The Story Behind The Song: Mondo Cozmo, “Come On”

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Written by Mondo Cozmo (Josh Ostrander) & Dan Wilson

Music Video starring Anna Farris

“Come On” was inspired by the wildfires ripping through Malibu. What was the exact moment which inspired it?

JO: I was writing with Danny at his house. We then went out onto his deck, which overlooks a mountainous range. I asked him if he could see the fires earlier, and he said, “Yes!” I thought that would be a cool line in a song. I went into the living room and put it into the song. I’m super happy we finally got a song Dan and I wrote on the radio.

Danny and I have gotten together to write a couple times. It’s always great to write with him because we usually just sit around and talk about the Stones or the Beatles. This was a really cool time where we were actually… “We need a song for the record, let’s go!” Something I learned that day is to always try and get a scratch vocal down on anything you’re working on. Honestly, if I would have just left there with the music, I might not have known what it could have been. Danny cut drums on it, which were really good, but we hadn’t played them.

DW: Sometimes, I feel if you get a scratch recording, then you can start triangulating to the better thing you’re going to get to more easily. Like, if I drum, then we know what it could sound like if someone was drumming. This song went through some iterations. We might have talked about this song during fire season last year, possibly November.

How did Cracker’s 1993 hit “Low” directly influence your song?

JO: I heard Cracker’s “Low” the day before we went into the session. I was just like, “Man, what an amazing tune! What a great vocal! Damn, I’d love to have a tune like this.” So, it led us to a really simple chord formation – with a BPM swampiness to it. Then, it just morphed into what it became.

Which lyric in the song hits hardest for you?

JO: I remember when I sang, and we were just strumming the guitar, I said, “Come see me sometime.” I remember going, “That’s really good…” That’s when we went in and started recording it.

DW: It sounds so casual and thrownaway, but it just hits really hard. I don’t know why.

The song features Peter Hayes (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) on guitar and Sean Friday (Dead Sara) on drums. It was produced by Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids) and mixed by Spike Stent (Ed Sheeran, Muse). How did you assemble the star-studded team?

JO: My process is I just record everything in the guest bedroom at my house. Peter Hayes was helping me out. I had messed up my hand and couldn’t play guitar. So, Peter put down the guitar solo and guitar parts. It came to life at that moment. Then, we went in with my drummer Sean, ad Dan and I played everything else. We met with a couple producers that wanted to work on it. 

But then I met with Lars, who had worked with Cold War Kids, and I always felt those songs sounded good on radio. We worked on it for a day, and he tightened up the low-end stuff. I think we cut the bridge at that point, too, and we had a vocal bridge. But it just didn’t help the song move, so we cut that. Lars did a really good job on making sure it sounded good. A lot of the time my Pro Tools sessions are a total sh** show, so he made it very proper. [laughs]

The music video (directed by Michael Barrett and starring Anna Farris) plays more into the turmoil of a relationship, rather than the fires and the world, at large. Was that always in your mind as you were writing the song?

JO: Well, for me, I’m pretty happily married, so it’s not that big of a thing. I do like to draw from that kind of angst. I think people really resonate with lyrics like that. They can attach themselves to it. We went to my buddy Anna [Farris], and she wanted to be in the video. We shot it in her old house where she used to live with her ex-husband. I never tell Anna what to do. This is our second video together. She made it her own thing, and I was really honored she did it. 

My initial idea was to do one-take, but as we were shooting, Anna each time did a different almost character within the video. I wanted to portray that, so I just edited it in iMovie, to be honest, and put them all together. It showcases it all. She’s frantic in one scene, then she’s really soft in the next scene. I thought that played into the song, as well.

DW: Recently, I made a simple piano cover of the song, and I feel like I rediscovered a bunch of things I love about it. When I was singing it at the piano, I felt like I was almost some sort of prophet, like I was a rock prophet and that the lines weren’t really about a relationship – they were about me and the audience and this mission we’re all going to go on. It was a crazy feeling. I hadn’t really expected to have that feeling. Maybe that’s the way Josh feels like all the time onstage. It was really cool.

How does “Come On” fit onto your upcoming sophomore album?

JO: I think the coolest thing about the Mondo Cozo project, as a whole, is we kind of jump all over the place – rock ‘n roll to my attempt at soul music. I love to use samples. I love to really use everything I can get my hands on to try to deliver different kinds of songs. That’s how I listen to music. I really like all kinds of music. I think if I had a record where it all sounds like “Come On,” I would probably not be totally psyched about it. It’s going to sit really well. We have a running order going right now.

What are some of your greatest songwriting lessons?

JO: A big lesson I learned from doing this song is always get some kind of scratch vocal down. I’ve done that since. I’ve come up with a few songs I probably would not have seen through had I not done that. Everything for me when it comes to a song is all about a vocal melody. That’s all I really care about – making sure you get something on there with something really important.

Danny had this great piece of advice. He said, “If you wrote a song in the past that maybe didn’t go as far as you wanted it to go, just write it again.” I was like, “That’s just the most brilliant piece of advice!” I’m sure artists are so scared to repeat themselves, but at the same time, if you had an idea for a song or a vibe that didn’t see its full potential, go back in and use it as a guide.

DW: One of the things I’m thinking about right now is just how… I feel like every time I finish a song, it’s like I start it all over again… and then it’s done again. I feel like in some ways I have a lot of habits that allow me to whip up a feeling of optimism about the outcome that we’re working on – like “Oh, this is going to be amazing!” I tend towards that anyway, but it really is… it’s so much never the same, especially the good ones.

I definitely have ways of going about a piece of music. You could start with an instrument or a file on a computer or with poetry and no melody at all. What it comes down to for me is that it’s really just about hanging out with people and enjoying them and being friends. It’s an amazing way to spend time with fellow musicians. I draw upon my experiences to some degree, but it’s more important to be able to talk about what happened yesterday than to have some songwriting trick you’re going to try to use. The thing you share about yesterday is quite likely going to lead to something cool in the music.

What instrument inspires you most?

JO: I always usually start on an acoustic guitar. I have a tiny guitar that I can play very early in the morning and not bug my wife. If I have an idea for a melody and having trouble finding the right delivery, I like to try it on bass because I feel like if the melody works with such a simple bass line under it, then I know it’s a good melody.

DW: I go back and forth from guitar to piano. Lately, this is funny, on the same guitar tip, I’ve been playing a guitar-ukulele hybrid called a guitalele. It’s so modest sounding that the pressure is off. You don’t have to do anything important when you’re playing a guitalele. I’ve been enjoying that. I like this idea of writing with a bass. I don’t think I’ve tried that. I love that idea.

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