Dywane Thomas, Jr., has written out his artistic philosophy. This is convenient for writers needing to sum up the enigmatic bass virtuoso using only tidy rows of type. It's an absurd format to describe an artist that lights out for the sonic territories, tagged with threads and a name of radiant color that cuts through the night: MonoNeon. The best we can do is make every line of his creed our starting point. Get ready for the MonoNeon Art Manifesto:
Write your own vision and read it daily. “That came from Dada, the manifesto stuff,” says Thomas. But ever since he got his first guitar at four and played it like a bass, Thomas has followed his own vision. From the start, this lefty has avoided left-handed guitars and basses, instead playing conventional right-handed instruments upside down. “When I was younger,” he remembers in typical low-key fashion, “people used to tell me, you know, flip it the other way. You're playing it wrong. You would sound better playing it right handed or whatever. I just kept on doing it.” Nowadays his upside-down bass of choice is a five-string, or he'll play his quarter tone bass, which allows him to play pitches between the notes of the conventional scale. His choice of material is visionary too, ranging from quirky, beat driven funk excursions to mimicking in bass tones the voices of people from random videos found online.
Have the Southern soul/blues & and funk at the bottom and the experimental/avant-garde at the top ... (YOUR SOUND!). “My home base is always gonna be Johnny Taylor, Bobby Womack, Denise LaSalle, you know – funk, Bar Kays,” says Thomas. And you can hear this in most of his work: a payload of funk, heavy as a semi, taking wide left turns. “I want to sound like Mavis Staples and Stockhausen together, or something. Or at least the idea just helps me progress and create stuff.” He recalls teaching himself bass: “I practiced in my grandmother's living room, to records, WDIA, all the old blues stuff. Eventually I started playing in church. That's where I really got most of my skill from. Olivet Fellowship Baptist Church on Knight Arnold Road. I played with different types of gospel choirs, like Kevin Davidson and the Voices. Then after that I went to Berklee College of Music.”
Make your life audible daily with the mistakes ... the flaws ... er'thang. Thomas expresses his life story every time he picks up a bass. His father, Dywane Thomas, Sr., is a heavy bass player in his own right. “He still plays. He used to play with the Bar Kays, Rufus Thomas, Pops Staples. He was really like a studio ace in Memphis in the 90s.” But it wasn't a simple case of the father teaching the son. “He moved to Europe when I was pretty young, 'cos he was doing a lot of work over there. So I really taught myself how to play. I'd just listen to him on recordings.”
Understand and accept that some people are going to like what you do and some are going to dislike it. ... When you understand and accept that dichotomy ... Move on! Not long ago, Thomas began posting his videos online, with little regard for audience or convention. They found a niche audience, and one fan was especially notable. In December, 2014, his presence was requested at Paisley Park. He jammed with Judith Hill's band, who Prince was producing, but didn't even meet His Purpleness at the time. Eventually, on return visits, Prince joined the sessions. “He could jam all night. His rhythm guitar playing is just otherworldly,” Thomas recalls. Prince ultimately recruited Thomas for his own band. “I'm thankful for recording with him, and he released a song under my name and stuff, 'Ruff Enuff' on NPG Records. I guess he really liked me to do that.”
Recalling the time before Prince's passing in April of 2016, Thomas is understandably wistful. “Paisley was just a different world to be in. The smell just crosses my nose sometimes. Lavender.”
Embrace bizarre justapositions (sound, imagery, etc). And: Conceptual art. Minimalism. “I got into microtonal stuff when I got to Berklee. I met a guy named David Fiuczynski. Guitar player. He plays with Jack DeJohnette. Very heavy. I also started getting into John Cage when I got to Berklee. And other avant garde stuff like Iannis Xenakis, Easley Blackwood, Jr., Julián Carillo. Morton Feldman. Milton Babbit. Stockhausen. All that stuff, that I don't understand, but I love it.”
Polychromatic color schemes. High-visibility clothing. "It was PolyNeon at first, then I changed it. I got bored. It all happened at my grandma's house. I was reading something about solid color neon stuff. I really like neon light installations. All the avant garde stuff.”
DIY! “I released two EP's this year. I'm always just releasing stuff. I don't necessarily consider it an official thing. It's just therapeutic to me to just put stuff out. You know. I just try to hype it up as much as I can and then I try to just move on.” Thomas creates his music and videos on his laptop, though occasionally he'll work with other locals. “There's a cat named IMAKEMADBEATS. He's the one that got me into making my own music videos. I bought a camera and everything. And a rapper from his label, A Weirdo from Memphis, he calls himself. He's on my album too. He doesn't know it though.” Thomas has been incredibly prolific – he's self-releasing a new album, A Place Called Fantasy, this Thursday.
Then there are the artists who seek him out. “I'm with a band called Ghost Note. That's like a side project of Snarky Puppy. With Nate Werth and Robert Searight. We just recorded an album, I think it's supposed to be released this year in October.”
Childlike. And: Reject the worldly idea of becoming a great musician ... JUST LIVE MUSIC! "I don't even have goals, to be honest. I just like the journey. I don't have a set plan. That's really because of the support from my mom and my grandma. I'm thankful for that. I hope that doesn't change. I'm just a kid. I'm 26 years old, but I'm still a kid."