In the three years since his 2014 debut LP release, Yawn Zen, on Stones Throw, Ringgo Ancheta, aka Mndsgn, has staked his claim as one of the most imaginative producers in hip-hop and beyond. Where Yawn Zen saw Mndsgn explore the fractal landscapes of instrumental soulful ambience, sludgy beats, and airy vocal textures, last year’s follow-up Body Wash was a leap forward in terms of extending tracks beyond beat motifs into song-writing territory. Replete with Mndsgn’s own falsetto vocals and lyrical narrative pushed to the fore, backed by funk synth, slow-jam slap bass, and atmospheric guitars, the record showcased Mndsgn taking on the role of performer as well as producer.
With a new release for Stones Throw in the works, as evinced by the upbeat disco glory of latest single ‘GOTEEM!’, and in the midst of a hectic touring schedule and release roster for his label Akashik Records, Mndsgn isn’t set to be slowing down anytime soon. We spoke to the man himself about West Coast creativity, finding inspiration in the connectivity of lived experience, and realising your own voice.
How inspirational is LA as a place to live and create in and how does it compare to New Jersey where you grew up?
The spirit is definitely there. On the surface, you may say it’s the weather, or the food, but I feel that there’s something more invisible that drives artists to come out here and grow. Everything I create here in LA is, in a lot of ways, a reflection of the spirit that whirls through the city. New Jersey definitely has a different vibration in comparison, the feeling just isn’t as ethereal. It’s much more earthly back where I grew up.
How did your signing to Stones Throw come about? Was it initially daunting to be a part of such an iconic label?
Peanut Butter Wolf’s interest in my work came about through various individuals who were both working with or signed to the label, people like Jonwayne, Matthewdavid, Sofie. These are good friends of mine who genuinely care about my work and didn’t hesitate to circulate my music, whether it was Jon featuring me on Rap Album One, or Sofie sending Wolf an early draft of ‘Sheets’. It was definitely a blur at first and still is surreal to be signed to one of my all-time favorite record labels. When I stopped to think about it, it was a bit daunting to have to carry on such a strong legacy, so then I just stopped thinking about it and continued what I love doing!
How did your involvement with Akashik Records come about?
Akashik Records was originally founded by my partner Alima, Sofie and myself. We found ourselves at the epicenter of a diverse community of artists in LA and felt the need to provide an independent platform. The name came about when a friend of mine had tipped me to the Akashic Records, which is an ethereal location one can access through a trance state. It’s said to be a library where all living experience and intentions are archived. You can also visit an experienced ‘seer’ to have your own personal Akashic record read to you.
Who or what influences you outside of music or in history?
Everything and nothing! The tapestry of it all is what deeply inspires and influences my relationship with the world. The connectivity between everything always trips me out. Nothing influences me more than my own peers; I’m grateful to look around and be surrounded by an abundance of inspiration and passion.
What’s your writing process?
A song can start with anything. Drums, a chord progression, or a loop; words and vocal harmonies usually tend to come last. Lately, I’ve only been allowing myself to be creative if there’s that feeling. It’s hard to explain but if it’s not there, I end up wasting my time. Sometimes I try to force it only to learn that I probably need to go out and experience life and then return when there’s a feeling to report. That being said, it’s much more personal and sparse when it comes to recording by myself. When others are around, it’s a communal energy. Working face to face with artists is the only way real chemistry can take place for me.
I feel like your music has been progressing more and more towards song-writing rather than primarily beat-making in recent years – what prompted that change?
When you’ve been practicing something long enough, you end up with responsibilities. One of them being the responsibility to allow growth. I’ve listened to songs all throughout my life so it was a natural tendency to want to express my feelings through that outlet. Also, I felt like if anyone was going to say what I needed to say, it might as well be me.
Was there a particular narrative you were working through on Body Wash?
There’s a very loose sci-fi narrative that I built the record around but isn’t necessary inherent in the music. I encourage people to come up with their own narrative.
How do your roles as a DJ, producer and live performer all intersect and differ? Are there certain roles that you prefer?
Lately I’ve been enjoying doing more DJ gigs. Playing your own material can get burnt out pretty fast so it’s nice to diversify the palette every now and then. Having said that, my live set-up is arranged a lot like a DJ set since what I use on the road is also what I use at home, so it’s all pretty unified to a certain degree.
Mndsgn plays at London’s Jazz Cafe on September 8. More info and tickets available here.
Words: Ammar Kalia