Artists like Mondo Cozmo are rare. Genre hopping is an inert skill and not done so easily. Maybe David Bowie, Prince and Taylor Swift can do it on a whim, but lesser artists have yet to make that trek with such grace.
Mondo Cozmo or Josh Ostrander is one artist who has taken his array of influences and love of Ray Charles and Beck and jumbled it all together for a truly original sound on his latest album New Medicine, out today on eOne’s Last Gang Records.
The record was conceived with the idea to show all the different styles of music that Ostrander loved and he was careful to never put himself into any one category. Each track from the record is different, yet it still sounds like a cohesive piece of work. And nearly every song has its own story to tell and propelling experience behind it, some songs were written on the road or in a venue dressing room and some were written out of sheer desperation and some just bloomed on their own. Nothing was forced and that is just the way Ostrander prefers his songwriting to be.
“It’s kind of all over the place, it jumps genres” Ostrander told American Songwriter about the album. “I love ‘Black Cadillac’ and ‘Generator’, I just can’t get through without crying and ‘Upside Down’ is my jam.”
“Upside Down” one of the singles is a mashup of all things hip-hop and indie and it melts together for pure party bliss. Ostrander said it quickly became a favorite among the band and their girlfriends.
“I wrote ‘Upside Down’ during the impeachment hearings and the idea for it came out of just being so sick of watching the news, I was like addicted, and just wanting to go to the bar and have a drink with friends. And it was just the song everyone was talking about” he recalled.
Ostrander listens to Ray Charles more than any other artist and credits much of his influence to him. And for “Upside Down” he wanted to mix the Ray Charles sound with some new alternative vibes that he found as a fan of Beck. And although Ostrander thought it was a stellar track, he second guessed it.
“The night it was released I was terrified. Leading up to it I was like ‘yeah this is a game changer’, but then I was like’ I’m going to lose all my fans no one is going to like this, I’m a hack” he laughed.
But he soon saw the triumph that the song became, as fans flocked to it and continued to hit play on platforms after its release.
The counterpart to the funky party carefree release of “Upside Down” is “Generator” a song Ostrander wrote with a broken hand and elicited help for, something he rarely does as a solo songwriter.
“’Generator’ was written towards the end of touring. I had a monster freak out and busted up my hand during a video shoot and I was in a bad spot because I had to figure out how to record with a cast on,” he said. The strumming pattern on ‘Generator’ came from me having to play with a cast because I couldn’t really do up strokes. I didn’t know what ‘Generator’ was until it was released and going back now and listening to it- it just takes on new meaning for me. It’s just beautiful.”
Battling the limitation of a broken hand and lessened performance ability, a friend, talented producer and guitarist, Peter Hayes stepped in. Ostrander and Hayes’ relationship was kind of like an unspoken bond, Ostrander didn’t really even need to ask for anything. Hayes simply called Ostrander up and left a voicemail saying “I hear you need some help” and that was all it took to get the recording process in motion.
“Pete was a saving grace because I had a cast on and needed to make a record.” Ostrander said. I called him back and this dude just came in and made me feel like a million bucks. It was like sending songs to Johnny Cash, I was like ‘he’s going to hate this’, but he was just the most supportive, beautiful human being. He gave me the validation I needed at that time. I would send him songs and he’d put guitar on and send it back and a lot of times it’d be done within a day or two. But I also loved it because I’d ask him to put something down on a song and he’d be like ‘no it’s perfect I’m not touching it’. He’s just a lovely human being. I can’t thank him enough.”
One of the few other collaborations on New Medicine is “Come On” an anthem perfect for a group sing-along. The song which also featured Hayes on guitar, was co-wrote with Dan Wilson who has a reputation for his work with The Dixie Chicks. Normally Ostrander would remain steadfast in his solo writing approach, but he broke that truce with himself to work alongside Wilson. It was a much easier process than he would have imagined and free of hassle, resulting in a friendship and nurtured song.
“I don’t usually write with other people because it’s just a lot of pressure, when you get into a room with professionals and the goal is usually to finish the song that day,” Ostrander said. “But Dan Wilson is one of those people who doesn’t pressure you. We just talk about stuff that inspires us or stuff not even about music. He’s just got this Zen personality to him where you just love him and going to his house and meeting his family and having dinner with him.”
“But at the same time, I wanted to get a song with him on the record,” he added.
After some sessions and rapport established, Ostrander found a pipeline and followed it to fruition. He heard Cracker’s “Low” on the radio one day and found himself roused by it, wanting to almost mimic the style. Wilson and Ostrander quickly set out chord progressions and BPM structures for the song and finally had a clear path for what the track would become.
“Dan was like ‘put a scratch vocal on this and I was like ehh’. But I’m so happy we did that because that’s where the ‘come and watch this city burn’ lyric came. When we recut the drums later it turned into a beast of a song. I just love it.”
After his experiences with co-writers and artists on New Medicine along with the Mondo Cozmo debut Plastic Soul, Ostrander doesn’t think his songwriting has necessarily improved as much as served as a showcase of his ability to experiment with genres.
“I don’t know if it’s evolved but I love how the records fit next to each other,” he explained. “I feel like I stick to my guns of genre hopping and the vocals keep it together. I’m more inspired what I can do with two chords than four chords. I’m always simplifying the process and that’s more rewarding for me.”
“My favorite thing is that moment when a song is being created. It’s almost like a high, you just crave it, crave the next song, crave that excitement, so I’m always chasing that.”
Threading together all those chased moments and songs, Ostrander is knee-deep in his next record, with half the track list completed already, some of which he credits to the “damn pandemic.”
“I feel like next year the dam is just going to explode with all these tunes written during this time,” he said. “I think the focus right now is just see how much we can do without being able to tour, because I’m super proud of this record.”