Interview: mini bear Talks Songwriting, Synth-Based Pop, And The Importance Of Keeping It Kitsch

mini bear is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter / producer Lauren Kop. The synth-based pop project marries a traditional take of the form to a forward-facing awareness. The result is a metamodern mix of sensibilities that carry themselves lightly on the dance floor. Employing a shrewd lyrical sensibility, and exploring contemporary culture with a heavy pinch of heart, mini bear never strays too far away from the kitschy magic of classic pop tunes.

popbollocks caught up with mini bear to discuss her approach to craft, how she retains the human touch, and just what is the difference between sparkle and shine. Goodness, we love this artist.

mini-bearSally Arnet: What is it about synths and drum machines that appeal to a student of classical voice training?

Lauren Kop: Studying classical music, specifically voice in a traditional school structure made me feel very boxed in. I didn’t really start unlocking my creativity, until years after I graduated. I started getting more into synths, drum machines, and drum programming, and I liked that there are an infinite amount of sounds that you can come up with. I really liked the idea that you could manipulate sound really easily.

popbollocks: Aside from the vocal tracks in your music, your work is almost entirely electronic. However, it retains a large heart. Tell us how you maintain the organic elements.

Lauren Kop: I think it’s important to have that human feel in the song so that you can connect with some kind of emotion. I do my drum programming in Ableton Live, and I utilize grooves and other techniques which gives it a bit of a human swing and feel so it doesn’t sound so rigid. I tend to record and play out all the synth parts for the whole song rather than using loops over and over again. Even if it’s a repeating melody, recording the entirety of it gives you the opportunity to play with varying degrees of expression. I also feel that analog synths can be incredibly organic because you have the ability to essentially create sounds from scratch.

popbollocks: You taught yourself synthesizer and drum programming. Do you have a favorite instrument, and can you explain how it features in your songwriting process?

Lauren Kop: My current favorite instrument would be my Roland Juno 106. It’s a classic synth and old Roland Junos are really easy to program and are very intuitive when it comes to synthesis. It’s an excellent synth to start with when you are learning how to synthesize sounds. I got that synth shortly before writing my newer songs and I became quite obsessed with making my own patches, so you’ll hear it all over the place in new music that I put out.

popbollocks: Rock bands often noodle around with blues structures and production techniques that remain pretty un-evolved. When electronic artists employ familiar structures and tones, they’re called ‘nostalgic’. Do you feel like you have to work harder to show the more forward-thinking aspects of your work?

Lauren Kop:It can be frustrating to be labeled and boxed in because that’s what people tend to do. But to be truly creative, you kind of have to create based on what you like vs what people project onto you. It’s boring to write the same way all the time, so I think I am always intuitively pushing myself to evolve as an artist.

popbollocks: For all the heart and intimacy that you share via mini bear the project avoids sentimentality – how much editing goes into achieving the balance between internal and external themes?

Lauren Kop: I’m actually a very feeling and sentimental person. Despite all the themes surrounding disillusionment, I still tend to gravitate towards nostalgia and love. I think being sentimental is what makes us human. I try to reflect the project and who I am as authentically as I can.

popbollocks: The nature of synth-heavy dance music is that lyrics can oftentimes be overlooked. However, mini bear lyrics are just as nuanced more traditional ‘singer songwriters’ would deliver with acoustic guitars. Let’s use “cyberlove” as a talking point – can you speak us through the lyrical composition on that track – and how you go about refining the tonal approach of ‘pop’ when dealing with complicated, or even desperate circumstances?

Lauren Kop: With “cyberlove”, on the surface the lyrics are pretty straightforward when you read them on paper. But if you listen to the tone of how the words are spoken/sung, there is a deeper meaning. For example in the pre-chorus, “Do you want me? I swear I’m not the one” – It’s a tongue in cheek play on wanting to be wanted by someone, but recognizing that they can’t be “the one” when there are hundreds of options at their fingertips. It’s sung from a place of insecurity. With pop music, I appreciate when the lyrics are really simple but written in kind of a cheeky way and the tone of how it’s sung has the ability to communicate a deeper message.

popbollocks: In “cyberlove” you outline some experiences of using dating apps. Is the world truly fucked?

Lauren Kop: There’s definitely some disillusionment there, and I think that swipe culture can sort of dehumanize us in a sense. But I will say that I have had the ability to utilize social media in a way where I can connect with people from all over the world, and people still fundamentally want to connect. Despite all the craziness of the world and the fast paced nature of the internet, being human means the fundamental need for connection.

popbollocks: What is the mini-bear live experience for you – how easy is ‘performance’?

Lauren Kop: the mini bear live experience is probably the most important part of mini bear for me because it’s the realest way that you can connect with people. It’s pure joy and 100% feelings and should always be fun. The world is incredibly dark right now, and I think pop music has tended to gravitate towards being an inclusive and safe space where you can joyfully be your true self. Performance is both easy and hard – easy because you are just being authentically you but hard because you’re also at your most vulnerable state.

popbollocks: Can you speak a little on how you view the responsibility of the artist?

Lauren Kop: The artist’s responsibility to themself should be to speak their own truth. But I also think that being an artist in the times that we’re living in now holds greater weight because you have an even bigger responsibility to provide visibility to those who are marginalized and oppressed. The artists that I personally connect with use their voices and platform to promote inclusivity.

popbollocks: You clearly have a fondness for some of the kitschy aspects of pop culture. Please can you differentiate the difference between the metaphysical concepts of ’sparkle’ and ‘shine’. 🙂

Lauren Kop: Hmmmm that’s a good one! Sparkle and shine are in the same family, and are just physical representations of different internal aspects of your energy. One thing I really love about kitsch pop culture, is that you don’t have to take things so seriously. You can be truly authentic and your best sparkly/shiny self. 🙂

Check out the sweet video from mini bear’s 2016 tune – “Tecnhopoly Conversations”



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