After undergoing two brain surgeries, losing the ability to speak and having to relearn music composition from the ground up, it’s fair to say most people would indefinitely postpone their music career. Then again, most people aren’t Jennifer Lee, better known by her stage moniker TOKiMONSTA. Instead of giving up, the Los Angeles-born producer and DJ went on to release a Grammy-nominated album and embark on a globe-spanning tour while operating her own label, Young Art Records, which is now releasing its second compilation featuring artists from around the world.
“The ‘Young Arts Sound’ series is a project that means a lot to me,” Lee says about the project. Young Art launched in 2014 with the release of Desiderium, Lee’s fourth album under the TOKiMONSTA name. Since then, the label has expanded, releasing music from the likes of Anderson .Paak, Jesse Boykins, Gavin Turek and more. Putting out compilations allows Lee to flex her non-music production oriented muscles. “I get to showcase my talents as a music selector. Moreso, it’s me using my influence and access to help raise and showcase up-and-coming artists — artists I think should be heard.”
Schön! spoke to two of the musicians featured on the compilation: RYAN Playground and Rosehardt, both of whom, Lee says, are “amazing producers and singers… I met them on chance encounters and knew more people had to discover their music. I’m so glad I could get them on my compilation.”
- RYAN Playground
RYAN Playground, whose real name is Genevieve Ryan Martel, contributed the song “Luminaire” to the latest Young Art Sound compilation. Martel hails from Montreal, Canada, the city where she still resides. She brings her warm vocals and knack for intricate beat layering to the compilation, creating a moody yet utterly infectious track.
When did you start playing the guitar, and when and why did you start experimenting with sampling it in the way you do today?
I started playing the guitar at five years old. My parents gave me a mini electric guitar and I instantly loved it. Since then, I never really stopped playing, except maybe for a year or two when I started RYAN Playground. But at some point, it just seemed more natural for me to pick up the guitar again and sample myself.
Talk a bit about “Luminaire.” Who or what were some of your inspirations during the making of it, and how did they shape how the final track ended up?
I’ve been really into dance, house, and techno music for a little while. I think “Luminaire” is a perfect example of how my present and past musical influences shape into a song. I was also very inspired by a very special relationship that evolved somehow slowly but perfectly. This song is about this evolving emotion of feeling [at] home – that’s why I called it “Luminaire.”
What are your go-to spots in Montreal to eat, to hang out, or just relax?
My girlfriend and I really like going to restaurants. I really like this Italian restaurant Barroco; it’s very cosy and the food and drinks are tight. I often hang out at Marusan too; it’s my friend’s restaurant and it serves amazing Japanese food. We also often end up bringing a couple of friends and turning the place into a late night party. It’s really just a fun place. Also, my favourite ramen spot is Tsukuyomi – every time I go I’m excited to go back. It’s too good.
What’s one of your favourite songs on the compilation (that’s not your own)?
“Systems” by Robotaki is huge; I hear some vibrant, Jon Hopkins kind of groove. I also really like “Itch” by Sam von Horn and Danny Goliger – very moody and deep. which I always enjoy even when I’m not moody at all. I love the bass riff, very simple and powerful.
Caleb Eberhardt, the real name behind “High Hopes” writer and performer Rosehardt, pulls from places of both darkness and joy on his contribution to this Young Art Sound compilation. With soulful vocals and glitchy percussion, “High Hopes” is a danceable track sure to ignite your summer. Label head TOKiMONSTA has since remixed the track as part of Red Bull’s Remix Lab.
You’re not only a producer and singer but a Broadway performer. How does that part of your life influence your productions?
Well, I’ve only been on B’Way once, so far [Choir Boy, by Tarell Alvin McCraney]. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a play based in music, gospel music to be exact, a cappella gospel music to take it further. I’ve always been influenced by that style of music, so being able to learn arrangements and harmonies at it rawest form definitely gave me more motivation to implement that into my own sound.
Songs In The Key of Solitude, which was released this year, told a story across the album. Do you come into a song knowing the story you want to tell, or does the story form later?
For SKS specifically, the individual stories in each song informed the thread of the album the more and more I wrote… Obviously, when one is going through something like a heart-wrenching breakup, all the stories tend to form a bigger theme on their own. So the simple answer is probably both.
Give us a little background about “High Hopes.” Was there any specific person or event that inspired the track?
There was one woman I’d had an interesting back and forth with…we hadn’t been intimate yet, at the time I’d written the song, but our intentions with one another were obvious. The only thing that kept our impulses at bay was mainly my reluctance to be intimate in that way so soon after a breakup with someone I loved tremendously. So I wrote “High Hopes” as a way to tell this person, “I can see all the effort you’re putting in, and I’m trying my best not to lead you on, but I may not succeed… don’t hate me. I’m hurting and don’t know how to manage it.” This was before I started going to therapy :
What’s one of your favourite songs on the compilation that’s not your own?
I really love Strange Froot. It’s so crispy and groovy.
words. Braden Bjella