Jersey Devil, the latest album from the lo-fi pop project Ducktails, appeared on streaming services September 15. Its release received almost no fanfare, save for a self-promotional tweet from Matt Mondanile, the 32-year-old guitarist who is the Ducktails’ founder and sole consistent member, and whose downcast visage appears on Jersey Devil’s cover. While the previous two Ducktails albums were released by Domino Recordings—the legendary indie label that has been home to artists like Animal Collective, Elliott Smith, and Neutral Milk Hotel—this one arrived via New Images, a tiny imprint operated by Mondanile himself, which lists an address in his hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey, on its website. Mondanile has released several acclaimed Ducktails albums over the last decade, and until last year, he was the lead guitarist of the beloved indie rock band Real Estate. If his recent trajectory has seemed curiously backward, Mondanile has brushed it off. “Domino didn’t want to put it out,” he said of Jersey Devil in August. “Also now I have full control and I can just do whatever I want to and get all the money to my dome.”
Mondanile co-founded Real Estate in Ridgewood in 2008 along with Martin Courtney and Alex Bleeker, both of whom he’d known since high school. The band quickly made a name for itself playing wistful songs about adolescent ennui, driven in part by Mondanile’s distinctive sparkling clean guitar tone. Part of Real Estate’s initial charm was the way in which their laid-back music highlighted the easy suburban camaraderie amongst its members. So it came as a surprise to fans when, in May 2016, the band issued a terse announcement that Mondanile was leaving to “[focus] on his own Ducktails project” instead. Courtney, Real Estate’s lead singer and songwriter, elaborated slightly in a subsequent interview with Uproxx, hinting at tension with Mondanile but adding that the split was precipitated by “stuff that I don’t necessarily want to talk about.” In a recent New York Daily News interview, Mondanile treated his old band with the same glibness he used to address the Domino situation. “It’s way easy for me to just do anything I want and not have to do the lame stuff I would have to do with them,” he said. “Like, play a crappy jam band festival in Arizona.”
The story of a sideman growing dissatisfied with his day job and leaving to pursue creative freedom as a solo artist is not an unfamiliar one. But according to multiple sources close to Real Estate, the public narrative is not a wholly accurate portrayal of Mondanile’s abrupt departure. In the years leading up to the split, the band added two new members, including Jackson Pollis, a young drummer who from came outside of the tight Ridgewood-based social circle that birthed Real Estate. (Pollis replaced Etienne Pierre Duguay, an old college buddy of Mondanile’s who left the band in 2011.) According to these accounts, at some point in the intervening years, Pollis caught wind of unspecified allegedly inappropriate sexual behavior from Mondanile, and delivered an ultimatum to Real Estate’s founding members: either he’s out of the band or I am.
The remaining members of Real Estate provided SPIN with a statement acknowledging that Mondanile was dismissed from the band in February 2016 over allegations about his behavior with women. They did not confirm or deny the accuracy of the narrative about Pollis’s ultimatum on the record. Real Estate’s full statement is below:
Matt Mondanile was fired in February 2016 when allegations of unacceptable treatment of women were brought to our attention. While we urged him to seek counseling at the time of termination, we are no longer in contact. We feel that any abuse of one’s power or status to victimize another is completely unacceptable. We applaud the courage of the women who came forward to make us aware so that we could address the issue head on.
A former publicist for Mondanile confirmed that he or she ended their relationship with Ducktails after hearing similar allegations:
When I heard these allegations I spoke with the label and told them I could no longer work with him. The label suggested they would be doing the same. The band firing came later I believe. That was the end of my dealings with him. We never had contact again. He unfollowed me on social media, etc.
SPIN contacted Domino Recordings, Mondanile’s former and Real Estate’s current label, to ask if whether the allegations were the reason Ducktails is no longer on their roster. A Domino representative confirmed that Mondanile is no longer signed to the label, but declined to speak on the record about the circumstances of his departure.
At the time of this story’s publication, Mondanile was unavailable for comment to SPIN. Previously, he issued a broad denial of similar allegations in a phone interview with Pitchfork. In an email, Mondanile pleaded with SPIN to delay a longer story, which includes stories from multiple women, until he was able to speak by phone. That story will be published, with Mondanile’s comments, at some point in the coming days.
UPDATE: On October 20, Mondanile’s attorneys released a statement regarding the allegations and his departure from Real Estate. It includes a quote from Mondanile, who calls his past behavior “insensitive” and “inappropriate.” Read the full statement here.
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