Photo: Andrew Noel & Tegan Butler
Mild Minds Talks Debut Album 'MOOD,' Breaking Down "Walls" & Feeling Inspired By Four Tet
On Fri. March 13, electronic producer Mild Minds, a.k.a. Benjamin David, released his debut solo album, MOOD, via Foreign Family Collective. Within its nine tracks, the Australian-born, Los Angeles-based artist explores a variety of emotions and dreamy—sometimes dark—sonic textures. He sings on all of the songs and, on "WALLS," offers a poignant, layered commentary on creating barriers between people with the help of experimental indie act Boats.
David, who has worked in the electronic music space for some time now, first introduced the world to Mild Minds in October 2018, with the SWIM EP, which included his debut single, "Swim." The ford. remix of the track received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Remixed Recording at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards earlier this year. A slightly updated version of the track is also included on MOOD, which the artist says took form around the same time as the EP. Thus, the album is one of new beginnings, creative exploration and shifting moods.
Just ahead of the its release, we sat down with David to chat about the project, reimagining his creative process, finding freedom as an opening act and more.
Your album, MOOD, is dropping soon. What does this project mean to you and how are you feeling about releasing it?
Well, it's my first album, so it kind of represents the project as a whole because it was how it started, essentially. I actually made most of the album before I released the EP that I released about a year ago. It just kind of represents, for me personally, opening up my mind a little bit more. Because I'd been doing music for a long time but it's always been stuck in specific worlds and having to appease certain fans or management or bandmembers. So this was about just stopping the self-sabotaging road blocks, that we all do no matter what our live is.
I just wanted to see what would actually happen if I didn't stop myself. I'd normally make songs like this that were a little bit more underground and be like "nobody's going to hear it," blah, blah. And then I realized that that's not why I make music. You actually make music so that you can experiment and create something new. This was all about just doing that and having freeform structures and trying to learn how to avoid being mediocre and normal or something.
So you finished most of it around the time you were working on the SWIM EP?
A lot of it was made after; it was made in around 2017, mostly over six months. It's laughable because 80 or 90 percent of it was there and somehow it still managed to take two years to come out. And the differences that you may hear between those finished versions and non-finished would be not much.
I feel like that happens a lot. Did you feel like working on it was cathartic or the type of music that you'd been wanting to make for a long time?
Not necessarily the type of music that I'd been wanting to make stylistically or something, but more like the type of music that I probably wanted to make in terms of the way that I created it. Like not having to succumb to those things I mentioned, because it's very self-conscious, you don't even realize. You're in the machine for so long, doing what you have to do, trying to figure out how to keep streams up and things like that. Maybe it's more the way that I should have been making music, I guess. And the way everyone probably should.
I want to talk about the song "Walls," which you released when you announced the album last month. You said that it's both political and personal. Can you tell me a little more about that?
So there wasn't really any major intentions to collaborate with anyone on that track. I just showed it to my friend [Boats] and he started singing on it. He has this very deep voice but the way that he sings is less structured, so it was like smashing two worlds together a little bit.
Beyond that, his perspective was very political and he wanted to have this almost anthem for the political situation that we're in at the moment, probably internationally and also specifically talking about border walls. For me, I don't like political stuff to be too on the nose. I actually like music to be escapism, to get away from current issues. So we came up with this idea of having both meanings in the lyrics. I was singing it one way and he was singing it another way. And mine was more the relationship side of building walls between people.
What was it like collaborating with Boats?
It was a little bit harder in terms of the recording process because the whole point of this project was to be quick. And working with somebody else's voice and having to figure out what they're trying to do with harmonies and things like that, we spent weeks getting the rough vocals together. As opposed to the other songs, which might've been done in two days. So that really drew that song out for a while and I couldn't get it to sound how I wanted, which is probably also different to how he wanted. The process of collaborating on this project maybe gets in the way of the creativity a little bit, but ultimately, I couldn't sing that song and there's no way that it would sound like that without him. So it's the beauty of collaboration and the consequences of it, I guess.
Last month, you wrapped up your California mini-tour with Tycho and you also recently announced a Red Rocks date with Big Wild. What do you think are both the hardest and most fun parts of opening a show?
Well I'm sure there could be way harder parts than I've experienced, because I haven't done it that much. But in terms of supporting Tycho, whose music is almost ambient, coming in and playing something that was quite a bit more electronic and aggressive in some way, I was like, "Oh God, is this too early?" At like 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. or something. But in the end, everyone, except for the first L.A. show, was really cheering a lot more than you would be used to for an opener; they were really supportive. That felt like it went down well, but that would be the hardest thing.
And then the best thing is that it's a totally different experience in terms of when you're the headliner, the pressure, it's almost like if something went wrong it wouldn't really matter. So it's way more enjoyable and stress-free and you're finished by 9:30 or 10. But also just with this project in general, I don't have as much gear. It's very quick. I've loved seeing that opener perspective and getting to enjoy playing in front of people and doing a show and playing, these were all really nice venues. I don't know how to put it other than that, that it is cathartic in a way. It's not stressful and it's a different experience of performing.
When I was listening to the album, I felt a definite summer mood. What you think makes a great summery, chill house track or playlist?
I always get questions like this no matter what music I make. So there's definitely something there about what comes out of me, but I feel like I never get those opportunities to have a pool, summer playlist, really. I don't really sit by the pool, I don't get to go the beach and stuff.
So you need a vacation.
Yeah. And I always let other people take care of the music or I listen on headphones to whatever is new. I never have specific playlists, because I'm always working. I would rather be listening to music that's going to have an impact on me. And thinking about creating more, than just relaxing by the pool too much. And if it is, then I let someone else pick that [music].
I would argue there's much more summer music than this, for me. This is my nighttime album. But I do know what you mean. They are, in the middle section and even a little bit at the start, it's definitely got a dreamy, upbeat feel to it.
Especially "Embracer," for me.
I think also more "SWIM" and "FORMATIONS," which they actually feel happier. But yeah, the second half of the album I feel like is more of a darker thing, which I really liked because it's different to what I normally do.
In speaking to, like you were saying, music that gets you in this space of working on your own music, who are some of your biggest musical influences? I see lots of vinyl over there.
Yeah. I have to be careful because I want to talk specifically about this album and not just in general. For this, it was not any specific person at all. There was definitely a moment where, something like Four Tet was a bit of an eyeopener, because I always assumed that music like that, non-vocal music, very extended, would be not listened to by many people.
I've known about him for a long time, but I started to realize, sure, his career took a long time to build, but it didn't really go down in any way. That gave me a lot more faith in terms of making music, and not caring so much about having to fit to the system and be this hyped up thing within like two years, even though that is still happening. This music's not as minimal as Four Tet, but definitely taking inspiration from the fact that you can have a career over a slow build and stuff like that. So that was a big inspiration.
Also, I was in this ambient bar in Japan and they were playing lots of more ambient, droney music which, for me, I didn't listen to. It totally changed my perspective on music because I always usually start with drums and stuff. I was like, "Wow. You don't actually need drums." Or if you do, it can just be this tiny pulse. It doesn't have to be big, upfront drums. That experience was a big influence, but I can't really put it down to a specific artist. And that's another cool thing I'm trying to do, take influence from experiences, not [just] music.
When did you first start listening to electronic music, and when did you start exploring production or making it yourself?
[I started making it] probably when I was 14. That was the beginning of computer programs that came with loops and then I learned how to make my own loops. But it was just fun to create things. In primary school you want to do the fun classes, right? It was something I naturally gravitated to and I was always interested in the technical side of things, so that played a part.
I was into electronic music pretty straightaway. Not when I was 13, 14, an angsty teenager, where rock was more of a thing at the time, like Limp Bizkit and stuff like that. But as soon as I discovered good electronic music, I definitely made the shift. It seemed like it could be much more creative and more, almost, design-influenced. The visuals are usually much prettier than say live music kind of projects, historically. That's opened up a lot more now. But rock in the late '90s and early 2000s was a specific thing. It was either extremely dark or extremely basic, and I've always preferred colorful kind of things. So, electronic music was pretty early on, probably about 16 or something.
And do you have any artists that you were like, "Oh dang, this is cool."
I mean the first thing that really switched me over was Air and Daft Punk because they had the most interesting sounds. It didn't just sound like a generic house track, which is what you would get on the radio through the late '90s and 2000s, or electro house and stuff like that. It was the first time that I was hearing what seemed like super creative things, that I'd never heard anything like before. And it had this '70s vibe but with synth, so much more synth than say, something you would have actually heard from the '70s, like America. Do you know that band America? They have a song "A Horse With No Name."
Downtempo but dreamy, like Supertramp or something. [Air and Daft Punk] really brought in all these new sounds. So I was very influenced by that at first and now, because I did that for so long with other projects, I just wanted to almost do the opposite. And I was like, "Okay, well what is the opposite?" And I started listening to U.K. garage-influenced stuff and non four-four beats and completely odd structures to get out of that. Then you can satisfy both sides and have two different mindsets.
What are you most looking forward to or feeling hopeful about this year?
The hardest thing is juggling all the projects at the same time, which I have to put a lot of work in this year. But I was really, really hoping that I could go into a second album for this by now. That was the goal, that I really wanted to carry the momentum while it's strong and get something out maybe the start of next year.
So more time in the studio with Mild Minds?
Yeah, especially if I refine the way that I do it and I have less, I don't use outside vocalists and I don't layer up my vocals heaps and I just keep it simple, which actually does sound better if you just do it properly once, as opposed to 25 times, finding the key that you're supposed to sing in. Two or three songs that took forever, it was really just me tweaking the vocals and rerecording them over and over because they were out of my range. And trying to layer a high vocal with a low vocal rather than just have a nice medium vocal.
I think changing a few little things like that, I could put an album together in three months. So that's the aim.