Since his time in the Klipmode collective, Mndsgn has figured prominently in the beat scene. Throughout his prolific catalog, the Filipino-American producer has consistently explored spirituality and various sensations through, in his own words, “dirty, dirty soul vibes.” After signing to Stones Throw, his profile has only increased. His 2014 label debut, Yawn Zen, introduced him to a whole new audience, enraptured by his hypnagogic echoing voices and celestial sounds.
Two years later, the music is different, but the vibes remain omnipresent. Body Wash lathers you in electro-funk and psychedelia. The record remains otherworldly, but less the land of the dreams, more a dimension beyond. Body Wash hits through Mndsgn’s most vital influences—‘80s funk, soul, boom bap, jazz—and houses them in the modern era. Try not to think too hard, like the main character, or you might find yourself wondering what planet you’re on.
When talking with Mndsgn, he sounds less like an astrological sage than your bandleader friend who keeps multiple bongs on the table of his rehearsal room. Yet his wisdom, experience, and sheer love of the art all shone through in our conversation. He speaks as though he is in constant satori, idyllically wading through the days of a life he loves. Not one of glitz and flashy celebrity, more that of a holy connection to music. It doesn’t matter whether this spark is captured in the bedroom, hammered out in the studio, or sparked on the dancefloor. —Nitish Pahwa
It’s been two years since your last solo project, Yawn Zen. How does it feel to have the new album out there?
Mndsgn:I’m just really excited for everyone to hear the new stuff. I feel like, with the two years, it’s a leap from the material I put out previously, so I’m just glad everyone will get updated with the current sounds. So I’m just really excited that it’s out.
It seems like you’ve kept pretty busy since the release. As I see on your Twitter, you’ve been consistently doing performances and radio shows. No rest whatsoever.
Mndsgn:Nah, not right now. Definitely on overdrive at this point.
Have you started working on new music already?
Mndsgn:I always end up making something new. As long as I’m in front of my gear, I end up recording a few ideas here and there. So yeah, some of the stuff I’m making now may or may not be for the next record. I’m also trying to wrap up some collaborations with other artists.
Who have you collaborated with recently? I know you had that song with Joyce Wrice, is there anyone else on your radar?
Mndsgn:We’re actually doing a 7” for Joyce Wrice right now with Akashik Records, which I produced, and I’m looking forward to recording more with her. Last night I recorded a track with Pink Siifu. We’ve got a lot of random stuff, but we’re not working on a particular project together. Every time he’s at the crib, we’ll just record random joints. So that, and a lot of straggler tracks. I’m trying to consolidate it all over time.
Yeah, I’ve seen a bunch of your looser tracks on your SoundCloud. Like that song in tribute to Gene Wilder.
Mndsgn:Yeah, I think at some point I’ll try to compile a remix project, we’ll see. There’s just a lot of random tracks that are sitting around the hard drive.
What inspired your album title, Body Wash?
Mndsgn:It’s based on this backstory I loosely came up with, to serve as a loose narrative for the record. It’s pretty much referencing this psychedelic body wash that this homeless character takes from a mysterious woman. She takes him in, feeds him, and ends up giving him a bath, and the body wash just takes him to another place. The record is loosely based around that story.
So as in the cover of the album, are you acting as the character who takes the body wash?
Mndsgn:Not necessarily. Throughout the record I go back and forth between the narrator and the main character who’s using the body wash. It isn’t necessarily a biographical thing, but I do sometimes try to put myself in my character’s shoes. A lot of my last album covers were art pieces and collages.
Since I felt like there was more of me on this record, especially with the vocals, putting myself on the cover signified me being more vulnerable, being more open with my listeners. And you can see that literally, I’m just laying in a tub with my shirt off [laughs]. It goes hand-in-hand with the music—just being more open, being more comfortable.
Body Wash definitely captures a different sound. Yawn Zen had a dream-like sound to capture its theme, but Body Wash has a funky, cosmic feel. Sonically, what pushed you toward this direction?
Mndsgn:I was enjoying those types of records when I was DJ’ing—early ’80s funk and jazz fusion—and if I’m listening to something, I’m prone to wanting to make something like it. I guess it just came out of me, admiring the arrangements and musicality that came out of that era. I felt like it would be a nice thing to re-introduce into music now, keep those fingerprints within the narrative of today’s music, keep that torch going.
I think that last year especially, you started to see that kind of sound pop up more often. There was Kendrick’s album, plus the stuff that Flying Lotus is doing with Brainfeeder…Even George Clinton’s going to release a new album on there. Speaking of, I definitely got a very Clinton-esque vibe from the music video for “Cosmic Perspective.”
Mndsgn:Oh yeah, just the eccentrics for sure.
It shows in your progression of music videos. Your videos for “Camelblues” and “Sheets” had some cool effects, but overall carried a more homegrown demeanor. But for “Cosmic Perspective” and “Wherever U R,” you are exploring trippy, eccentric vibes.
Mndsgn:I feel like more and more, I’m getting a better idea of how I want to digitally represent the music, so I guess that’s coming along with the territory, being able to do this stuff on a platform like Stones Throw and bringing those ideas to life. It’s cool to be able to focus on that and bring those ideas to life. Since I hadn’t really made many videos before, it’s tight to have my hand in that process.
It’s cool that you get to have your voice in what your videos are like.
Mndsgn:Actually, “Cosmic Perspective” was the first time I had any voice in the video process. Before, I let other people take the wheel and trusted what they did. Thanks to the support of the people around me—they told me I should come up with something from my own mind that served as an extension of my creativity—it made sense that I conceptualized it.
You tweeted that the hook for “Cosmic Perspective” was inspired by the hook for Dyansty’s “Adventures in the Land of Music,” which was famously sampled in Camp Lo’s “Luchini.”
Mndsgn:Oh man, that song rings throughout my childhood. I had looked up the sample for “Luchini” in high school, but I didn’t stumble upon the record itself ’til later, I found it in a record shop out here in L.A. I never listened to more than just the loop, but then I listened to the whole arrangement of the song, and it’s fuckin’ beautiful, man. “Cosmic Perspective” was my ode to that mentality, the music being so grand, it’s just a grand feeling. In that song, when they sing “in the land of music,” you feel it.
You do a lot more vocals on this record, and you modulate your voice to fit with the synths and overall production. I read that when you started writing songs for Yawn Zen, it was still a new process for you. What gave you the push to start writing more songs?
Mndsgn:Honestly, it feels good. When you’re just recording something, you’re going strictly off of a feeling, being connected to whatever creative sources that you’re drawing from. Singing definitely gives me that feeling, just like playing the keys. Any kind of direct channeling you have to do keeps that connection to the source. Singing gives me that feeling, and I don’t really question it too much. I just do it.
I’m really a beginner when it comes to singing, I’m super new at it still, but I like where it’s taking me, and I like the zone that I get into. I have to channel something into lyrics and it’s cool, it’s like a supernatural experience. Hopefully I can keep the creative juices flowing as far as songwriting. I have a lot of respect for songwriting, even more so now that I know the mentality and headspace you have to be in. It’s so much more different than making beats. The connection’s a bit more direct, you really use your body when you’re either playing the keys or using your voice.
Who are your inspirations when it comes to songwriting? Do they differ at all from you normal influences, or do they overlap?
Mndsgn:There’s a bunch, man. You’ve got the classic heads, the older generation from the ’80s that I look up to, like Leon Sylvers, Kashif, Dave Grusin. There’s also my contemporaries, especially in L.A, like Iman Omari and Georgia Anne Muldrow. There are so many cats out here that are pushing me, and making me want to improve. Not even on some competitive shit, it’s just really inspiring to see what everyone’s doing with their voice. Everyone has their own unique voice, so it’s just a matter of finding it. There’s just so much talent out here. We all kind of learn off each other, like with my work with Joyce Wrice.
Have you gotten the chance to link up with a lot of L.A. artists since you’ve been out there?
Mndsgn:It’s mostly just my peers, man, I keep the circle tight. I haven’t dipped into the more commercial, mainstream world as far as singers and songwriters, it’s mostly just who’s around me. One dude I really admire is Iman Omari, the way he can just hear things in his head and get it recorded so flawlessly.
But I still do most of my singing and songwriting by myself, I feel like it’s best when I’m working alone. I can be the weirdest when I’m locked in a bedroom, with my microphone, and I’ve found that’s the case with a lot of other singers and songwriters. You can’t get the same raw and unfiltered creativity when someone else is in the room. You gotta be completely alone.
How has that artistic process developed since you started out? Especially now you’re on the West Coast? I know that Philadelphia was key to your career beginnings.
Mndsgn:I grew up in New Jersey, on the East Coast. I met Knxwledge in Philly, who was working there at the time. This was like 2008. I didn’t really know anyone who was making similar stuff like I was ’til I met Knxwledge, that’s when we started kicking it. A couple of years later we started coming out to L.A. and now we’re here. In South Jersey, where I’m from, if you’re not going to Atlantic City, then Philly is the only place where you’re going to get some kind of culture. It’s usually where people from my town would move to if they wanted to experience some kind of city life. I was much closer to Philly than New York.
I actually got more inspiration from the dance scene in Philly than anything else. I used to B-boy, and I would go to B-boy events, sometimes even participate in the battles. There was a crew that I ran with, and that was my first introduction to just a raw hip-hop scene. Everyone was so passionate, and they did that shit every day of their life. There’s something about that raw energy that stuck with me. And it’s still with me, even though I’m making music now. It’s just unadulterated. At least it was that way back in the day. <
I feel like B-boying is on another tip totally, now that there’s Red Bull battles and shit. Larger companies have taken over the industry. But when I think back to those middle school and high school days, when I was going to Philly for those B-Boy jams, I mean that really did a lot for me. It was just a lot of individuals trying to express themselves. For Philly, it was the dancing first, then afterward came the music.
Have you done any B-boying lately?
Mndsgn:Not really. At a show, I might tell the audience to open up a circle. I still watch videos here and there. I don’t know man, after making music all these years, I just feel like an old man lately. But I would eventually like to get back into it a little bit, for athletic purposes maybe [laughs]. If I’m dancing during a show, I’ll tell the audience to open up a circle on the floor. When I had the release party for the record out here in L.A, there were some cats that came through, they were like, “Hey, I just brought a bunch of b-boys, we’re here to dance.” So when we were playing the more up-tempo, boogie cuts from the record, we were able to start a circle without hesitation and there was just a bunch of people dancing.
I feel like that is something you don’t really see these days. Especially when I’m DJ’ing, people go to shows and watch the DJ the whole time. But it’s like, nah, just dance! And I feel like that’s something I can change using my position, trying to get more people dancing and excited about dancing. That’s always been a crucial part for me, you know?
So when you got into making music, who was the first artist who really galvanized you, the person you wanted to try and emulate?
Mndsgn:Probably Dr. Dre, man. I think it was middle school going into high school, the stuff he was doing with 50 Cent, that was super tight to me at the time. I come from more of a producer, beat-making background, whereas I’m currently surrounded by people who grew up playing in their friends’ bands. I never had that. I was always looking up to Pete Rock, DJ Premier, the Alchemist, Large Professor, a lot of those staple hip-hop producers from the mid-to-late ’90s. But it was listening to Dr. Dre that made me really want to make beats. When I first picked up Fruity Loops and started making beats I wanted to make Dr. Dre sounds.
That’s interesting, because you mentioned a lot of East Coast artists, but your main influence was the man of the West Coast.
Mndsgn:Well, I was born in San Diego, but I mainly grew up in Jersey. I think the desire to move back to the West Coast was always lying dormant within me. I always thought of sunshine and palm trees. I guess I always knew I wanted to come back and represent that sound. Since I’ve been out here, my stuff has sounded more West Coast than it ever has.
I definitely hear that more in your newer stuff. Like with the heavy drums and the funky rhythms.
Mndsgn:Right, and it’s not even so much like, “Oh, I live on the West Coast now, I gotta do West Coast sounds.” It just so happens that a lot of music I’ve been digging has come out of the West Coast, or has been recorded out here. I don’t know, it’s something about the vibration out here that really resonates with me.
Do you still work with Knxwledge?
Mndsgn:Oh man, my man done blew up [laughs]. Yeah, he’s a ghost right now. We don’t really have anything in the works. But I know he’s working with a lot of big cats right now. We’re all just doing our own thing man, I’m just trying to get better at what I’m doing too. Devonwho actually lives right by me, and I’ve been making stuff with him lately. So we’ll see if anything gets released next year.
When you guys started the whole Klipmode thing, did you ever picture yourselves being where you’re at now?
Mndsgn:Nah man, not at all. I wasn’t really putting too much thought into at the time, I was just thinking, “I like music, it makes me feel good, it makes other people feel good too.” That’s all I needed to know, that’s all I needed to keep doing it.
How did you get the attention of Stones Throw when you came out to L.A?
Mndsgn:It was kind of a mixture of things. I was friends with Jonwayne, and he featured me on some of the stuff he put out. Also, a good friend of mine was working with Stones Throw. I was living with her at the time, and she would share stuff I made with [Peanut Butter] Wolf without me knowing. It was cool because he dug the stuff she was sharing, so that got my foot in the door. Also, Matthewdavid has been a huge supporter since day one—he runs Leaving Records, which is partnered with Stones Throw. I guess they got to know me through different angles, which is cool. Wolf either heard “Camelblues” or “Sheets” when he decided he wanted to meet me. That was around 2012.
I know you’ve got a couple of performances scheduled for the month. After that, what’s next?
Mndsgn:In November, I’m touring with the band. We’re going up and down the coast in November. Then we might get some international dates next year. Overall, I’m just mentally preparing myself to take the record on the road.