MNDR, aka Amanda Warner isn’t afraid to take risks: Style risks (she’s best recognized in an oversized pair of white-rimmed glasses); vocal risks (she outspokenly champions the beliefs of heiress-gone-bank robber Patty Hearst); or musical risks (think a geekier – not weirder – Lady Gaga, merging the electronic and pop music universes). In fact, Warner and producer Pete Wade’s debut full-length as MNDR, Feed Me Diamonds, was mixed by Tony Maserati, who has worked with the likes of Beyoncé and Mother Monster herself.
Following the release of MNDR’s 2010 EP E.P.E., the New-York-by-way-of-Oakland artist caught the attention of everyone from super-producer Mark Ronson, with whom she and Wade collaborated on Mark Ronson & the Business Intl.’s song “Bang Bang Bang,” to Ultra Records, who is releasing MNDR’s debut August 14. Hive caught up with Warner to discuss her relationship with Wade, female empowerment, and her granny-chic eyewear.
So I have to say, the first thing I noticed in your new video [for single “#1 in Heaven”] is you’re not wearing your signature white frames…
I really wanted the first video to have a fresh feel, so I decided let’s do without the glasses. But they make their way back. I have new ones that I just found that I love.
Are they still white or are they different?
They’re different, but they’re just as garish as you would expect that I’d wear. It took me a while to find another pair that spoke to me.
Do you like being recognized by something such as eyewear?
“I feel like maybe experimental music and noise music is kind of isolating, and pop music is really about connecting with everyone or trying to connect with everyone on themes that everyone relates to.”
Yeah, sure. Pop music has a lot to do with style. The white glasses are very old frames that are older than me from a Japanese company. They’re a one-off, and the detailing on them is really intricate, idiosyncratic. And with the music I make, when I find these things it’s like they just speak to me and become a part of me. Style and music go together.
Do you wear those types of things when you’re not making music or performing? Do you incorporate them into your everyday wear?
What you see on stage for MNDR is a little exaggerated from what I wear in my street wear or everyday.
Can you talk a bit about how you got started with MNDR?
I was living in Oakland and was playing in various bands — they were all electronic-based or production-based – but I also hired out in straightforward traditional bands like Fruit Bats. I just kind of wanted to go back to the style of music that I hadn’t really made in a while and I missed, which was minimal techno music. When I moved to New York, I started working as a pop writer and writing pop music and also was doing music directing and getting hired on different tours. When what was MNDR is now started taking off I figured people knew me under that name and I’d just keep it.
When you and [MNDR collaborator/producer] Pete Wade create music together, what’s your relationship like and what is the process like?
It is very collaborative and very free-flowing. We have a sort of unspoken communication when we’re making music and what we’re influenced by, and we’re constantly sharing new music or old music or ideas or little demos. Along with every project I’ve ever put a lot of time in as a writer, I’ve always had a writing partner, someone I just make the music with and get in an intimate relationship with really, musically speaking. Intimately musically speaking only, not as a relationship. It just is really following creativity, I would say.
Do you guys ever run into disagreements or roadblocks?
Oh yeah. What’s great about it is, with every one of my collaborative relationships I’ve had, it does get to a point where it’s beyond a married couple or beyond siblings. You’re so comfortable with each other that you fight. We are always able to get over the fight or resolve things quickly, but we have strong opinions. We rarely disagree creatively, but occasionally we do so we end up locking horns, as we say. Which is good. It’s always good to have competition.
It pushes you further.
It’s never good in music or art to have it be easy breezy smooth sailing. It’s much better when everyone’s upset and insane and everyone’s locking horns, because that’s where the passion comes out.
How would you say passion translates to the new album [Feed Me Diamonds]?
It’s absolutely the most honest portrayal of nothing but pure emotion, and that’s what I was looking to do with the album and with pop music. I wanted to do something exactly opposite from what I was doing before, which was more experimental and noise music, so I didn’t want to be obtuse or obscure. I wanted it to be very literal at points. Like in the song “I Go Away” and things like that. I feel like maybe experimental music and noise music is kind of isolating, and pop music is really about connecting with everyone or trying to connect with everyone on themes that everyone relates to. I really tried to go there, and I hope I succeeded.
“I wish we would see more people who care less about their handbags and more about things that really matter. It’d be interesting if Paris Hilton decided to join a guerilla group.”
Can you talk a bit about the influences on the album?
The title of the album and title track is “Feed Me Diamonds.” The album was a very emotional time in my life. Lots of things were happening in my personal life. I moved to New York. I was very broke, a very broke artist. Very literally, extremely hungry. And worked all the time, really. I really just wanted to go there emotionally. When the album was wrapping up … Marina Abramovic was doing a retrospective at the MOMA. I already knew of her and would say I was humbly inspired by her. I was reading a lot about her and she talked about the concept of feeding someone diamonds and what that does to you. My album is political and personal, and it tied everything together for me.
The first single [“#1 In Heaven”] was inspired by Patty Hearst. How did that come together?
The song is a tribute to her after she sympathized with her captors and after she held up the bank in San Francisco with the SLA. I just feel like she is an American iconic heroine. [For me] I’m a humanist and pacifist all the way, but I do have respect for some heiress at that level who is really willing to throw it all away for what she believed was absolutist and right for her and what they were doing. And her criticism on the American prison system was valid. They were a violent group, I don’t disagree with that, but their criticism was valid. I wish we would see more people who care less about their handbags and more about things that really matter. It’d be interesting if Paris Hilton decided to join a guerilla group. I mean, that’s what it was like. I don’t think we’ll see that again. Maybe we will, hopefully.
I wouldn’t count on it.
But wouldn’t it be great, though, for young girls to be like, “Holy shit.” Like, “What? Paris Hilton?”
It would put such a different perspective on how people are seeing things, and young girls probably don’t have any idea who Patty Hearst is and what that’s about.
Or Jane Fonda. Just, like, beautiful women. That’s part of pop culture, but it’s like their beliefs and their activism was — especially for Jane Fonda — it showed so many different levels of being a woman than just skinniness, dieting, energy drinks. That just gets so boring after a while.
Would you do a song inspired by Jane Fonda, or are there any other figures that you would look to to inspire your music?
Yes I would. I am absolutely obsessed with Jane Fonda. I read her book My Life So Far, and she’s amazing. The reason I remember her was my mother worked out to her video. I remember just being like, “I’m a kid, whatever. Oh mom’s doing this workout video,” and the more you read about Jane Fonda and her life and her dedication to the Native Americans and the humanist movement in Vietnam, and the way the American government really exploited her and really put out false propaganda against her … What she was actually doing in Vietnam — her whole health empire was built to finance her work in Vietnam, and it just gives me chills. I think she’s amazing.
I think that’s what you need to do next then, a song on Jane Fonda. I can feel the ideas coming into your head.
And iconic, awesome photos of Jane Fonda.
That would be a great video.
Yeah, it’d be sweet.