+ By Leigh Glenn + Photos by Karen Davies
As the fifth of five brothers growing up in Clinton, Maryland, Matt Mona got a sound education. All of his brothers had distinctive record collections, music posters, art, and musical chops of their own. Mona spent hours with their collections and serving as audience during their rehearsals, and later learned guitar from the brother closest to him in age.
“Whether they knew it or not, my brothers were like my musical sherpas,” he says.
If Mona’s Everest is local music, vinyl, and Annapolis history, then he’s about scaled to the top. He’s drumming and collaborating in the band Mantis Toboggan and managing and selling diverse music, especially on vinyl, at KA-CHUNK!! Records in its unique space at 78 Maryland Avenue in Annapolis.
Mona wanted to fill the void when the Record and Tape Exchange closed. He has fond memories not only of listening to samples inside the store, but also of the punk bands that played outside. Both Baltimore and Washington, DC, had their own shops and musical identities, and Mona wanted Annapolis to have something of its own.
In December 2010, after 10 years of selling music online, he seized the opportunity to open a storefront. Mona had always been drawn to the mid-century style of the building on Maryland Avenue, which, compared with other buildings downtown, is tiled and has a curvy, once-futuristic canopy and marquee.
Despite the potential for failure, Mona forged forward. “I kind of put blinders on and committed to the idea of opening a physical shop before I could talk myself out of it,” he says. “I know people didn’t think a shop in Annapolis would work, but six years in, so far, so good.”
KA-CHUNK!! has provided a reach and a community not available online. Mona met Mantis Toboggan guitarist Justin Chaplin as one of the store’s first customers who sometimes waited outside before it opened. They launched the band as a duo and then met bassist Adam Jeffrey, first through the store and then through Jeffrey’s work with other area bands. His style and songwriting have made the band better, says Mona. Generally, Chaplin or Jeffrey have a riff or an entire song at the ready, and after collaborating, it includes some DNA from each member.
Mona’s musical gravitational pull first centered around the band Nirvana, which led him to explore the music coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Then it shifted to the Midwest, where he discovered drummers like Todd Trainer of Shellac and Mac McNeilly of The Jesus Lizard—both of whom greatly influenced his style.
Working in his band has given Mona a greater awareness of local bands at venues such as Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge, which supports diverse music. “Even though it’s not my preferred musical genre, I really like the fact that the Metropolitan is proving to be an interesting venue for hip-hop,” Mona says. “Anything to bring more musical diversity to Annapolis is much appreciated.”
Mona fosters some of that diversity himself. Every October Friday night, he hosts “Anti-Annapolis” at KA-CHUNK!! to feature punk bands from Annapolis, Washington, DC, and Baltimore. This year, he was tapped to recruit bands to play outside of the store for the Maryland Avenue Festival. He also takes part in events such as Record Store Day in April. (Vinyl hunters should arrive early, as the line snakes down the avenue.) Among the used and new reissues on vinyl at KA-CHUNK!!, Mona keeps selections from artists such as the Wipers, Billy Childish, and Robert Pollard to bring new sets of ears to their music.
Mona likes vinyl because he feels he cannot get the same sense, not to mention sound, from ones and zeros in a WAVE file. “People don’t remember the first MP3 they downloaded, but asking someone about their first album triggers deep memories and emotions,” he says. There is something to be said for convenience, adds Mona, who grew up on CDs. But today, he uses them as “an antiquated MP3 delivery system,” playing them in his car, where he doesn’t need superior fidelity. “Convenience is fine, as long as you realize there’s a price to pay for it.” Some would argue that MP3s offer a cleaner, more sterile sound with a discernably different feel from analog, while others don’t notice the difference.
Whether it’s KA-CHUNK!!, Mantis Toboggan, or the emphasis on diversity, all roads lead back to Mona’s boyhood and his brothers. His growing-up ears heard everything from the Beatles and Led Zeppelin to Rush, Devo and DC hardcore that included Minor Threat, Teen Idles, and Bad Brains (courtesy of eldest brother Chris, an artist who teaches at Anne Arundel Community College. Some of the art prints at KA-CHUNK!! are collaborations between him and Mona.).
It feels fitting that KA-CHUNK!! is located in a space with such a distinctive facade. Recent-comers to Annapolis may not recall the store’s previous lives, which included a Subway® sandwich shop. But residents born in the 1930s and 1940s may remember the space as Albright’s, which sold electronics. It was Albright’s, says Mona, that transformed the facade into Streamline Moderne style. According to Mona, in the 1950s and 1960s, after Albright’s, the store’s next life was actually a record store called the Hi-Fi Shop.
Customers sometimes tell Mona how amazing it is that the store has come full circle. “I can only hope I’m helping to create those same memories for others that’ll last another 50 years and more.” As patrons peruse the store, he imagines that they are looking around the shop, mentally overlaying their memories of the old record store atop the atmosphere of the current shop. █