As I was in the midst of my research for this interview, I came across a piece of information that struck me by complete surprise. I impulsively yelled “NO WAY!” when I discovered Benjamin Plant/Mild Minds is also the founder of Funk Pop Indie group Miami Horror. However the path that led him to start with his solo project Mild Minds – which sounds nothing like his band I should add – is not only a journey of self-discovery, but also of re-discovery to what makes one deeply connected with art.
I was instantly transported to back to this feeling I felt towards music before music became my career. It immediately reminded me of why I got into music in the first place and what I loved about it. It was a major reset.
Even though Mild Minds was started with the intention of letting go and having fun with music once again, what I find crazy is that within 2 years of its inception, Ben was nominated for a Grammy. In that time frame, he also released his debut album MOOD via ODESZA’s Foreign Family imprint. The project borrows from Lofi-House, Downtempo and Electronica to mold a lively yet introspective listening experience. In 2021, he seems to lean more towards the deep and introspective side and his recent single “MACHINE” is a shining example. In this interview, Mild Minds breaks down the story behind “MACHINE”, his thoughts on the Australian music scene, and much more. As you have read through, have a listen to his latest single "HAUNTED" - a soul-stirring soundscape that sees Mild Minds tap into his trademark blend of driving synths and captivating vocals.
When you were younger you attended film school, and with that being said I'm quite curious as to what led you down a path of pursuing music as a career instead of film?
Basically there was a looming idea that none of us would have jobs and it would be an extremely hard way of life (as the teachers kept reminding us) as well as being expected to work for free. Meanwhile, music and DJ’ing were working so easily and you’re treated with much more respect. I’d started releasing remixes and small things and was already being asked to tour internationally so I simply followed that path.
It’s very impressive that in the span of 2 years since starting Mild Minds, that you were nominated for a Grammy. How was your Grammy experience like?
It was fun. Just to be able to have some kind of reward or acclaim like that for the first time in a few years felt nice.
As Mild Minds becomes more popular do you ever fear that it might turn into a project that feels like 'work'? You've mentioned in your talk with Tycho that you essentially started the project as a means of escape and experimentation.
I mean I do notice elements of that already, however every song has started in the right way and I just have to continue to remind myself of why I started this project. I’ve wasted many years chasing my tail so I have no desire to fall back into that too easily. This is something everyone should consider in life, it's important to take that step back and remind yourself of what is most integral to your purpose.
What was going on in your life when you made MOOD, and how did those particular life events influence the creation process of the album?
Around 2017 I started to look at things differently, for a while it had felt like I was simply chasing my tail in music, trying to fulfill expectations of others and always behind schedule etc. Which isn’t a great place to create from. So I took the year slowly, rebuilding the tools I make music with, etc, and started to remember what it was like when I first started. I.E. not a job. So I simply started trying to have fun and create from that childlike naive place again and without allowing as many outside opinions. So it helps to isolate yourself to really get into that zone.
MOOD has been described as "a nine-track Lofi dance masterwork, taking influence from human progress, technology, and biology into the album". In which ways do you incorporate those three ideas throughout the project?
For me, it was about thinking about concepts and themes and then creating the music or abstractly relating them to the sounds. With the track "Dopamine", I tried to make the synth in that song breathe, like literally breathing like a human by opening and closing the filter of the white noise. The song was dynamic in tempo too like the human heartbeat.
We've been really enjoying your recent release "MACHINE" over here at Stereofox! How did the track come about and what was the most challenging aspect during its creation?
Thanks, the original track was an instrumental but the label and I wanted to add some vocal chops, that probably took more time than the whole track itself haha. Otherwise a relatively straightforward track.
When "MACHINE" came out, you posted a picture on Instagram with quite a questionable caption... I'd be very keen to hear your thoughts about how we're inevitably headed towards a future tech dystopia, in which the human experience is forgotten.
I think we’re already partly there, the way we interact is not the human experience I grew up with and certainly not the way humans have lived for most of their existence. Machines already make decisions for us, our behaviors and social life filtered through digital lenses. Algorithms predict what we want better than we know ourselves sometimes, with all the data collection that will become more efficient and more extreme to the point where almost every variation in human personality and behavior will be predictable and manipulatable through tech. Tech has also changed the way we build and what we can build, so the places around us and our cities change too. For me it's sad to think as each generation is born, they lose part of the human experience the generation before had. Many positives come with it of course, it's more that it is going at breakneck speed compared to any time before the last century. We don’t really have the chance to assess the effect.
What you like and what you don't like about the Australian music scene?
I do love the idea of scenes, as their integral to developing certain genres. However I wouldn’t say I participate very much in the scene side of it anymore. It was really fun when I was young and a very distinct scene, however Australia specifically always felt like a hypercritical place (maybe only in my mind). I'm not sure it's that healthy sometimes, I see many artists eventually give up from some bad criticism or a heavy seed of doubt that was planted - but often the most vocal critics can just be really unhappy people with nothing to show, which means it can be hard to gauge a realistic opinion on your work. So that's the negative of any scene, there are always people who want to bring down anyone breaking out of it.
I think Australia, especially the radio and industry love to always be onto the next new thing, but that takes priority over quality a lot of the time. That can be good and energetic when you’re like 20 years old, however, it gets old pretty quick and really amazing art, locally and internationally is completely overlooked. You can see that by how some artists are huge around the world but have been choked in Aus. Along with the fact we have many successful bands in Australia that not many people know of. That to me shows some level of inconsistency that can be broken down. Sure we have our own culture, but I don't think that's what's impacting those differences.
You've mentioned that Daft Punk and David Bowie have been a massive influence for you, though it's quite tough to pick that up as your music is very different from theirs. What is it about those artists do you admire and would like to emulate?
I mean I’d say that a long time ago. I wouldn’t say they’ve had much of an influence on this project other than wanting to keep a high level of visual art attached to it. The thing with influences is you can kind of compartmentalize them given what you’re working on, so I had a whole new batch of influences on this record and project, things I never thought would be an influence like nontraditional and broken beats. But that's the beauty in old things becoming new again. In reference to why I like those earlier artists you mentioned, I think their vision was key they were grandiose and well-executed.
What's an area in your craft where you're feeling unsure about and really looking to improve on currently?
I think if anything I often fall back to fairly similar song structures, it's common these days with DAW’s to just copy paste, I’d love to be far more experimental with structure, magic moments can exist when a song flows naturally and works outside of the normal structural cliches.