Mtendere Mandowa, better known as the Brainfeeder's beat protege Teebs, lives and works in a space that seems to be an extension of himself. It's a small, mellow little spot in Glassell Park, nothing flashy. In the living room there is a turntable, lots of art, and live harp music floating in from the next room.
It's not what you'd expect from someone who's sophomore album Collections 01 is critically lauded and whose story of sharing an apartment with Flying Lotus and Samiyam is now part of L.A. folklore. As for Mandowa himself, he's diminutive, charming, laid-back, and candid in conversation about the tragedy in his personal life and his music.
“I did all the art for my album covers, for this one and for Ardour, my first record,” he explains, pulling out a vinyl copy of his latest. “It's great to be able to visualize an extension of the tracks.”
His art, much like his music, is brilliantly layered — both melancholy and almost violent at times. “Collections is meant to be a sort of sonic bridge between Ardour and [my] next record. It's called 01, so it's the first in a series. If I can, I want to do one in between everything I release.”
While he was finishing Ardour a couple years back, his father passed away. Before he knew it, the record was out and he was getting attention from NPR and a given doting Pitchfork review. “That was such a big bang,” he says, making the sound effect of an explosion with his mouth. “It was an interesting clash of emotions. Everything that could happen was happening all at once. “
“Since more time has passed, I get it more. I can actually look back and say 'That's what that whole year looked like.' Its always going to be flowed back into my music. I think some of the tracks on Collections are better understandings of what happened in the past. ”
In the middle of our conversation, he suddenly gets up and pushes open a bedroom door to reveal a beautiful woman jamming away on a harp that's twice her size.
One of his track loops softly in the background, as she records some plucked notes over it. He introduces her as Rebekah Raff. “We've been creating some great sounds together lately.” She looks up, smiling wordlessly.
Raff is part of a growing Brainfeeder family, whose patriarch is Flying Lotus and whose progeny include Ras G and Thundercat, who put out the excellent Golden Age of the Apocalypse earlier this year. Mandowa became part of that family after moving into an apartment with Samiyam and FlyLo.
“I just saw him at shows,” Mandowa remembers, “and then he was like 'Come hang out' so I did. And then he was like 'Come live with us.' At first I said no because I was living in Chino Hills and I didn't have the money for the deposit, but he kept asking me so eventually I did it. He was really persistent.” One suspects Lotus, as Mandowa affectionately calls him, must have seen the artist's innocent talent, which so far has proved to be incorruptible.
Mandowa seems to think of all of this as quite normal. Later, he stands at the local taco truck casually talking about how he is going to play shows and show art in China next year. It's clear that he is unfazed by celebrity; his sense of validation begins and ends with what he creates.
When the lady at the counter gets his order wrong and hands him a plate with what looks like fifty tacos piled on it, he replies in his quintessentially Teebsian manner: “It's no big deal.”
Teebs and fellow Brainfeeder artist Ras G at performs tomorrow night, Dec 23 at Bassface LA