I waited by the canal in Kreuzberg for Merle Sibbel, artist name Mone, the 26-year-old Dutch singer-songwriter whose upcoming album Crocodile Kisses will grip you by your throat and send you spiralling on a downward journey of an insane love. She ran up to me in a magenta leather coat and worn-out boots, ten minutes late and with a smile that stretched all the way across her face. I’ve admired Mone since hearing her single ‘Rat’. In the video clip, she cocks her head in a way that emanates confidence, and her voice drips with feral emotion. In real life, she’s slightly awkward, sweet, a listener rather than a talker.
At the start of the pandemic, the tour Mone had scheduled through Germany and the Netherlands fell through, and she found herself with too much time on her hands. Instead of throwing herself into Netflix and Bumble, she channelled that energy into working with Nick Scholey, a filmmaker responsible for most music videos of the Berlin folk scene. That led to collaborating with him and Mark Hunt, another filmmaker, and eventually founding Fruit Salat Films, a film production collective.
“Mark might join us later,” she says. “He’s getting a tattoo of one of my drawings.” She shows me sketches from her booklet – funny faces with devil horns, clown mouths, and spirally eyes. “If you cover this half, he looks sad,” she explains, covering half of one’s face with her palm. “If you cover the other, it looks like he’s on speed.”
“I wrote my first song when I was 21,” Mone tells me when we sit down in the grass by the canal. “It was an intense love that sparked it, the kind where you think no one else has ever experienced anything like what you’re going through.” When I ask whether the love turned into a relationship, she says: “Of course not. He had a girlfriend, so it was the kind of wild love that’s unrequited. I actually slept with the guy two years later, and it was very anticlimactic. It turned out I wanted him mainly because I couldn’t have him. Nothing to do with him, it’s just hard to live up to a fantasy.”
Her artist name originated in that period. “I started writing sexually explicit songs to try and impress him, and I’d always liked the sound of the word ‘moan’. As my music became more abstract, I wanted a more abstract name, hence the spelling ‘Mone’. And, you know, if you google the word ‘moan’, you’ll get a lot of porn.”
Crocodile Kisses encompasses the cycle of her previous relationship. “There’s a song on the album that I know everyone is going to skip, but I felt like it was needed for the story. When I just started dating my ex, I was on holiday with my family. I was texting him all the time, and it was obvious to everyone that I was in love. Whenever I took out my phone, my family started singing German songs. I made a recording of my aunt doing a skit in German to make fun of me. To this day, listening to this recording makes me laugh. The track is called ‘Family Laughter’.”
Only one song was written after the breakup – her latest single ‘Terrible Broadway Play’. Before the interview, she’d sent me the video clip – a slow, eerie one-shot where she dances in a red suit, absentmindedly staring into space, hugging an imaginary lover, and erupting into mad laughter at the end. It’s simple yet effective, although Mone had gone to great lengths to make the video.
“The clip that ended up becoming the whole thing was only meant as an introductory shot. Before that, we’d filmed on the terrace of Michael [Brinkworth’s] building, as I walked along the edge of the roof barefoot. It was in the middle of February, right after it had snowed, and I had a weird tingling feeling in my toes for a week after that.” When I say it was probably frostbite, she shrugs. “I also made a big installation in Mark’s flat, covering one of his white walls with my red lipstick, and we had a green screen in front of which I pretended to fly, hanging from aerial silks. We didn’t use any of that, though.”
She tells me of another video clip she has worked on, for her single ‘Big Brown Bear’. “In the final scene, I’m lying in the mud. Most of the clip was set in Weissensee, a lake in Berlin, but that shot was filmed in Nick Scholey’s bathtub. We went to a pet shop and got a bag of worms and maggots, then went to a playground and filled some Tupperware containers with sand and dirt. At Nick’s, I got into the bathtub and he emptied the container with worms over me. We dedicated the video to Freddie the Superworm who jumped to his death and drowned. After some consideration, we decided that the maggots were too gross to use in the bath and set them free.”
Mone’s first three singles all have animals in the title – ‘Crocodile Kisses’, ‘Big Brown Bear’, and ‘Rat’. I ask her where the idea came from. “That was not intentional at all. When I realised I was serious about this music thing, I was studying at the art academy in Rotterdam. I started collecting everything that I thought could fit my image as an artist. And I think I had these animal prints on my mood board, or maybe it was the other way around and the animal imagery appeared after I wrote those songs.”
The album is set in Berlin, “a city of extremes”, and the songs veer from introspective and contained to wild and disturbing. “In Berlin, you can have very high highs and very low lows. You can hear that in ‘Rat’. Living here has definitely influenced me as a musician. It’s an affordable city, so it’s good for artists. Although it’s dangerously easy to fall into a routine that keeps you stuck. When you have an off day where you’re too hungover to do any work, fifty other people will say ‘me too!’ and make you feel good about it.”
We get ready to say goodbye, as Mark comes along with his dog Ziggy that jumps up at the sight of Mone. Mark shows us his new tattoo. He covers one half of the face: “Now he’s happy. Now he’s mentally unhinged.” Mone rips out a page of her notebook and gives me the drawing of the devil’s face, signing it with a blue marker. “Shit, I thought it was black,” she swears and hugs me before I cycle off.
Mone’s new single ‘Terrible Broadway Play’ is out now.