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TOKiMONSTA: “I Just Get Really Bored And I Don’t Want To Feel Limited By Anything”

Written By Sam Murphy on 05/25/2015

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LA producer TOKiMONSTA is in an enviable position right now. Beginning as an underground figure of the electronic music, she’s now at a point where she’s watched the mainstream bend closer and closer to her genre. On top of that she’s in the middle of the LA scene, in a period that many are calling a golden period for electronic music in the city.

She defines the very essence of a modern producer. She’s got her trademark sound but she jumps around influences, citing herself to be an A.D.D. producer. As such, she’s currently got projects on the go with Kelly Rowland, Joey Bada$$ and Isaiah Rashad. On top of that she’s producing the debut record for LA singer Gavin Turek.

The producer is about to make her first trip back to Australian in over 18 months. We called TOKiMONSTA ahead of her visit, pulling her away from the studio for a chat about electronic music’s changing faces, her classical music roots and appeasing her old fans in her live sets.

During our chat we also spoke about Australia’s interesting musical climate whereby an act like Flume can trump pop acts on the chart. “It’s different in Australia than it is everywhere else,” she says of our electronic music scene.

Midway through the interview she interrupts. “I’m so sorry by the way that I sound really scatter-brained. I’m usually much better but I drank a massive amount of coffee and I don’t really drink coffee,” she says. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell. Her answers are eloquent and informed, even though she would be excused for the occasional ramble given just how much she’s got on the go right now.

Read the full interview and check out her Australian tour dates below.

What are you working on right now? Remixes or your own stuff?

Nah, I’ve been working on some classical stuff. I guess like more like modern, minimal classic stuff. I wanted to try something a little different.

Great. There was a little bit off that on your last release wasn’t there?

Exactly so yeah, I’m working on more stuff like that like a lot of piano work, very lush piano stuff. I mean I’m attempting but… *laughs*

Did you grow up with classical music?

Yes I did. I grew up playing the piano but I didn’t really care for it at the time. You know, I think when it’s compulsory or your parents are forcing you to do something you never really appreciate it at the time. I did grow up with classical music but I didn’t appreciate it until a bit after. It’s nice to touch back on all that.

When did it shift from your parents’ taste to eventually developing your own musical taste?

I guess the transition happened once I started listening to the radio. I realised there is more out there to music than just this one style of music. So my first introduction to non-classical music was hip-hop and, being from LA, you get a lot of west coast rap and radio stations that are just dedicated to that style.

What’s the electronic music scene like in LA at the moment? I hear it’s in a golden period?

I would hope that it’s not at its peak. I would hope that it’s just on the rise but it’s doing quite well. There are a lot of electronic artists that are moving to LA especially from other places so it’s a really large scene here. But I feel like in every moment in music there’s a city that has its time to shine. New York had its time, London had its time. I feel like with a lot of alternative grunge rock stuff Seattle had its moment but right now LA seems to be the place for electronic music. And not just one style of electronic music, in terms of something more dancey like EDM, but even on the more, I don’t like saying the word artsy, but even on the less conventional side, it’s really great here. And I feel like the people in the city really appreciate all kinds of music. People tend to be quite open-minded here so it’s really nice.

Yeah, that’s really cool. America, at large, the EDM thing seems to have initially hit really hard and now producers and artists are moving towards more left-field pockets of electronic music. Do you feel like that’s true?

Yeah, you know what, it really kind of is and it’s interesting to see that happen because I have been a bit left of centre, if we say centre is what the most accessible form of electronic music will be. But over the years I’ve suddenly been pushed to the middle, or not pushed into the middle. What I have been doing is become a bit more centred. It’s very palpable for me to see how music has changed and how people’s taste in music has changed because now it’s like the general public understand electronic music and now they are able to go and search out different forms of it. With electronic music it’s a big umbrella, there’s mellower stuff, there’s ambient stuff, there’s very aggressive stuff. I think it’s really cool to see how people are seeking out things that are a little bit more interesting.

“I want to make music that I make and at the time I made it, it was a little weird for people and now what I’m making is a little more understood and I haven’t changed anything.”

Can you see some of that less-conventional production seeping into the mainstream? I read that you were doing some work with Kelly Rowland?

Yes. Umm. With Kelly I feel as though…well, we know her as a popstar from a very big pop group but I guess that’s just the angle that we see her as. But her as a human being, she has a very broad palate in terms of the music that she enjoys herself and I don’t know if it’s really me doing more pop music or her doing more left-field stuff or us both going in each other’s direction a bit more.

I have this thing. I was never the person to put my foot down and say,” oh I’m super underground I always want to be this indie hero.” I want to make music that I make and at the time I made it, it was a little weird for people and now what I’m making is a little more understood and I haven’t changed anything. My music has progressed naturally. And if what I make becomes poppy or pop changes its definition to what I’m making now then I’m totally ok with it.

I find that really interesting because, particularly in Australia, years ago the EDM artists were packing out venues and then along came a few artists like Flume for example and suddenly there was this thing where these people who had barely had any recognition were seeping into the charts. I feel like it’s this very odd climate at the moment where this music that was underground before is now being listened to by heaps of people. It must be really interesting for you to witness?

That’s actually something I find really interesting as well. Australia, it’s really cool. I’ve seen it too because over the past few years it’s changed so drastically. With someone like Harley hitting the charts – I remember it was quite a big deal because he beat out some big pop acts on the charts over there – but it’s cool for me to see that because I was like “wow I never thought that would happen.” It’s like mid-tempo beat sort of stuff and it’s interesting. It’s different in Australia than it is everywhere else.

You’ve worked with heaps of different artists. From the disco-y vibes of Gavin Turek to the more soulful Anderson Paak. How do you decide which vocalists you want to work with?

I guess I always view vocalists like another instrument. In terms of choosing who to work with it’s like “do I want to put a guitar on the track or a saxophone or a violin?” And each of these vocalists are so distinct that, like if I put Anderson Paak on a track, it’s a track I would never consider for Gavin Turek. They’re sort of like in my arsenal. They’re way more than that obviously but in terms of who I’ll ask to work on the track, I’ll obviously have people in mind. That’s sort of how I view it.

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I’ve read a lot about how you’re A.D.D. with your production in terms of chopping and changing melodies. Do you feel like it’s the same with influences. Do you want to make a soulful track and then next minute want to do something else or are you quite consistent with that?

It really depends I suppose. I guess with choosing how I make music I, I dunno, I guess I just get really bored and I don’t want to feel limited by anything. I’ll go through phases. I’ll go through a stage where I wanna make a lot of piano-oriented music that doesn’t have a lot of percussion. There’ll be a point where I just don’t wanna do that anymore and I’ll probably just do the opposite and I’ll probably just make a bunch of really agressive beats or I’ll switch and I might want to start singing on stuff. It’s nice to exercise different assets of my production and my creativity, otherwise I feel like I wouldn’t be able to progress.

What about your live sets. Do you stick with the same one for a while or is the TOKiMONSTA show that we see this time going to be a lot different to the last one we saw?

It is going to be a little different. I feel like I’m doing more live edits of my tracks and implementing them in my set. There’s a period of time where I was very anti-old discography even if the song was particularly popular. If I don’t like it now I wouldn’t really put it into my set. From an artistic standpoint that’s true, but if it’s something that I feel doesn’t represent me at the moment, I shouldn’t, I don’t feel like I’m obligated to put it in my set but at the same time I know what it’s like to be a fan of someone and love certain albums and certain tracks and feel that disappointment when it isn’t played. So I went through over this past year and a half to two years, probably since the last time I was in Australia, where I did a lot of modern edits of older tracks of mine that I know hardcore older fans would appreciate. So that’s a new aspect of my set.

On terms of what you’re working on at the moment are you looking towards another release or nothing planned as of yet?

I’m actually currently working on Gavin’s record. The entire thing will be produced by me but I really want it to be a platform for her. I want this record to lift her up as an artist on her own but it will definitely have the sort of aesthetic that we have together. Obviously when she does her own stuff with her other producers it sounds different to the stuff she does with me. So I’m looking forward to that and that’s nearing completion. And I’m hoping to have a part two of my Desiderium EP come out in the fall as well. But that’s sort of on the backburner. Gavin’s record is really my priority right now and also working on a record with Anderson Paak.

Is that nice to be able to step back and release stuff you’ve worked on under a different name?

Yeah it really is. And it’s different when you’re producing for someone else as to when you’re producing for yourself. It’s teaching me a lot about cooperation and generally working well with others and letting someone else show me what their vision is. With these two artists I appreciate them so much and I think they’re so talented so I only what the best for them. For me to be able to contribute in any way to their success and their future as amazing musicians I think is very rewarding.

Making music that suits them, has that tested the boundaries of what you’re used to sonically?

Not really. Working with both of these artists has been pretty much a cake-walk because they have both worked with me already so they really appreciate the production that I offer. They know my production and they know what I do. And they appreciate my input as well because what’s really nice is sitting down and working on the tracks from scratch and also for me to chime in on their vocals. In the past, especially with Gavin, she used to send me the track finished with the vocal so I never really had to coach her through anything or give her any tips or advice. This time around it’s interesting because I’m there to contribute If I have an idea. I definitely leave it up to her to decide whether or not she wants to take any advice.

Can you tell us anything about the Joey Bada$$ collaboration?

Oh well that one was something I said in passing. I feel like with Joey and Kelly, well the Kelly project is ongoing but with Joey it’s more like we’re trying to work on a track together to maybe have him on my record or me on his. That’s just an ongoing thing. I am also trying to do more work with Isaiah Rashad and he should probably, I guess I shouldn’t guarantee anything, but he should pop up soon with me on something.

Watch: TOKiMONSTA Red Bull Music Academy Tokyo Lecture

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TOKiMONSTA Australian Tour

Wednesday, 3rd June
Le De Da, Canberra

Thursday, 4th June
Rocket Bar, Adelaide

Friday, 5th June
Sab Fran Bathhouse, Wellington

Saturday, 6th June
Revolt Artspace, Melbourne

Sunday, 7th June
Oxford Arts Factory, Sydney

Friday, 12th June
Galatos, Aukland

Saturday, 13th June
Gilkinsons, Perth

Sunday, 14th June
The Flying Cock, Brisbane

Ticket details here.

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LA producer TOKiMONSTA is in an enviable position right now. Beginning as an underground figure of the electronic music, she’s now at a point where she’s watched the mainstream bend closer and closer to her genre. On top of that she’s in the middle of the LA scene, in a period that many are calling a golden period for electronic music in the city.

She defines the very essence of a modern producer. She’s got her trademark sound but she jumps around influences, citing herself to be an A.D.D. producer. As such, she’s currently got projects on the go with Kelly Rowland, Joey Bada$$ and Isaiah Rashad. On top of that she’s producing the debut record for LA singer Gavin Turek.

The producer is about to make her first trip back to Australian in over 18 months. We called TOKiMONSTA ahead of her visit, pulling her away from the studio for a chat about electronic music’s changing faces, her classical music roots and appeasing her old fans in her live sets.

During our chat we also spoke about Australia’s interesting musical climate whereby an act like Flume can trump pop acts on the chart. “It’s different in Australia than it is everywhere else,” she says of our electronic music scene.

Midway through the interview she interrupts. “I’m so sorry by the way that I sound really scatter-brained. I’m usually much better but I drank a massive amount of coffee and I don’t really drink coffee,” she says. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell. Her answers are eloquent and informed, even though she would be excused for the occasional ramble given just how much she’s got on the go right now.

Read the full interview and check out her Australian tour dates below.

What are you working on right now? Remixes or your own stuff?

Nah, I’ve been working on some classical stuff. I guess like more like modern, minimal classic stuff. I wanted to try something a little different.

Great. There was a little bit off that on your last release wasn’t there?

Exactly so yeah, I’m working on more stuff like that like a lot of piano work, very lush piano stuff. I mean I’m attempting but… *laughs*

Did you grow up with classical music?

Yes I did. I grew up playing the piano but I didn’t really care for it at the time. You know, I think when it’s compulsory or your parents are forcing you to do something you never really appreciate it at the time. I did grow up with classical music but I didn’t appreciate it until a bit after. It’s nice to touch back on all that.

When did it shift from your parents’ taste to eventually developing your own musical taste?

I guess the transition happened once I started listening to the radio. I realised there is more out there to music than just this one style of music. So my first introduction to non-classical music was hip-hop and, being from LA, you get a lot of west coast rap and radio stations that are just dedicated to that style.

What’s the electronic music scene like in LA at the moment? I hear it’s in a golden period?

I would hope that it’s not at its peak. I would hope that it’s just on the rise but it’s doing quite well. There are a lot of electronic artists that are moving to LA especially from other places so it’s a really large scene here. But I feel like in every moment in music there’s a city that has its time to shine. New York had its time, London had its time. I feel like with a lot of alternative grunge rock stuff Seattle had its moment but right now LA seems to be the place for electronic music. And not just one style of electronic music, in terms of something more dancey like EDM, but even on the more, I don’t like saying the word artsy, but even on the less conventional side, it’s really great here. And I feel like the people in the city really appreciate all kinds of music. People tend to be quite open-minded here so it’s really nice.

Yeah, that’s really cool. America, at large, the EDM thing seems to have initially hit really hard and now producers and artists are moving towards more left-field pockets of electronic music. Do you feel like that’s true?

Yeah, you know what, it really kind of is and it’s interesting to see that happen because I have been a bit left of centre, if we say centre is what the most accessible form of electronic music will be. But over the years I’ve suddenly been pushed to the middle, or not pushed into the middle. What I have been doing is become a bit more centred. It’s very palpable for me to see how music has changed and how people’s taste in music has changed because now it’s like the general public understand electronic music and now they are able to go and search out different forms of it. With electronic music it’s a big umbrella, there’s mellower stuff, there’s ambient stuff, there’s very aggressive stuff. I think it’s really cool to see how people are seeking out things that are a little bit more interesting.

“I want to make music that I make and at the time I made it, it was a little weird for people and now what I’m making is a little more understood and I haven’t changed anything.”

Can you see some of that less-conventional production seeping into the mainstream? I read that you were doing some work with Kelly Rowland?

Yes. Umm. With Kelly I feel as though…well, we know her as a popstar from a very big pop group but I guess that’s just the angle that we see her as. But her as a human being, she has a very broad palate in terms of the music that she enjoys herself and I don’t know if it’s really me doing more pop music or her doing more left-field stuff or us both going in each other’s direction a bit more.

I have this thing. I was never the person to put my foot down and say,” oh I’m super underground I always want to be this indie hero.” I want to make music that I make and at the time I made it, it was a little weird for people and now what I’m making is a little more understood and I haven’t changed anything. My music has progressed naturally. And if what I make becomes poppy or pop changes its definition to what I’m making now then I’m totally ok with it.

I find that really interesting because, particularly in Australia, years ago the EDM artists were packing out venues and then along came a few artists like Flume for example and suddenly there was this thing where these people who had barely had any recognition were seeping into the charts. I feel like it’s this very odd climate at the moment where this music that was underground before is now being listened to by heaps of people. It must be really interesting for you to witness?

That’s actually something I find really interesting as well. Australia, it’s really cool. I’ve seen it too because over the past few years it’s changed so drastically. With someone like Harley hitting the charts – I remember it was quite a big deal because he beat out some big pop acts on the charts over there – but it’s cool for me to see that because I was like “wow I never thought that would happen.” It’s like mid-tempo beat sort of stuff and it’s interesting. It’s different in Australia than it is everywhere else.

You’ve worked with heaps of different artists. From the disco-y vibes of Gavin Turek to the more soulful Anderson Paak. How do you decide which vocalists you want to work with?

I guess I always view vocalists like another instrument. In terms of choosing who to work with it’s like “do I want to put a guitar on the track or a saxophone or a violin?” And each of these vocalists are so distinct that, like if I put Anderson Paak on a track, it’s a track I would never consider for Gavin Turek. They’re sort of like in my arsenal. They’re way more than that obviously but in terms of who I’ll ask to work on the track, I’ll obviously have people in mind. That’s sort of how I view it.

I’ve read a lot about how you’re A.D.D. with your production in terms of chopping and changing melodies. Do you feel like it’s the same with influences. Do you want to make a soulful track and then next minute want to do something else or are you quite consistent with that?

It really depends I suppose. I guess with choosing how I make music I, I dunno, I guess I just get really bored and I don’t want to feel limited by anything. I’ll go through phases. I’ll go through a stage where I wanna make a lot of piano-oriented music that doesn’t have a lot of percussion. There’ll be a point where I just don’t wanna do that anymore and I’ll probably just do the opposite and I’ll probably just make a bunch of really agressive beats or I’ll switch and I might want to start singing on stuff. It’s nice to exercise different assets of my production and my creativity, otherwise I feel like I wouldn’t be able to progress.

What about your live sets. Do you stick with the same one for a while or is the TOKiMONSTA show that we see this time going to be a lot different to the last one we saw?

It is going to be a little different. I feel like I’m doing more live edits of my tracks and implementing them in my set. There’s a period of time where I was very anti-old discography even if the song was particularly popular. If I don’t like it now I wouldn’t really put it into my set. From an artistic standpoint that’s true, but if it’s something that I feel doesn’t represent me at the moment, I shouldn’t, I don’t feel like I’m obligated to put it in my set but at the same time I know what it’s like to be a fan of someone and love certain albums and certain tracks and feel that disappointment when it isn’t played. So I went through over this past year and a half to two years, probably since the last time I was in Australia, where I did a lot of modern edits of older tracks of mine that I know hardcore older fans would appreciate. So that’s a new aspect of my set.

On terms of what you’re working on at the moment are you looking towards another release or nothing planned as of yet?

I’m actually currently working on Gavin’s record. The entire thing will be produced by me but I really want it to be a platform for her. I want this record to lift her up as an artist on her own but it will definitely have the sort of aesthetic that we have together. Obviously when she does her own stuff with her other producers it sounds different to the stuff she does with me. So I’m looking forward to that and that’s nearing completion. And I’m hoping to have a part two of my Desiderium EP come out in the fall as well. But that’s sort of on the backburner. Gavin’s record is really my priority right now and also working on a record with Anderson Paak.

Is that nice to be able to step back and release stuff you’ve worked on under a different name?

Yeah it really is. And it’s different when you’re producing for someone else as to when you’re producing for yourself. It’s teaching me a lot about cooperation and generally working well with others and letting someone else show me what their vision is. With these two artists I appreciate them so much and I think they’re so talented so I only what the best for them. For me to be able to contribute in any way to their success and their future as amazing musicians I think is very rewarding.

Making music that suits them, has that tested the boundaries of what you’re used to sonically?

Not really. Working with both of these artists has been pretty much a cake-walk because they have both worked with me already so they really appreciate the production that I offer. They know my production and they know what I do. And they appreciate my input as well because what’s really nice is sitting down and working on the tracks from scratch and also for me to chime in on their vocals. In the past, especially with Gavin, she used to send me the track finished with the vocal so I never really had to coach her through anything or give her any tips or advice. This time around it’s interesting because I’m there to contribute If I have an idea. I definitely leave it up to her to decide whether or not she wants to take any advice.

Can you tell us anything about the Joey Bada$$ collaboration?

Oh well that one was something I said in passing. I feel like with Joey and Kelly, well the Kelly project is ongoing but with Joey it’s more like we’re trying to work on a track together to maybe have him on my record or me on his. That’s just an ongoing thing. I am also trying to do more work with Isaiah Rashad and he should probably, I guess I shouldn’t guarantee anything, but he should pop up soon with me on something.

Watch: TOKiMONSTA Red Bull Music Academy Tokyo Lecture

TOKiMONSTA Australian Tour

Wednesday, 3rd June
Le De Da, Canberra

Thursday, 4th June
Rocket Bar, Adelaide

Friday, 5th June
Sab Fran Bathhouse, Wellington

Saturday, 6th June
Revolt Artspace, Melbourne

Sunday, 7th June
Oxford Arts Factory, Sydney

Friday, 12th June
Galatos, Aukland

Saturday, 13th June
Gilkinsons, Perth

Sunday, 14th June
The Flying Cock, Brisbane

Ticket details here.

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