Mndsgn Assembled His Dreamteam to Make a Symphonic and Sophisticated R&B Suite
In an exclusive interview, Mndsgn takes us behind the creation of Rare Pleasure, a gorgeously intimate album that rallies a community of artists who thrive in the margins between R&B, jazz, and beat-making.
Mndsgn is tucked into his Los Angeles apartment hoping fans will arrive at his new album, Rare Pleasure, with a short memory. "This is my debut," the producer, born Ringgo Ancheta, declares with wholesome confidence over a grainy line, marking a new starting point in a career that's already breached its second decade. But a hard restart isn't exactly new territory for a producer who released dozens of beat tapes before uttering a melody over his own instrumentals.
Ancheta's formative years were spent in a South Jersey town culturally and geographically indistinguishable from neighboring Philadelphia, where he cut his teeth as a b-boy and beta bedroom beatmaker before founding the wildly influential Klipmode collective with Knxwledge, Suzi Analogue, and Devonwho. As solo artists and an ensemble, the group ushered in a new moon for a growing community of independent musicians, flooding Bandcamp and Soundcloud with glitched-out tapes and mixes that would eventually find a physical and spiritual home in LA's budding Beat Scene. Though he's now, at the very least, an honorary Angelino, the urge to build a family rooted in creative kinship is still more than present. In fact, it's arguably the defining quality of his new album.
A month or so prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, Ancheta had just completed the sessions for a gorgeously intimate and subtly psychedelic suite with a community of artists who thrive in the margins between R&B, jazz, and beat-making. Released on June 4th, after stewing in bedrooms and proper studios for almost two years, Rare Pleasure isn't Ancheta's reaction to the pandemic, so much as his preparation for it. Once the tapes were cut, mixing and mastering an album as symphonically prone and richly collaborative as Rare Pleasure carried Ancheta well into the most emotionally and politically charged period in recent history. Between the pandemic and the protests, the producer, fresh off his own bout with the potentially fatal virus, was charged with holding all of those threads and making sense of them all at once. But with a crew of trusted players at his side, both physically and, at times, virtually, Anchetta managed to forge his most sophisticated and refined body of work to date.
In an exclusive interview, Mndsgn breaks down the creation of Rare Pleasure, how he became his own source material, why he's not in a hurry to hire Herbie Hancock (even though he probably could,) and what it means to be "on the other side of healing."
Stream Mndsgn's new album, Rare Pleasure, below. Pick up a copy of the album on vinyl via Stones Throw and scroll on to read our chat with the producer.
Congratulations on the album, man. It's beautiful. When did Rare Pleasure to start to form and how? Were you already working on Rare Pleasure when the Snaxx tape dropped?
Mndsgn: Damn, I got to really think about the chronology. I think a good amount of those Snaxx tracks were already done. Yeah, they already existed by the time I started writing the new record. And I guess by putting out Snaxx I kind of just didn't want to leave anything behind that I didn't think should be left behind. I think it was like late 2018 that I officially, like mindfully, was starting to make stuff that would potentially be on the new album. So it's been like a good year and some change in the making.
So was it something you completed during the pandemic?
I worked on all the material myself for a solid year. And then right before the pandemic hit, I booked some studio time to get a bunch of musicians to come and play over and even replay some of the tracks. It was great. That session was so thorough.
Knocked it out in one session?
No, it was like a week. Or probably not even a full week. Maybe five days of just getting certain heads in to replay over a bunch of stuff. But yeah that was in January. And then a whole bunch of stuff happened with me personally that I had to go through. But yeah, after I'd got over that hump, came back and started mixing it with Swarvy. Like during everything, man — during the protests. Yeah, last year was insane.
Did you find yourself revisiting the material and reshaping it through the lens of this year?
We mixed it all throughout the spring. I think we turned the record in just before summer or something like that. So it was crazy, like, going through those last stages during last year. You know obviously because so much was going on but at the same time I think it was an advantage because, even though it was just the mixing process, I was still pulling from how challenging the time was. Somehow it kind of worked, both energetically and spiritually, in our benefit.
Do you feel like the material was kinda meant to go through all of this before it got to its final stages?
For sure. And I think even earlier in the process of writing the record, obviously, I asked myself a lot, "What kind of record or what kind of world am I trying to go into?" I kind of had this feeling that I wanted to make something that was meant for the other side of healing, if that makes sense?
What does that side look like for you?
If your personal journey had involved going through a stage of darkness and then coming into the light, then I would've wanted the record that would be something that was for the other side of whatever hurdle, you know? I had that feeling before, like while I was starting to write the record. So I think it was crazy, once the pandemic hit I was like "Whoa, I guess that's what that is. That's what that feeling was." Because I knew at that point, while we were still mixing it, I'm like "This shit is not going to come out until like... like I don't even know when." You know? Now, the fact that it's going to be released this year and we're getting over some kind of hump, I think it's a really profound time for this music to be coming out. But I don't know, I think a lot of the process really involved me just following an intuitive instinct, as opposed to really trying to be the one steering the wheel.
Could you talk about some of the players on the album?
Oh my god. It's an all-star ensemble. We got Swarvy mainly playing bass, but he played a few other things too, like percussion, I think. Kiefer on the keys. Will Logan on the drums. Keith Askey and Chris James on guitar. We got Fousheé on the background vocals. Devin Morrison on the background vocals. Anna Wise on some of the backgrounds. Low Leaf on the harp. Carlos Niño on percussion. Miguel Atwood Ferguson on strings. Dang, did I leave anyone out? John Keek on sax. [David] Otis on sax too. It's stacked man. Fuck. Oh my god, Aisha Mars on flute. She blessed it. Emile Martinez did some flugelhorn. It was crazy. Also, another artist I'm really inspired by right now is Jon Bap. It was really special to have him and Anna and their baby, Supernova, singing background vocals on one of the "Rare Pleasure" movements.
Damn, what a crew. But that's a lot of people, man. A lot of threads to hold at once. Have you ever worked with this many people on an album before?
No, no. This is definitely the first time. It's a blessing, man. Because everyone's got different schedules, everyone's doing their own thing. For everyone to come together in such a short amount of time, in the way that we did, and make what we made. It's a pleasure for me most of all, to have been involved in that process and to have been the one to write the music for these people to play. But yeah, they're all homies too, you know?
It's a real family record.
Exactly. I didn't feel like I had to really go too far outside the camp, you know?
Sure, especially when the camp is filled with such capable people.
Yeah. And like Stones Throw's always throughout the years only been like, "You know if there's anyone you want to work with, let us know. We can like pull the strings." And I'm like, "Damn but there's so much heat just already around me."
Have you taken advantage of that resource yet and just put out a wild call? Like, "Let me get Herbie to run this TONTO real quick."
You know what, no. I guess I'm kind of weird like that. The thought of it is cool. But then, I don't know man, I feel like you should just tap in with what is already around. And I think that at the end of the day, like we'd have to be able to pay Herbie for his time. Obviously everybody got paid for their time. But it just seems more transactional when it's someone that you got to pull strings for. Whereas you know, I feel like the relationships that I've already built in my life are the most, not only fundamental, but also very valuable. You know? And I wanted this record to be more of a showcase of community.
On a project like this, was it difficult for you to balance the beatmaking half of your brain with the songwriting half of it? Which part of your music mind landed on Rare Pleasure?
I think it's really more so my personal taste being at the forefront. When I was making beats, it was really just like, "What do I have a taste for?" And I guess now it's more so "What do I want to hear?"And, you know, I've been listening to beats for so long, I guess there's a natural tendency to want to switch it up. It just made sense to make something that was aligned with shit that I would sample.
I've always found myself trying to emulate the real stuff anyway. And I guess it just dawned on me that that's such a subjective term, "The real stuff." You know what I mean? Trying to make those drum kits on your computer sound like actual drums or trying to make a beat that sounds like a band. And then I was like, "Wait, I could actually do that now." Given the community and the resources and everything. And, you know, just years of crafting beats. I was just utilizing all of it to make something that is a more evolved representation of my taste.
I definitely see this album as the most refined body of work you've put out so far. It's sprawling and big also beautifully quiet at times.
Thank you, man. I definitely still feel the same. When I finished it, I was like, "Dang, like if I could say this was my first record ever, I would."
You want people to just start here?
Yeah, this is my debut. Sometimes I do look at it that way and I look at all of my past work as being the process to get to this album. And it just so happened that I was willing to share that process. But personally, like in my heart, I feel as though this is my first very firm statement of me. You know? Definitely the most sophisticated, I would say.
Were you ever worried whether this album, which you began writing two or three years ago, would still resonate when it finally landed?
It's something that I wanted to be mindful of early in the process. I noticed with my previous work and all my older songs, I kind of get burnt out on them. I don't know why, but because of that, I wanted to be more conscious of that as I was making new songs. I wanted to write songs I'll enjoy performing until my time is up. Having that intention early on kind of fortified my trajectory throughout the whole process of making the album. Just trying to make songs that would stand the test of time for me, personally. And it's crazy. I listen to them now and they're still hitting.
Did the loss of a physical venue, or at least the prospect of playing at a physical venue, impacted any of the choices you made on this album?
I guess I always kind of had a vision of it being an ensemble or an orchestra situation. So that was definitely a part of the vision. I don't know, it's weird because like playing out, you kind of have this voice that's like, "You got to play the jams or people are going to want to dance and stuff." And this album is really not that. It's a listening experience.
It's also really personal, though. Earlier, you were describing how you had gone through some hardships in making this, or just prior to putting it down. Do you want to get into that at all?
Oh man. It was really just like a string of unfortunate physical injuries and sicknesses. I got sick which, I don't know, maybe it was an early strain of COVID. But I got really sick right after my girlfriend had gone through it. We both got messed up simultaneously. So it was crazy how it worked out because we knocked out so much shit in those sessions, right before, and then all of that happened. So I'd just accomplished a lot, just in the nick of time before life hit.
In hindsight, it was such a growing period that ultimately got put into the record. Maybe not in the literal sense, but just energetically. It's pretty dense. And in my imagination, the album exists not just as sound but as a an outer dimensional space. And I have been going there throughout the whole process as if I'm building a castle or something. That's kind of how I visualized it the whole time I was making it. Like I was going to this place and people are going to be there. People are going to ultimately visit this place via listening to the record. So going to that place has definitely been a source of healing. Just in my personal journey. And yeah, it's a trip that slowly people are also visiting that place.
Was it logistically difficult to record and mix an album with this many people during a pandemic?
I would say a majority of it was conceived in my bedroom studio. Just me recording these demos and having greater ideas, greater goals for them in my mind. Some of the demos I wouldn't completely flesh out at home. I would just leave them open because I knew it would sound crazier when Logan was playing drums or if Kiefer was playing the keys instead of me. But I think it was so effortless because not only did I already know exactly what I needed and what I wanted, but the way we had it scheduled out, it was just real precise. Everybody came in during those sessions and did what they needed to do and they just banged it out so professionally, so concise. And everyone was just on time. It was insane. Honestly, that's probably around the time that I came up with the title of the album. I was just tripping out at how rare it is to get everybody on the same page like that.
Yeah, I mean even before the pandemic.
Exactly. Because I feel like people were so busy. Or it seemed like it when you look back, we were all just moving, doing our thing. And yeah, I'm just so grateful for everybody that blessed the record. Because like I said, it's just a trip to get everyone aligned in that way.
Outside of the record, what else are you excited about this year?
I guess, potentially playing shows. It seems like venues are opening up and seems like that might be a thing in the somewhat close future. It would be cool to see people come out and just vibe with the record. So I guess just seeing the world. I miss traveling, honestly. Hopefully, that is in the books.