Enthralled by interpersonal connections and introspection, Mndsgn has never been one to shy away from exploring meaningful questions and the nuances of life through his music.
Coming from humble beginnings of the by-gone era of MySpace, his DIY approach led him to form the collective Klipmode, connecting with future Kendrick Lamar collaborator, Knxwledge. The crew built themselves a cult following which propelled Mndsgn into the LA beat making scene, the city where he still works and resides.
Beginning his exploration into the human condition with the blissfully hazy, Yawn Zen on Stones Throw, Mndsgn returns to the label for the next chapter of this chronicle. The blueprint for Rare Pleasure came to fruition in 2018 and sought to bring together the music that’s inspired him over the years, painting a picture of love from different angles. Needing just a week at the studio to bring his concept to life—with an assembly of musicians—this album marks Mndsgn’s seamless transition from producer to arranger, songwriter and vocalist.
It’s this studio that Mndsgn gives us a glimpse into, alongside an interview about what inspires and influences his approach to production.
Mndsgn’s new album Rare Pleasure is out now on Stones Throw.
What’s your musical education?
I attended, the now defunct, Institute of Audio Research, NYC in 2007. It was a nine month program covering a multitude of areas in music from the technical side all the way to the business end of it. Aside from that, I would credit my peers as the most impactful, music educators in my life. Learning and bouncing energy off of the creative community is infinite.
What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?
FL Studio & Midiman Keystation49.
What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?
Making music has always been a state of play for me, so to think of anything as being a ‘serious’ decision is a bit comedic to me. I remember buying an MPC 1000 early on, only to return it after a month of owning it. I felt like FL Studio and Reason was all I needed.
Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?
I have a PC running windows as well as a Macbook. Ableton Live is the main DAW. I use a Yamaha DX5 as a synth as well as my main midi keyboard. Other commonly utilized keyboards include my trustee Roland Juno DI & Mellotron. I’ve been running those into the SP-555 sampler since forever. I have a Tascam TSR-8 eight-track reel to reel that I’ll sometimes use to resample and/or multitrack arrangements to from Ableton.
Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?
It’s a home studio where I’m based in Los Angeles. Just me.
Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?
I’ve always made sure all the primary gear is arranged within arm’s reach. If something is too far and out of reach, it tends to collect dust. Aside from that I just try to keep the clutter to a minimum. I believe the physical space tends to feedback into the mental. Oh yea, I have some action figures around here and there, to keep the child-like sense of wonder alive.
What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?
It’s constantly growing and evolving. I’d say it’s definitely been more of a gradual process. Cycling things in and out based on what I need. I remember when that Behind the Beat: Hip Hop Home Studios photo book came out, I always aspired to carve out a space of my own that would feel like my headquarters.
Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?
Anyone that knows me knows how often I rearrange my studio space. I just recently switched my bedroom and studio which has been an incredible change. Rearranging the feng shui is a surefire renewal of creative energy.
If money were no object what would you add?
The first thing that comes to mind is Moog. An original Minimoog or Modular system.
You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?
I try not to get too attached to these things. It’s the ideas that are irreplaceable, far more than the gear itself.
How do you condense your studio set-up for your live sets?
The SP-555 and Juno-DI has always been a fun, quick and easy setup for solo-live sets.
Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?
Eating, stretching, meditating, exercising, journaling, etc. I don’t try to do all of it every time, but if none of these basic essential needs are met before entering a creative space, then I’m essentially just winging it, energetically — which is fun too.
What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?
There isn’t always a concept in mind, but when there is, that’s definitely the most motivating. Other than that, I’ll usually just go in, turn everything on and go from there.
Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?
Probably the latter. If I do obsess over it, it’s probably because I’m deeply locked in, which is a good sign. It’s not like I’m pushing myself. It’s more like that same energy when you were a kid and you just wanted to keep on playing way past your curfew. That’s the best feeling. Most times, skeletons of ideas are recorded to be revisited later on without any initial attachment. I just try to save everything without being overly critical until much later.
Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?
Simply just living life. Focusing on wellbeing, being around good people. Spending time with my partner. Watching films, reading books, cooking, etc. Going on walks. Catching up with family. Dealing with life. If I’m not doing these things, then the music just becomes about music instead of about life.
What inspires you outside the world of music?
Everything I just mentioned in the previous answer 🙂
What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your new album, and why?
The Mellotron M4000D Mini indirectly became a crucial ingredient. Utilizing those sounds kind of gave the album a foundational palette. I love that you can blend the two sound banks together.
What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited
Potentially using this music money to buy a house for my mom. Full circle.
Mndsgn’s new album Rare Pleasure is out now on Stones Throw. Photo credit: Jack McKain.