Fender.