Finding Your Voice: An Interview with French Beat-Maker Mounika.

The illusive artist Mounika. sits down with High Times for a rare one-on-one interview.
Finding Your Voice: An Interview With French Beat-Maker Mounika.
Courtesy of Magnum PR

Tucked somewhere in a small town in the west of France lives an elusive artist that, while having already generated nearly 75 million plays across platforms, rarely performs live. The enigma, a 26-year-old beat-maker known as Mounika. rose from obscurity in 2017 when he released his first album, “How Are You” onto Spotify with virtually no promotion or fanfare, and his single, ‘Cut My Hair’, almost immediately became a cult favorite. 

He came onto my radar in early 2018, as ‘How Are You’ quickly became one of my favorite albums, but through some research I learned there was not much to digest about this guy. While I was able to find out he stemmed from France, I couldn’t find anything on upcoming tours, additional albums, etc. I wasn’t even sure I was pronouncing his name correctly, but I knew I was hooked. (It’s MOU-nu-Ka, for the record!)

Through some digging I was able to uncover a few things – his soundcloud roots, a few remixes, other music I loved – but besides a few social pages it didn’t seem like this guy was really TRYING to be found – maybe Mounika. was just a form of therapy… 

Fast forward to 2020 and I get an email about a new album from this mysterious character. I immediately had to reach out to try and get this guy on the phone. Turns out this shy artist is not only extremely talented at producing, but he’s an incredibly emotionally intelligent individual who’s not only fine operating in his own lane, but he’s genuinely not out for fame. And though he isn’t one to jump on stage when the opportunity presents itself, his technical understanding and sampling abilities have made him a favorite amongst the Soundcloud community, and someone whose story I’d like to hear.

Before our chat his team sent over a copy of the new record and it’s clear there’s no sophomore slump here. The new opus, “I Need Space”, feels true to his introverted nature, while in a strange way exploring the larger, less comfortable areas of life & ourselves. Described by his team as “a melancholic and soft atmosphere that emerges step by step to provide a nostalgic journey taking us on a dreamlike and memorable stroll, swinging between happy memories and unfulfilled dreams” — which, admittedly seems a bit much to read, but is surprisingly accurate when playing back the record.

Somehow the notoriously avoidant of the spotlight star agreed to chat with me, and to allow me to share the conversation with you all. Even better, he was so kind as to provide our audience with an exclusive preview of one of his new tracks, ‘Ailleurs’, ahead of the launch of his new album ‘I Need Space’, which drops June 19th. 

Check out the transcript below, and watch the video to catch the exclusive premiere off his new album at the end of our chat.

INTERVIEW:

High Times: 

I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time, and I’m sure that there’s a bunch of people on the internet who are more than familiar with your work, but lots of people who will just be seeing you from the first for the first time. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jules (Mounika.): 

I don’t know what to say. Um, my name is Jules. I’m behind the project Mounika. Yes, that’s it. I live in France in a little city named Touille. I’m just a guy making music, that’s all.

High Times: 

When did you start making music?

Jules (Mounika.): 

Since I was really young, I love – really love – music and I think it’s thanks to my family because in my family house when I was really young, there was music everywhere. When we wake up for breakfast, in a car for the holidays, and everything like that. So, okay, we all love the music, but very, very much that there isn’t a single day without music. And it’s like, it was my father who played a lot of music. We love music and what like, it’s like DJing because you find a new album every week, and every week I was like okay, okay. And I think everything started here…. When I got into high school, I got two really good friends who share the same love of music and we try to make a little band. And we just did it. We just did it and it was very very fun. We like it a lot and after the high school when we finish this project and I start to make something more personally and more alone, that’s when I started Mounika.

High Times: 

Right after you got out of school, that’s when you decided you were all in for music?

Jules (Mounika.): 

Yeah, but it was long after high school. The name Mounika and everything like that, I want to keep this project secret. Like I didn’t ask my friends or anything because I remember my feeling at this time, I was really shy about this project. I don’t want people to judge me, all the things about that. So I just keep it for me and maybe like one years I keep it secret and after that, after it was mostly in soundcloud at this time. I started to ask people, ‘Okay, I do that, what do you think about it?’ and then we sing ourselves.

High Times: 

How was the initial reception?

Jules (Mounika.):   

Pretty cool, pretty cool, but I know, like, it was mostly friends who were like ‘yeah, it’s cool, it’s cool’ – but I don’t know what they think in their real mind because yeah, it’s friends you know?

High Times: 

They’re friends, but you have this kind of profound nature to your work that I feel like even someone who casually like you know, maybe wouldn’t normally listen to lofi or something like that can hear and immediately understand, you know what I mean?

Jules (Mounika.): 

Yeah, maybe but I’m not sure about that. Because like, what people are calling lofi now, in the beginning, we were just a small community on SoundCloud. We all know each other, we are like an underworld or something like that. And we are just small producers, and we all help each other. It was really cool at these times and basically, for me, we all make the same stuff. We are all in the same mood, in the same modality. We sometimes changed some sample like ‘Oh, use this one, use this sound’ and it was just that.

High Times:  

How have you evolved creatively since from when you found Mounika to this release you’re about to put out?

Jules (Mounika.):  

Some process, some creativity. For me, it doesn’t change anything since the beginning because I use the same stuff. Working the same way I was. I did exactly the same. I want to make the same music with the same ID. So basically, for me, I did exactly the same. What changed for me maybe isn’t is I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe I listen to more music now? I don’t really know. For me, nothing’s really changed because when I started, I used samples a lot. A lot. I LOVE digging samples. And okay, I do that a lot, a lot. A lot. What changed? Maybe now it’s because I decided to stop using samples because I want to move forward, and try something else. And okay now just maybe, to like challenge myself, I really don’t know. 

Finding Your Voice: An Interview With French Beat-Maker Mounika.
Photo Credit: Grégoire de Lillo

High Times:  

Can you tell us a bit more about your process, then? I mean, obviously you’re using a lot of electronic sounds and sampling. But I’m pretty sure I heard more than one traditional instrument. I know that you sang a little bit on this record, that you were playing piano… do most of your sounds come from a keyboard?

Jules (Mounika.): 

Yeah, I’m most comfortable with a keyboard. It was the first instrument I used in my life. I tried a guitar and drums once before and I quit early, but when I use piano my finger doesn’t hurt, and I can make something really really fast. It’s very cool because with the cable and the immediate playback and the software we can play basically every sound in the world… Something I tried here was to use my voice and yo it’s crazy! I don’t know why I didn’t get that before because, okay, I can do that with my voice, because I didn’t have a nice voice. I didn’t, I’m sure about that, but okay you can just say your word, you can pitch it, and we can make anything with that. It’s pretty cool!

High Times:   

Your range is so impressive. I mean, some of your songs have an almost light, airy, pop sound to them, and then others have, you know, clearly deep electronic vibes. I could only imagine that your inspirations are wide ranging, but when you set out to create something, are you trying to blend all those sounds? Are you just trying to create something new or, you know, how do you decide like, ‘hey, this is what I’m gonna try and do today’?

Jules (Mounika.):  

It sort of depends on the day, I think. Sometimes because I’m just in a bad mood – I’m maybe a bit introvert or shy. I don’t say that, but I can call a friend like, ‘Man, I’m bad. Sorry.’ So yeah, I just made a song because I got that feeling and I just did it. A lot of time it’s because like I got a lot of favorite artists, I was like ‘okay I want to do the same, I want to do the same as them’. It’s not possible for me. I don’t know why I just, I just can’t do that. The first artist I want to try to make the same, is his name is Ratatat. I remember it was when I was really young, the first one I want to try to make in FL Studio (the software I use). It was like okay, I want to make a track like Ratatat – I just can’t. Every time it’s coming to something else. So yeah, I don’t know I just try to make something, it’s coming that just, just falls out. I don’t know why, but I don’t want to be different or anything, I just make music like that.

High Times:  

Well, that’s that’s super interesting. So like you go after what your influences are doing, and then you find your sound in that process.

Jules (Mounika.):  

Yeah, clearly. I consider myself like a local artist of all my favorite artists, something like that.

High Times: 

Getting a bit more into your play history, obviously ‘Cut My Hair’ is what put you on my radar and although I will say that the ‘How Are You’ album at large is a masterpiece, but obviously that was a big hit for you. With almost 42 million on Spotify, 23 million on YouTube, 7 million on your SoundCloud page alone… how did that change the game? Or has it changed the game for you?

Jules (Mounika.):  

Yeah, it did. There was a big change man, because I can say the project wasn’t even a bit famous at all, so yeah, it was a change after that, but it’s funny because the track ‘Cut My Hair’ didn’t have to be in the album at all in the beginning. Like a week before the release I just sent a message to Cavetown like on Facebook, or Twitter or something like that, I don’t remember, but we talked and we were like ‘Yeah, we like the track. It can be cool. Yeah, just what is it? Okay.’ But it’s thanks to him. Yeah, thanks, man. Because yes, the track was good. So, yeah, I was very happy about that, but it’s REALLY different after that like, okay, so, there are big streaming numbers, I think I was maybe a bit afraid about that because it’s too big for me. But the change was more like ‘okay, now I can’t make anything like I did before.’ I remember when I  started making music I just put in on one, two tracks per week, something like that. I just did it sometimes. I didn’t discern the footwork, I just record it and put it on soundcloud like that and didn’t care at all and I was okay. Now it’s something like service, maybe. So okay, maybe I have to take care now.

High Times: 

How did the success from that one impact your new project? Like, here we are three years later with what I would consider another very special album. But what did you do to stop yourself from like, you know, the sophomore slump that everyone ends up falling into? Or is this just the natural progression of your influences?

Jules (Mounika.):  

Before the ‘How Are You’ album was released I released a lot of EPs and albums, so I don’t feel like it’s a second project, just a new one. The difference now it’s like, since the ‘How Are You’ album like, the project is just becoming more and more big, I just felt like I needed more people to be here because I don’t want to make any mistakes or anything like that. So I got a manager, and we just got a record together, so it was pretty cool. And I started to create a little team behind the project and Okay, we can do that, we can do that. And for the new projects like, I consider this one more like a mini album for me. And it’s the difference is like, there isn’t any sample on everything. Like there is my voice, my piano, my guitars. I tried to make something like that just to see what the reaction of the people will be. I feel afraid, afraid about that a lot, but we’re just gonna see.

High Times: 

So as you know, we’re going to be premiering your new track ‘Ailleurs’, which for our English speaking friends is French for ‘elsewhere’. Having had a chance to have dug through the album, I could see this as a fairly glitchy lofi track, with almost a meditative sound in the background. One thing I love about your albums as well, all the tracks play so beautifully together, but isolating just one can be a totally unique experience. I think this is a really strong example of that. So tell us about this track, what does it mean to you?

Jules (Mounika.): 

This song is a bit particular because yeah, it means ‘somewhere else’ or something like that, and whether they did it was a bit of a bad day. I just wanted to go away, go to the beach, to go just somewhere where I can be alone, and I just did it like that. Now, I feel something very good when I listen to it. It’s not melancholic or something like that…. Yeah I don’t know, just started feeling good, like in a little bubble or something like that. Not everyone is going to get the same thing, but for me, yeah I feel safe. Safe, maybe.

High Times:  

Being that this is for High Times I’ve got to ask: do you involve cannabis in your creative process at all? 

Jules (Mounika.):  

I tried when I was much younger I smoked some weed, and I tried to make a lot of music with it, but every time I just use one loop, and I listened to it for hours and hours and when I woke up the other day it was deserted. Now I can’t hear it. So I think it’s not for me for making music. I also realized for me, smoking was making me more anxious, so now I only smoke CBD, just to be more relaxed. Something about THC just doesn’t walk with me, but it’s okay, it’s clearly okay because like, CBD. CBD is the same taste. 

High Times:   

I haven’t been to France in years. Whats the weed like out there? I know you’re mainly looking at CBD stuff, and I guess CBD has an international trade now but like, is there a lot of stuff available? Or is it just kind of like you get what you get?

Jules (Mounika.):   

Legally, no, it’s not possible. But this year there is a big change, man. In France you can buy CBD in some shop or something like this so yeah, it’s quite cool. A lot of people, a lot of my friends smoke weed but for me I’m just not a huge smoker like where I smoke every day, it’s occasionally for me. I don’t know if it’s the same for everybody but for my friends yeah, it’s mostly that.

High Times: 

Moving away from cannabis. I feel like to get a little bit deeper, you said something earlier about how you know when you’re like, sometimes you’re not having a good feeling, you know that you just put it out and you get a track. I feel like you have a pretty amazing way of tackling what I consider some pretty big life events through music and like maybe you’re not doing that intentionally with your sound, maybe that’s just like what I’m taking from it but I feel like your music has been very therapeutic for me in the past, and I’m just curious if like if it’s a form of therapy for you, you know to create it…

Jules (Mounika.):   

When I was in a bad mood, or in a good mood, sometimes I just write some song because I need it. I got the feeling when I was with a friend and he said to me ‘Yeah, it’s like a personal diary.’ I was like ‘NO.’ And I just realized, oh, yeah. Okay, yeah, yeah, and this time I wasn’t good. So every track was that and yeah, so maybe it’s like a personal diary or something like this because when I got some, I do not know how to say that in English, but when I see what I did after, when I listen to the track long time after, I understand every time my feeling is. What kind of feeling I had when I did the track. If it’s a good moment, if it’s a bad moment, if I did something very happy or something like that, I know it’s a good day. It was a really good day. I know. It’s like that. So maybe it’s something like, I needed to be more. Like maybe, like a friend, I don’t know. When I look back before what I do, I see that in a better way.

High Times: 

It’s funny, I’m glad you said that about when you get high and like, you make something and you get stuck in a loop. Because in my experience with creating music, that’s what happens with me. I get really into like, you know, one eight bar loop or something like that. And it’s making all this sense. I’m adding all these things, and I’m having this experience, and you go listen to it afterwards and you’re like, ‘What the fuck is this?’

Jules (Mounika.):  

So many tracks like that. Yes. One loop, one loop, and when I listen, it was like ‘Oh, yeah. Okay, okay. It’s my best work ever. Okay, okay.’ Just one kick and one snare was ‘Ooh, this is a banger. Okay!’ It’s in the loop like that. No but, but it’s okay. I feel really happy when I did it, but for the music and everything when I listen to it after it’s, it’s not okay. It’s not good for me.

High Times:  

Make sense! Well listen, obviously, you know the world has kind of changed the past few months, Coronavirus has kind of come in and changed all of our ways of life. But before that, I’ve heard good things about the scene in France. Did you tour very often, do you play live? Or are you more, you know, releasing for the digital consumption?

Jules (Mounika.): 

I don’t make a lot of events and don’t go to a lot of events because I don’t feel comfortable around a lot of people. I like to make some jigs on something like that, but every time it’s not actually a good experience because I feel too stressed, I don’t feel very well. So yeah I don’t do a lot of stuff like this, I prefer to be alone in my apartment making music. I feel better.

High Times: 

I’m pretty much an introvert too, I like to spend most of my time in my house as well. So Coronavirus hasn’t changed a hell of a lot for me, the only difference is really I don’t go to the office now!

Jules (Mounika.): 

The same for me, the only difference was like I can’t take my coffee outside in the morning.

High Times: 

I’m sure you hear like about the states in madness, I know part of Italy’s locked down, Spain, but not very much about France. What’s going on over there?

Jules (Mounika.): 

Yeah, there’s a lockdown for something like two months. It’s over, for close to [four] weeks now. And so yeah, it’s cool. We can go outside without papers, so it was way way better now, but, man, it’s not over. So there’s this feeling like ‘okay, we are in danger’ – ‘we are safe now’… people don’t know.

High Times:  

Everyone just wants to forget about it…

Jules (Mounika.): 

Yeah, yeah. I think people want out, but it’s really strange because some people are like ‘yeah, it’s okay, don’t go away! We can hug, we can kiss.’ Some other people are like ‘no no no, we can not see each other,’ and yeah it’s quite strange. I hope it’s gonna be over really soon because, not for me, because I don’t make gigs or anything, but I know a lot of people and what they really prefer is to play their music in front of a lot of people. It’s what they really like, so they aren’t very good at this moment because they don’t know when they’re going to go back to their fans. I don’t know, yeah, but I hope it’s going to be over really soon.

High Times:  

So I know you know you’ve teased a few tracks now, we’ve got a track that you’re going to premiere here,  but when are you putting out the album?

Jules (Mounika.): 

This project releases on the 19 of June, June 19.

High Times:   

Has the corona virus and everything that’s going on in the industry impacted that at all?

Jules (Mounika.): 

Yes, there was an impact clearly unfortunately, because yeah, we have a team now and we all work together. But yeah, it’s weird. It’s weird because some people can go to the office. Some people can’t work at all. It’s, it was really strange because in the beginning, we were actually planned to make like a an event meant to connect some people to see the project, and we booked a lot of fans, a lot of people who actually worked on the project, to meet each other, to speak together, to more understand the projects. And okay, so we can’t do that, we can’t do that. But we can revisit, so it’s okay. I think.

High Times:  

So okay, we talked about the internet being an introvert and like you know, you staying home a lot of the time. Is that what ‘I Need Space’ means? Is that a literal request to be left alone?

Jules (Mounika.): 

Yes, for me I need space more because I am not comfortable with a lot of people and everything like this. If I got maybe just three messages in the same hour, I was ‘Okay, okay, what can I do? What can I do?’ So yeah, it’s for that, and also because there is a drawer that makes comics, he made a painting of someone in a bubble, in the space saying ‘just go away, go away’ and then ‘just wait, I need space’ in the front of the drawing. I was like ‘okay, I understand that. I feel the same’ like, lost in space. Like, I want to be around, I want to find someone, and yeah, it’s, it’s because of that that I named it like that.

High Times:  

That’s beautiful. I like that a lot. It’s another nod to an inspiration. I’m a firm believer that most of being an artist is pulling the elements that you like from all of the things that make you feel a certain type of way and repositioning it for the world. So I think that is a really beautiful way to do it. Okay, so that’s basically it for my questions – is there anything else on there that’s especially meaningful or just, you know, about the project that you want to say to High Times potential listeners, anything like that?

Jules (Mounika.): 

One thing I want to say is during the lockdown I got a lot of messages from people wanting to start making music. And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s so cool!’ Because before that, I got maybe one message per month about the subject. Like ‘I want to start. How can I begin?’ or ‘I can make something like you did with that for this one.’ And yeah, every time it’s cool, it’s good. It’s good. But during the lockdown, I got so many tracks, just so many messages about that, so I really hope all of the people are going to continue after the lockdown to make music – and there is a chain reaction during this moment, like everybody is gonna make music after it – it could be so, so cool!

High Times:    

Have you thought about doing YouTube videos or anything to kind of help introduce some of these fans who are interested? Kind of help get them started?

Jules (Mounika.):   

I thought about that one time but I don’t feel very good in front of the camera, so I can’t do that, but I got in a way different things I can do because yeah, I want to do that, but I don’t know how to do – not photos off a camera. I think I’m going to make a file with a lot of samples I made, a lot of tracks, other things, with ableton projects, fruity loop projects – people can open it and see how I use the samples, how I use the kick, the snare, everything like this. With some vocals something like this, just to understand ‘Okay, it’s easy! I can do that!’ Give people the reaction ‘Okay, if he can do it, I can do it!’ So I hope people are going to try it…. so, Yes.

High Times:  

You know, that’s that’s a really great initiative too, because one of the things that I used to think about like when I was a teenager and coming up and you know wanting to be a producer, I would say like ‘you know, I would wish that like I could just go online and find like, you know somebody here’s my Ableton project’, you know what I mean? Or just go play with it to see what the different sounds do with something that you actually know what it’s supposed to sound like, because starting with a blank canvas it’s so hard for so many.

Jules (Mounika.):  

Clearly, clearly but yes, it’s cool because now with YouTube I think it’s really nice to understand how to make music. Like, if you like Flume, some people made some tutorial showing you how to make like Flume. Okay, just listen. Just see this video and okay. There is some video people sent to me and I was like ‘Okay, wow. Wait, wait, this is really good to learn.’ So that’s very nice, because in the beginning,it isn’t all roses at all.

High Times:  

100%. I mean even, look at look at the evolution of fruity loops.

Jules (Mounika.): 

It was crazy – really, crazy in the beginning. But when I started the it wasn’t the very first release of fruity loops. So it’s quite the same as on now with the last two versions. So it’s okay. The first I remember, I don’t know if it’s the same, but the first software I use was Abelton. I don’t understand anything. I mean, I had nightmares-  it was crazy. I don’t understand. I couldn’t make a single song. And like, there isn’t the same tutorial on YouTube on everything. And I think one of the things that was cool is when I started with fruity loops, a lot of my friends were making music, only using Ableton. And in the beginning, I was like, ‘Oh, look at him, he use Fruity Loops – ahh!’ – I didn’t know anything. Now it’s beginning to be another way – like ‘you use Ableton? – ahh, ahh!’ I do understand a lot of people now use fruity loops. And I’m really happy because it’s my team. I think so. But in the beginning, yeah, people didn’t understand, like, ‘yeah, you use a toy’ or something like this.

High Times:  

I remember I remember that like stigma because it was because it was like, ‘hey, do you want to go buy the $1200 Ableton program (or figure out a way to crack it)? Or find Fruity Loops on, you know, what was it at the time, limewire? Crazy – how times change! Well, I’m so excited for everyone to hear the next project. I think it’s fantastic. Before we go though, I do want to say I think that you should maybe think again about doing some stuff on YouTube or whatever. Even if your face isn’t on camera. I think people would love to hear from you, you have a great perspective and a very, in my opinion, very unique sound that I feel resonates with a lot of people, so even if you don’t want to show your face, which trust me, I totally get I’m not a looker myself, but I always flip the camera the other way. You know what I mean?

If you made it this far, please go on any of Mounika.’s various pages and tell him you think it’s a good idea for him to start making production videos, even if he stays off camera!

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