Desolate and melancholic, Leonard Mynx's music seems to be drenched with the aridity and pain typical of the border landscapes where he sets his stories in. However, his music shows great openness and immaculate candor in the lightness of its melodic textures and in the patient finishing details of arrangements.
Following the path of the storytelling tradition, Mynx creates ballads that are steeped in bitterness and solitude, moving through winding dylanesque passages and elegiac embraces worthy of Townes Van Zandt. But the stories told by Greg Cardi (Mynx's real name), although realistic and raw, never forget the sweetness and are cloaked in a thin veil of hope.
We widely talked about it with the young American songwriter, who did not hesitate to open up his heart and showed us his definite and very clear vision of music.
You sign your music as Leonard Mynx but your real name is Greg Cardi. Do you have Italian origins?
My father's parents were Calabrian. The neighborhood I grew up in had a lot of Italian Americans as well as people of African, Poilsh and Irish descent. Italian American culture was very prominent in my youth until my father died. By then the neighborhood was changing and there wasn't a lot of clear cut boundaries between the different cultures. It was a true melting pot, that mythical American concept. I lost touch with some of the extended family on my father's side. I was his seventh son.
Why did you decide to use an alias? And where does it come from?
Leonard is my legitimate middle name. It was my maternal grandfather's name and he was a massive influence on my life. He taught me values that I feel are becoming somewhat extinct today. I have been called Greg or Leonard for my whole life, so when I took a stage name, I used Leonard as a sign of respect to my grandfather. I am not sure where Mynx came from. Some dark rainy night in a smokey bar, most likely.
How would you describe your music?
I would describe it like the neighborhood I referred to above. A melting pot, of sorts. It has a distinct heritage but picks up a lot from other places along the way. It is immigrant music.
Your lyrics are dense and emotional, melancholic and sometimes bitter. What are the themes that you prefer to deal with? Do you prefer talk about yourself or to tell somebody else's sories?
I like to tell human stories. Often times they end up being somewhat tragic, I guess. I feel like despair, melancholy, anger and loneliness are necessary emotions. Without them to contrast to, joy and elation mean nothing. I firmly believe that "sad" music makes us happier. It makes us stronger and more introspective, if we allow it too. Happy music doesn't make people happy. It just reaffirms it. Song is an incredible art form. More than that, it is a primal form of communication that reaches beyond man-made boundaries. Song is the pinnacle of expression. Folk songs, real folk songs, always made me think and feel. A lot of times they deal with stories of loss, pain, abandonment, jealousy, rage and longing, but they always have an undercurrent of hope. Hope comes from feeling those emotions. Happiness is not hopeful.One who is content does not aspire. They don't hope. Why would they? They have already achieved what hope stands for. Hope is the will of the human spirit to get through the worst times. That is what folk songs do; they may appear sad on the surface, but once we dig into them and experience them, they reveal that they are truly prayers of hope. I don't try to write songs that come out a certain way. It is up to the song. I honestly feel like I have no power over it. Once the songs reveals its intentions I merely try to not get in the way.
What kind of emotion inspires you to write music?
Any emotion can inspire me to write or play music. It can be any sensation or experience that triggers a feeling. Seeing a man sleeping in a doorway in a cocoon of blankets or the last leaf on an oak tree, flickering. Anything brings it on. I will say that, generally, that feeling comes at some of the most inopportune times. It can get in the way of living a square life and damage relationships with other people. Songwriters are slaves.
You have a long-time collaboration with Adam Selzer, and you teamed with him since the very beginning of your music career. When and how did you meet him?
The first time I met Adam was when I went in to record "Vesper". I had heard a lot of the projects that he worked on and I loved his organic sound. I was also a huge fan of Norfolk and Western (rip) and Adam's songwriting. He was really easy to work with and we were on the same page about how to approach "Vesper". We hit it off and became friends. He taught me a lot about recording and working up some interesting arrangements. he and his studio are sought out for good reason.
Have you ever talked about making a record for his Hush label?
As far as labels go, I have had some talks and offers with several but since the role of the label, whether major or independent, is less defined today than it ever has been, I just kind of plodded out on my own. I figured it would be best for me to make personal connections with people instead of sitting back and hoping that a label had the time or desire to do it. It has worked out for me so far. I am not adverse to being on a label, but it would have to be the right fit and we would have to see eye to eye. I know a lot of people on labels and about half of them are doing great and the other half have nothing but horror stories.
How do you usually start writing your songs? Does the process start from lyrics or from music? Do you write your songs on guitar?
There is no set way. Sometimes songs happen all at once, lyrics and music. Sometimes one or the other comes first. I used to always need a guitar or piano to write with, but now all those sounds live in my head, so I can kind of write anywhere.
In 2009 you released your first album, "Vesper". What about the making process of that album? How did you live the studio recording experience?
Recording "Vesper" went really smooth. Adam was easy to get along with and we had a shared vision. I made demos of the record with arrangements and and ideas and we just followed those where it worked and embellished it in places. Most all the musicians on that record were already familiar with my music, so everything came together nicely. I did as much playing and singing live, as was possible. Engineers don't seem to like that, but that is how those songs were intended. Adam was cool with it though. He gets it. That is what makes him great to work with. It only took a few days to make that record.
What were your feelings after the positive feedback you received by both critics and listeners when you published "Vesper"? What were your expectations for that album?
I was a bit surprised that "Vesper" caught on with people. It is a difficult album in its subject matter and that it is not really catchy or upbeat. I think a lot of people only listen to the first 30 seconds of a song and them move on, unless they already know and like the artist. "Vesper" is meant to be explored. It is not a one night stand. It is long romance that should be approached with caution and taken slowly. However, I was incredibly flattered that people grabbed on to it and gave it a chance. It was a strange choice for a first release, at least that's what people told me. The incredible Audie Darling helped me handpick the songs, so I guess I owe her most of the credit or most of the blame (smiles)
Do you think about music in terms of "career" and job? Do you aim to live with your earnings from music? Or do you just think about it as "art for art's sake"?
For a long time I didn't make any money off of music or even perform for people. I just did it. I would tell people that if they WANT to be a musician, don't. But, if you NEED to be a musician, then do it. Monetary failure is more than likely. I don't think of it as job. It's nice to make money from playing and recording music, but I can't see myself giving it up if it isn't lucrative.
After the release of "Vesper", you recorded more than 30 songs and a first sampler of those songs, "Le Petit Mort", came out in early 2010, only for colse friends and long time fans. What was the meaning of that release?
Originally, I planned to release all of those recordings, and "Le Petit Mort" was the first installment. But then I was sidelined and I grew past some of the songs. The small release of "Le Petit Mort" was just to give people something new to listen to. It sold out really fast and I stopped making it, so that it would have the value it was intended to have and be like a treat for those loyal to my music.
From "Vesper" to "Son Of The Famous So And So" it took almost two years. You had a dreadful car accident and other troubles. What gave you the strenght to go on? And did those events influence the mood of your second record?
"Son of the Famous So and So" was recorded before my car accident happened last year, so the accident didn't have any influence on that record. The final song selection maybe has a little to do with it. In all honesty, "Son of the Famous So and So" was an experiment. I mean, I recorded all of these songs and then really wasn't too sure what I wanted to do with them, how I wanted to group them, release them, etc. Then I had to wait on releasing them. I wasn't going to even put them out because I have recorded newer material, but some people insisted that I do it, so I did. And, I just hope people find some value in the record. That is what helps me keep going, getting emails, letters and feedback from fans.
Your new album, "Son Of The Famous So And So", has been released as a digital release. Why did you choose the digital format? What is your relationship with this modern way of sharing music? Is there still place for physical releases in an increasingly web-oriented world?
I went with the digital format because it seems to be the way people are getting their music nowadays. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. It is a test. The "business" side of music is so different than it was even five years ago. "Son of the Famous So and So" came out digitally mostly so I could get it to people quickly and cheaply. There are a lot of great websites designed for helping independent musicians share music digitally. My good friend Guiseppe Marmina turned me on to bandcamp.com a while ago. I think it is an interesting service and that musicians should use every means at their disposal to reach out to fans. However, I do hope that there is still a place for physical copies of music. I think that having a tangible "product" in your hands helps to develop a bond with with the music that the digital medium just can't compete with.
What is your opinion about sharing music on the web? Do you think it can give musicians more opportunities to be known and heard, or do you think it may damage them in the long run?
I think sharing music is very important, however it is accomplished. For ages and ages people shared music by performing it live. Then radio and video helped to share it. Granted, a lot of times the artists get royalties through these mediums, but every single person reading this has at some point in their life had a copied album or a mix tape that they didn't pay for. I think that giving people music for free is a great idea, especially if it is digital. The fact is that the internet is so saturated with music and so much of it is unregulated anyways, I think artists at a certain level should embrace the notion that people are listening to their music without paying for it, instead of trying to fight a losing battle. They should attempt to make it work for them in terms of exposure. Musicians need to find other ways to be compensated by their fans other than selling records. Records don't sell like they once did. Its just a cold hard fact. Allowing a fan to have the music for free can only be a good thing for an up and coming artist.
On this regard, could you tell us something about your "free music project"?
I started "Project Free" for the reasons I wrote above. I just wanted to get the music out to people who enjoyed it. I also wanted to know who those people were. I like to make a personal connection with all my fans. I consider them friends and I am honored and flattered that they take the time to reach out to me, so I do the same and respond to each and every email I get. Sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of typing, but worthwhile relationships don't come easy. I want people to help me spread my music around and I like to let them know that it is cool to do so. There is no denying that word of mouth is the best way to spread a message. The internet has the biggest mouth of all.
The new album has a very hypnotic front-cover. What does it represent?
I was just messing around with Photoshop. That's what I ended up with.
In your latest album (and also in the previous "Le Petit Mort") there are some songs that seem to be a bit far from your "style". What about this aspect? Are you happy with the result? Do you like to experiment with different solutions?
I listen to and love all kinds of music. If music has heart and soul, then I can appreciate it. I don't really care what the genre is. It was fun to try out some of those different types of sounds. The main reason is that when I went to start recording, some of the session players I had lined up, dropped the ball. I had the studio time booked and couldn't cancel, so I just went in and recorded a bunch of takes of random songs. Then Adam and I built around those. That is why I think that these last two releases have a somewhat disjointed and strange collection of songs. Maybe it was a bad idea, but it was still fun to mess around in the studio and try out different arrangements and approaches.
It seems that Portland has a great indie folk music scene. Do you feel you are part of it? And what are the artists you most admire in this scene?
Portland is like anywhere else. You have some wonderful and genuine people and you have some backstabbers, always looking for a leg up. I don't really see my music as being influenced by any Portland based bands or artists. I just do what I do, regardless of what the popular trend in town is at the moment. As for the artists I admire, mostly it is the ones that are just doing their thing for pure reasons and not getting hung up on the "business". That sounds like a generic answer, but it is true.
There is a classical country-folk vibe in your music. Have you always listened to this kind of music? Do you also like any kind of music other than that? Are influenced by other genres?
I have always listened to that type of music. I was a huge fan of pre-war era music when I was a kid. Nobody else I knew then even had any idea of what I was into. If I payed them scratchy old recordings of some rustic music, they all looked at me like I was crazy. I took over the stereo at a party one time when I was a teenager and played Mississippi John Hurt's version of "Stagger Lee" about 20 times. People wanted to kill me. But I listened to a lot of music. Jazz, reggae, hip hop and stuff like that. They are passionate forms of music. I never listened to the stuff on the corporate radio or anything like that. I was always drawn to songwriters. I loved writing and have written short stories and poetry my whole life. Way before I even got into music. I even wrote a novel a few years ago. So songwriters naturally appealed to me.
Can you tell us who is the artist that influenced you most?
All the obvious greats like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Prine, Tom Waits, Hank Williams, Gershwin, Neil Young, Duke Ellington, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Willie Nelson and their peers were huge influences on me when I was younger. That is such a short and incomplete list, actually. But a lot of rappers were huge influences on me too. Where I grew up, hip hop, and I mean the good stuff, was king. Everybody listened to good hip hop. Lately I have tried to branch out and explore some other stuff and I have been finding a lot of influence in it. There really is a lot of great music out there. It just lacks exposure from an industry locked into the spoils system. I never try to be like anybody else when I write. I know Kris Kristofferson and he told me once, "Nobody has to get it but you". He knows what he is talking about.
Can you name us few artists that are worth listening to? And what are your all time favourites?
All the people above are worth listening to, but that is obvious. I think, I definitely love Bob Dylan the most. And people think I am nuts, but I think his music from the last 20 years is better than most of what he did when he was a youngster. I don't think anybody agrees with me on that one. All songwriters are just feasting on the leftover bits that Bob Dylan didn't use.
As for suggestions of music, I can definitely recommend a few of my friends that people might not know about. I don't make these suggestions lightly either. Audie Darling, On The Stairs, St. Even and Tom Thumb are great artists and I believe in them and I am listening to them a lot right now.
What are your plans for the future? Are you going to record a new album soon? And will you work with Adam again or are you going to change your entourage?
I am definitely going to continue to work with Adam. We work well together and spend a lot of time together anyways, so we might as well be making records! We start on a new record in April. I have a new record already done that I recorded by myself after I was incapacitated by the car accident. I think it is the by far the best thing I have ever done. Not because of production, because I could never get the quality of sounds Adam does on my own, but because I think the songs are better than anything I have put out yet.
Do you like playing live? Any chance to see you in Italy soon?
I enjoy playing live more than anything. It is probably my favorite thing in life, besides the people I love. I really hope to come to Italy in the autumn. I am deeply flattered by how responsive and wonderful my Italian fans have been. I am trying to learn to speak Italian as well. Any advice or help that anybody can give to me would be most appreciated and I will return any favor to the best of my abilities!