Whether people who know of perfectly topical project MNDR realize it or not, the group (made up of Amanda Warner and Peter Wade) has become one of highbrow pop’s most respected acts in nearly no time at all. “Once I moved to New York and started writing pop music, and then put some stuff on MySpace, everything started happening really quickly,” says vocalist Warner, the face of the group. “The next thing you know I was touring, and then I did a song with Mark Ronson, and then he asked me to join [his supergroup] The Business Intl.”
Rooted in an experimental, underground aesthetic, MNDR’s first forays into pop music (including the stirring “Cut Me Out” and the party-friendly tracks on their first EP E.P.E.) clocked in a fair amount of attention and high praise from critics, but it wasn’t until a short time after E.P.E‘s release, when Warner got on a track with super-producer Ronson, that things began to happen on a grander scale. “Bang Bang Bang” from 2010, a summer anthem also featuring renowned rapper Q-Tip, earned Ronson his fourth top ten hit in the UK, and became a huge stepping stone for Warner, who rapidly morphed from indie upstart to one of the most exciting artists around.
Soon enough Warner was asked to tour with Ronson, alongside other buzzed-about acts like Spank Rock, Phantom Planet’s Alex Greenwald and The Drums’ Jonathan Pierce. Warner was busier and more popular then ever, which, although great, also posed a problem. “There wasn’t a block of time for me to write an album,” says Warner. “I had most of this album done two years ago, but I’ve really been touring for three years straight.”
The album in question is the recently released début LP Feed Me Diamonds, so named after performance artist Marina Abramović’s father, who according to Abramović herself, passed away from swallowing a number of ground-up gems. The album, a shimmering soundscape paired with Warner’s pitch-perfect tone and addictive phrasing, can hardly be perceived as one that was made sporadically over the past three years—songs like the Patty Hearst-dedicated jam “#1 In Heaven,” the dreamy ballad “I Go Away,” and the hard-hitting “Fall in Love With the Enemy” all seem to be cut from the same musically innovative cloth.
“I just approached pop music like it’s for everyone—it’s all-encompassing, so I wanted to dive into themes that people can relate to,” Warner says of the album’s objective. “This album in particular was a very emotional record written during a very emotional time in my life.”
Certainly something that fueled those feelings (and prolonged the process) was the lack of labels willing to leave the album untouched. “I was absolutely shocked,” Warner says. “With a label—or without a label at some points—I was making records and putting out music and touring, but there’s a point where labels really can elevate what you’re doing, and it was coming to that point.”
MNDR stuck it out, eventually partnering with Ultra Records, whose roster includes dance royalty Deadmau5 and Calvin Harris. “Pop music is just not an art form where the artist has a lot of say,” Warner adds. “It’s just not how it works, at least in the major label system.” Regardless of any label pleas, MNDR chose its own approach to making a record. “I just kept listening to what the fans liked and we kept getting more fans all the time,” Warner notes. “So anyone that wanted to change it, I just said no. I’d rather take a bet on me.”
So far the bet has paid off—MNDR’s next step is a tour with Duran Duran. “It’s such a huge compliment because they don’t need to bring anyone with them at all,” says Warner of the iconic band, who personally sought out Warner and Wade for the set of US gigs.
A career milestone like this certainly brings about a moment to reflect. The biggest change Warner has experienced since her hit with Ronson? “When the project did start connecting, I just wanted to make music—I didn’t have any large goals, like, I want to headline Coachella or something like that,” Warner recalls. “So it’s been a very surprising and awesome, like, Whoa, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Feed Me Diamonds is out now from Ultra. MNDR plays the Revel Ovation Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Saturday.
Photography by Matt Salacuse.