Bloomington, Minnesota’s Derek Smith, aka Mod Sun, began his career in the music industry playing the drums for two post-hardcore bands - Scary Kids Scaring Kids and Four Letter Lie. By the age of seventeen, Mod was already touring nationally, but had the desire to express himself in a way he could connect with his listeners - eventually leading him to pick up the microphone. “I was in a state of comfort, touring and in a band, and I decided I wanted to totally change it up and do something I believed in,” says Mod. Over the last eight years, Mod has released six mixtapes and three EPs. He’s collaborated with artists including Schoolboy Q, Nipsey Hussle, Travis Barker, G Eazy, and also earned a spot as one of sixteen independent artists from around the world competing for the cover of Rolling Stone in 2011. Shortly after releasing his 2012 EP, Happy As Fuck, Mod again demonstrated his artistic versatility with the release of his book entitled Did I Ever Wake Up?, a step by step guide on how to make life a dream. “Right now, no matter the amount of negativity you’ve been presented with, at this moment, five minutes from now could be your best moment; the best thing that has ever happened to you.”
I recently took a trip to Mod’s North Hollywood “Hippy Hideout” to get an exclusive hearing of his soon to release, highly anticipated album. And of course, it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t indulge in some of the finest California has to offer. After listening to about four or five songs and running a couple back, it’s safe to say that this project will definitely be a highlight of what’s in store in 2015. “I’ve put out a lot of great stuff and a lot of stuff I’m really proud of, but this album is what I’ve been working for since I started,” says Mod. Read about his secrets to life, album features, and what’s next for Mod Sun in our recent conversation below.
Explain to our readers - who is Mod Sun ?
My name is Mod Sun, it stands for Movement On Dreams, Stand Under None. I’ve been making music for a while, but recently embodied who I am completely. I think that’s what life is about, figuring out who you are. And I’m so proud of who I am right now and I’ve figured out how to take how I feel inside of my head and make that a sound. I have a new album coming out and I did that. I have a lot of music out right now and a lot of it’s free. So if you go to modsun.com you can check that out. But in this entire world and this entire thing that I’m doing is about empowering myself and other people. So I’m not looking for fans, nothing like that; I honestly just want friends out here.
What were your influences? What sparked your interest in making music?
I’m from Minnesota, I grew up in a suburb called Bloomington. Before that, I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere. That initially taught me living in the middle of nowhere, not having friends surrounding me everywhere, that you had to learn to enjoy life whether it was by yourself or not. And that taught me that the main thing in this life that’s amazing is that you’ll never be lonely if you love the person you’re alone with. I learned that at a young age, I can enjoy life on my own if I had to. From there, I met some friends that were playing music and I just fell in love with it, man. My mom told me my whole life that I was a natural at things. And whether I was or wasn’t a natural at things, I felt like I was. I thought that I could do things immediately and I think that’s important to tell kids growing up, “You can do anything,” and my Mom told me that so literally. If I pick up a skateboard, immediately in my head I was like, “I can do this because I’m good at stuff.” And that went with everything, so when it came to music I started playing drums and fell in love with that. Drums are so cool, man, because I can learn how to play drums if I sit at the back of the concert or the front row right. With guitar you can’t even stand next to the person and see what they’re doing, but with drums you see what they’re hitting, they’re hitting these giant things, so I can learn how to do that by watching. I’ve learned most of my things in life just by watching other people. And so music just grew on me completely through that; I just decided I had something to say. I had something to say my whole life and it was going to come out in some form and it happened to come out this way. Right now we’re rapping and that’s a beautiful thing. We’re rapping not rhyming. If I call my mom on the phone and she’s like, “Hey, how are you doing?” And I’m like, “Hey, I’m doing great,” that’s like rapping. If you can talk then you can rap, and that’s not to be disrespectful. I understood that and I just knew that it was poetry and that’s everything I loved and want, so it came down to this. Words were something I loved, so it just made sense.
Is that what led your transition from initially making hardcore music to now making your own genre of rap, Hippy-Hop ?
Yeah man, I just had something to say and there’s only so much you can say with instruments in general, obviously. You can speak with your instrument, but to say something like words - it hits me in a certain way. I knew my life had to be somehow revolved around words, now I write books and all that. Just words, man, that’s what my life is surrounded by because they do something to me. And in terms of music, I released my very first song and this whole time I’ve been okay with just giving out what I’ve been capable of doing at that point. There was never a point in this where I was like, “Aw, this isn’t good enough for them to listen to.” I was like, “That’s my voice, that’s so tight!” You know? Now at this point it’s been a journey and I LOVE my album, I LOVE my songs. This is going to be my first album ever! I took so long and it’s perfect because I know I’m going to listen to this when I’m 80 years old, I’ll be like, “This is jammin’, man!” [Laughs]
[Laughs] When is your album set to release?
Top of year, like first month or two of 2015.
Who can we expect to feature on this upcoming project?
Oh, Machine Gun Kelly, Riff Raff, Travis Barker, Dizzy Wright, and a few more. But you’re going to have to wait and see who. [Laughs] That’s already a heavy list though. [Laughs] Black Bear did the production, please look up Black Bear. His stuff online is IamBlackBear. He’s one of my favorite artists in the world. Not just musician, not singer - an artist. Watching this dude produce and make songs is like watching someone paint a picture and it’s special. I had this whole album In My Eyes done, and he came in and took all these songs to a whole different world and sometimes it takes that - it takes an outside voice and opinion to be like, “Yo, let’s make those words match the music perfectly.” And that’s what it turned into.
“YOUR STARS ALIGN WHEN YOU’RE PATIENT. THAT’S WHAT IT ALL COMES DOWN TO, BECAUSE THIS ISN’T ALL ABOUT ME.”
Recently signing with Rostrum Records, how did that all come about - did you reach out to Mac?
Mac Miller has obviously helped me out a lot up to this point. I have this tie-dye hoodie that’s pretty renowned - that extended beyond even who I was. Mac wore it on his show and people didn’t even necessarily know what Mod Sun was. They’re like, “This hoodie is fucking amazing.” [laughs] So it really transcended, he did a lot for me. I believe I was in touch with maybe Benji, the owner of Rostrum. He came out to one of my Pittsburgh shows, which is the first show I ever sold out as a headlining artist. That was a couple years ago, but that’s what sparked it. We’ve been in contact for a while and it came down to the point where I was out in California - they have an office ten minutes from here - and he was like, “Let me come over and just hear what you’re doing.” I played him the album and I have this song coming out on there called “My Favorite Shirt is my Skin.” I played him probably five songs and he loved them all and then I played that one. He was like, “Dude, I’ve been wanting you to run back multiple songs but man, please for me, run that one back, I gotta digest that. This song is going to change the world,” and when he said that, I was like, “Wow, he understands the vision.” So that’s how it happened. Your stars align when you’re patient. That’s what it all comes down to, because this isn’t all about me. When I talk and do interviews, I want to make sure I’m telling you more than just about me. The story behind it and the things you can use in your life and just, honestly, with this one, let’s be patient. Allow your stars to align because they are going to, and when you force something upon the universe, it can work. I’m not saying it’s not going to, but when you force it upon the universe, it’ll never be as beautiful as when you know that it’s the right time to give it to the world.
What inspired your Hippy movement and outlook on life?
Up until eighteen years old, I was a real stubborn kid with a bad temper. I played sports in my life and when you play sports at a young age, it makes you very competitive. Even against your teammates you want to be the best on the team, so you’re competitive against everyone. That kind of teaches you a weird thing. When I was eighteen, I just found this thing called The Law of Attraction, and it essentially states that your mentality becomes your reality. The things you’re thinking, you’re actually asking for. So if you’re sitting around thinking about things you don’t want - I’m sorry to say, but the Universe is unbiased, it’s not hearing you say I don’t want this. What it’s hearing you say is the subject and the focus of that sentence. So when you say, “I don’t want a parking tickets,” all the universe is hearing is, “Parking ticket.” You’re actually asking for that. It’s this weird thing in the world that not everyone understands off top that when you say that you don’t want something, you’re initially asking for it. So you re-train yourself to think in a way that causes you to be able to readjust your thoughts or not even think them at all. I only really think about things I want, and I’ve done this now for awhile, probably about eight years that I’ve been thinking this way. It works. A positive thought is scientifically proven to be two times more powerful then a negative thought, therefore, if you take the same thought and rethink it in a way that has a positive spin, you essentially you erase it. I have a book out called Did I Ever Wake Up? And I have a chapter called “The Dresser” [that explains] how I came up with this. I have a bad thought that pops in my head, so I open up my bottom drawer and I drop that thought in my bottom drawer. I go to my top drawer where I keep these things that, right away, you know things that will make you happy. Whether it’s a memory, a song, a color, a picture - whatever it is, I open up my top drawer and those things explode out and it erases the thought, man. And after a while, they just stop coming. There’re secrets to the Universe. You put a Y-O in front of Universe and you get YOUniverse. This is your Universe, it’s your story. What are you doing if you’re not honestly out here making your story amazing? Because at the end of your life, you’re gonna have a little movie that plays and if it’s not your movie or your life, then come on, man, you’re gonna be really upset.
What do you feel like you contribute to the industry? What do you want people to know Mod Sun as?
That’s a great question and it’s not even like a sense of rebel or rebellion and being like, “Fuck the industry, but I’m going to do it my way,” because my whole life is about getting in the ring. If someone’s really great at something, I want to walk up to them and try and get in that conversation. My whole life has been about taking my inspirations - one point in my life, try as best as I can to get around them, and inspire them. My contribution, at the end, I can’t say because it’s going to keep getting more and more powerful as I go. Right now, my contribution essentially is giving people a guide on how to make life work for you. I have a lot of very young kids that listen to me and I’m conscious of that and I’m okay with that. People say, “When you write, don’t be thinking about anybody else.” No man, I know who I’m talking to. My music isn’t just telling people you can make it as a musician, you can make it as an artist, it’s more than that. It’s saying that there’s no determined time on when it’s up for you have your best moment. Right now, no matter the amount of negativity you’ve been presented with at this moment, five minutes from now could be the best moment; the best thing that ever happened to you. Think about that, man, that’s something that people need to be conscious of. My agenda is to be that artist that gives you something more, I’m really saying things in my songs. My favorite musician of all time is Bob Dylan, and he isn’t loved for his voice. He’s loved for what he was saying and that’s something that’ll always stick with me. I’m going to be loved for what I said and I’m gonna to get better as I go.
What can we expect next from the Hippy himself?
This album, this album is 100% - My name is fairly known throughout music right now, but when you say the name it’s not like you have a go-to, “Oh, that’s my favorite Mod Sun song and I’m finally gonna have that with this album.” I’ve put out a lot of great stuff and a lot of stuff I’m really proud of, but this album is what I’ve been working for since I started. I knew I was gonna get there and I’m here. You’re going to see it everywhere and I want you to give it a chance. That goes for everything else in life as well, give it a chance.