Los Angeles based band mmmonika is a group five friends that all happen to be incredibly talented musicians. Ryan Yoo started the band and brought in people that were friends first. One member of the band Gabe Durastanti was invited to the band before they even knew he played an instrument. Another Nick Velez is Ryan’s roommate and the other half of their alt-R&B duo Common Souls. Grant Milliken and John DeBold are both multi-talented musicians that Ryan had worked with, or known in music school and the five to them come together to make up mmmonika.
That background of the group is important because it is what I believe makes mmmonika special. Having a unique energy their upbeat music brings your mind to moments with friends. The music almost transports you to happy times at a backyard pool party, spike ball on the beach with your friends, or any number of fun memories you have.
Describing their music as “happy songs for sad people” the lyrics often include subjects around depression and anxiety that is approached in a fun way. I asked Ryan more about this and he described “I write a lot of them (songs) by myself like the music and lyrics and so they tend to be as I mentioned like the lyrics are all like very sad, sad sack type of thing. But when I am with the boys and the band is all together it’s just like the vibes that emerges is fully just friendship” That connection is something you can feel, and is contagious when listening to their music. It is something special and the music mmmonika creates truly does bring you to a happy place.
Mmmonika has an ability to approach vulnerable topics in an upbeat way, of this style of songwriting Ryan says “I suppose part of the dream is like even if it is just one person that is experiencing something similar to what I experienced, I want them to be able to be like or show them that there is somebody else that is living with that as well.” From listening I believe that dream is already becoming a reality as these relatable lyrics and creative visuals they create make one feel less alone, and make sad times happy.
Read the full transcript from my interview with Ryan Yoo from mmmonika. We talk about how to pronounce mmmonika and how they became a band, the creation and concepts of their amazing videos, singing happy songs for sad people, their new video directed by Amber of f(x), karaoke, and so much more.
I’m with Ryan from mmmonika and Ryan I have been listening to you guys all week and the music is really fun. I read on twitter that the band has three m’s because it’s extra delicious but how is it pronounced? Do you really go mmmmmm-onika or just say it straight up?
Ryan: Um well that is a topic of hot debate within the band…the majority of us just do straight up Monika. But a couple others call it triple Monika which was begun by our friend Sachi from the band Joy Again. He started that and it just kind of caught and now it’s been a hot debate. This is how religions split.
(Laughs) That is funny and so mmmonika started out a bit as a side project and is quickly becoming more. Two of you from the band Ryan you and Nick have been making music together with Common Souls and so how did mmmonika come to be?
Ryan: Yeah yeah. Well mmmonika… so it’s myself and Nick in Common Souls and basically the way that we make music is just really meticulous and with like a lot of micro production and the process is just generally really slow and arduous. So I was feeling kind of burnt out creatively and so one day I was supposed to track vocals for a common souls song and Nick was leaving the house and said “hey man you’re going to get that shit done right?” and I was like “Oh yeah yeah yeah, totally totally.” He left the house, came back four hours later and asks if I got the vocals done and I tell hime “Nah, but I made this!” I showed him the first ever mmmonika song and he told me um “hey don’t waste your time” then three days later he comes to me and was like “hey man, actually can you play me that song one more time?” So yeah it kind of just started like that. It was kind of like the equivalent for me of just like taking a musical shit after just being like really backed up. I was just thinking fuck I’ve got to do something. And so the something was to just set the bar really low, stop being a perfectionist and just go like first impulse – best impulse. That is how all the songs are currently being made and it has been just shutting the brain off and making music really.
Thats so sick and what was that first song you showed him?
Ryan: um the first song it was called bitches 1. The band was initially called Bitches and it was just me and I asked myself what describes this band? So it became Bitches but then after four more fully grown white men joined the band bitches became really aggressive so we changed it to mmmonika. But bitches 1 that songs not out yet but the second song we ever made was the first single we released which was called ‘see me on the outside!’ which was initially named bitches 2. Um yeah that was the concept at first is the band was called Bitches and every song was called bitches and we were going to make every single song five minutes in length and so if you go to Spotify or Apple Music and try to play your favorite song you’re not going to know which ones which because they are all called bitches and they are all five minutes long.
(Laughs) That is incredible. So you said you changed the name when the four other white dudes joined that band and so how did they come into the band?
Ryan: So Nick was kind of the first one that I swept into it. We live together and we work together pretty closely so it was easy enough to ask him if he wants to do this with me and that was all it was. From there, I was just thinking about who it would be really fun to do this with? Nick and I both went to music school and we know some incredible incredible musicians but I proposed the criteria of who we want in the band was like not even necessarily on musical ability it was like intuition and good feeling I suppose. Like “Who am I going to be able to spend a lot of time with and like actually enjoy it and see a relationship like budding?” It was kind of like what does it feel like when a group of people get together and that’s what I was thinking. So one of the guys in the band Gabe who is the cute one in the band. We inducted him into the band without even knowing if he played an instrument (laughs). It is a true story we were just like “Hey want to be in a band?” and he was like “sure” and it just so happens that he is an incredibly talented artist, vocalist, writer, and producer and so we lucked out there.
(Laughs) No way. That is so funny. If you guys need a sixth member I have no musical abilities but can bring an element of fun and so…
Ryan: Oh Incredible! It is great to talk to you, you’re already highly qualified.
So then how did John and Grant get involved?
Ryan: So John is this fantastic fantastic producer and I’ve known him for a little bit. So part of how John got involved is we had been hanging out and stuff, he works for this incredible producer named Ariel Rechtshaid who works for a company called Heavy Duty. So I called and emailed Heavy Duty one day and just to be like “yo I love your guys’ stuff. I’d love to work for you for free.” So they introduced me to John and John and I have remained friends since then and so when I started the band John was one of the first people I thought of to bring in because he is just a solid solid guy and in addition to be really skilled at production and having a really good sense for songs. Grant is one of the guys that Nick and I went to school with. He is actually a vibraphone player but I guess that those talents translated really naturally to the keys. He is probably the best pure musician of the group. Actually without a doubt he is. He is like fucking absurdly talented, so so good. He is like he’s pretty fluent in a number of interments. So he is not even like a double threat or triple threat he is a fucking times twenty threat… yeah! It’s a great thing.
It’s really cool hearing how you guys came together. You describe your music as happy music for sad people. What do you mean by that?
Ryan: Um all of the songs are very upbeat. I really just designed them to be like just fun and gratifying to sing. If you pay attention to the lyrics they are all like about depression and anxiety. So that is exactly what it is, it’s happy music for sad people.
I love that, and how they really are happy songs about topics like depression and anxiety and mmmonika does that really well. Not only are your songs happy but I watched all of the mmmonika videos and all of it was so creative and artistically done. I watched the one for ‘Unwind Me!’ which was also going alone with what you talked about with depression and 4 AM can’t sleep being away with your thoughts. Then the video is so fun and upbeat and you guys are throwing instruments in a pool and all of this wildly creative stuff, and even the lyric videos are very artistic. So what do these videos mean for mmmonika as well as the music?
Ryan: Thank you so much for watching and asking that! I really appreciate it. Um with the lyric videos kind of to me it is just a way of presenting the song but the thing with a lot of the mmmonika songs is I write a lot of them by myself like the music and lyrics and so they tend to be like as I mentioned like the lyrics are all like very sad, sad sack type of thing. But when I am with the boys and the band is all together it’s just like the vibes that emerges is fully just like friendship and like dry ass humor (laughs). Friendship and dry humor that’s for sure. So I feel like that is what I want to communicate with the videos is just like what it is like to be with us. Just a bunch of boys that are fun to be around. And I think all the boys are pretty cute… if presented with the opportunity I would date any and every one of them (laughs). So we just want to present what it is like to hang out with us I suppose. When I am making like those videos and shit like for me one of the biggest criteria is I want to be able to look at it and catch myself smiling because it feels like what it feels like to hang out with them and it’s always like such a blast.
So that’s that. With the lyric videos I suppose I kind of just wanted to have a concept for each one. So the very first one for ‘see me on the outside!’ I just wanted to present Nick and almost make like a dating profile for him in a way. He was telling me about Hinge and I was just like “Shiiiiiiiiiiiit I got this man. I got you.” (laughs) and that was the idea there. For the second lyric video with ‘Unwind Me!’ I don’t know what I was thinking actually. I just thought it would be funny if I just tried to do pushups like as many as I could and I just discovered how extremely out of shape I was (laughs). It felt right I suppose. Then the ‘Swamp Time!’ video was actually the first thing we ever shot for the band. The Swamp Time video and I was just thinking how John and Gabe are hard not to look at, I just want to have their face on it. The idea with that one was just make a really shitty tutorial about how to write a song like because there is like these great YouTube you could learn anything you know? So there are these great drum videos and they have like a camera on the left hand and on the right hand so you can like pick up technique. Then they have a camera on the foot and all this stuff. My idea with that one and the ‘see me on the outside!’ video was if we could make these tutorial videos that are completely ineffectual. We have those separate cameras with the close ups but they are actually even smaller than they appear in the wide shots. So the goal is to make a tutorial video that nobody can use (laughs).
(Laughs) That’s incredible. You guys are fun and funny man. I joked earlier about being a sixth member of the band and I don’t think I’m the only one but like when watching the videos it is like you guys are like five guys that I think anyone watching would be like “I want to be friends with these guys.”
Ryan: Oh man that’s awesome. I really appreciate that.
Of course and along with the videos we talked about you have an upcoming video for ‘Swamp Time!’ you did and it was directed by Amber from f(x) the popular K-Pop group. How did that happen and how would you describe the video that’s coming soon?
Ryan: Yeah Amber is like my childhood friend. We like literally decided together that we were going to go into music and just do the fucking thing. Like in her childhood bedroom we were learning guitar, learning Blink-182 songs. We spent a lot of time learning ‘Always’ from the Blink-182 self titled album. We always loved that album amongst many others. But yeah Amber is just one of the most like consistent and loving friends and also just like amongst people that I know that have been in the music industry for a long time and especially like in the music industry in Korea which tends to be like really intense and like terrifying, she is just like one of the sweetest and brightest souls that I know and so I’ve very very thankful to count her as a friend.
But Amber she like herself is kind of like a force of nature and is just like extremely extremely fun and charismatic. So like in a weird way like everything I wanted mmmonika to be Amber kind of is like her own version of that. Just somebody who is like endlessly fun to be around. So I thought it would make a lot of sense and I hit her up and it was a perfect storm of really mundane things. She happened to be in town, Gabe in the band happened to be painting his room, and it happened to be summer and just like hot as fuck still. I bought like a lake floaty, like a giant floaty that you can fit six to eight people in. We just put all of these things together and brought Amber to Gabe’s house and we all painted his room and we just built a music video around us like actually painting his room for him. We set up the floaty in his backyard as well (laughs). You’ll see all of that.
In all of your answers you have really spoken glowingly of these people and talked about these deeper sounding friendships, your lyrics a lot focus around depression and anxiety and so how have these core friendships helped you as you have been all navigating the music industry together?
Ryan: Oh my gosh friendship is everything baby. Friendship is the sauce. Like literally everything that I am doing like I for sure would not be able to do this on my own. Especially not on like the sail that I’m shooting for. I, myself, I have bi-polar disorder and so that’s like where a lot of those songs come from is like me kind of like I guess trying to subconsciously like stream of consciousness like processing what I deal with there. That is where a lot of lyrics of the songs come from. But then like I guess part of the dream is I have received so much like love and support from my friends in the band, everyone in the band they were friends like first and foremost and we all just so happened to be musicians. So like with the mmmonika lyrics like a lot of them can be kind of raw like with ‘Swamp Time!’ especially if you like look closely (laughs) it’s dark shit. But I suppose like part of the dream is like even if it is just one person that is experiencing something similar to what I experienced, I want them to be able to be like or show them that like there is somebody else that is living with that as well. And I like am able to laugh at it and I hope that it like breeds them to be able to do so. So let it be known I would be nothing without my friends. I am nothing without my friends.
I have this questions I ask in every interview and it is about karaoke. I find it so interesting what actual musicians take on karaoke is on if they do it and what their go-to song is? So do the boys of mmmonika do karaoke? and if so what are your go-to songs?
Ryan: Wow dude! That would be sick! I don’t know if anybody in the band actually does karaoke except me. I definitely do, but it is because I’m Korean and Korean people fucking love karaoke. There is this thing called nolaebang which translates to song room. It is like a bunch of Korean people just go together and get fucking blasted and just sing songs like terrible songs and sing as badly as they can. Pretty much over like the last six years I have been going and just like not singing. I think I kill the vibe when I do because I’m like a vocalist. So nobody really wants to hear me actually sing. But prior to that my go-to was definitely Kelly Clarkson and the other go-to was One Direction. Both of whom are two of my favorite artists. I love One Direction they are one of my biggest inspirations.
Oh yeah One Direction! So good!
Ryan: They are so good! They are so fucking good! Their shit is like really underrated because everyone thinks that they are boy band with shitty pop music…it’s not! It’s masterfully crafted, it’s beautifully done. But yeah so good. I love it so much. It bleeds into so much of what I do with mmmonika.
My last question is just about what is next for mmmonika? What can we expect as far as new music?
Ryan: New Music is coming very soon! We will be releasing our first EP ‘Very American’ soon. We have a second EP we are working on that we are keeping quiet for now. Then we will be dropping a full length album after that. Our goal is to have 50 mmmonika songs out by the end of 2020, and not 50 shit songs, but 50 slimy slappers.