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Photo: Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Josh Ostrander has already played 100 gigs this year, and he's not slowing down. If you have a bar mitzvah, he'll play it

Emerge Impact + Music Conference is created and produced by ABP Media’s parent company, A Beautiful Perspective. Leading up to the conference, we’re featuring some of the musicians and speakers who’ll be performing in Las Vegas November 16-18. Check out the lineup and purchase tickets here.

Josh Ostrander, otherwise known as Mondo Cozmo, is enjoying his first day off in eight months.

He and his band have already performed 100 shows in 2017. If there is one thing Ostrander has learned after two decades in the music business, it’s that persistence pays off. Digging holes and pulling weeds in the Southern California heat, and writing songs in your spare bedroom at night gives one a special appreciation for success.

“I’m not saying no to anything. I just want to play,” he says. “If there’s a bar mitzvah somewhere, I’ll be there playing. This is exciting, and I’ve worked my whole life for this. I have this chance to go out and do this, and I’m going to go down swinging.”

It is the last day of August, and Ostrander is soaking in this rare moment of respite by walking his dog, a four-legged reminder of the whirlwind year he has had. He took his new stage name from mashing up the John Waters film Mondo Trasho and his dog, Cozmo.

“Eastern Conference Champions was the world’s longest name for a band,” Ostrander says, referring to his previous group that broke up in 2015. “You couldn’t put it on a T-shirt, and nobody ever remembered it. So when I was starting this up I wanted something short, something that rhymed and something that looked good on a T-shirt.”

While the name came easy, the transition away from band life was rough. Ostrander, who grew up in Philadelphia listening to Bruce Springsteen, Beastie Boys, Beck and Nirvana, had known some of his ECC bandmates for more than a decade.

“It was a family, and it was tough to leave that.” But the band had a finished album with no takers. “There was no story there, and no way to sell this record to anybody,” he says.

Mondo Cozmo, seen here performing at the 2017 Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco, took his stage name from mashing up a John Waters movie title and his dog's name. Amy Harris/Invision/AP

After the band broke up, Ostrander was adrift. Living in Los Angeles with his wife Aria Pullman but no longer making money from music, he started working two landscaping jobs. Later that year he caught one of Jack White’s sets at Coachella.

“He talked about how he was mowing lawns in Detroit before he started in music, and that was an impactful moment for me,” Ostrander says. “I just realized I write songs, and that’s what I’ll be doing when nobody gives a fuck in 20 years. … I get off on that moment of creation. I love this.”

Ostrander had been writing at night, but now he felt a renewed drive to push forward. Working without a band, he was forced to learn how to produce his own songs for demos.

“I kind of had to reinvent myself,” he says. “I don’t know really how to play drums, but I started to come up with beats and started working with drum loops. Instead of a guitar solo, which would have been natural before, I may find a weird sample now. I’ve been playing with different things that I never would’ve done if I was still with a full band. I think it’s been liberating and opened up something in me creatively.”

“I’m not saying no to anything. I just want to play. If there’s a bar mitzvah somewhere, I’ll be there playing.”

Many of the songs on Mondo Cozmo’s first album, Plastic Soul, such as “Shine,” “Hold on to Me” and the title track were written at a time when Ostrander had no idea whether he would ever perform in front of an audience again. “They’re songs of desperation,” he says.

Shine opens: “Stick with me Jesus through the comin’ storm/I’ve come to you in search of something I have lost/Shine down a light on me and show a path/I promise you I will return if you take me back”

“I was not in a great way when I wrote that song,” Ostrander says. “It’s a reminder to myself not to give up. It’s been cool getting feedback from fans on the song. People find a lot of hope in the song. People take the words and make the song what they want. I’ve been really humbled by the response, and the messages I’ve gotten.”

His new demos were picked up by Los Angeles radio, and last fall he signed a contract with Republic Records. He had a few songs finished, and the label gave him two weeks to write the rest of the album. He grabbed his dog, a guitar and a 10-year-old laptop and rented a weird house in Joshua Tree. When he returned to civilization, it was with a full album.

The label was reluctant to pay the tab for the rights to a sample Ostrander had used on the song “Plastic Soul,” and planned to not release it. “I believed in the song, but we couldn’t get it cleared,” Ostrander remembers. “I said: ‘Fuck it. I’m going to put it out anyway.’ So, I emailed out a link to download it. I knew I was taking a risk, but I also didn’t realize it would be on the radio the following Monday. I was scared. I thought I’d get sued. The only reaction was thousands and thousands of people wanted the song. That’s the power of music. So, the label got it cleared.”

Now, enjoying his first day off since the beginning of the year, he has a moment for reflection. Mondo Cozmo’s 100 shows this year included a performance on Jimmy Kimmel and a set at the Grammy Museum backed by a choir. Anna Faris starred in the video for “Hold on to Me,” and now he’s set to embark on a fall headlining tour that will take him across the U.S. “You’re talking to the happiest person on the planet … I’m beside myself,” he says. “I won’t take it lightly that I’ve been given the opportunity to do this.”

After 20 years of searching for the spotlight, touring is less work and more reward Mondo Cozmo. That’s how you go eight months without a day off.

“I don’t regret all the years it took to get to this moment.” he says. “I’ve played so many shows in every club in every city. I’ve put up so many tour posters. I’ve made my own T-shirts and stood and talked to people at the merch booth until the last one went home. Put me in the room. It’s my time. I’m fucking ready.”

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