Asian American multi-instrumentalist Henry Stein aka Mild Monk curates our February 2023 playlist with “Inimitable” and shares insight on his new EP 'Back to Earth' breaking it down track by track.
Written by Jasmine Jones Playlist by Mild Monk
Mild Monk is the solo project of Asian American multi-instrumentalist Henry Stein, who began teaching himself how to play, write, and record music in 2016. Since then, he has written and produced multiple albums and singles, creating music inspired by a vast blend of genres, including jazz, hip-hop, funk, and dream/synth-pop, to name a few.
Considering his diverse influences, it’s no surprise that the music of Mild Monk is just as unique, producing inimitable sounds that offer a novel approach to creativity and self-expression. He encourages others to reflect and create to find their inner joy and peace.
After releasing his debut album, Love, in 2017, Stein moved from Connecticut to San Jose, California. He released the mostly instrumental Orbit EP in 2018, Sunsmile in 2020, and a nine-track beat tape with Needle to the Groove titled Pocket Comforts to close out that year.
"Inimitable - so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy. That's how I feel about these 50 hand-picked tracks for Aislin Magazine's February 2023 playlist. Caution, your brain chemistry may be forever altered." - Mild Monk
Cover art for Back to Earth EP
The key theme of Mild Monk's Back to Earth EP, released on January 19th, is balance. After living in a 375 sq ft studio apartment for almost four years, experimenting with writing and producing new music, Henry Stein moved into a new home with the space to build a music studio in June 2022. He describes his time during 2020 and creating in his old apartment as incredibly creative, using Mild Monk as “a way to cope with the ever wobbly line between loneliness and solitude.” As he describes it, Mild Monk became “a form of escapism in which I created an entire universe for myself to exist within.”
Henry Stein's 375 sq ft apartment from 2018-2022 where he and his friends built a 7ft tall loft bed to make space for a small music studio.
Henry Stein's new studio in 2022.
"I wanted to take this frustration and throw it into a song that feels playful and groovy as if the solution is just to take myself less seriously and treat the whole creative process like a game."
Mild Monk breaks down his Back to Earth EP, track by track
"Don't Wait" is sort of my pump up song/mantra to not feel held back by societal or social expectations and norms. In the process of finding the sounds I wanted to use for this EP, I encountered so much imposter syndrome and feelings of doubt that I wasn't good enough or I wasn't ready to be the artist/musician I imagined in my mind. I wanted to take this frustration and throw it into a song that feels playful and groovy as if the solution is just to take myself less seriously and treat the whole creative process like a game.
"Your Soul" is the only song I didn't fully write and record at the new studio. I had started that one back in the old space and revisited it with a fresh perspective. This song touches on my impatience with myself and how I want to just keep growing, and don't take the time to just enjoy the process.
"I Love You (Always)" and "Doubt" both deal with the insecurity and lack of confidence I sometimes face as an independent artist. Feeling like I can't keep up with the rising talent and saturation of the music industry. Despite the doubt however, I try to embed courage by answering the questions posed in "I Love You (Always)". "Where am I supposed to go? Who am I supposed to be? / Nobody, nobody ever. But yourself. That's all you need to be."
"The song ["21st Century"] to me feels like a dystopic and dramatized version of what a future would look like if I kept going down this rabbit hole of spending too much time online."
"Hello Mingus" is my little ode to Mingus (one of my partner's siamese cats) who would come visit me during my studio sessions. As non-significant as it seems, I feel like having his presence and demand for my attention was a way for me to recognize balance throughout my period of what was mostly non-stop songwriting and producing.”
"21st Century" touches on my love / hate relationship to social media. "Gamble with my sanity," - I feel like social media itself isn't bad, it's how I end up using it and how it affects my brain that is problematic. The way posting will lead to notifications really feels at times like tossing a "coin into the slot machine". The whole "simulated ecstasy" of the experience of getting disillusioned by spending way too much time scrolling. The song to me feels like a dystopic and dramatized version of what a future would look like if I kept going down this rabbit hole of spending too much time online.
“When I began writing the track "Paradise (Back to Earth)" I was reflecting on those 4ish years of my life. Which was a sort of paradise or fantasy. One seen through rose tinted glasses however. For me the chorus: "If you're drifting with no place to go / Just make up a world inside your mind / And find your paradise / And when you come back to earth / Remember how it felt inside it's never late to find some time" summarizes how it felt to exist in that previous chapter of my life. Feeling most safe in that world I created. But realizing I had to come back to reality at some point. Remembering how to bring some of that peace back to the world with me when I've stepped out of that fantasy.