Last month, Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint released an album that has seemed to strike a chord with lovers of experimental, innovative beat music, not unlike the way Lotus himself splashed onto the electronic music scene years ago. But while producer Steven Ellison (and the string of wannabes that soon followed him) relied heavily on blown-out bass tones, cosmic soundscapes, and off-kilter rhythms, burgeoning producer Mtendere Mandowa (a.k.a. Teebs) offers music that's more down to earth and organic, though still enchanting and quite beautiful. We were able to take some time out of Mandowa's schedule at this year's Decibel Festival to touch on a few subjects surrounding his brand-new Ardour album. You can read our conversation, which delves into his work as a painter, the creation of his debut record, and how living with Flying Lotus inspired him in many ways, after the jump.
XLR8R: Your sound is a bit different from a good lot of the beat scene crowd. Was that something you sought to do?
Teebs: It's a natural thing to want to do your own thing. After seeing so many kids bite and do the same thing after [Flying] Lotus came out, I don't want to hear that again. I want to bring something different to the plate. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but there's a very dark, heavy sound happening. A lot of artists have a similar approach to [making] it, so it's like, 'Why would I want to do that too?' So, I decided to really flip it, and do that kind of record.
You lived in the same apartment complex as Flying Lotus while making a lot of Ardour. Did he influence your production of that record much?
We never really talked too much about that kind of stuff, but just being around each other definitely helped me. I'd wake up every day, and he'd be making music. I'd just be upstairs hearing this new Lotus music playing at 9 a.m., and I'd ask myself, 'What am I doing right now? Just standing around? I should probably go back and make music. I'm inspired.' And it would be the same thing at night time, playing a new track or something else. That kind of focus. He had this great movie collection. It was like my personal Blockbuster. I'd go there, grab a new film, watch movies, and make music. I learned how to focus, I guess.
Did movies have a lot of influence on the creation of your album?
I think so, yeah. I watched a lot of films when I was living with those guys. I like the idea of how film scores work.
Any movies in particular?
Not sound-wise, but maybe just on a visual level. I liked a lot of the animes I was watching, like Paprika. [FlyLo] had a lot of sci-fi and Japanese films.
Now, you took a break while making the record after your father passed away. What was it that finally drove you to finish it?
Well, I wasn't really doing anything at the time. I wasn't making music, I wasn't going out, and having that absence really helped. And talking to Lotus, he had lost his mother the year previously, and we talked about that. And I don't know...I think, randomly, I was walking around, and I went into this music store in Fairmont near where I live in Chino. I just bought some random stuff, but just after seeing that music store, I thought I should try it again. I made a track that day, and it became one of the songs on the record.
It's "Burner." That's the first track I made getting back into it.
Is your creative process usually quick like that?
It's weird. It's like a quick and slow process. I'll make a track pretty quickly once it's going, but the gaps between tracks that I like that get made is just a long build-up of staring at a computer and machinery for days. Then finally, it'll click in my head, and I'll make something.
You pretty much do all of your own artwork. Do those paintings usually come before you make the record or after?
The painting on the [Tropics EP] with Jackhigh came after the music. Ardour's cover was before. Well, some of it was before and some of it was after. Usually, I try to do stuff after. If I make art for music I really try to feel the music out over and over again, and make something that kind of fits to it.
So what made you want to pick that painting as the cover for Ardour?
I was at this 420/dublab/Cosmogramma radio party. There were a lot of friends, like 20 musicians there, and I drew it just for the hell of it. I had made this other piece that I originally wanted to be the cover, but it's actually on the inside of the gatefold now. It's a lot more obscure. So, I was talking to Steve [Ellison a.k.a. Flying Lotus] and a few other people, not telling them what it was for, but asking them which they liked out of those two. A lot more people gravitated towards the painting on the cover now.
Do your techniques as a painter correlate with your production work at all?
I definitely think the way I make music stems from the way I make art. It has the same structure to it. A simpler approach. It all comes from the same place in my head, I guess. I get the same feeling when I'm making music or something. I dunno... I guess that's all I can really say about it, to be honest. It all just feels like I'm doing the same thing, just different mediums.
And what is that "same thing"?
That feeling of creative expression, I guess. Being able to do your thing.