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Sunny Dispositions: Catching up with Mild Monk

Since Aislin Magazine last caught up with Mild Monk, a lot has changed— both musically and geographically. Henry Stein is now kicking back in San Jose, California, checking out what life is like on the sunny side of the states for a little while. We got to catch up with Henry and reflect with him a bit since adjusting from his CT lifestyle to the West Coast way of living, as well as hear about some of the new and exciting things he’s been up to.

Interview by
Audrey Morgan with WSAM Radio

Photographed by
Leopoldo Macaya

I know you recently made a big move out to the West Coast. What was your motivation for doing so?

While I was still at UConn, I got an internship to work at Adobe in San Jose as a video editor. I did that for two summers (my sophomore and junior year of college), then come my senior year, they actually offered me a full time job. It was only a few weeks into my first semester as a senior so I was like, “Yeah, I’ll take it.” It was a pretty good feeling to be in my last year of college, knowing I had a job lined up. I was originally supposed to move late-August so I could still have my summer in Connecticut, where I grew up, but things shifted around and I ended up moving like mid-June to start my job early July. Here I am!

Since being out there, how has your perspective on the music industry, and the way you want to be involved in it changed?

I had a band when I was back in Connecticut and that actually shaped a lot of my perspective of the music scene. It was just a really fun, organic thing to have people I could bounce ideas off of constantly and play together. But when I moved out here, it kind of went back to being the solo project it started as. With my 9-to-5 job, which is creatively and physically demanding, I’ve kind of had to cut down on the time I work on music, so the time I do get to spend on it is really precious. I feel like right now it’s more-so me thinking about ways I can make it this fun, relaxing thing so I’m still always writing and recording, but it’s definitely at a different pace. That’s something that I’m definitely getting used to. When I was in school, I had so much free time; I would write and record almost every day, but now it’s a little different. My weekends come and I want to go out and do stuff, but I make sure to set aside a few hours to work on something.

Has your recording process also changed at all because of this?

So, I got into recording only because of this artist named Steve Lacy (of The Internet). He was making music on GarageBand using his iPhone, so about a year ago when I got into recording stuff, I realized that was what I wanted to do too. I didn’t have a lot of money or resources to get the equipment, much less the space to have proper recording gear. So instead I got this device called an iRig, into which I’d plug my phone and guitar to record with. That’s how I recorded my first full length album and then my instrumental EP. I’ve since upgraded to a computer to use Logic. I also picked up this four track tape recorder so I could experiment with analog, so my process has changed tremendously actually. I feel like I’m starting over, in a way.

"I feel like I’m starting over, in a way."

How much of this change do you think comes from your new surroundings? Do you think moving more towards analog has anything to do with your being on the West Coast? Kind of how different places impact music?

That’s an interesting question. Honestly I think I attribute a lot of my previous/current inspiration from music and different scenes I’ve found through the internet. Growing up with access to YouTube, other random forums, anything I could search has really shaped how I thought about a sound. Now, if I’m interested in something, I can look it up and find anything I want about it. And I can do that anywhere — I don’t need to be anywhere specific. But being in San Jose, I find myself trying to lean towards brighter colors now to reflect how nice it is here all the time.

Color is super important, and it’s not always just a visual thing.

Yeah! It’s sunny and bright every day here which affects my general mood, which ultimately affects the music I want to make.

I know you shot your latest music video for “Kindness” in Connecticut. It has a super nostalgic feeling to it. How long before you left was this shot?

The whole project took place within the month before I left. It all was recorded at my friend Dan Carr’s studio, Blind Moose, and while we were recording, I knew I wanted to document some of the process. But at the same time, my really close friends were moving out of the house they grew up in West Hartford, so it just felt like a lot of things were changing all at once. I think a part of me wanted this to be sort of a time capsule that I could look back on in a couple months and feel the same sentiment that we all had when we were packing up and going our separate ways. A lot of the nostalgia was more so just to make me feel better [laughs], same with my friends. Although we were leaving, it wasn’t as though we weren’t going to be in touch or be apart in that way.

Also, you brought up colors and I wanted to ask about the color scheme you used in this video. Did that add to your sentiments while filming? Or were those colors an afterthought?

Visually I think that everything is kind of muted. This vintage look has always been kind of comforting. I actually just shot everything on my iPhone with this app called 8mm and it’s pretty much the closest thing you can get to making iPhone footage look semi decently like film stock. I’m sure for anyone who actually shoots on film that’s totally palm-to-forehead territory [laughs]. I guess a lot of the colors were natural ones that I got while shooting scenes from things that were happening. I actually didn’t finish the video until i moved out here, so there’s one shot from San Francisco I wanted to sneak in there just because I really liked the shot. It’s a clip of my friend Steven, who had flown up from LA to San Jose just to stay with me for a weekend when I first moved out there, bombing this big hill in San Francisco on a skateboard. The sunlight is cutting in and out, kind of hitting his face. I wanted the general tone of the video to be warm, inviting and welcoming because I think that’s what I needed for myself at that time.

Using comfort colors to comfort yourself in this time of change.

Exactly. I still have a ton of footage from me and Steven going around the city, skating, and just doing our thing. I want to do something with the rest of that footage, but I’m just not sure what yet.

Kindness cover art by Austin MacDonald & Bruno Perosino

Kindness cover art by Austin MacDonald & Bruno Perosino

You recently released a gorgeous single called “Here’s To You.” Is that a dedication to anyone in particular?

I wrote it with my mom in mind. She and my grandmother flew out here to help me move in and I really don’t think I could’ve managed everything I had to without her being here. There are just so many things I had to think about that I never took into consideration before like kitchenware, furniture, and all that. She was really good about keeping me steady and helping me out in that way. I feel like I’ve never expressed to my parents how much they’ve really helped me out and I think I was fortunate enough to open up to the song about it. It’s definitely a dedication to my mom and dad.

I totally get what you mean about the kitchenware— it’s always that one can opener that isn’t there when you need it.

Yeah! I still don’t have a pizza cutter [laughs]. There’s just so much motherly wisdom I feel like I absorbed while she was here. I was so thankful for that.

Something about “Here’s to You” feels very up close and personal, unlike any of your previous releases. Did you do the production on this yourself?

My friend Mike Pearlman produced this. I met him while I was in college. He’s from Fairfield, CT but ended up moving to LA to finish his music education. I’ve always wanted to work with him and it’s such an honor that he was able to do this one for me. I really owe this song to him as well because he worked so hard on it. We started working on it together when I moved to the Bay Area and he moved down to LA, so it was just a process of me sending him files through the internet.

"Sure, I could play everything the way I wanted to, but there’s this real interactivity that I really missed, so when I get to play with my friends here in a band, it reminds me of how fun it is to play with people."

Since being out west, have you had any sort of shift in focus? What’s been inspiring you these days?

I’ve been taking drum lessons! It’s this new thing for me because I’ve never had formal music training so it’s something that I realized I’m really interested in. While I still try to write and record here and there, I’m having a lot of fun learning and listening to new music. There’s a really big jazz scene in San Jose, so I’ve been going out to see people play jazz once a week which is something I’ve just started to get into. It’s definitely a new and exciting thing for me.

Do you think that these new and exciting experiences will be channeled into what you come up with next?

Yeah! I have no idea! When I sit down and write something, I feel like I’m just trying to rip off as many things as I can until it becomes this mutilated thing that I don’t recognize anymore. But I can never go into something thinking, “I want to make a song like that,” because it just never works out. It always turns into something I feel like I have no control over.

Do you have anything in store next for Mild Monk? Are you working on any collaborations currently or anything else?

Yeah! I want to make a music video for the new single that’s coming out, so I’ve been storyboarding that. Music-wise, Greetings and I put out a split with Funnybone Records. Also, I have friends here who I like to jam with and that I’d like to play in a band with. I think we’re starting to take off and get some songs together with stuff we’ve been working on. I don’t know if that would be a Mild Monk thing or a new project, but I’m just happy to be involved again with something a little bit different than what I’ve been doing.

Is it nice to be playing with other people again? I know before you left, you were pl