This article appears in FLOOD 12: The Los Angeles Issue. You can purchase this special 232-page print edition celebrating the people, places, music and art of LA here.
The blonde woman in a black motorcycle jacket is scanning the aisles at her local grocery, filling her basket with essential items: a spicy bag of potato chips from Japan, some Halloween-themed Pez candy dispensers, and bottles of soda pop.
“They know me,” says the singer-songwriter-producer known as MNDR (a.k.a. Amanda Warner). The Los Angeles store is officially called Galco’s Old World Grocery, but found its true calling 25 years ago as “The Soda Pop Stop,” filling its aisles with rare old brands of soft drinks, candy, retro toys, and more. “It’s been here for over 100 years,” says MNDR. “It’s a magical place that has every beverage on the face of the earth in one awesome old supermarket.”
Into her basket, MNDR drops a bottle of Spiffy (“a swell cola drink” created in 1934, the label says) and a diet cherry-flavored bottle of Ale-8 (a Kentucky soft drink first sold in 1926). There are hundreds of other sodas from the past and present, including many thought long-discontinued but surviving as boutique items of taste and nostalgia.
“I love it here so much. There’s a lot of motorcycle culture. There’s dope lowrider culture here, great skateboarding culture, awesome punk bands, a lot of print art—just everything I’m generally interested in.”
MNDR, whose Highland Park studio is nearby on York Boulevard, is partial to an especially potent brand of “Japanese iced coffee that they bring in that is hysterically expensive. But I fuck with it way hard.”
The market is one small treasure MNDR discovered after fleeing New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and eventually landing in Los Angeles for good. She’s been settled here for nine years, and recently created her dream recording studio in one of her favorite neighborhoods. “I love it here so much,” she says. “There’s a lot of motorcycle culture. There’s dope lowrider culture here, great skateboarding culture, awesome punk bands, a lot of print art—just everything I’m generally interested in.”
“LA rips. You just gotta know where to go. You can do anything here. This is a city of creative people that are doing insane shit all the time.”
She happily relocated, even as certain friends in New York at the time dismissed Los Angeles as “cheesy.” MNDR knew better. “I was like, ‘How can a city that big be cheesy? Maybe you’re cheesy,’” she says with a laugh. “I was like, ‘LA rips. You just gotta know where to go.’ You can do anything here. This is a city of creative people that are doing insane shit all the time.”
MNDR became an accidental pop star in 2010 as a result of her featured vocal on Mark Ronson’s hit single “Bang Bang Bang,” a slippery, bouncing dance track with echoes of ’80s electro-pop. Then came MNDR’s 2012 debut, Feed Me Diamonds, and a 2015 EP, Dance 4 a Dollar. But aside from another EP and a handful of scattered singles, she spent the next several years producing and writing for other artists (Charli XCX, Calvin Harris, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kylie Minogue). Fans had to wait nearly a decade before MNDR finally dropped her second full-length album, Hell to Be You Baby, last year.
It’s an alt-pop concept album on the “dystopian reality” of life online, on social media, and what she calls a universal “cult of personality,” built on the desperate accumulation of followers. Its dozen tracks were made with her collaborator Peter Wade, along with crucial contributions from Ronson and Scott “Babydaddy” Hoffman from Scissor Sisters, among others.
“Music is the ultimate connection. It transcends religion and social status and all this stuff,” she says, before insisting that she is not a pop star herself. “If being a pop star meant the value was more about wearing stained sweatpants and never wanting to care about your hair and makeup, then I would be that at a Madonna level.”
“If being a pop star meant the value was more about wearing stained sweatpants and never wanting to care about your hair and makeup, then I would be that at a Madonna level.”
A perfect day of music with MNDR begins with quality time at home with her toddler, Violet. “She’s hilarious,” she says. “Then I bike up here [to the studio] listening to some tunes, pound two coffees, start to make music. No email, social media does not exist. Perfect day.”
For lunch, there’s Amara Kitchen on Avenue 64, which promises “alternative takes on classic dishes,” ranging from gluten free to vegan to paleo diets. In nearby Eagle Rock, there’s also Four Café, serving “high quality food. Some meat options if you want it,” says MNDR.
By then, she’s got a client or a friend over to work on some music until 5 p.m., and ends the day by reuniting with Violet for a bike ride through South Pasadena—stopping at the farmers’ market there when it’s open—and a swing past the iconic outdoor locations from the original Halloween movie. “I kid you not, I ride my bike by Michael Myers’ and Laurie Strode’s houses every weekend with my daughter,” MNDR says. “And we scream ‘Halloween!’ when we go by.” FL