“Pop music is a platform to say something. You don’t have to only talk about parties.”
If New York-via-Bay Area noise artist Amanda Warner had to boil down the thinking behind MNDR — her synth-pop project with producer Peter Wade — that might be the her mantra. The first single on Feed Me Diamonds, MNDR’s first full-length album and Ultra Records debut (March 2012), is called “#1 in Heaven.” It’s about Patty Hearst. “It captures the moment when right and wrong are so clear and money and wealth and power don’t mean anything to you anymore,” Warner says of the relentlessly catchy track, which arrives January 17th with a video directed by Cody Critcheloe, a.k.a. Ssion. She could easily also be describing MNDR’s rise from the underground.
Just three months after MNDR’s first EP release, E.P.E., (Wondersound 2010), the team had a global smash on their hands: Mark Ronson & the Business Intl.‘s “Bang Bang Bang,” featuring Q-Tip and MNDR. The track sold more than 3.5 million copies and helped introduce the world to Warner and Wade’s smart, hooky songwriting. MNDR was profiled as an Artist to Watch in SPIN, Billboard, Q, and NME magazines, performed on Letterman, Kimmel, Carson Daly, and Jools Holland’s TV shows, and took the stage at Pukkelpop and V Fest — all as an unsigned artist. Shazam named MNDR a breakthrough act and the project earned an MTV O Awards nomination. While the praise was streaming in, MNDR developed a super-energetic live show propelled by innovative reactive visuals designed by digital artist Jamie Carreiro and built up a dedicated fanbase. So when the time came to ink a deal, MNDR stuck to their guns.
“It was a really hard decision to say no to huge record deals or working with huge producers,” Warner says. “There’s a lot of passion in our music. It’s a fully thought-out idea and we fought and said no to big things to keep it that way.”
Feed Me Diamonds is the result of Warner and Wade’s tireless efforts to translate raw emotions into music that grooves without excess glitter. The pair first teamed up in 2008 after discovering a mutual love of gear, sci-fi, and cults. Warner studied classical piano and bass as a kid in North Dakota and got her start in a Minneapolis noise band before moving to California and immersing herself in rave culture. When she relocated east to design the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ touring synth rig, she met Wade, a young studio vet who’d seen it all as an in-house producer and engineer for Sony Music under Tommy Mottola.
“Early on we made decisions about keeping it dark sounding and industrial, not spit-shine pop,” Warner says. That’s a perfect description of the songs on Feed Me Diamonds, which was inspired by performance artist Marina Abromovic’s story about how her revolutionary father was supposedly murdered by ingesting ground-up gems. Glitchy “Sparrow Voices” is about global economics — “Individuals trying to break out of the mentality of just being worker drones,” Warner explains. “Faster Horses” draws its inspiration from Henry Ford’s famous quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
While there are several songs on Feed Me Diamonds about “challenging money, wealth, power and the class system,” the disc — which is being mixed by powerhouse engineer Tony Maserati (Beyoncé, Lady Gaga) — is dominated by songs with even more personal starting points, like mesmerizing “Draw the Curtains,” which explores “when sexy is dark or when you want to be dark,” Warner explains. Fans have reacted to these emotional songs in a major way, and MNDR note that not a week goes by without someone tweeting lyrics from “I Go Away.”
“There’s no apologies with MNDR,” Warner says. “It’s not always shiny and clean but it’s gonna be a good time and people really connect with the songs. We’ve found our audience and our home.”