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THE WANDERING MONK :: AN INTERVIEW W/ MNDSGN

THE WANDERING MONK :: AN INTERVIEW W/ MNDSGN

By Senay Kenfe

From a young film student bumming it in Venice Beach to a struggling basketball franchise from the land of 10,000 lakes, Los Angeles has always had a charm about it. A charm that has made creatives from all walks of life gravitate here to try their luck – and the story of young beatmaker Ringgo Ancheta AKA Mndsgn is no different.

Raised in New Jersey and now residing in Highland Park, the texture of his productions as well as the sincerity of his lyrics have made it clear he is here to grow as a musician and take part in contributing to the creative ethos that this city possesses. The new Stones Throw signee has been making many waves within the musical community for the last few years. Being a member of the Klipmode crew and his new release Yawn Zen is a culmination of this.

The beauty of hip-hop as a genre is that it is so multi-faceted – there are so many varying aspects of it that move in different directions and even, at times, conflict with one another, but they all somehow still resonate in unison. What Ringgo, under his moniker Mndsgn (pronounced mind design), is doing reflects the versality not just of him as an artist but of the art.

I got the chance to sit down with Mndsgn a couple days after his in-store at Amoeba. It was then that I was able to probe his mind about his exodus to Los Angeles, why he feels like a alien, the Deepthroat soundtrack, and why he wants his music to sound so, in his words, “Dirty.”

SENAY: So how’s it going, what’s your name?
MNDSGN: My name is Ringgo but I make music under the name Mndsgn.

How long were you trained in the Hyperbolic Chamber before you decided to come up with the name Mndsgn? And without the vowels.
Not that long, actually, because I had been running with this name for a minute. When I started making music, transitioning from middle school to high school, I noticed my brother making a lot of beats and that’s when I got started. I think I went by Rings because my name is Ringgo. But it wasn’t long before he dubbed me with that name.

Because I was trying to be down with all of what him and his homies were doing. I was like, “I need a new name, man.” And my older brother came up with Mndsgn. But he spelled it out with the vowels and shit.

Was this when you were still in Jersey?
Yeah, I was still living in Jersey.

How would you describe your musical connection to Jersey as far as the stuff you listened to out there?
A lot of the music that I did listen to when I was coming up was predominantly East Coast Hip-Hop R&B shit. MTV was always on. BET. So whatever was on at that time, which was the Golden Era, I was very inspired by it. But it was still very East Coast.

But nothing really from South Jersey. The closest was Philly so you had The Roots and shit. A deep history of soul in Philly too, so if anything I resonated with what was going on in the city rather than where I lived. That was South Jersey – land suburban community.

The crew that you were in, it was a Philly crew, was it Klipmode?
Yeah, that was.

How’d you get connected to that?
I linked up with Knxwledge in about 2008. Klipm0de was comprised of four people, it was me, Knxwledge, Devonwho, and Suzi Analog. They were all making very similar sounding stuff at the time, I think it was 2007 or 2008.

But I had met Knxwledge first, through the Internet. For the longest time I thought he actually lived overseas or some shit, but when I found out he was right over the bridge, we immediately started meeting up.

I met Suzi through him and they had already been talking to Devon, he was based out of Portland at the time. The four of us, we just started vibing. He finally visited Philly towards the end of 2008 and we were like just straight family.

That didn’t last too long as a brand, but we’re all still killing it. Everybody’s still doing their thing respectively.

What would you say you make? I don’t want the genre descriptions you can find on Pitchfork.
I would say dirty, dirty soul vibes if anything. A lot of what I’m making now has to be dirty for some reason – that’s just what I feel.

Dirty in the sense of texture?
Yeah, exactly, texture. It has to have some kind of grit to it; just dirty soul vibes.

That’s definitely what I would say in regards to texture. Whenever I listen to your music I think of texture because from No Maps to your new releases, it’s always texture-based. Is that because you program a lot off of the SP?
Yeah, I have an SP that I used for No Maps. But other than that it’s just mostly Ableton software and know how to use the effects. Overusing compression in a creative way. I don’t have crazy vintage racks. That’s what I’m trying to emulate though. All that shit’s really hard. It’s not as accessible as an SP.

Especially when you’re coming at it from a DIY perspective. Now that you are on a major label – major for us – versus how you originally were starting out, it’s definitely a game changer. Why is it important to sound analog to you?
That’s a good question, man. I feel like there’s a lot of clean stuff out there already. And there are people with the tools to make it sound right and clean. Like, big budget studios make that stuff sound so crisp, but on the other side there’s also a beauty to dirtiness – like you said, texture.

It’s just my preference. Even visually, if there’s some kind of visual art involved, I feel like there has to be some kind of grittiness to it rather than just being really clean cut.

Would you consider yourself a producer or an artist? Because I think a lot of people feel the texture of your music and then it’s great when the texture of the music matches up with the video. For example, the video that Alima [Jennings] did for “Eggs.” Is it important for your concept of being an artist to be displayed more as, “Oh, I’m a producer?”
I feel like I still am a producer, but I’m coming from an artist’s perspective rather than being a producer coming from a producer perspective. Which, respect to those cats too. It all matters where your stance is and where your perspective is. I’ve always been some kind of artist growing up, so that’s how I decided to come with it.

Because to me, I think a lot of people compartmentalize the beat scene as being beats instead of it being music. What would you say to that?
You can call it what you want, man. Actually, it’s crazy, I was having this conversation earlier today – it didn’t get too deep – but it ended with me being like, “What IS music?

Scratch all the genres, I think music is this thing that we’re constantly trying to question and discover and find out. Like I said, cats can call it whatever they want. The people in my age group or in this scene or certain phase of trying to dig for a certain sound. I don’t know, I’m indifferent to that topic. You can call it music or beats.

How do you feel, as an artist, in regards to creating movements? How do you feel about seeing and maybe being a part of a musical movement in this time period?
It’s amazing, man. Sometimes I have to try not to be too humble and actually, truly acknowledge that I am part of something. Whatever you want to call it. It’s tight.

Being part of it, you kind of feel what musicians back then must have felt like. I feel like a lot of the beat shit resonated, personally, in a way to me that might have been similar to what a jazz musician probably felt like when jazz was flourishing. It’s a beautiful thing, man. It’s cool to be able to relate to a lot of the other cats that are doing shit in the same vein; for the same fundamental reasons.

You play the chords on a lot of the stuff you’re playing. It’s definitely jazz-influenced. For example, we were talking about No Maps earlier, did you sample that opening part of Deepthroat?
Yeah, I sampled it. [Laughs]

I didn’t want to talk about porno, but I don’t know how much time you spend –
[Sings] La, la, la, la, la.

[Laughs] Explain your digging concept when you dig in moments like that. Because that’s a very – I don’t want to say obscure because that’s one of the biggest movies in America – but that was 1973. It’s not something that you would be like, “I noticed some breaks in Deepthroat!”
It wasn’t anything too deep. I didn’t know anything about Deepthroat and my homie put me on and was like, “Yo, you should fuck with this,” and that was a long time ago. That was years before I put out No Maps.

I guess the file came up when I was cleaning out my computer and I was like, “This shit is crazy.” I eventually did some research on – I forget her name, the chick that did those movies.

Linda Lovelace.
Yeah, Linda Lovelace! It’s crazy. I don’t want to go too much into a tangent, but the movie that they did about her, that shit’s crazy.

Aesthetically, the “Eggs” video is buzzing right now and congratulations. [Can you] talk about your connection to Sun Ra? How many times have you seen Space is the Place?
Yeah, I’ve seen it a few times. In its entirety, probably once or twice, but I’m definitely familiar with that movie. That’s definitely one of the major influences that Alima and I had when conceptualizing the video. Brother from Another Planet

Another one. In both of those movies they’re aliens. Do you feel like an alien in regards to the current music situation that we’re living through? The sound of today?
Somewhat. For sure, I do feel like an alien. At the same time I don’t because there are heads listening, I’m not alone in this. But just to see people making a lot of money of something that’s totally different, it kind of pushes you off into this subculture – underground.

So in that sense I might feel like an alien. I feel like the deeper you dig into your own creativity and your own core, you kind of get closer to that solitude.

I was going to say, you are definitely a wanderer because you have gone from state to state so far. Can you talk about that?
I haven’t been to too many places in the States. If anything it was a straight East to West exodus. But I did spend some time – I moved from New Jersey in 2011, I think fall, and I first went to Portland to play a show and link up with Devon. He was still living in Portland. Shouts to Devonwho.

I stayed there for like a good three weeks and then moved to LA afterwards. I’d been coming out every year during the summer for a good three or four years before I actually moved. I always vibed with the community out here. I feel like a community is always evolving, everyone has their cliques, but everyone’s aware of each other. And, creatively, I feel like that’s so crucial. To be part of that – I needed that to continue doing music and have an alternate inspiration.

Klipm0de played there for their first show in 2009 at the Grand Star in Chinatown. Then I came out every year – I tried to move out here every time I came out. I would cop a one way ticket and just say, “Fuck it.” I would leave my job. I had a move in and I would last about a month and a half and run out of money and have to move back and it was a bummer every time. I wasn’t persistent enough… 2011 was the year I finally stayed. I took it one month at a time and hopped around a few times in LA.

How do you feel about staying out [in Highland Park]?
It’s a good energy, it’s not right smack in the middle of LA. Downtown’s cool but I like how residential the northeast side is. I live around so many families and sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m a part of the craziness that is Los Angeles. I’m tucked away right next to Pasadena so it’s mellow. I love that vibe. It’s equal distance to a lot of things like the desert or the ocean and the hills and shit.

Do you want to talk about how you eventually became a member of Stones Throw?
Yeah, it was through a bunch of different heads, really. I think eventually they were just hearing my name come up enough and I was living with Sofie, who’s one of the curators from Boiler Room. I was living with her shortly and she was interning at Stones Throw at the time. So she would come home and I would be making some shit and sometimes she’d be like, “Yo, send that to me.” And later on she’d be like, “I played it for Wolf and he was feeling it.”

I didn’t expect that, I was just in the room making beats and shit. But that particular track that I’m talking about is a vocal track that’s on the record, it’s called “Sheets.” I think it’s track three. He heard that and immediately we had a meeting, talked about what I was doing at the time. At that time I was putting out this EP that I had called Bed that I put out on my Bandcamp – six or seven track EP.

I was talking about that and they’re like, “That’s cool, keep up with the vocal shit more though.” They wanted to hear more of that. I kept in touch and eventually I had made Yawn Zen and it was finished, but Stones Throw was still just an acquaintance. They weren’t waiting for a record.

I had made this record for Leaving Records, Matthew David’s record label, and they heard it because he’s been working with them too and it just kind of all coincided and worked out. Also, Jonwayne is a good friend of mine so I’m sure they’ve always heard my  name through him. Actually, I had a future track on his record so I kind of was already in there a little bit.

Between Matthew David and Jon and Sofie, and heads just listening to that shit.

And the buzz from you making good music.
It’s crazy, living in Jersey, I was a huge fan of Stones Throw. It didn’t even cross my mind that I would be part of it. honestly. Even the first couple of times that I went to a Stones Throw show that I was a part of, I felt like I was still there as a fan. I’m going to it, not a part of it.

Who would you say, if you met them right now, you would not geek out, but be like, “Wow, that’s crazy that we’re in the same room interacting with each other as humans rather than [as fan to artist]”?
It would have to be an older head like Herbie – one of the greats.

Did you hear that new track that he and Flylo did?
I think that’s amazing that they connected. In turn, I feel like a lot of the heads that are in the electronic hip-hop whatever scene, we now feel closer to Herbie. Because this cat that we’ve been listening to, Flying Lotus, he’s doing shit with Herbie and those two worlds are bridging? That’s tight!

How do you feel about rappers rapping on your beats? Illegally?
I can’t hate on them at all. When my brother first started recording raps and making beats, before I did, he was doing the same shit. He was rapping over a bunch of DJ Premier and Alchemist – all those old school producers. That’s so fucked up to just box them in as old school. [Laughs] I still love that shit, man.

Lost my train of thought a little bit. He’d do the same thing, I’ve done the same thing, it’s no different that cats are doing it to my music now. And even though I don’t get a chance to listen to all of it I still understand where they’re coming from.

They had the energy to use that track and record over it; I’m not going to be mad.

If it’s bad it reflects more on them than it does on you. It’s not going to be, “Mndsgn ft. Random Artist,” it’s going to be them featuring you.
If there is one thing I do have a problem with, maybe, it’s saying, “Produced by.” Because then you’re just confusing people. Maybe just don’t even attach my name to it, just put it out as this anonymous piece of art and if people like it then do it and fuck with it.

Would you produce an R&B record? What would be something that is far removed from you that you are actually interested in working through?
If anything, you said R&B, and I would definitely do something that’s very focused in on R&B and soul. That’s one of the things that I want to do while making music – I definitely want to do a record like that. Something that’s even more removed is just some more rock-based stuff. Indie rock stuff, but very dirty. I could go many different ways really.

I feel like for jazz I have to have the right resources, lots of mathematics. With soul and R&B it could be all feeling. But I guess jazz is the same way, but it’s pretty deep. I feel like you definitely need to have some sort of training.

It’s definitely possible.
I definitely feel like I have a psych record in me for sure. R&B and a psych record.

What’re your plans with the new album coming out? Are you going to go on tour? What’s in the works?
I’m setting up a few dates overseas.

This’ll be your first time.
Yeah, this’ll be my first time ever leaving the continent. In September – I guess it is September – later on this month I’m going to be going to Cape Town and Johannesburg. I got linked up with that show through a group of friends that were from Cape Town that were out in Venice Beach. They were at a show I played with Sun Araw, it was so random, they told me that they wanted to bring me out.

I was like, “Okay, that’s cool, hit me with the details.” They reached out through email and it worked out. It’s tight that I got a gig like that myself. I feel like you need help with that.

Can you talk about the power of stuff like social currency? Like SoundCloud. How that can positively affect someone who is independent and take them thousands of miles away from wherever they’re from.
It’s a new world, man, and that’s the world that we do want to move towards. Where young artists and can whatever they want on the strength of their god-given talent. I think it’s amazing that we live in a time where we can do that. Where you can live off the Internet essentially. That plays a huge part in it.

For example, that one Danny Brown track, how did that connection [happen]? Through the Internet?
Through the Internet. I never had any studio time with him, I sent him a batch of beats indirectly, I sent them to Sweeney Kovar, the curator of my box set. He made that whole thing happen. So I never actually had direct contact with Danny Brown. But, again, we now live in a world, because of the Internet, where shit like that can happen.

Which is strange sometimes, too. The Internet is doing a lot for us. Definitely reaping the benefits. This whole Mndsgn thing is fueled by the Internet. I’ve always contemplated getting rid of all my social network accounts and seeing what remains. Whatever remains is going to be the true shit. Fuck all this hype – fuck having to post the same shit across four different outlets. It just takes up time.

Do you think because, as an artist who is starting to draw attention, do you think that fans, when they meet artists that they enjoy and maybe idolize, do you think that they strip you of your humanity and view you as an object? Versus, “Hey, this is a person.”
In a world where we idolize so much – and I’ve got to say we because I’m not trying to separate me from humanity, we’re all in this together – we idolize so much and that shit can ruin your experience meeting someone that you’ve followed after awhile. You don’t know how to act.

I’m sure there’s one person that we could all come up with that would leave us starstruck or whatever the scale may be. Just leave you feeling some type of way because you’ve been following them and you know so much about them. You know so much only through the media that’s put out, but that’s all you have to go by. It’s weird, it’s like a blind date almost.

Do you think they think you’re not a human?
Yeah, you’re Mndsgn only. I trust that the people who do listen to my music and connect with it connect with it because there’s a human aspect to it. I’m communicating and they’re receiving. I think because of that, more often than not, it’s not awkward. People come up to me and just say genuine shit, even if they’re excited it’s still genuine and I can feel that.

I just have to turn my back on the weird shit.

Was there anything you wanted to end saying?
I guess just stay healthy, man. It’s hard out here to stay healthy and focused. I’m trying every day to do better at that. But at the same time, as much as there is a struggle for focus you’re still living the life – still experiencing this shit. So enjoy this shit.

Of course the healthier you are the more it’ll boost the quality of your life. Nevertheless just be grateful. Much love to everybody that has been tuning in and really receiving the energy that I’m putting out. It’s a blessing to be able to wake up in the morning and do this shit – super surreal too.

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Follow Mndsgn on Facebook and Twitter @dntmndmi. Listen at mndsgn.bandcamp.comsoundcloud.com/mndsgn.

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