The stunningly prolific MNDR, aka Amanda Warner and Peter Wade, have been making waves for months now. We spoke to them a while back, here’s our untinkered with chat, with the bespectacled female half.
So the other day in the office I was explaining who you are and why we should have you in the magazine. Someone asked if you were gay, and I said, ‘I don’t care, she’s good, she should be in the magazine. I think a lot of our readers will like her music’.
Great, thanks. It’s for everyone.
I thought I’d get that out of the way. A lot of interviews end up asking really patronising questions like ‘do you notice your gay fans*’. I just think it’s a bit random. You don’t really know the sexuality of the audience.
Nor do you really want to choose your audience, like how boring is that?
It’s kind of a pop star cliché ‘oh yeah, I love my gay fans.’ It’s just a bit patronising.
I think so to. To me, it’s really exploitive a little bit. It can be like exploitive. For me, I don’t want to choose my fans. I want people to love it or hate it. If you hate it hate it loud, if you love it love it loud.
You must have made some decision to do pop music? I was reading about your earlier stuff, about music genres I’ve never heard of. A lot of music is very pop. How much of a decision was it to move into pop?
That’s a good question. I have to tell you, like none. I’ve sort of been really involved in the experimental music scene in the United States and Europe, and that’s sort of about alienation. And when I moved to New York to work as a producer and started to exploit that more, I was like, I’m kinda sorta black and white with things, but when I decide to do something, I do. Like if I’m doing instrumental music I’m like it is insular it is sort of an expression. This way I’m not really interested in who likes it or who…that’s not why I’m doing it. You know, it’s for different reasons. It’s gonna work as this and when I write songs I want them to be for everyone, and what’s that experience all about. To be honest when I started writing songs, just started writing songs, and that’s just kinda like what you are based on influence. It wasn’t like self-conscious. I make beats or whatever and I started to work on music with my collaborator Peter. It’s kind of beat driven rather than band driven. It’s kind of filled that way.
Going from just doing it experimentally, how do you engage with the audience now?
I would say I still have elements of wanting to connect, even in the performances I did outside of pop music, there’s this element of wanting to connect with the audience members whether its to make them uncomfortable or to make it sort of emotional or spiritual. With pop music, with this live show we work with lighting and projection designers and I was gonna do an experimental group which was to make a kinetic sculpture that reacted to the music and my voice and we brought, I met this artist and he wrote this code and now I have this light show that responds directly to the music and my voice. It’s very direct so it makes the show really kinetic. It’s about connecting with everyone you can sort of feel it. It’s like lightening bolts flying out of your coat.
What do you feel about the fact that a lot of people use words like ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ to describe you?
Yeah, I like it. Go for it. I’m really uninterested in controlling people’s perceptions of how they want to interact with the music. I’m really just interested in being myself. I like talking about it, talking about it publically online about how the songs are made, and yeah I am like a nerd. I am a nerd about how I want things to sound or how I want things to be produced. I enjoy it.
Do you think it’s a lazy shorthand for the glasses? People see the glasses and think ‘geek chic’?
I’ve had those glasses for maybe four or five years, and they’re like my real glasses. They have my prescription in them. I like garish jewellery and styling. I just saw them and they literally just said ‘hellooo’ and I was like ‘who are you?’ They’re older than I am, the actual frames are. So they’re what twenty? Now I’m bored with them. Next year there’ll be a lot more different eyewear. They do get a lot of excitement over here. (in UK) I’ve been told they look like Deidre Barlow.
Do you know who she is?
Someone explained, and I said, she’s awesome! You know, I don’t want to look like a cupcake, like I’m on a wedding cake, and then throw up on people.
I was listening to a lot of your songs and I realised as well with you band name, that there’s a lot of spelling. Where did that come from?
The first spelling song I did was C.L.U.B. and it was an early demo I started when I was still living in California. I was just writing songs, just fully producing pop songs. I was listening to it. Sometimes pop music is just about being really simple. So I thought what is the most simple thing I could do in a pop song? And I was like, what if I just spell the word club, but I started on the u so it’s kind of a play on words a little bit. UBCL. But MNDR’s been a DJ name of mine for years, so it’s kind of been around. The spelling just gained some momentum and now literally all I do is spell the whole record. It’s pretty hilarious.
Is it finished? Is the album ready?
It’s almost done. I’m really excited about it.
Is there a title? Can you spell it out?
I’ve tossed around a couple of titles, but I think the title will reveal itself to me. It’s mainly a lot of journeys moving from California to New York. About this unexpected career path that I really did not expect to take at all. It sorta just happened, so the album’s kind of a reflection of that. I’m excited about it, actually. I think it’ll be very much, it’s a pop record, so it’s not so much like a club record. The E.P. lends itself to feel like I’m a freestyle project. The album you’ll find is much more of a pop album rather than a project.
So do you write songs for other people?
I have, but I haven’t done it in a long time. Maybe a year now.
Who would be your ideal person to write a song for?
I don’t know about write a song for him, but I’d love to work in the studio with Andy Bell of Erasure. I think he has one of the most beautiful voices and his lyrical sentiment abut love and everything is just…I’ve always loved Erasure. I love the way he talks about love, and he talks about love in a certain way that no one else does, and I think he’s really revealing and not afraid to be himself probably at a time when you couldn’t just live that out like that. He has a really amazing artistic view.
They’ve got a new record coming out.
Yes, I know. I’m very excited.
Did you hear his solo album?
No, I didn’t. But without being a stiff, I’m not like a synth only music file sort of person. But I really look at Andy Bell as a vocalist, and I like the way he and Vince Clark picks these amazing voices. I just produced a band in New York called Silk Flowers, and the one thing that really attracted me to them is the voice that the singer has. It’s just Ian Curtis.
Andy Bell lives near our office, I once interviewed him in his house. It was a bit surreal. ANYWAY, I feel obliged that we have to talk about Mark Ronson. I don’t even know how it came about. I’m sure you’ve got this down pat…
How I know Mark?
Yeah, how the whole process came about.
I met Mark literally through friends. It was not formal. I didn’t have a manager. It wasn’t like [makes voices] our managers are talking or my managers are like Mark needs a girl in the studio. He heard some of MNDR at Fader Magazine, who have been a supporter of the project all along. He was just like, I really like, I like this voice, or whatever. I just met him and I didn’t really know him or knew who he was. I wiki’d him. I didn’t know what to expect. I write music but I have real difficulty writing over other people’s music. I don’t think about it. I’m not a singer by trade. When I heard his tracks, I thought this is great. I was really excited. It had a lot of influences I really liked.
So when was the moment when you realised, ‘okay I’m gonna be a singer’, even if you didn’t set out to do it.
You know the person who said I have a great voice, was Peter, my partner and producer. I’d always been told I had a horrible voice.
Yeah. Horrible. Like horrible. I’d really been beaten on my voice. People recorded me like ‘it’s really difficult to mix. It’s a hard voice to mix. It’s difficult, you don’t sing this way or that way or blah blah blah’. But I generally could write good melodies. But Peter was the one that said ‘you have a very distinct voice. I wasn’t ever shy to sing, I was just a bass player. I’d played other instruments or fulfilled other roles in music. I sang in bands but not like this. He was someone who saw that in me. I would be like ‘really?’ Now I’m singing which I never thought I’d be singing.
It seems you’ve got quite a hectic schedule. How are you coping with all this jet setting?
Oh my God, I wasn’t just like having…it’s just been a lot of fun. I’ve been out with the business international – Mark’s band. It’s just such a weird cacophony of weirdos. People I’d never cross paths with. It’s just been a lot of fun. Sleeping is not a luxury. It’s great. I love playing music. So do I get to play music every day? Yes, let’s do it. It’s awesome that way. Developing ideas. There are all these ideas you have in your head. Like if you have the chance to make them a reality, it gives you energy that you really don’t think that you had. My slideshow and that, I’ve been working on for a couple years. And them some people bring these things into fruition. People want to do art with you. I don’t want to sleep, you know. I sound like such a cheeseball!
Photo: Timothy Saccenti
Words: Bob Henderson
* we reserve the right to ask this question in future. Just sayin'.