US-based producer MÒZÂMBÎQÚE leads the kind of lifestyle that almost any creative millennial would aspire to - a lifestyle which oscillates between frequent traveling and the creation of art/music. Interestingly enough, this is somewhat foretelling in his sonic aesthetic by virtue of the myriads of ethnic instrumentation found throughout his catalogue, and the 'exotic' manner he arranges his percussive rhythms.
Although, his latest project How To Be Human EP released via Stereofox Records goes beyond a pleasing aural tease... Regardless of the vibe we're acquainted with, MÒZÂMBÎQÚE's intention is to reflect the feelings of hope and wonderment that he's known from travel, wilderness and solitude. In this interview, MÒZÂMBÎQÚE gets deep regarding the story of How To Be Human EP, shares some of the seminal lessons from his travels and much more.
In your early twenties you bought a one-way ticket to Zimbabwe without much thought as to what would come next, although what was your life like before you adopted a vagabond lifestyle?
I had just graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2010. I'll back up a set... I grew up in Northern California, but by the time I graduated my parents had moved to Idaho. It was great to visit them and feel like there was no one around (compared to California). I would hike, trail run with my dog, and ski by myself and just listen to my favorite music. I thought a lot and was really enjoying doing those things alone. I actually ended up managing some farmland & a property of about 700 homes - planting trees, growing vegetables and fruits, (that sort of thing) in the summer. I moved to Colorado with 2 of my friends from college to teach ski/snowboard lessons in Steamboat Springs that winter, eg - be a ski bum. It was so much fun!
Basically just riding everyday, Apres Ski around 4pm and partying every night. But at a lot of the parties there'd be these really "cool / chill" older dudes that were like, "Oh man, I was just like you 25 years ago. I came here after college and here I am 25 years later broooo!" And honestly, there's a part of that I admire, all the power to them, they're doing what they love! I just couldn't see myself still doing that in 20 years or even 5.
In general, I actually didn't have much of plan as to what I wanted to do next, career wise, and it wasn't music at this point. But throughout college, my friends and I had a taken a few trips abroad - Costa Rica, Mexico, Thailand, and I studied abroad in Cape Town. I really wanted to travel a lot before I had 'bigger' problems to worry about. And my best friend and I kept saying, "we gotta just do it... we gotta just take off and travel..." So one day I was road tripping back from Colorado to Santa Barbara with my gf at the time, and he called and said, I just bought 2 one-way tickets to Zimbabwe, I really hope you'll pay me back for one of them and come with me! And that was that - we had committed to making it happen. We chose to start in Zimbabwe because a good mate of ours from college grew up in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and was forced to leave when things were really bad politically and socially there when he was a kid. He was out there visiting friends and family and sort of revisiting his past - he's also one of the craziest dudes you'll ever meet (& now has his own Animal Planet show called, "Extinct or Alive".)
What was it about your experience in Mozambique that led you to select the title of country as your moniker?
There's definitely a long and short version of this. After Zimbabwe, I actually took off traveling on my own for quite a while. I split from my friend because he wanted to do a bunch of stuff I did while studying abroad in Cape Town. So I said, no worries, we'll meet back up in about 2 months. So I basically took a bus from Victoria Falls to Tanzania with a backpack. I ran into lots of crazy/interesting/fun/hard experiences and people along the way. In truth, one of the wildest things that happened was I ended up trying to take a boat from Mombasa, Kenya to Madagascar.
Long story short, I made it half-way to these remote Islands called Comoros. When I got there I was apprehended (I won't use the term "arrested"), kept in a cell for a day, naked, afraid, speaking none of the language, and not having any idea what was happening. Eventually, they found someone to translate & questioned me... "was I running from the USA, transporting drugs, etc. etc.?" They realized I was just a crazy kid traveling around. They made me stay at the immigration office for a week while they found a shipping boat for me to complete the rest of my journey to Madagascar.
So ultimately, I just had a lot of great stories and fond memories with both East & Southern Africa. Looking back, I don't know exactly how I stuck with the name. But I remember playing with various places I had been and the phonetic accents I could put around it. I loved the way MÒZÂMBÎQÚE was completely a mirror image of itself with the accents (2nd & 9th letter pointing left/right, 4th & 7th letter with the / on top). And it just sort of stuck!
You seem to explore a range of genres throughout your catalogue which is great as it displays versatility, though this also has the potential to polarize your audience. So who would you say you're making music for?
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Yeah, Ive thought about this a lot. When I started MOZAMBIQUE as my first "solo" project I was really into a lot of experimental electronic music - Aphex Twin, Tycho, The Album Leaf, Bonobo, Bjarki... Especially those first 2. If you listen to Tycho & AT's discography there's everything - solo piano compositions, ambient soundscapes, lofi house-y grooves, techno bangers, avant-garde electro, etc. I loved the diversity and I felt myself super inspired to make a little bit of everything. It was also super cool as I was learning how to produce, bc I'd be making a song and maybe, for example, I didn't like the the drums in it and then I'd mute them and I had this really beautiful ambient piece - and it just felt way better and more intentional than trying to forces some drum/bass groove over it.
How are you trying to make people feel, or what kind of space are you wanting to put people in after they've experienced your latest EP How To Be Human?
I want to be able to take people out of their 'usual' space. I want people to feel like there's something that can help them escape from their everyday life. Whether that's when they're on top of a mountain peak by themselves, on a long road trip, or just trying to meditate - whatever their definition of "meditating" is to them. The concept of the EP is obviously based on the insane year we've been having so far. So much has happened right now that will go down in our history books. Literally, right before the shutdown my partner and I moved to Amsterdam. This was already a big and scary move; starting over, new jobs, meeting new people, etc - then we were all of a sudden alone. Soon it was almost like I forgot what it was like to be 'normal' in society. Perspective shifts when you're encouraged to be away from people - no shaking hands, keeping distant, etc - you can't smile at someone from behind a mask! I found myself thinking, 'damn, we definitely take all these normal, everyday interactions for granted. It's just a weird feeling that they are gone. So how can we connect with others, how can we remember what it's like to Be Human to one another?'
The title is actually quite a deep one, and I'm curious to know what it means to be human to you, and how have you gone about conveying this sonically?
I really just want people to be ok. I honestly think with everything that's happened from March 2020, until now, my answers here might have been different if you asked me in June. I don't want to get political and I don't truthfully know what caused the pandemic (directly or indirectly), but I do know that there are plenty of things that "we" (as a collective species on Earth) don't do to take care of the place that we live.... does that make sense? Sadly, I think so many people have gotten further from nature and forgotten about its powers - power in terms of sheer might & strength, like hurricanes and tornadoes, but also its power to just heal us - mentally and physically. Maybe nature wants to take back what is hers - because we know she will survive without us, and that's something that can be incredibly inspiring. Have you ever swam in the ocean when the waves are really strong and toss you around unexpectedly? It's like "Whoa"! It's a reality check. We are truly nothing compared to nature.
Sonically, I wanted it to feel big and immersive, but I always wanted it to groove hard - make you vibe and head-bob, crack a smile while you're running, dance while you're cooking. I kind of followed a 'house' vibe using 4 on the floor kick drums, but tried to keep the tempo significantly slower than usual house music that typically clocks in around 120+ bpm. I also tried to find way to include nature in the backbone and groove of the tracks. You'll find varied percussion elements that are sounds in nature: water droplets, clicks and clacks from trees, birds chirping, river's streaming, and much more.
What were your studio habits like during the creation process of this project?
Well I no longer had a typical day job, so I had a lot more time to produce. Where we moved in Amsterdam is near a big lake. During the summer months I made a commitment to get up everyday, run a lap around the lake, and jump in for a swim at the end. During those runs I was listening to some of my favorite artist's Spotify radio stations and trying to both discover new artists and really observe the songs I heard that I liked. What did I like about them? What caught my attention?
I'd usually get home from these run/swim mornings with a head full of thoughts and ideas for this EP. I'd crack open the session, make coffee, and just feel like I was super inspired with creativity and new inspiration. I realized that this was some sort of silver lining from the pandemic. I was alone, I had time to think, to exercise, to listen and be inspired by music, to study and observe. It was really refreshing.
Could you please elaborate on the consistency of all the tracks beginning with the letter 'H' and how the aesthetic fits into the overall theme?
To be honest, I had already named a couple of these tracks "Headspace" and "Hugs..." and as I started to wrap up more songs, I really wanted to find a way to have the project be cohesive. I wanted it to say something and mean something more than just 5 songs in an EP. Since 2/5 started with 'H' I just started digging for what that could play into.
The letter 'H' is symbolic of home life - that made sense, I was stuck at home! It is symbolic of the flow of happiness - I was finding my own creative way to happiness in a very difficult time. Turns out theres actually a whole lot of theories and "H'istory with the letters origin. Everything from Hebrew and Sanscrit teachings have various meanings and etymologies around it, and there are dozens of spiritual, philosophical and religious terms that begin with H. In the end, I didn't want to get too cheesy or metaphysical with it... But I did find a nice way to just remind people of the simple things that make a basic human interaction positive and enjoyable. Little things, like "Handshakes & High 5s," a "Healing Touch," and "Hugs" that we can offer to one another. "Headspace," in order to remember to give yourself some of your own room to breathe. And finally "Honesty," bc I feel like we need to practice this both with ourselves and our peers. It's widely used right now to say, 'It's ok, to not be ok" but it's all too true. It's important that we open up to one another. That we learn to listen and hold space for others in need, when they need to vent. 'How are you?' doesn't always need to be answered with, "Good, thanks. And you...?"
This one is for the producers... Your sampling skills are stellar man, particularly on "Headspace". Do you have a process of finding samples, and how do you organize your sample library?
Not really. I do try to always pitch and cut/chop as much of the sample as I can if /when I'm using samples. Especially, with vocal samples - I like to put on a 4 or 8 bar loop and then just start slicing the vocal sample all over the place. Then I usually add a bunch of tracks with different pitch up/pitch downs, random echoes, or delays, etc. and I just keep playing with that until the vocal has kind of grown into it's own little necessary part of the song!
What would you say have been some of the milestones that have made the journey with music all the more worthwhile for you?
Honestly, the best thing is when someone messages me on ig or twitter and says the music did something for them, helped them through a tough time, or something like that. I had one guy write me a long note about how his mother had recently passed away, and how he ended up discovering my music and listening to on his drive and out at the beach when he was coping with the loss - honestly his message brought me to tears, partially tears for him and partially tears of confusion & joy... But still.
I'm also blessed to say that my work has been found by enough curators that it's starting to take shape into a full-time living so that is of course, quite amazing to me. I also love that the singles of this EP have recently been put on playlists with songs that literally inspired me to start producing music on my own. For example, this one.
How would you describe the music scene in your home city of San Francisco?
Honestly, I can't really say at this point for SF. I live in Amsterdam now & Los Angeles for 6 years before that. I think the scene in SF, is a little quieter than other major cities, but I know there are fantastic people doing great things there. For example, Patrick Brown from Different Fur Studios / Text Me Records in San Francisco, was the first person to believe in this project. Text Me, put out my first record, "For Never & Ever" and spent way too much time and resources mixing that for me. I was knew enough to production that I literally wasn't properly bouncing stems to the mixing engineer and looking back I can't imagine how annoying and frustrating that was, haha. But Pat has kept the studio open through the pandemic because he is a believer in music and knows it's needed right now; he started Text Me to empower artists, and offer resources that they wouldn't have otherwise had.
In LA, I spent a lot of time touring around the US, playing drums & co-producing in bands, waiting and relying on other band members and lead singers. These were all things that left me quite jaded at the LA music scene and also pushed me to focus on my own creativity and solo projects!
Okay so, 1) An artist/band you’d love to have a D.M.C (deep meaningful conversion) with 2) An artist you think would be rad to party with 3) An artist you would love to spend a week within the studio. You’re welcome to select from artists who are dead/retired.
1) Bob Marley. I honestly think he was on a level that most don't even understand. Not only musically, but politically he was trying to change the world. He was playing free/ benefit shows in Zimbabwe. I think it's hard for anyone to say they don't like his music as it is so widely universal (I'd argue more so than The Beatles). But really, I think he would drop some thoughts and knowledge in a DMC that were invaluable - and I think that bc of what killed him. On one side, think of if he had just simply taken care of his foot and lived on for many years to come - what he could've done. But on the other side, you've got to understand that he just believed everything was how it should be and that's what made his perspective so undeniably unique.
2) Motley Crue. Not for the heroin or overdosing part of it, but after watching "The Dirt", it would kind of be epic to literally not care about anything for a short time. I mean, I don't want to be a complete ass or hurt others, but they just didn't care what anybody thought of them and did anything they wanted.
3) Scott Hansen from Tycho. I just always come back to how much I love this band, the way they create, their groove, and aesthetic. I wish I could make music the way Scott does sonically. I've listened to so many of his songs, so many times that I know every little layer, intricacy, and fluid detail in the mixes. I also have seen them like a dozen times live, so I admire the way they've let their instrumental genre of music translate to the stage in a live setting - the visuals, the whole experience is breathtaking! If there were ever a Tycho-MOZAMBIQUE album or single I think my life goals would be complete.