CMJ 2012: Interview with MNDR

Jonathan Durbin

Amanda Warner is an electronic artist to watch. The West Coast transplant is half of MNDR, the group she formed with her similarly synth-obsessed compatriot Peter Wade in 2008. Together, they've crafted one of the year's most intriguing and offbeat debuts: Feed Me Diamonds (Ultra) is a wild pastiche of techno, electro, acid house and sundry other subgenres with lyrics that contain oblique references to celebrities from previous eras. (“Faster Horses” might be the best—only?—club track ever to be inspired by something allegedly said by automobile magnate Henry Ford.) It's smart, danceable stuff, created by smart musicians with an ear for rhythm. During this year's CMJ Festival, MNDR plays Bowery Ballroom on October 18 and will showcase songs from the new album. We caught up with Warner to discuss the record, why her Brooklyn neighborhood reminds her of old California digs (Oakland, to be precise) and where she likes to see shows in NYC.

Feed Me Diamonds is titled partially as a tribute to performance artist Marina Abramović. What about her inspires you?
Amanda Warner: I've admired her for a long time. Her [2010] retrospective at MoMA was amazing. I was digging through YouTube and found this documentary about her. In it, she claimed that her father was assassinated by being fed diamonds. Her father was a political figure in the former Yugoslavia, or so she claims. I was like, “Oh, my God, that's so poetic.” I don't know if it's true. But it encapsulated the whole process of moving to New York for me—unexpectedly creating pop music and how a lot of the songs on the record are political. 

How has the feedback on the album been so far?
AW: Absolutely, shockingly awesome. I had this Midwestern attitude going into recording it, like, “Oh, I'm just going to put this out, and I'm sure everyone's going to hate it.” I thought I'd follow it up with an EP or something, quickly. But I've been pleasantly surprised. Every day, I get people reaching out to me and saying lovely things.

Do you have a favorite New York City venue to play?
AW: I like Webster Hall Ballroom. It has a ton of character, and the inside reminds me of San Francisco a bit. It's really beat down. They painted over the wallpaper several times throughout the years. Now, it looks cool, like it's crumbling down on you. 

What about places to see live music?
AW: I like Cake Shop. Everyone gets a chance there, which is great. I was vocal about supporting their efforts to stay on the Lower East Side. It's the only venue left in New York that supports bands at that level, where it's not a showcase. 

Is it tough to win over a New York crowd?
AW: If you can flip an audience here, you're good to go anywhere. It is not easy. [Laughs] I remember playing after the Mark Ronson single came out. [MNDR and Ronson collaborated on the single “Bang Bang Bang.”] MNDR was doing opening slots for him and Miike Snow at Terminal 5. I almost had a heart attack thinking I would get booed. It is not easy to play in front of New Yorkers. They're not buying it unless it's good. But I hail London for having the most discerning audiences of all time. They take the royal crown on that.

How long have you lived here?
AW: I've been here three-and-a-half years. I live in Brooklyn, right next to Bushwick in Bed-Stuy. This is my third place. The first year, I was just crashing with people. I was so broke, I swear to God I was sick for an entire year due to malnutrition. I got dysentery. But I was hustling as much as I could. I didn't have a long period of time to make something happen. Whatever—that's such a classic New York story.

That's a really classic New York story.
AW: Yeah. Like from the classic period. Like Gangs of New York–style.

What do you like about your neighborhood?
AW: It's kind of like I'm living in the Oakland of Brooklyn. All my friends from San Francisco live right around me. It's fun to support these local places—like there's this amazing café on Broadway called Athom. It was opened by this French guy who was working on Wall Street but had a change of heart. It's extremely affordable. The coffee's great, they bake their own pastries and they serve sandwiches and omelets. That's my total regular place. Then, when I'm working in my studio on the Lower East Side, I like this Italian place called Gaia, named for the owner. She's an Italian immigrant who was a downhill skier in Italy. Go there. It is hysterically cheap. I was one of her first customers. She makes every dish by hand—$7 entrées that will blow your mind. I was like, “Gaia, how are you making ends meet? How can you survive?” She was like, “No, I cannot raise prices.”

Is there anyone you're excited to see play this year's CMJ Festival?
AW: Totally. Tokimonsta. Love her. I am obsessed. She signed to Ultra, which is cool. I like that Ultra is branching out and signing different types of electronic artists. Hip-hop kids like to dance to her music.

Speaking of dancing, is that the biggest compliment an audience can give you?
AW: It blows my mind. I don't expect it. And when they know the words, that really blows my mind. The purpose behind music for me is to connect with people, so when you're connecting like that, it's humbling and amazing. I don't know how to say it any other way. 


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