Between Two Notes

Dance to MonoNeon’s microtonal music at the Fair

MonoNeon. Photo by Kii Arens

The Oregon Country Fair is returning to in-person gathering after two consecutive summers of COVID-19-adaptive virtual events. And this year’s musical lineup is worth the wait, especially with headliner MonoNeon, who’s gained popularity on Instagram for playing bass guitar over viral videos. 

But before his social media account took off, he created a name for himself by playing in Prince’s backing band shortly before the star’s death, and for his unorthodox approach to bass. 

MonoNeon plays bass guitar upside down, with strings in opposite order, which he tells Eugene Weekly via email is something he started doing when his father gave him his first-ever guitar at the age of 4. 

What’s also behind MonoNeon’s unorthodox sound is his use of a microtonal fretboard. Like guitars, bass guitar fretboards are divided by half steps, and 12 tones of these make up the Western musical octave. But MonoNeon sometimes plays on a microtonal bass guitar that has a fretboard of quarter tones, in addition to the more typical semi-tones, letting him play notes that most Western music listeners aren’t familiar with.

“I really got into microtonality in my music from playing and hanging with David Fiuczynski,” he says. Fiuczynski is an influential jazz musician whose work includes exploring microtonal sounds. MonoNeon’s use of a whammy pedal, which can shift musical tones, also comes from Fiuczynski, he adds. “Using microtones in my music is just something I want to do.”

Before Prince’s death in 2016, MonoNeon played in the legend’s band, which he says was a great time. “To play music with Prince was life-changing. It was definitely a rare moment for me to actually feel like, ‘I belong here,’” he says. Before Prince went on his Piano and a Microphone tour, MonoNeon says the two recorded music together at Prince’s Paisley Park recording studio. During their time together, Prince embraced him and MonoNeon says he misses him. 

MonoNeon and his band play 4:05 pm Friday, July 8, at the Fair’s main stage.

This article has been updated.