Even in the vast galaxy of bedroom-based bass players on YouTube, MonoNeon is impossible to miss. Usually wearing a brightly colored outfit and a balaclava, hoodie, and/or ski mask, he plays a lefty upside-down bass adorned with eye-catching stickers and a sock on the headstock. But it’s the twentysomething’s distinctive bass approach that has brought more than three million viewers to his two YouTube channels. On split-screen accompaniments to everything from Weather Report’s “Birdland” to Disclosure’s monster 2013 hit “Latch,” MonoNeon’s feel is ridiculously greasy, his chops jaw-dropping, and his tone vintage. His reharmonizations are bold and soulful, and his play-alongs to video scenes and commercials show an impressive ear for the nuances of vocal inflection. Each one of his 500-plus videos ends with an “art manifesto.” Who is this guy?
Dwayne Thomas Jr., a native of Memphis, Tennessee, began playing along with Southern R&B records at age four. His resumé includes performances with Frank McComb, Judith Hill, and Georgia Anne Muldrow, as well as gospel icons Tye Tribbett and Ricky Dillard.
He spent a couple years at Berklee, where studying with bass professor Lenny Stallworth and guitar hero David Fiuczynski made a lasting impression. But his foremost inspiration might be Dwayne Thomas Sr., the badass bass man nonchalantly burning through an uptempo “Big Fine Hunk of Woman” behind Stax legend Rufus Thomas on YouTube.
What did you learn from your dad?
He gave me my first guitar, and I’ve been playing ever since. He moved to Europe when I was pretty young, so my connection to him was playing along with the Denise LaSalle and Memphis Horns records he played on. I still want to be like him [laughs].
When did you become PolyNeon, and why did you transition to MonoNeon?
I created the PolyNeon persona in 2010, and I changed it to MonoNeon because I got bored and started having a liking for monochrome neon light installations. This persona thing came from understanding that there are too many great musicians in the world, and [it wasn’t enough] to sound good. It was important for me to have an idea with my playing. Also, the persona came from a desire to have something that felt like me on and off the bass.
How did you develop your aesthetic?
Finding out about John Cage led me to avant-garde visual arts such as Dadaism, surrealism, pop art, and Fluxus. I just have a fascination with that stuff, and it helps me play. It’s a vibe, wanting to sound like a surrealist painter, for example, on bass. I love the rebelliousness in Dada. Marcel Duchamp inspired my idea of the “Ready-Made Bass,” with a sock covering the entire headstock and my name taped onto the body.
What’s your main gig these days?
I’ve been working with Prince, and that has been super fun. He’s a hard-working musician/artist, constantly creating and taking the music higher and higher. To be around someone like that, you have no choice but to be inspired and improve. I’m just thankful for the experience.
What’s in the future?
I would love to have a trio—me, David Fiuczynski, and Amber Baker on drums. Hopefully, I will get a chance to play with Corey Henry & the Funk Apostles. I love their sound! But I just want to be heard. I don’t think much about the future. I think of the now, the moment I’m in, and move from there.
What advice do you have for a player who wants to develop a singular voice?
Give people a chance to not like it. There is no need to prove them wrong or right. Just play!
MonoNeon and Mr. Talkbox Pay Tribute to the Earth, Wind & Fire:
Basses Custom Marco 5-string, custom quarter-tone microtonal bass by CallowHill
Amps EBS HD350 head, EBS ProLine 2x10
Strings Dunlop Super Brights (.045–.125)
Other Gruv Gear Stadium Bag