Having remixed the likes of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Suit & Tie’, Tinashe’s ‘2 On’, and Jessie Ware’s ‘Keep On Lying’, as well as releasing her own albums (the latest being 2017’s ‘Lune Rouge’), and owning her own record label Young Art, TOKiMONSTA (Jennifer Lee) is one busy producer and DJ.
We spoke with TOKiMONSTA about her new album ‘Lune Rouge’, playing Laneway Festival, and her adorable cat Misha…
I feel as though it’s so important to share music with the world that’s different, something that they haven’t heard before.
COUP DE MAIN: It’s been announced that you’re coming to New Zealand next year as part of Laneway Festival! Are you excited to come back to NZ?
TOKiMONSTA: Yes, I am! Every opportunity I can get to go there is always one I’m always really looking forward to. I really like New Zealand a lot and I’ve been fortunate enough to play there a few times already. Laneway, the whole line-up is really amazing, so I’m really glad to be a part of it.
CDM: The festival bill also features Anderson .Paak who you’ve collaborated with before - is there anyone else on the line-up that you’re particularly excited about?
TOKiMONSTA: It’s kind of an awesome festival, I would say that I actually know most of the people playing, so it’s just going to be me and a bunch of my friends travelling around for a few weeks, so I’m really excited. Like, Bonobo is a really good friend of mine, the very first tour I ever went on was with him, I opened for him a long time ago. I’m looking forward to The Internet and BadBadNotGood, quite a lot of people. I don’t have the line-up in front of me but I remember just being really impressed by all the people that were playing, so I’m pretty excited overall.
CDM: Your new album ‘Lune Rouge’ has just been released under your own record label, Young Art. What’s your experience been like with your own record label? Is that level of control important for you to have in your music career?
TOKiMONSTA: I think so. It’s interesting how much music has changed over the last two years, having autonomy has made it achievable to be an autonomous artist, versus in the past decades ago, it was so important to have a big music label behind you in order to be successful. But the main joy I have in owning or being a part of my own label is the platform I’ve created to really push other artists and this other kind of musical muscle I get to exercise, it’s not just me as a creator of music but me as a curator. That’s been really exciting and I do get to have the autonomy and control and all those things with my releases, but now I get to go and find artists that I really love and like and share them with the world too.
CDM: How involved are you in the day-to-day running/signing of new artists to Young Art? I know you have two other artists at the moment...
TOKiMONSTA: Yeah I’m always looking, but I think I have quite high standards as well. I love a lot of artists but I don’t necessarily want to put a lot of artists out. I feel as though it’s so important to share music with the world that’s different, something that they haven’t heard before. It can be difficult to find that but I do have artists that I have found that will hopefully come out soon in the pipeline. I do think I’m very involved in the A&R-ing aspect - finding artists, and the signing of them. But in terms of the logistics, the paperwork, and the stuff that involves a lot of reading, I don’t do that. <laughs> I get more control over the aesthetic and the creative aspects. I’m really fortunate to have a friend who is my label manager, so he manages the label, and me and my manager own the label. So I have a lot of help in that regard which is great because when you have that help you can really have a well-functioning label that serves itself and the artists that are on it.
CDM: It’s quality, not quantity!
CDM: Where do you find new music?
TOKiMONSTA: A lot of different ways, it’s still kind of old-school, you know when you tell your friend and your friends like, ‘Oh man, I just found this song on Soundcloud,’ and, ‘This kid, or so-and-so’s younger brother.’ A lot of times it’s still word of mouth where you’re like, ‘Yeah man, this song is super popping,’ or whatever language that you want to use to say that you’re excited about someone. I always get stuff from friends of mine. For me, myself, I find a lot of artists from when I’m on the road, sometimes I’ll be playing shows and I’ll have local people who open for me and are super cool, I’ll try to get their information from them and try to look up their music and hear more, delve a little deeper in research and stuff. It’s kind of like the way anyone finds music - sometimes I’ll just find music on Spotify or sometimes I’ll find music through friends, sometimes through shows, sometimes through bumming around on the Internet some way. It all depends.
CDM: Do you have a favourite song on ‘Lune Rouge’?
TOKiMONSTA: It’s kind of like saying, ‘Do you have a favourite kid? Do you like me, or do you like my sister better?’ I like every song in different ways, I would say they’re all really unique. I guess the song that is particularly meaningful to me would be this song called ‘I Wish I Could’, that one is quite personal just in terms of the kinds of difficulties and struggles I had prior to making this album, I think that song to me was the sign that I was able to continue to create, and every other song on that album came together after that one song. That song was the very first one that ended up on the album, although I think it’s like the fourth one down on the tracklisting. Yeah, all the songs are all like my lil’ babies, I like them all, so I can’t really choose. <laughs>
CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
TOKiMONSTA: I guess, timelessness. There’s tons of good music, but for me a great song is the one where two or three years from now I’ll still go back and listen to it. It will bring back memories and it will be really special and all those things. It’s not super specific, but it’s definitely a good sign of what a great song could be.
CDM: As well as your own work, I love your remixes - your Tinashe ‘2 On’ and Jessie Ware’s ‘Keep On Lying’ are my favourites. How do you approach a remix of an artist, and do you approach it differently to your own original work?
TOKiMONSTA: I always try to flip it. My whole thing is that the song is already presented in a certain way, so I want to see if I can present it in a different way. With ‘2 On’, the original beat, it’s kind of vibe-y, it has a trap vibe, it’s almost kind of a little deep, vaguely, not exactly... I don’t know if that’s the exact way to put it. My version of it is pretty upbeat and I definitely made it into something that’s a danceable kind of song to some degree, I tried to make it into something new. In ‘Keep On Lying’, that’s another clear example of the exact same thing. Her song is a beautiful ballad and I just wanted to see what else I could do with it, to present it in a way that it wasn’t originally presented. I have a lot of fun doing that, it’s almost like reading it in a different light, seeing what you can do when you take a song and make it sound different but almost make it sound like its own original song.
CDM: Is there anyone whose music you’d love to remix that you haven’t done previously?
TOKiMONSTA: I don’t know. I’ve had lots of opportunities to-- I mean, at the end of the day you can remix anything. Whether it’s a bootleg remix or whatever, but a commissioned remix, I think if there was ever an artist I wanted to remix I would find a way to make it happen. It’s hard to say, I can’t really answer that question, I feel like I’m being put on the spot, I can’t think right now. <laughs>
CDM: Can we please take a moment to talk about your cat Misha, who might be the cutest cat I’ve ever seen in my whole life. How long have you had Misha for?
TOKiMONSTA: Misha turns five this year! So, he’s kind of an adult now but he’s really funny, he’s kind of this amazing weird animal-cat. I’ve never actually owned a cat before, I’ve only ever had dogs. He’s my first cat, I love him and he’s so silly. I FaceTime with him all the time! I mean I still miss him, but it’s necessary. I have to make sure that he doesn’t forget who I am.
CDM: You’ve said you want all your albums to be like a novel - is there any type of novels/literature that you enjoy reading most?
TOKiMONSTA: As of right now, I would say blogs. <laughs> I mean, not typically in the past, this is me in the moment. I’m a really big fan of [Haruki] Murakami, he’s an amazing author. It’s always really interesting too because he writes very linearly, so you don’t really know what direction he’s gonna take with all the novels, and all the stories are pretty existential and pretty trippy if you think about it a lot. Sometimes I’ll sit there wondering what the symbolism is and then later on I’ll read an interview and realise that there is no symbolism, he’s just writing about things. I’ve always thought that was really interesting, but he’s one of my favourite writers. I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of his work too. My previous album was actually somewhat based on ‘Kafka On The Shore’, just like the ideals in it. He’s a writer whose work I constantly stay up with. Otherwise I usually read in phases, so I might not read a book for months and then I might read like ten in a month.
CDM: If you were to curate your own music festival, who would you want to play and what would the festival be called?
TOKiMONSTA: Oohhh, let’s see. I’m going to have to think about this! In terms of who I would want to be playing it, I guess maybe just the people I like. I like watching Beck, I would have Mount Kimbie at my festival, I would have Vince Staples at my festival. I’m kind of picking random people that I’m listening to right now specifically. I would have Missy Elliot and Björk at my festival, people that I could just watch. It kind of sounds like Laneway with the line-up!
Watch the 'We Love' music video below...