March 01, 2018
A MILD MONK
There is a unique and charming aura surrounding the Connecticut based musician Mild Monk. This singer/artist chatted with Aislin Magazine about art, and inspiration, and the thrill of creating something you can call your own.
Written & Photographed
by Jasmine Jones
How long have you been involved with music? What drew you to it?
I’ve been involved with music for my entire life, basically. Getting an FM transmitter from my parents as a kid, I’d listen to Maroon 5 on the radio. I’ve just always been listening to music. But it wasn’t until about 2 years ago that I actually picked up an instrument. Guitar is the first instrument that I learned, and what drew me to it was just being really upset that I couldn’t play because all of my friends had started playing. I think with anything new that your friends introduce you to, you’re a little skeptical at first, because you feel like you weren’t the one to discover it so you’re a little bitter. But I kind of got over that and my friend Matt gave me an acoustic guitar, and it was history from there.
Mild Monk playing in his apartment.
"It’s bedroom pop, basically, I’m in here trying to be a rockstar."
Is it mostly the guitar that you play, or do you play anything else? I see a lot of instruments around your room.
Yeah, most of my songs start on guitar and I’ll usually write a beat for it, lay down some ka-pa, ka-cha, and then I’ll add the bass in there, and then the synthesizer or the keyboard will come in last. But it does vary, sometimes I’ll start with the bass.
How would you describe your musical style? Has it changed much since you've started?
It’s bedroom pop, basically, I’m in here trying to be a rockstar. My musical taste I think varies a lot, depending on my mood and what I’m listening to, and what my friends will show me. I think that’s the best way to describe it, it’s always changing.
When did you write your first song?
I wrote my first song almost two years ago now, right when I started playing guitar, and it was this simple, really simple, three note variation. I was really embarrassed about it so I put it away. But I’ll come back to it now and it’s kind of fun.
Do you like it now or are you still embarrassed about it?
I like it now, yeah. I do like it now. I tried for a really long time to write songs and I felt like I was getting nowhere, so I kind of took a break. But it was kind of like, getting over the hump of putting it out there and getting someone else's feedback about it.
Where did the name Mild Monk come from?
Milk Monk comes from a couple things, actually. I would wear these monk strap shoes, I got these shoes online and I was thinking, wow, I don’t have to lace these up this is just great. I wore them all summer, and I think that I grew really close to them, so I wanted to steal the monk from these straps, ‘cause they’re called monk straps. But also, Thelonious Monk is a really cool cat. So it was just more justification of ripping off this great musician.
You have two new singles on Spotify right now, "Musical Love" and "Gotta Get off My Phone". What inspiration led to those songs?
“Gotta Get off My Phone” is basically a rip-off of "Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Oh, I know some of their songs but I don’t know that one.
“Can’t... keep checking... my pho-oo-one," Yeah, I feel like I’m always on my phone. And sometimes I struggle with lyrics, so it was the go-to thing to sing about. I was like, oh, man, I’m spending too much time on my phone right now.
(He plays “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone" on Spotify.)
This is a great album, by the way. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Multi-Love. "Musical Love" is totally inspired by this Japanese producer named Shintaro Sakamoto, he’s got a really interesting Hawaiian, beachy guitar tone, and I just wanted to pull away from that. “Musical Love” is just like, my general passion for sounds.
A chalkboard filled with lyrics hangs on his bedroom wall.
"I’ll see something and I’ll have a sound for what I see, and I’ll think, oh that’s cool, let me try that.”
What's involved in writing and recording a song? What is your creative process like?
I listen to a lot of music, like, as much as I can. Sometimes I’m listening to the same thing for a period of time and sometimes it’s asking people to share music with me. Lately I’ve really enjoyed getting people’s input on what I’m making before I release it. It’s cool to see who would be really stoked about it, and that kind of gives me some more direction. I guess I didn’t start from just the bare bones - it all starts on that acoustic guitar.
This one right here, with all the strings?
Yeah, it’s got a lot of hair up there, unkempt. [laughs] That chalkboard has been really helpful for me too. I write most of my lyrics on my phone, but I also record a lot of my music on my phone, and when I’m recording I can’t look at the lyrics, so I started writing the lyrics on the chalkboard. Then I would just go up and erase it, and these are the lyrics to a new song I’m working on, and the rest of this is just babble.
Aside from music, you also do some photography and illustration. Do you find some overlap between these interests or do they tend to stay separate?
I think there’s a ton of overlap between photography, illustration, and song writing. I’ve always liked to draw and take photos, so when I’m not listening to music I’m looking at illustration and photography, and the more I look at the more I get stoked. I feel like at this point I’ll see something and I’ll have a sound for what I see, and I’ll think, oh that’s cool, let me try that.
What inspires you to make art?
There’s something enticing about the ownership of creating something, like, you make it, and then you can say, oh, I made that. I’m not much of a writer, so I think I have to rely on visual and auditory sensibilities, and that’s really all it is. I need a way to get these ideas out there. People also inspire me, that’s another one.
Have you collaborated with any other artists so far? Do you plan to?
Yeah, totally. I’m working on a couple of songs with, actually Austin [MacDonald, Mild Monk’s roommate and illustrator friend], and I, have a mutual friend named Kyle Sullivan, he’s helped me do some drums and he’s in a band, The Sulls, with his older brother. Check them out, they’re pretty groovy. I’m kind of bouncing ideas back and forth with this guy named Mitch who played drums for a band named Furnsss. I try to collaborate whenever I can, but sometimes I get really inspired and I’ll just pump out a full song on the spot, and I’ll usually bring it to somebody else and say, hey, you want to add something to that?
Who are some of your favorite musicians today?
Ohh that’s a great question, alright. These guys, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Homeshake, that’s a great guy. Ryuichi Sakamoto. Mac DeMarco, sweet Mac. Hiatus Kaiyote. Dr. Dog. The Districts, the list goes on... Parquet Courts. White Denim. Yeah, they're countless. It’s like that episode of Spongebob where he’s trying to clear out his head, he’s running around and the cabinets are on fire, ‘cause Squilliam is coming to eat at his restaurant.
Yes! Squilliam Fancyson. Everything references back to Spongebob.
Top 5 favorite albums of all time?
Sam Cooke, Live at Copacabana.
The Johnny Smith Quintet, Moonlight in Vermont.
Fate by Dr. Dog.
The Self-titled Unknown Mortal Orchestra album.
Stevie Wonder, My Cherie Amour.
Where would someone go to find more of your music?
You can find more of my music on Soundcloud and Spotify, and I like Soundcloud because I can publish stuff without having to pay for it. So sometimes I might sneak a little surprise in there.
What are you working on now? Any upcoming projects we should look forward to?
Right now I’m putting together a set to play a couple of shows in the Uconn [Storrs] area, and on top of that I’m recording more songs for, maybe the album.