Teebs Artistry in Melody
Published Apr 08, 2014L.A. based producer Mtendere Mandowa, a.k.a. Teebs, has been making soft waves on the beat music scene since his idyllic debut release, Ardour, in 2010. Finding a home on Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder label, Teebs has been left to craft a niche sound that falls somewhere between cheerful ambience and skeletal hip-hop. In addition to forging new sounds, Mandowa is also an accomplished painter, with a number of art shows behind him. Ahead of his latest album E s t a r a, we caught up with him for a chat about art, found sound, and his recent collaboration with glitch pioneer Prefuse 73.
Your new album sounds a little more live than your earlier stuff. Did you use any instruments for the recording or is it purely samples?
There's a lot of live stuff involved. I used a lot more keys myself and then I had some friends join in — Shigeto [Zachary Saginaw] on drums on a certain track and also Lars [Horntveth] doing a lot of bass clarinet, guitar and things of that nature.
So you're obviously open to working with musicians, would you ever consider incorporating them into your live sets?
Yeah, definitely. I'd love to cover some of the songs and see where that takes it. I know it's been done and it's always interesting to see how that works, so I definitely wanna try that out... hopefully pretty soon actually. I'd ideally like to have some people from the record try this stuff out live, like Shigeto, who I mentioned earlier, he's from Detroit, a really good drummer. And Jonti, he's on one of the records, I'd really like him to be there. I also have a friend Ages, down here in L.A., he's a really good guitar player and a really good producer in his own right so I'd love to do some work with him.
I noticed there's quite a few collaborations on E s t a r a, how do you find the creative process when you're working with other people?
It's fun, you get to learn new approaches that you never really thought about. It's always interesting having more pieces to the picture that you're trying to make, and getting a new side of it. Then you take it home a bring it out some more, it's a really great process.
So was it just as fun collaborating with Prefuse 73 for the Sons of the Morning project?
That was interesting! I mean that guy is really all over the place and on top of that he's kind of a genius, so when you're around him in the studio things just happen amazingly fast, you really get in the zone and start working. It was a good experience for me.
To be honest, the EP sounds more Teebs than Prefuse. How did you guys split the workload?
It was pretty 50/50. When most of the record got made it was at his studio in New York, I flew down from California to his place and we stayed in his place for like six days of just non-stop production. We'd get up at like 7 a.m. and work till about 11 p.m. every single day. We made so much material, made so many demos that we just took the pack that felt right as our introduction sound, which became the Sons of the Morning record, but we have a lot more recorded that leans more on the Prefuse, old-school beat style. We're just trying to plan out our releases I guess. There a lot of demos just hanging around, that are on completely different idea paths.
Seeing as there's a lot of everyday noises in your music, do you just hear something and get inspired to start making a track or is it more of a methodical process than that?
Yeah, I just hear it. I'll hear some sound, record it, freak out about it a bit. I'll take sounds and really boil them down to their elements and turn them into something that they were never intended to sound like, so by doing that I get a lot of really freaky samples. Tons of it is just around-the-house stuff.
Living in sunny L.A., do you think your environment has had any influence over your music?
Oh definitely. When I made that record, the house that I was living in had these bay windows, these crazy huge windows where my room was so it was like a sunbath every morning so it was pretty crazy. Sometimes it was annoying but still interesting having that light always with you, so I definitely think that it shaped the sounds
Would you consider yourself more of a painter or a producer?
Neither, and little bit of both.
Do you find that there's any correlation between your art and your music at all?
Yeah, totally. It all comes from the same place. If I'm making music and art around the same week, it's all gonna sound and feel kind of similar, but I really don't more strongly towards one or the other. Shit just kinda happens, you know.
You're music is very layered and your art looks pretty layered too, is this something you've done intentionally?
Yeah, I think it's just something that I gravitate towards. I like to communicate with items. It's all probably sub-conscious but I think that's just part of my nature.
How do you feel about the term beat music, do you think it aptly sums up your style?
It's super vague but I'm into it. I like the fact that there isn't a strong box I can be put in. It's like saying something like "nature" you know, It could be anything, but we're all ok with the term. Because it's not very definable you have to just listen to it.
Are you going to be touring the new album this year?
Yaeah, that's the plan. I'm definitely going to do a North American run and definitely a European run for sure and then a few Japan dates with Brainfeeder.
Any plans to come to Canada?
I want to. I better be comin' there. I'm actually trying to bring an art show to Toronto so we're working on that in the summer time. Hopefully I can bring that and maybe play some music at the show too. Don't worry I'm gonna be out there, all around Canada.