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Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 29th October, 2012 9:31AM

MNDR is the musical moniker of Amanda Warner who, along with Peter Wade creates production-focused, electronic indie-pop with a little help from the likes of Mark Ronson, just casually. UTR caught up with Warner - the project's founder - to talk about their debut full length album Feed Me Diamonds and maintaining a balance between writing challenging music and appealing to a large audience.

Hey Amanda, what are you up to at the moment?

I'm at CMJ in New York City which is like a city-wide festival, and I'm playing and DJ-ing a lot and going to see friends play. So I'm just hanging out until I go out tonight.

How's CMJ going?

Yeah it started yesterday and it's always a lot of fun - it's like a mini SxSW - friends from out of town are here. There's also a lot of industry people here.

Have you played CMJ before?

Yeah that was actually a launching point for the project: Fadar got me to play their Fadar Fort which is like their showcase.

Cool. In NZ we hear a lot of hype around these industry-based festivals in terms of them 'breaking' artists. As an artist how helpful are they?

CMJ's original reason was to support college music in America - underground artists - whereas SxSW's original point was to showcase artists to be signed to labels. Now it seems like it's a launching pad for artists to be discovered by fans or media outlets rather than record deals. Not that much record business goes on and how important are record deals in this day and age anyway. And then there are the seminal parties - Filter have one, Fadar have one and those magazines are focused on showcasing artists who they see as being successful in the future and moving onto another level of artistry or whatever.

Back to your project MNDR. How did it start, how did you develop the sound and how did you meet your partner Peter Wade?

Yeah well I've been a musician all my life, from classical and jazz even. I became very involved in metal and experimental music too and I was also DJ-ing and involved in multi-media art projects that were music-focused. I was also hired a lot as a bass player and keyboardist for various indie bands.

This whole project started 2006 / 2007 and it was sort of a play on my name. I was always really involved with DIY culture in the US so I was throwing parties and shows all the time. I moved to New York and took this name as my songwriting and publishing name, and I was also performing and DJ-ing as MNDR in the underground community.

Finally Fadar picked up on the sound and then Mark Ronson wanted to work with me so I kept the name and rolled with it.

It sounds likeMNDR developed pretty organically: did you have a particular sound that you went into the project wanting to achieve?

Yes, Peter Wade and I were writing new songs and he took them and played them for people and put them up on MySpace and after Fadar got involved it all took off and I thought "wow I might have the ability to do an artist career on a small level" so I decided to try it out.

After I realised that we were going to make a record I was really conscious of how we were going to make it sound. Originally I was like "let's make it really industrial and very 909-driven". I wanted the beats to be loud and punch you in the face, and I wanted it to be dark.

Peter Wade was an apprentice for this guy who had developed amazing production techniques and had actually produced and mixed Thriller. Not only is it one of the greatest records of all time but in terms of engineering and sound, it's one of the greatest records of all time: it stands up when you play it, where other records in that era fail.

I was really conscious that I didn't want it to sound indie but I didn't want it to sound mainstream either. I wanted it to sound clashy and crisp and clear and I didn't want my vocals drenched in delays and things - I wanted it to be very forward in that sort of Thriller-style of record producing so I was pretty conscious with that.

So the production heavily influenced the sound, right?

Most of the time yeah because all of the records I've done are production-driven. It's an organic process that's very creative and involves experimenting with different techniques and sampling and then forming a particular structure that works.

And do you have particular people who you collaborate with other than Peter? From what I've read collaboration seems to be a big part of the MNDR project?

Well the bulk of it has been myself and Peter but we're flexible and we've worked a bit with Patrick Berger who has worked with Robyn. We got to know each and spent a bit of time together and there was a musical chemistry there. Those sort of connections and that sort of unspoken creativity where there's not a lot of talk about direction are what I like - I don't really respond to anything else as an artist. I don't care what other people think - within reason -  so the conversation around what we're doing has to be really intrinsic.

I've been lucky to work with Patrick Berger and Mark Ronson who are brilliant creatives but they've also had a lot of commercial success too, and the difference with those kinds of producers and writers is that they're much more creative and less worried about it how it 'has to sound' and more focused on achieving something original and exciting.

From talking to you it sounds like you were originally focused on maintaining an alternative, DIY aesthetic but at the same time you're making music which is quite accessible and has the potential to cross-over into the mainstream. Tell me how you strike that balance.

Yeah well when I decided I was going to make this project a pop project it was because I wanted to connect with everyone because I really think that pop music can affect literally everyone.

The most important thing for me with any of my projects it that I make the music, I write the beats and I do a lot of the production. I do collaborate with people to bring it together and it was interesting when there was a lot of chatter around the project because it was something that I didn't expect to happen. I didn't expect record companies to want to get involved. But when a record company signs you they also want to make sure you don't fail them, so they try to get you to produce the kind of music that's like people who are successful at the time. You can't really get mad at it because they need to make money so they need to figure out a formula that is sure-shot.

I just really went by what the fans though and one thing that became apparent was that the project was just getting bigger and bigger and bigger and that was because of the way we were writing and recording and driving the project. So I just listened to the fans and I listened to the people who were into it, and that's why I've kept it so close to my heart. I've really had to say no to some pretty incredible opportunities because there was no way because I was going to have creative control at any level and that isn't something I'm interested in at all.

What are the future plans with the MNDR project?

I begin a tour on Monday I also just won best DJ in New York City for Paper Magazine so I'm DJ-ing a lot all over the US.

Also I've been doing a bit of writing for other artists and I want to do a production record featuring some of my favourite talent so I'm going to be working on that for the next year on the road.


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