Jennifer Lee (aka TOKiMONSTA) has been a staple in the L.A experimental beat scene since the release of her debut album Midnight Menu in 2010, and the success of follow-up releases under the tutelage of Flying Lotus and the Brainfeeder family. Lee’s third studio album – Desiderium – has just landed, showing off a potent mix of her “freewheeling, stoner charm” while also “wielding a heavy sonic arsenal”. We caught up with Lee in NYC while on her Desiderium tour to pick her brains about the new album, working with Brainfeeder and how best to get kicks in L.A.
When did you get in to NYC?
I got in today, flight left at 6:00am so I’m a little tired! I took a nap at 5pm.. But the adrenaline is definitely kicking in now.
Can you give me a few words on the new album – Desiderium – that might set the scene for anyone playing at home?
I mean, I don’t really want to put the album into a box, into a category, but I think if you like electronic music and things that have feeling and soul to it you should try giving it a listen. I don’t know, I don’t want to be super specific because everything is interpreted differently by different people.
I mean even between those two albums in themselves there’s a difference with the writing. On the Brainfeeder album I was going for a very specific sound for them, you know? I wanted to be warm, ethereal… even other worldly with Creature Dreams.
For Midnight Menu, there was no specific intentions behind that album – I just wanted to make music that I felt like making…. and with the new album I feel like it’s sort of an extension of Midnight Menu in that sense where I just wanted to make songs that I really enjoy the process of writing. I just wanted to make songs that made me happy and hopefully did the same for some other people out there.
So did you feel with Brainfeeder that you HAD to create a certain kind of album?
No, definitely not. It’s more like “I have an opportunity to really challenge myself to go into a different head-space” but in the best way. All albums are curation – I’m constantly making music, it’s just which one’s am I gonna pick to end up on a certain release. With Brainfeeder it was like “I like what we’re going for”. Plus I sat with FlyLo and he was like “let’s go through your tracks and see what really speaks”, he wasn’t overstepping any boundaries, I wanted his opinion. In the future I hope to do another release with Brainfeeder, that’s not something you close a door on – people have a very weird understanding of the whole Brainfeeder thing.
Can you give an outsider a little perspective on Brainfeeder?
We’re just a crew of people who are like-minded individuals. A few of us ended up on Brainfeeder, a few of us on Alpha Pup – at the end of the day we’re just people who grew up together, listening to the same kind of music, playing the same types of places… We have fun!
Are you guys still tight?
We’ll do BBQ’s and Pool Parties, smoke weed and Jam. I think now compared to before all of us are so much busier than we used to be, which is a good thing. Before I went on this tour I went to go eat with Samiyam, TEEBS and a few others in Koreatown (in Los Angeles). We had… It’s hard to explain… a kind of Korean Izakaya? It’s not quite Izakaya because that’s a little more food centric, more of a gastropub style which is more alcohol centric, but the food is still delicious.
And what about Low End Theory, how much of an influence has it had on you personally and professionally?
It set the standard to me as a club – it’s one of the best curated clubs to last this long. I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to play so many curated clubs and you know they don’t always last… They change, or they re-brand, but Low End Theory has been going steady for so long and hasn’t had to change a thing.
Is there a reason for that?
There’s such a lack of club nights that are like that…. you can go one day and it’s The Mars Volta playing, or the next night you can have Thom Yorke come in and do a DJ set, you can have FlyLo come in – you can have local rappers… It was the first venue I was really excited to play when I started. Gaslamp (The Gaslamp Killer), Daddy Kev, DJ Nobody.. all those guys were so open minded and unpretentious. There’s no green room so artists can’t hide there – you have to participate in and with the audience. The people who attend Low End Theory are very respectful too, they won’t hassle you.
It’s a lot more high-profile than it used to be but the nature of it hasn’t changed.
Last question. It’s Saturday night and your back in L.A – how do you get your kicks?
Just in general? Well.. when I get one day off I’ll chill out and watch TV (laughs) but when I go out and I want to have a non-fussy night with my friends I always go to Koreatown. I like bringing all my friends out.. We’ll go from one Korean bar to another and after a certain point – they don’t serve alcohol in L.A at 2:00am – but somehow we’ll find ANOTHER bar and kick on. I call it “stationary drinking” because you just sit and drink, and after a while you can barely get up! I did that this week so I’m a little tired now..
The best thing about Koreatown in L.A is that it’s still like the Wild West, it’s not tamed yet. It’s policed but it’s almost very insular and super cool because of that. From growing up in and around Koreatown, to be able to take my friends and share that experience with them, It’s a lot of fun.
By Michael Wilkin. For Supper.