A simple ‘420’ steel number plate greeted me above a heavy door with an assortment of brass locks that held the creative watering-hole for Los Angeles locals, Mind Monogram. Synced with perfect timing, I was let in by frontman Edgar A. Ruiz as he opened the door to walk-out. The space was full of gear, ideas, and 4 individuals who carried a vast amount of weight that propelled them into a successful platform for 2016.
The ceiling-glass, dream-pop band, originally cultivated in the head of Ruiz in 2014, collectively grew to like-minded creatives Christian Caro, Bryan Mejia, and recent addition, Billy Azurdia, where they now teeter totter on the realm of splitting genres, humble roots, and an unclassified sound resonating from their interpretation of time.
“Can I sit here, or should I be over there?” I asked aloud, referring to a back-pack on a seat. An empty chair was to my left, yet I hesitated until the band became situated. Water bottles were strewn across a wobbly wooden accent table that divided myself from the members on the couch, and became a focal point for wandering eyes- besides the over-sized mirror that laid behind their heads.
“Yeah, go ahead,” Caro swiftly replied. He removed the clutter from my feet and made his way towards the couch, where soon after Ruiz followed. Mejia was to my far right and casually continued drinking, as Billy and Caro finished up a conversation.
“Yeah it was, umm I forgot how, wait no I remember, it was an ANDFAM video, that live session, I found that somehow and then I couldn’t stop listening to “Through the Looking Glass,” Azurdia reflected back how he first stumbled across the band. “I went to a show they were playing, just to go listen to them, and talk to them afterwards, and they were really nice dudes…and now I play bass for them.”
An obvious allure in sound and potential that Azurdia saw and heard was mimicked through the band’s growing base, especially this year. Mind Monogram embodies a hit or miss quality- a sign of a unique craft that is ahead of our time. Ironically, the dream-pop band expressed constantly that everything they are releasing is old.
Not only was their sound constantly evolving, but the comfort within their own skin became more apparent on stage. Caro began to tell me, “I feel like that’s (being comfortable) been a slow evolution too, and I think it’s gonna continue. Like it’s not just gonna end; there’s a lot of room to grow.”
“When it comes to the sound I think we’re still digging through. Still figuring out where we’re at,” Mejia says.
Caro then turned his direction away from me and focused it on Mejia, raising a slight hand to further explain his point. “Well I think we have like a bass sound but we’re just trying to progress, just as musicians individually and as a band.”
Despite having an obvious battle with time, it somehow doesn’t exist the moment they create. In anticipation for their recent release AM in the PM, out tomorrow, October 7th via Aagoo Records, there seemed a modest lack of excitement from Mind Monogram. Not in the sense of lack of appreciation, but the humble notion that they were on a different sound-wave- always wanting to do better.
“Just because this album is a step-up, doesn’t mean it’s current,” Ruiz explained.
AM in the PM can trace as far back as 4 years ago, yet still manages to be fresh. Recorded in 2015 with ex-bandmates, Richard Delgado (bass) and Julian K. Withfield (drums), the band’s album release still didn’t mirror their live performances, which led to many changes during sets to keep the music “exciting” for their audience.
Since AM in the PM was pushed back, the band’s constant need for “new” led to their self-release EP this year, Maüs, which sonically drove them into a different playing field, and sustained the space between albums.
“The thing is that it’s old..it’s old,” continued Ruiz, “we’re playing catch-up.”
What echoed was a constant dedication to beat time.
“I change up the set, personally my parts, because the songs are fuckin’ old,” laughed Ruiz.
With a vast amount of material on deck, there seemed to be a never-ending struggle with “catching-up” and accepting what is old. Caro then absorbed Ruiz’s words and broke it down into a clearer stream comparing their new material, past albums, and satisfying the live aspect.
“…I’m choosing my words carefully,” laughed Caro, “I don’t know. I think we’re catching up in a way to our current line-up, I guess. Because even Maüs, Richard recorded bass for that, and when Billy joined, or when Bryan joined, they brought their own flavor to the mix.
“I feel like Richard and Julian brought their own vibe to that album (AM in the PM) and even the process was a little different. I know we discussed that we kinda take away, like we record the bootleg version (on our phones) and we take it home and work on it, that (AM in the PM) was more of a jamming process. We would spend hours in the studio, kinda like jamming on the songs, and some of the songs came together pretty quickly, but they definitely brought their own vibe to it. Our mentality was right after Moments in Time, so it was, we were kinda trying to develop that sound.
“Then Julian brought that kind of electronic drum vibe to it and gave it a kinda chill, but gentle and hazy vibe to it with our styles and stuff. I think it stands differently because Jules and Richard were part of it and brought their own styles to it…like Edgar said, I think after this album we’re gonna be caught up.”
It wasn’t only time they were trying to beat, it was themselves. A constant need for “more” or as Caro put it, “a true workaholic state of mind.”
Mind Monogram’s conceptual and simple approach leads the grounded beauty within their work and live performances. As each member constantly strives to be a better version of themselves there seemed to be a common theme from album to album; it doesn’t fit in with time. From “accidentally” falling into conceptual themes, and absorbing each member’s influences, Mind Monogram’s gift was just a mere reflection.
“We’re not trying to stick to the same sound or whatever, and that’s the main thing with the new stuff, so that’s what I mean by playing catch up. I think by the time something else drops it’s not gonna be even related to it, to what we’ve put out, especially this being super late, being stuff that’s almost two years old. It doesn’t really reflect where we’re at. So that’s probably why all the songs are different, right?” Ruiz stated and asked as he turned to get approval nods from the band.
The 8-track album might not reflect where they’re currently at, but reflects where they’ve been; a notion that seemed to be forgotten. AM in the PM pinpoints towards a lost affair between beauty within the dark cosmos through experimental and cohesive sounds. Tracks like “Senses” and “Real Slow” are unlike anything we’ve heard from the band, and compliment the sweet disposition of “Elephant Swing.”
The Up&Up Live Session
Echoes of other bands rehearsing slowly seeped into the studio throughout our hour talk. Touching on a comparison to Tame Impala from a past publication, the band seemed to all resurface their running gag.
“I think it’s so easy to bring up comparisons to Tame Impala, so now when I hear that I don’t take it seriously,” said Mejia.”I mean, our neighbors sound like Tame Impala.” The room filled with laughter as Mejia finished his sentence.
“What’s that Spanish band that plays next door? ” Azurida asked his bandmates as they all pictured who he was referring to, “Yeah, they sound like Tame Impala.”
“Straight up banda!…oh look it’s Tame Impala,” laughed Mejia.
“Is that Kevin Parker’s new project?” Azurida mocked.
From one day, to the next, the array of emotions and feelings soon seemed to come out the moment the band finished up their live session of “AM in the PM.” Closing in on the release date true colors emerged, touching back on the release.
Ruiz would have a difficult time explaining what he saw, thought, and felt, always leaving the music to speak for himself. From starting this project as a simple idea, now playing with a full band seemed impossible at the time, since the creation first emerged.
“I was just doing it as something for myself, whether it was gonna be released or not. I would be happy to put out a song or two. I mean, to actually have a band now to where people actually wanna hear it…I don’t know man, it’s kinda like, I don’t know. It’s a very satisfying feeling in that sense. I’m having a hard time trying to answer this. It’s just weird, maybe because I’m in it. It’s not as of late that I was feeling that people really actually vibe to the music- It’s just weird. I don’t think I could really wrap my head around it, I don’t think I’d ever could… I don’t know.”
The closest way to discover the answer would be to witness the band live, to soak within their celestial and hazy vibes. Constantly changing their set, striving with their workaholic nature for more, Mind Monogram’s focus pointed to delivery.
“You can’t half-ass a prayer. Like go into church and say ‘Catch you Sunday God’…no, you can’t. You can’t do that for a show either; you can’t fuck it up,” Ruiz would explain later to me.
There was a slight laugh in his response as if he just pictured what he said, always second guessing his words.
Caro and Ruiz seemed to finish each other’s sentences, both agreeing how you “appreciate the moment” but ultimately you move on- “there’s a time and place for everything” as they explained their excitement, but choose to not dwell too long on the current state.
“We got a package of vinyl that came in last month and I was staring at it for about an hour and half just…this is the first time I’ve ever been on vinyl. It’s a big thing and it’s pretty huge,” explained Caro.
“Where in that hour and a half did you decide to send us a picture?” Mejia jokingly asked.
Caro laughed, “Yeah. It was within that hour and a half for sure.
“Just I was just staring at it, I don’t know, it’s just crazy, like that’s what I always wanted to be on a record and now it’s there. So now it’s like ‘OK I climbed that mountaintop and now there’s that other mountain top’…(just) playing catch-up everywhere.”
Mejia chimed in on the excitement. “I’m pretty stoked that AM in the PM is going to roll out ’cause I think it’s gonna, in a way, put us on a bigger platform. I’m more stoked on what’s going to happen after.”
Through the background noise, I became more hard of hearing and asked for them to speak up a little more.
“Oh yeah, Tame Impala already showed up,” Ruiz casually stated as their neighbors began to practice.
Drifting off topic, the only constant in the band’s agile mind were their intentions to their audience.
“I just feel that people think bands are dicks, or musicians are dicks and you know,” explained Caro. Touching on past experiences where he encountered unsettling musicians, a point that he specifically wishes not to be like.
“I wish I could be a dick all the time,” said Mejia.
“You’re just socially awkward,” laughed Caro. “Just kidding, there’s a difference.”
A trail of one-liners followed and soon we drifted off topic again. Mejia brought everyone back to their center and expressed how he wanted to “see local bands become solid in their craft and have direction,” commenting on how much he enjoyed their practice.
Staying relevantly quiet throughout the duration of the chat, Azurdia began to express what he wanted people to get from their music. “I want to get people high off of music drugs…I think beyond that, have people relate. You’re successful if you can make a thing and someone is like ‘that’s how I feel, that song is how I feel….'”
Each member agreed and began to touch on Azurdia’s words. ” I want to help people get through stuff. I think that’s what music does to a lot of people, it helps people get through…stuff,” stated Ruiz.
Casually Caro said “moments…in time,” justifying Ruiz’s statement, and adding to the running gag of the night along with Tame Impala. Caro’s one liner became the “drop mic” moment, which followed by Caro jokingly stating, “I’m out guys, that’s it.”
Through the humor the seriousness seeped out as Ruiz continued on the same topic.
“It’s like a soundtrack to your own life. Whatever you want to envision it, so maybe when you hear something at some point like (when) you hear it again, it’s gonna take you back to a certain ‘point’ …whatever you feel like, you binge out on it because it makes you feel good, and someday to bump into somebody and they’ll be like ‘dude this one album like that was fuckin, great.’ Personally that’s what music does to me, or bands I would pay to go see live or just stay afterwards and talk to them and just tell them ‘thanks, thank you,’ and if it means anything to them it’s worth it.”
“We’re being honest ’cause we are. We wear our heart on our sleeve and we don’t try to fake anything at all, we’re just trying to be ourselves as much as possible,” explained Caro, “and that’s a scary thing for a lot of people, to be honest, and to be vulnerable.”
As the puzzle pieces finally began to fall into place, I thought I was ahead of the game, mentioning an album that would follow AM in the PM. Smirks appeared on their faces as they casually glanced over and informed me that it was going to be something else. Stopping time through my eyes, seemed to translate into grains slipping from their hands. The only question that seemed to come out was “why?”
With a half-smile, embedded within a serious posture, Ruiz stopped playing with the threads of his pants and simply said, “Because we’re playing catch up…that’s why.”
AM in the PM, out tomorrow via Aagoo Records.