Berlin’s Mogli isn’t shy about using her music to share her struggles with mental health.
The multi-talented artist caught the world’s attention in 2017 when she released the album Wanderer, the soundtrack to her Netflix film Expedition Happiness. While the movie and accompanying album were inspired by the natural beauty Mogli witnessed while traveling around North America for eight months in a converted school bus; her latest EP Patience marks a shift into Mogli’s inner world. The result is a collection of emotionally driven tracks that are as beautiful as they are haunting.
Recently, we caught up with Mogli to talk about her first North American tour, her latest EP, and how her different artistic outlets inform one another.
We know you just started touring for the first time in North America on your “Mirrors” Tour; how’s it going so far?
Yes, it’s my first tour in the U.S. and last night was my first show in New York. It was so cool. It was so exciting because I didn’t know how the audience would react, and the crowd was really amazing.
There are some very cinematic elements to the music in your latest EP Patience. Where does that come from?
My first album, Wanderer, I wrote on a trip I did from Alaska to Mexico, and I also shot a movie about it called Expedition Happiness. I converted a school bus to an RV within three months. I ripped out all the seats and rebuilt everything with my boyfriend, and then we traveled in it for eight months. I had my guitar and my piano with me on board. I was so overwhelmed by the nature I found in Alaska, Mexico, and Canada that it really inspired me to write songs. It was so beautiful for me as a musician that I had the chance to show my fans what visually inspired me to write these songs. They could travel with me, make my journey with me, listen to the soundtrack for Wanderer, and see what inspired my music. I think that really made a difference for me also to have such a huge part of creating a vibe and the feelings.
My EP was really inspired by visual aspects. The visual side is also really important for emotions, I think. My music is all about creating emotions and vibe and feelings. I just love to be creative, so I love all the visual aspects, and I think that’s what I hear in the music. The cinematic graphic elements are not just visuals; they’re also feelings.
You’re very open about mental health and your own struggles in life. What was it like writing songs that are so very personal and then performing them onstage in front of a crowd?
I actually said something last night at the show about that. I said that it’s so beautiful that I write these sad songs, and they’re very healing to me because they come from a dark place. I go on tour and take them with me and share them with people, and that actually makes me very happy because it’s so beautiful to see a room full of people that listen to the music. I shared that last night that it’s just a very beautiful thing that sad music can make you happy. And actually, I always listen to sad music and it never makes me sad. It always makes me happy because it makes me feel something strong, and I love the feeling. And working with them also I would have to say it was really healing this time because I just went to the studio and I didn’t think about what I was going to create.
How did you begin the songwriting for Patience, and what was the recording process?
It wasn’t like I started out, okay I’m going to do an album or anything. I just went into the studio with very close people. Even though I had offers from other producers to work on a new album, I was like, no, I’m going to choose to do it with the people that I’ve already worked with. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t. I’m happy with them. And they know me really well. Part of my art is to make myself as vulnerable as possible. I wouldn’t let my guard down if I was working with someone else. We just created something on the spot. It was very intuitive. We just started writing from scratch and didn’t leave the studio until the song was finished.
So you did all of it in the studio, nothing in advance?
No, I do all of it in the studio. I will have like an idea in my head, and I will record it in my phone. I then take it to the computer. Or I have a lyric planned, but that’s very rare actually. I go into the studio when I feel like I’ve got something to say. It’s a very abstract feeling. I can just feel that I’m going to have output from the lyrics—like I can feel my emotional center is inspired by something or triggered—I don’t know, but there’s something there. And then I just go with my producer friends, and we’ll just grab one instrument and create a sound. That’s why I have to write music in the studio. I don’t like writing music with just the guitar. It doesn’t make sense to me because sound is such a big part of my music, so I feel it’s very crucial to songwriting.
I could write a completely different song if you do it with the same chord structure on the piano or a guitar. So that’s why I go to the studio with two of my producer friends. I alternate between them. I produced my album with both of them. I go into their studios, and we just start making music. That’s with one chord. Then I improvise melody. If I’m happy with the melody, then I start writing lyrics on the spot also. We don’t leave the studio until the song is done. I mean sometimes we change something later, but we make crucial song decisions in the early process, but it’s very close to the finished song. Then we let it sit there for a couple of weeks and go back in and maybe add some things or do a new vocal tape or something like that.
How long did the whole process take?
The EP recording was done in February and took about a week. I actually started making the music last summer. I didn’t have a plan, but I was starting to write music for a project that I knew I wanted for an EP or an album. And Patience was meant to go on the next album, but then I pulled it and recorded it and put it on an EP because I didn’t want to wait any longer.
When is your album coming out?
That’s going to be a long way. I just released the EP so I have some time. But I’m to the studio after the tour in July and probably be finished with the album in Autumn. Then it’s going to be like a year until it’s released as I’m going back on tour. So 2020 is going to be a big— a tour and releasing my album.
And what you had said about the visual side and the cinematographic aspect, I’m going to record a music video for every song on the album. So I need the time to really create something that I’m really happy with and proud of. I will start doing that after the tour. I will go to the studio and finish the album and then really concentrate on like all of the aspects of an album release. I know that part is really important to me, so I want every song to have a place.
You started singing in an opera house at 11? What was that like, and how did that opportunity arise?
I was always singing. I started singing at a very young age, actually. I would just hum along when my mom was playing music. And from then on, I basically sang all day because it felt really natural to me. I literally did it all day, and if I didn’t, that usually meant that I was in a bad mood or I was becoming ill. If I didn’t sing for one or two days, that was a sure sign that I was ill. I always loved choirs and harmonies because it was really frustrating for me as a kid that I couldn’t sing several lines at the same time because I loved harmony so much. And then at the age of 11, I was in school, and I would make my way home from school on my own. It was a five-minute walk, and my mom wasn’t there that afternoon. I saw an article in the newspaper in school that the National Opera in the city was auditioning for their children’s choir that day. So I took the underground to the opera and went to the auditions. I didn’t have any song prepared, so I sang an old folk song that my mom taught me. They said yes immediately. So I got accepted. I went home, and my mom came home, and I said, ‘I’m singing at the opera now.’ And she was like, ‘What?’ I told her I read an article that morning and went to the audition, and they accepted me.
Were you classically trained at all or just your natural voice?
No, I wasn’t. It was just my voice. I was always really intuitive, but I learned something there. I didn’t get classically trained there because we had over 50 children, so it’s not like you get individual attention, but I obviously learned a lot there. I sang there for at least seven or eight years in the choir, and I also had solo parts. I did it after school, so it was kind of like a second home. I’m still friends with the girls I did that with.
Growing up, what music were you listening to at home?
My mom listened to Bach and Mozart and stuff like that because she studied the flute and the piano, so classical. And then a lot of the Beatles, because we loved them. Then there wasn’t really a lot of other music around. It was like we created it ourselves and sang all day and played the piano. So we didn’t really listen to music that much.
When did the guitar come into the scene?
That was later. I started with the piano because there was a piano in the house. That was the closest thing I could use for songwriting. So I sat down at the piano at age 7, I think it was, to write songs. And then when I was a teenager, probably around 13 or 14, I was like, okay, I need a guitar also. If we were on holiday or at a friend’s house, everyone would be like, ‘play something.’ And I would say, ‘where’s my piano?’ So I bought a guitar.
What was that first guitar?
It was an old Western acoustic guitar with steel strings, and it was really big — way too big for me, but I loved it so much. It had great sound because it was so big.
What guitars do you play?
I only play electric, and I play a Gibson ES335.
You’re a singer, filmmaker, actress, clothes designer; how do your different artistic outlets inform one another?
I think they really do inform one another because they’re all really personal to me; that’s why I’m so involved in doing it. I have a beautiful team. I’m the art director in a way that I change who I work with and what I want it to look like or sound like or feel like. I have control over what I share with the world, and I really like it to be out of one hand so you can feel like there’s a taste of every universe.
So for example, the colors I used in my press pictures, they’re the same colors I’m using in my light show onstage, and they’re also the same colors of the outfit I’m wearing on stage. And that’s another example, I provide a really bold song, and then the individual responsible for the clothing will go for that bold outfit that I maybe would’ve been too shy or uncomfortable to wear, but it definitely happens. And then the other way around too.
The more confident I grow as a person, the more specialized my taste gets. By that I mean, the more comfortable I get with my taste, that inspires everything—my clothes, my style, my lighting, everything.
I just think it’s a natural development that when I grow as a person, I think my art grows with me. I also have topics that I’m really interested in so that informs each other. I try to be as sustainable as I can. I only wear fair and sustainable clothes, and that goes for my merch as well. All of my merch at my shows is all fair and sustainable and ecological: Bomber jacket, shirts, and more. They all say Patience.
So basically, it all comes from one person so I think you can feel that. That’s very important to me.
Also an advocate for female empowerment, what is your advice to young women who hope to work in the music industry?
One tip to anyone would be to really focus on your songwriting until your one hundred thousand percent happy with what you’re doing and only then start approaching people because once you start releasing stuff people start listening to what you do, and you can’t take that back ever. And before you ever release something, no one’s waiting for you, so that’s actually a luxury. People always feel time-pressured, but no one’s waiting for your press release. I think it’s really crucial to wait until you’re so proud that you can’t stand not to release it. And then start talking to people and approaching it to people because then they will catch your passion and only then you also have a chance because I think it would be very cool to have your sound already and just dial in what you like before you start working in the industry.
And to girls, I want to say that, of course, it’s a man’s world, and it’s a man’s industry, and sometimes you need to toughen up to be there and to have conversations, but also not to forget to focus on your strength. I don’t think all the successful females in the industry are really good at acting like men. I don’t believe that. I think they have different strengths. And different things they’re good at, and they should focus on them. Not to get frustrated when the industry is very male. Just focus on what they’re good at and just target on doing that.
Contributions by Samantha Stevens