August 21 2014

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Beauty And The Beat: MNDR’s Amanda Warner Wants To Make Pop Music That Doesn’t “Feel like Purell”


With her oversize white glasses and impressive head of thick blond hair, MNDR’s Amanda Warner hardly needs catchy electro-pop songs to get attention—an area the New York-by-way-of-Oakland singer-songwriter hasn’t needed much help in over the past few years anyway. Since releasing the band’s first single in 2009 (although Warner is the group’s face and sole live performer, she works with Peter Wade on all the songs), MNDR has teamed up with everyone from Mark Ronson and Q-Tip to Lacoste. This month marks the release of her long-awaited debut album, Feed Me Diamonds, and between the dance floor-ready beats and lyrics inspired by the likes of Marina Abramovic and Patty Hearst, it’s destined to be more than just a party soundtrack. Warner spoke with about why she still believes in the power of pop music—not to mention bleached eyebrows and vintage Gaultier.

You’ve been releasing singles since 2009, but this will be your first full-length album. Why the wait?
Basically it took a while to find the right partner, a label partner who believed in my MNDR vision. I have a really interactive light show, the gear is all custom and lights up…the MNDR sound and visuals are very much their own thing—and it isn’t a cookie-cutter thing. Just like anything else, it can be more difficult to find the right people who want to elevate that process.

In trying to avoid cookie-cutter mundanity, have you also tried to deliberately step up your onstage style?
I’ve always had very individualistic, good personal style, but I never really in my head fantasized about what I would look like as a front person. I think it took me a while; I would say just until very recently, the past six months. I’m finding what I want to look like and where I want to jump off of from that, and that’s from working with a few really talented stylists. But with music and sounds and the way I like to construct songs, it’s the same with how I want the project to look; I want it to look like its own thing, and that’s always a bit more difficult.

What led to this newfound sartorial revelation?
I’m a consummate tomboy—I didn’t start wearing makeup until a year or two year ago! I would just wear shredded T-shirts and jeans and shoes, and you see that in the early footage. I certainly didn’t do anything with my hair—that’s still a huge struggle. I was able to start being inspired by vintage Gaultier, watching Neneh Cherry videos, and seeing all this fashion that was so artistic and creative—and that was less about body type; it’s just awesomeness happening. So then I just decided to pay attention to [fashion] and study it, and now it’s a creative outlet for me.

In a genre like pop, is there still a place for women to be subversive without becoming a novelty?
Oh my God, this is the most awesome question ever—yes! I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Britney Spears and these artists. They’re so much more [like] corporations, and criticizing them is like criticizing cupcakes. Freaking out about Paris Hilton deejaying is like getting mad about spaghetti—they’re just walking brands, and that’s totally their deal and go get it. But what I think is missing in pop music is questioning authority, questioning stereotypical things in society, and saying, “I’m not going to take it.” Twisted Sister; awesome example. The Clash, R.E.M., even Boy George had songs that were critical. People don’t want everything to feel like Purell; they want something different, they want to pissed about things, and they want to [have] a fantasy about it. That’s what I hope I can do with MNDR.

So as a makeup novice, what has made a first and lasting impression on you?
Honestly, for my day-to-day street look, I rarely wear makeup. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m an every-day girl yet. But I just bleached my eyebrows and I love it! [Laughs.] I won’t do makeup but I’ll do something really extreme. Three years ago I did a really extreme undercut, or I’ll do cornrows, or Jerry Hall extensions.

You do seem to be very adventurous with your hair. Having conquered cornrows, what’s next?
I decided I’m going to be the pop girl with curls. Three years ago with the Mark Ronson campaign, I did the undercut, blunt bangs, and always had a tail braid. That was super fun, but it was just a straight look and my hair is really curly. Don’t fight it, embrace it! Everyone’s telling me to get Mixed Chicks—I’m literally going to Ricky’s [to buy it] after this call. It’s a leave-in conditioner but it makes your curls not overdone, soap opera-y, but also not a frizz bomb. I’ve also learned the art of braiding your hair and then taking it down. I randomly did this because I had been braiding my hair up and fell asleep, and when I woke up I took it down and it still had an edgy, unkempt, not cutesy but good look. And I was like, Oh, that’s how you do it. When you have curly hair it has a mind of its own.

Be honest: Are those glasses real or faux?
The glasses are real, they’re my prescription! I’m never going to step fully away from eyewear, because before I was even into pop music, I was into eyewear. When I get into something, I get obsessed with it. I found the white glasses—they’re a mid-seventies one-off Japanese brand, the detailing is super-intricate and I was just drawn to them. But just recently I found another pair that really elevated my eyewear game. They’re vintage Gaultier—I got them on eBay—and they’re beautiful; they’re the best glasses I’ve found that have matched and gone above the white glasses, so I’m really excited to wear those.

Beauty And The Beat