Teebs – Photo by Theo Jemison
Mtendere Mandowa is moving again. The Brainfeeder signee better known as Teebs
dropped his second LP, E s t a r a
, today, and though he named it after the house he lives in, it’s looking like he’ll need a new address soon. It’s not that his glossy, tropi-beat sounds are turning people off; it’s more likely they’ll show up on his front porch. Not that that’d necessarily be a bad thing—the 26-year-old producer is also a visual artist and a mean cook—but private space is essential for a guy who makes music by walking around his house tapping on walls.
If there’s one thing you’ll find out from his new LP, it’s that Teebs doesn’t really have rules. He’ll shift from glitzy, waterfalling synths looped on his SP-404 to found samples of jangling keys or a door slamming in a mind-boggling matter of seconds. But according to Mandowa, his next album will be restricted and colorless, which somehow sounds exciting when he says it. I called Mtendere recently to chat about E s t a r a
, condiments and zoning out while playing shows.
What was your inspiration behind E s t a r a, and how did it come about?
I think the last few years totally got me into the feeling of wanting to express something, to release the record. Estara’s actually where I was living, so when I listen to the word I really believe in the meaning of being somewhere where I could be so clear mentally. I really enjoyed that idea. That’s where it got its title.
The name of the album is the name of the house where you live? Or used to live?
Yeah, I used to live in a house on a street called Estara, and we would call it the “Estara House.” I think it was ’cause it was a very inspirational time in my life; and being that the people I was with were very inspirational people, it made a lot of sense.
I read in an interview from about a year ago that you borrow a lot of the instruments that you use and you give them back when you’re done using them. Is that still the case, or have you recently gotten your own stuff that you’ve been working with?
Recently, I’ve been using a few little things, like random sound toys and weird instruments, strange keyboard pianos, but yeah, I’m still borrowing a lot of stuff. I love experimenting with instruments and seeing what people are working with.
I remember in an old interview you saying that you were looking to start recording with kids toys.
Yeah, I’ve actually got some little stuff like, it’s not exactly for
children, but a child could definitely make a lot of cool stuff with it. A pocket piano, I got one of those, small Korgs, and a few little mini delay modules and strange little toys that are really fun to record with.
So where did you find them, garage sales and stuff?
Yeah, garage sales, small shops in L.A., eBay. I just buy whatever makes sense to me.
So did you use them on the new album?
Yeah, all of them.
Was the process of using instruments you haven’t used before, or toy-like things, was that different in the recording process?
Yeah, a little bit. Just more experimentation with how to get these sounds to fit together in a little picture. That was always interesting trying to figure that out, but that’s a new feeling I guess.
I know that in some of your recordings you use field recordings. You’ve previously said a lot of it is just you walking around your house and tapping shit and making noise.
It’s definitely always tapping on every wall and table in the house. That’s always the first thing I want to do before I start living and recording there, I just check it out. And then random stuff, like we have a washer/dryer in the house, and I like slam the door to see how it sounds. That’s all part of it.
So do you walk around your house and do whatever comes to you? Do you have a certain route that you take? It’s possible you might have a pattern.
It’s so possible, I’ll have to ask my roommate to see what he says, and I might be going in the same direction. I mean my dog might really know.
Yeah, like you have your game face on all the time so he always knows you’re recording.
. Yeah, like get out of my way.
Can you talk a little bit about how being a visual artist relates to your music?
It’s almost this cyclical thing. I know when I’m working on sounds and I get stuck in a loop I’ll go work on a painting and I’ll listen to whatever’s happening or work on art until I figure out what I want to try next. They’re always next to each other. I definitely think they help each other, they definitely give the other one a break. It’s like tagging in a Wrestlemania fight—they’re kind of always with each other. They definitely support each other in some kind of way.
When painting, do you ever get an idea for a song; or when recording, get an idea for something you want to paint?
Definitely, when I’m in some kind of stage of the creation process of either, and you start going kind of blank because you’re so into it, you’re kind of losing yourself, you might start seeing a picture or some kind of idea will come up and you’re like, “Oh yeah, what if this painting was on wood instead of on canvas, what would happen?” So yeah, you go and get the wood frame until you figure it out. That definitely comes up every once in a while.
I could see how the textures that you use in visual art could relate to the music you make in a sonic sense.
Yeah, textures are a huge thing. I tend to always lean toward the idea of layering and using different media. Yeah, that definitely applies to both sonic and visuals a lot.
So I know that a big part of your art is painting over record sleeves, but do you care about what’s on the sleeves themselves? Does what’s underneath inspire you?
That’s definitely always the first thing I look for. I mean the records I get are all in dollar bins, quarter bins, mainly throwaway, because a lot of records I find are super scratched. I go through those and find the ones where I like the visuals, or if I really know what the record is, I grab it. Definitely the visual cues, especially the visual cues that come from just the damage of the record, from just living on earth for a while, from like the ’50s and seeing how fucked up these things have gotten. I like seeing that too, you know?
When you see a record do you ever immediately know what’s going to happen or do you have to think about it?
Most of the time I know exactly what’s gonna happen, or what direction I want to go in, because they say so much. Whether it’s somebody’s face or they’re wearing a weird leotard and I’m already thinking of all these ideas, and I’m like, “I can’t wait to add on to this, whatever’s going on here.”
Do you have any lying around the house that you don’t know what to do with?
Yeah, there’re always those ones where you think it’s all about what you thought of off the bat and obviously it didn’t work and you’re just staring at it like, “Oh my gosh, what am I gonna do with you?” Those take a while to come to fruition, but I always love those the best. Once they’re done you’re like, we shook hands on it and came to a happy medium.
So did you create the album art for E s t a r a?
Yes, I did. The cover is actually one of those sleeves I found from a flea bin at Poobah Records in Pasadena. It was the same for my first album too.
When you were painting your album cover did you know it was going to be your album art or did you just decide after?
It was just after. Like maybe a month or so after it was done I was just like, “Oh this could totally be it.” I think I was watching a horror movie or something random that had nothing to do with anything. It definitely wasn’t on my mind to make an album cover that day.
So do you have a favorite track on E s t a r a?
They all have moments. I like working with people, so stuff with Jonti, like that Holiday
song with Jont is really cool. And this one called Shoouss Lullaby
I really like. It’s kind of weird and ghetto and Anna Wise is on that. I don’t know, it’s really hard to say.
So if you favor a few songs over others, does that influence how you structure your live shows?
Yeah, definitely. It definitely influences a lot, just the ones that feel right and also the ones that might not be my favorite, but I know might translate better in the set. I like going there to see how that goes. It’s all about putting out a good kind of experience for people as much as for me.
When you were first starting out can you think of any instances where you felt like you made a mistake with the setlist?
Yeah, for sure, I’ve had moments where I go too deep into whatever I’m feeling at the moment. I’ll be so happy and like, “Oh my God, this is so beautiful what I’m doing,” and I look up and they’re like totally lost. They’re like, “Dude just get back to the feeling of togetherness with us.” I’ve definitely done that a few times where I sort of realize you can’t just dive into what you’re feeling too far because you really need to gauge more, and you have to care more about what the environment’s about.
That’s probably a cool experience for at least one time, just realizing that you’ve somehow disconnected from everyone in the room. It might not be the best thing for everyone else, but for you…
. Yeah, and at the same time, I’m sure one of those guys is super pumped that I got so weird and left field. But it’s still cohesive to what I’m doing and not just a silent moment for an hour. I think it’s a good thing. Because when you formulate it too much for everybody, like a happy medium feeling, that’s not fun either.
You also put shows together for My Hollow Drum. Do you have any process when it comes to figuring out lineups?
I’m working with the MHD guys, and it’s usually figuring out first who’s available and then figuring out who is at the right moment in their timeline with whatever they’re trying to do in music in their lives. Like Co.Fee
right now, I definitely want to put him on a lot more because the stuff he’s doing is incredible and he’s doing an album soon. So it’s just making sure we team up with each other all the time. Or whoever is just like really inspiring me at the moment or whoever has good ideas. We work together all the time on this stuff. It’s a team effort, like family.
So is there anything you want to do differently?
For My Hollow Drum we want to put out more records with a lot of other guys. We want to do more tours together outside of California, which hasn’t really happened yet for whatever reason. That’s another thing, we want to move it around a little bit more. I know I’m trying out some ideas with live band stuff so that should be fun, and we’re just trying to do more than what we’ve been doing.
So do you have any thoughts about your next Teebs album?
Everything’s in boxes right now, so I definitely plan on finding a new place to start the new record and plan on doing it a lot differently. Re-evaluating my set-up and kind of figuring out what makes sense for the next one, like how can I expand on the idea. Now that I have these two records, I kind of want to use less to make more. I want to use less color. I want to say boundary, but I don’t know why I don’t want to use that word.
Like restrictions, kind of?
Thaank you, Jesus. I’m ridiculous right now, I’m sorry. Ok that’s exactly what I want to do. I want to restrict what I’m trying to do and see what comes out. Make it happen.
Do you intentionally move when you finish making an album, or is that just how it’s worked out?
Yeah, that’s kind of just how it’s worked out. I know that leaving Estara was a good thing because there’re not many streets named Estara is Los Angeles, so I don’t want to get sought out. I could just get caught and it’d be a weird situation. I like to walk around, and that could be awkward.
I read at one point in your life you had a condiments table in your bedroom.
Oh man, yeah I did! Laughs
. I was super broke and living with Samiyam, and we all had our own mini-fridges or something weird like that. Yeah, I just had random shit on my little table. I had a bunch of avocados, some ketchup, peanut butter and jelly, salt pepper and bread. I kept it all on that little table.
So you went to culinary arts school right?
Yeah, I tried that out. It was like an early high school program I did for two years, and then I got a scholarship for it. I went to school for a year or so for culinary arts until I quit and went to art. I went to art history class and got so excited that I switched everything.
Do you have a facorite thing you like to make? Something involving ketchup and avocados maybe?
Laughs. You should see what I can do with ketchup and avocados, it’s fucking incredible. No, I’ve been doing a lot of whole baked fish stuff. I don’t know, it’s not very difficult, but I like making baked branzino when I have the time. And I’m trying to learn how to do some dry-rub and barbecue stuff which is pretty fun to experiment with. I’m figuring that out when I have time. And I kick ass at breakfast! Watch out for my eggs and bacon, they’re just ideal, you’ve got to check it out. I’ll make a YouTube video just for the homies.
Prince just said that his specialty is omelets, so you guys could do like a breakfast cook-off. I’ll see if I could set it up.
Oooohhhhh dang. I’m down, set it up.