New Order, Moby, Bleach Slang, Anna Calvi and others come together for a most important charity collection
Mona Dehghan has a music industry history that crosses continents, and currently runs her own excellent indie imprint, Mon Amie Records.
But one thing she has never done is put together a benefit compilation. Upon the onset of her father’s dementia, she became very personally involved with Alzheimer’s Disease. So last year she started the task of making and releasing The Longest Day, an amazing, 17-song collection to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. The title is inspired by the day – June 20th – set aside each year to raise awareness of the disease, and honor those working for a cure.
The statistics on Alzheimer’s are alarming. According to the Association, every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia. At the current rate, 1 in 4 people will develop the disease, and that rate is increasing. It is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and number one in England. And from that, one can extrapolate the numbers of caregivers needed, and the mental and physical strain that arise for them. Caregivers provide over 18.6 billion hours, valued at $244 billion in unpaid care. They are reported to die at a 63% higher rate than people the same age who are not caring for someone with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association is the top resource for those caregivers; and they’ve already invested $185 million toward treatment, prevention, and a cure.
The Longest Day was released digitally on June 19th, and will be available on CD and vinyl in October, with 100% of profits going to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is a wide, wonderful dive into inventive indie rock, featuring New Order, Moby, Beach Slang, Anna Calvi, Wolfmanhattan Project, Cold Specks, and more. We caught up with Mona to ask about the project and her very personal involvement with the cause.
First, can you give me a history of your experience in the biz we call music?
I started out as a DJ, and eventually Music Director, at my college radio station, KALX, Berkeley, which was so exciting for me I decided to move to London and get my masters in radio from Goldsmiths College. I worked at BBC 6 Music and BBC London while I lived there, then ended up moving back to the Bay Area to be the Operations Manager at KALX. From there I relocated to Seattle to do radio promotions for Sub Pop, was recruited by Domino to do radio and eventually Communications Management in NYC. I briefly left label life to work as a publicist for Tell All Your Friends, then started Girlie Action’s short-lived radio department before ultimately ending up at Mute Records where I started as their Director of Publicity, and am now their Senior Director of Marketing and Project Management.
Whew! So I guess Mon Amie is a kind of side project?
Yes, Mute is my main gig right now, but Mon Amie is my record label and DJ company. It’s more a personal outlet for me, but also helps me support my family.
The title of the compilation, The Longest Day, is the day of recognition for the Alzheimer’s fight. That is a beautiful and sad notion. June 20th is the longest day, but of course each day after that gets shorter… Can you tell us your previous involvement with The Longest Day?
I love the Alzheimer’s Association’s choice for their fundraising day. I agree with you it’s beautiful and profound. Last June, following my dad’s diagnosis in February, was my first time participating in The Longest Day. I did the longest DJ set I’ve personally ever done – eight hours – at C’mon Everybody, and had friends at different labels donate vinyl for a raffle. The bar donated 10% of their income that night as well, overall totaling around $3,000 in donations.
Whoa, awesome! In general, how did you approach the bands about contributing to The Longest Day?
Everyone on the compilation is someone I’ve personally worked with previously, or has a close working relationship with a friend of mine. So the ask was very personal and all framed via my experience with my father’s diagnosis and how much the Alzheimer’s Association has helped me. It turns out many of the artists had loved ones with dementia, or have seen firsthand how it can affect caregivers.
This may sound strange to ask, but obviously going in, the bands knew this was a benefit for Alzheimer’s, an obviously serious and heavy topic. So I assume the bands were thinking they would offer kind of more dark or serious pieces. Was there any feeling in you to let the bands express their musical connection however they like — I guess that’s a roundabout way of asking, did any contributions sound a bit too “up” and fun, and maybe you had to ask the band for another track?
I actually didn’t give any sort of guidance in terms of track submissions. My only ask was that it was preferably a previously unreleased track. Some artists, like Ladan (aka Cold Specks), wrote pieces specifically for the compilation, some people donated songs that had been previously created but never used, or that hadn’t traveled very far. I was so thankful for everyone’s participation, I didn’t want to make things difficult by putting specific parameters on the songs they donated. Once everyone had turned their tracks in, I felt the pacing ended up working out nicely, as each song sounded different but not totally out of place next to each other.
I did prefer previously unreleased tracks so as to create a higher demand to purchase. But for example, with New Order and Shadowparty (members of New Order and Devo), they didn’t have unreleased tracks to share, but offered me the choice of any of their previously released music on Mute.
I really like the musical variety you present here.
Thank you! I was hoping that by engaging artists in different genres with different kinds of fanbases, that I’d hopefully create awareness across a broader audience.
How long did it take to put this together? It seems like a complicated project, with acts from all over.
I started the process in April 2019, but it was a pretty slow-going journey, since I’m my father’s sole caregiver, and I have a day job and my side business, it was hard to have enough time to devote to it. I took my time though and put in what hours I could to the project. It actually helped give me a positive association with dementia, or at least feel somewhat productive. When caring for someone with dementia there are so many setbacks and this kind of underlying quiet and persistent mourning that’s happening as you lose a little bit of your loved one each day. So this was at least at the back of my mind and something I could feel good about in relation to my experience with the disease.
How did the New Order track come about?
I’ve been working with New Order via Mute for the last five years. They’re really lovely people and their managers are very sweet and said yes they’d love to help as soon as I asked.
I love that Church cover from Beach Slang.
They did an awesome job, I was super happy that they agreed and covered one of my favorite tracks ever, totally unprompted!
How did Wolfmanhattan get involved?
That was thanks to my good friend Jo Murray who works with them. She took me to their show at TV Eye, introduced me to Kid Congo Powers after the show, and asked if they’d want to contribute. He said he and the other members personally had close experiences with people with dementia, so were happy to be involved.
“I was asked by Mona and Jo Murray to be involved,” Wolfmanhattan singer/guitarist Kid Congo Powers tells Rock & Roll Globe. “And I immediately said yes, as I have seen friends in the time of AIDS – which we are still in – heartbreakingly go through dementia at a young age. Also my mother, before her death, became only able to recall the past. This unreleased song piped right into my brain as suitable for the occasion.”
“We recorded that track when we recorded our first album, Blue Gene Stew (In the Red, 2019),” says drummer Bob Bert. “It was originally slated to be a single on a Detroit label, but fell through for some reason.”
Tell us about Ebru Yildiz, and how you got her involved for the album artwork and photos.
I actually met Ebru through her recent photography project documenting women in the music industry. My friend Saidah Blount introduced us, and I really enjoyed the whole process and getting to know Ebru through that. Following that, I had posted a picture of a book I just finished about Alzheimer’s, and she reached out and let me know that her mom had passed from dementia. That was a lightbulb moment for me as I hadn’t decided what to do with the artwork yet. It was a no brainer once I saw her gorgeous and heartbreaking photos of her mom.
I know there are some studies and proof that music can help sooth dementia patients, and can sharpen some memories. Can you tell us any recent developments you’ve learned about concerning those theories?
Yes! I don’t have the exact sources to site here – I’m knee deep in books about dementia – but I read time and time again that somehow dementia doesn’t affect, or affect as much, areas in the brain where musical memories are stored. So they find that as people progress with the disease, even as they become unresponsive or non-verbal, music will reignite them. I find that fact particularly poignant, especially as music is such an important part of my life.
So you started this project before Coronavirus. But now because of that and lots of our world just kind of stopping, there are many organizations asking for and needing help. It’s all getting to be a bit much lately, right? How have you been holding up and staying busy through this crazy time?
You’re right, it does feel a bit overwhelming right now with so many people and organizations in need; and with the government seemingly unable or uninterested in helping its people, we’re all doing it for ourselves. To relate it back to this comp, when my father was first diagnosed, the doctors all essentially said, “Go to alz.org for help, we can’t do much for you otherwise.” It feels scary when authority figures seem to be as lost as you, but I’m glad that there are people and organizations out there stepping up when needed.
As for how I’ve been keeping myself busy? Working this release around full-time day job hours took a lot of time, and I also have a bi-weekly radio show on altrok.com, every other Friday from 9pm-11pm. I’ve also been watching a lot of “Drag Race,” which always cheers me up.