November 26, 2020

Webster University students share a common bond with pop-punk band The Mondales

Bassist Zach Paul (left) and guitarist/vocalist Adrian Barnello of The Mondales perform at Cusumano’s on Saturday, Jan. 26. Barnello and drummer Devin Dessieux are Webster University students who started playing music together as seventh graders. The Mondales released its second full-length album, “Crescent Fresh,” on Jan. 8. PHOTO BY HAYDEN ANDREWS.

As seventh graders at LaSalle Springs Middle School in Wildwood, Adrian Barnello and Devin Dessieux met and found a common bond — music.

“Devin was the only guy in my whole entire class who played drums and wasn’t a huge tool,” Barnello said. “Back then, the cool thing to do was to be one of those skater kids, and all of those kids hated me. So we decided to play together.”

As middle school students, Barnello and Dessieux were both inspired by the band The Descendents. Dessieux said he has always liked The Descendents’ drummer, Bill Stevenson.

“I emulate his style quite a bit,” Dessieux said. “He has a lot of energy, and, live, he is really loud. That’s kind of how I see it. I’m not necessarily as refined as him, but I tend to be really energetic and get into it when I play live.”

Barnello said as an eighth grader, he felt more connected to The Descendents’ music than music from more popular bands like Green Day.

“Some of the more emotional (songs) they wrote, I felt they were writing those songs for me, 12 years before I was even born,” Barnello said.

Barnello said personal connection to The Descendents’ music set its music above that of other bands.

Barnello and Dessieux continued to practice music as they moved onto Eureka High School, but Barnello said they never took themselves too seriously as a band.

“Bands form in high school, but they are almost never serious,” Barnello said. “They’re usually just a bunch of high school jerks getting together to try and pick up chicks. I was the same except for the whole ‘getting chicks’ thing.”

In high school, the band never found a name to keep.

“All four years of high school we had terrible band names, none of which I want to put on the record,” Barnello said. “I hate them all, so don’t even ask.”

When Barnello and Dessieux came to Webster University in 2010, the then-freshmen decided to continue their music hobby, but with more purpose.

“We started playing music together because we were the only two like-minded people at … middle school,” Barnello said. “Then, eventually, we were the only two like-minded people at Eureka High School. And then, when we started being more serious, we were the only two like-minded people even at Webster who play the kind of music we wanted to make.”

With this new sense of seriousness, the band developed a name for itself. Barnello, junior political science major, thought of the name after researching presidential elections in 1964 and 1984. In ‘64, Lyndon B. Johnson defeated Derek Goldwater in a landslide. Barnello said The Goldwaters doesn’t make a good band name.

“Then I looked at this election in 1984 and Ronald Reagan tossed this guy Walter Mondale around like he was nothing,” Barnello said. “He only won one state, which was his home state (Minnesota), and he barely won that. That’s how bad this guy lost. I was like, ‘Wow, that sucks. How did he lose so bad?’

“Then, suddenly, the name came to me. This guy is the biggest loser in presidential history and we’re, like, the biggest losers ever. So, (we became) The Mondales.”

This “self-bashing humor” is common in the pop-punk scene, Barnello said.

“I say often that we’re huge dorks and I don’t really mean it, but it’s somewhat true,” Barnello said.

On Jan. 8, The Mondales released its second album, “Crescent Fresh.” The album features the third bandmate and bassist, Zach Paul. In past albums and extended plays (EPs) — recordings longer than a single — Barnello said he made many of the musical decisions and wrote most of The Mondales’ songs. But “Crescent Fresh” involved more collaboration among all the band members.

“In the newest album (‘Crescent Fresh’), there’s more of a band feel to it,” Barnello said. “It’s a natural thing for a band at first to be domineered by the person who has the most ideas. Then, once everyone gets more comfortable with each other, you kind of make music together. That’s what happened with our newest album. We make songs as a band, and I feel that’s reflected in our music.”

Dessieux said he felt in “Crescent Fresh,” The Mondales found its sound.

“Instead of doing more grungy stuff, we’ve gotten more to a pop-punk sound,” Dessieux said. “Not straightforward pop-punk, but it has some complexity to it.”

Barnello said he uses music as a way to express negativity he feels. These emotions come out in his lyrics. But “Crescent Fresh” has more of a positive spin, especially in the songs “Writing About You” and “Search, Snake and Destroy.”

“With ‘Crescent Fresh,’ I grew up a little bit as a songwriter, and I discovered I can write songs that are a little less bleak,” Barnello said. “‘Crescent Fresh’ is still pretty melancholy as far as lyrics go, but the music is a little more upbeat and fun. … It offers a more varied worldview.”

The Mondales have performed at local venues such as Cicero’s, The Firebird, Fubar and Cusumano’s Pizza. But Barnello and Dessieux both said they love to play basement shows. These basement shows, Barnello said, can attract about 100-150 people.

“In a basement show, you’d be standing about two feet away from me as I’m playing music that I put my heart and soul into, and I’m spilling it right onto you,” Barnello said.

Both Barnello and Dessieux said they will continue to play music for fun.

“I think still, at this point, it’s more of a hobby than a career,” Dessieux said. “If it goes that direction, I wouldn’t be opposed to it. It’s a good way to pass the time, and I do really enjoy the music.”

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