If you want to feel inspired, Axel Mansoor is your guy. Never had we (or I actually) had such an informative and really thought provoking interview as Axel’s until now. For someone who at a young age had no thought of making music until his brother hit him with the idea, Axel’s career could have been totally different from what he’s doing now. We’re saying, he could have been a graphic designer. Graphic designer… To musical artist? It doesn’t seem like a typical “career path” but keep reading into our interview below and learn more about Axel Mansoor. You’ll want to hear and eventually see more of him.
The Young Folks: For those who don’t know, briefly say who are you and how’d you get your start?
Axel Mansoor: To those who don’t know about me yet, that’s OK this one’s not on you. My name is Axel. I’m the 3rd kid (the baby of the family) to 2 immigrant parents from a tiny island called Mauritius. I moved around a lot growing up, often between countries (Belgium, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, US, and some more). I’m simultaneously very goofy and also down to get into the real shit. I love sci-fi + tech, cartoons/anime, video games, basically any Asian food, and creating/sharing/consuming great music. Also I was raised a modern-conservative Jew. What? Yeah. No, really.
I’ve had so many “starts” I’m not sure which one is the one. I’m growth-focused, so I’d think if I’m living life the way I want, I would constantly be having new beginnings. That said my path to music was entirely initiated by my older brother handing me an old B.C. Rich guitar and basically ordering me to learn how to play “so I could be cool.”
TYF: What would you be doing if your big brother hadn’t introduced metal or guitar to you?
Mansoor: It’s weird to say but If Misha hadn’t pushed me to learn guitar, I honestly don’t know if I’d be the musician I am today. Before that I was really into tracing/drawing anime and I thought I’d be a graphic designer. I kinda sucked at drawing though, and being the youngest I took so many cues from my older siblings, especially Misha, just modeling myself after them. If I’d had better experiences with math as a kid, maybe I would’ve become a physicist or done something with computers/tech.
TYF: Where do you draw inspiration from lyrics now? What’s one of your favorite lyrics that you’ve written?
Mansoor: I’d say my lyrical heroes are Ben Gibbard (Death Cab), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), John Mayer, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, and Kevin Parker (Tame Impala). It’s funny though because whenever I try to really imitate them it just ends up feeling bleh or inauthentic. I’ve had to let go of becoming just like my heroes and instead embracing the fact that my best lyrics are straightforward, honest, and simple. For lyrics like that, I think the strength comes in the delivery, the “how”, rather than the content itself.
A recent (unreleased) verse I wrote that I’m proud of is:
“What if misery truly loves me?
Makes a vow and promises to be
faithful as a servant of the peace
with a rusty chain around my feet
Should I take this silver key
Melt it down and make a ring?”
Actually, reading it now it’s more poetic than some of my other stuff, maybe that’s why I chose it [laughs]!
TYF: You traveled a lot to find yourself, how did you decide where you went? What was the biggest thing you learned?
Mansoor: Well when I went on my “identity-quest” the idea was to go to places I’d never been and find new experiences. Having done a lot of living outside of America, and living on the East and West coasts, I wanted to challenge my preconceptions and learn about the America I thought I knew (the South and Mid-West). I basically formed a plan based around cities that had great food, art, and music. Hot tip: Kansas City, MO is a total sleeper hit. I want to move there someday.
Putting myself through a lot of different experiences with a lot of different people in a short time frame (S/O to Couchsurfing) helped me interrogate what was truly core to me. Turns out music was a big one. I also learned that being in motion or transition, physically and mentally, is a place where I can actually gain new insights and form a lot of ideas.
TYF: What were some highlights of each stop in your trip?
Mansoor: I have notoriously terrible long-term memory, but here some quick ones:
- One crazy experience though was playing an open mic in Nashville, TN
- Meeting cool Canadians
- Drinking with internationals at a nearby hostel
- Getting outrageously aggressively hit on by a very drunk man
- Drinking and breakdancing badly to awesome country musicians on the Nashville strip.
- Another was busking on a busy street in Charlottesville, SC because I was bored and made like $100 in an hour which I then blew on oysters and bloody mary’s.
- Oh yeah, then in one town (cannot remember which, may have been St. Louis) my Couchsurfing host somehow got me on the local Fox News and I ended up played 2 songs on air in the morning. It was wild.
TYF: How do you stop yourself from thinking negatively about yourself and your work? How do you deal with needing validation?
Mansoor: No pun intended but a lot of it is finding ways to get out of my head and be present. You can’t really erase the inner critic but you can temporarily let go by getting lost in something and and focusing elsewhere. I’m pretty neurotic/high-anxiety, but over the last 3 years picking up meditation, journaling, and seeking moments of solitude have helped me chill out immensely. The war with validation is ongoing, but in my best moments I remember that the external validation is nice but fleeting and internal validation is way more long-term fulfilling. I could talk about this specifically for hours [laughs].
TYF: How did the collab with Louis Vivet come about? How did you come up with the idea of “Hit Rewind”?
Mansoor: Louis and I met up on J-swipe and the rest is fake history. Just kidding, he wishes he could be of the tribe. We knew each other in college but not that well. He heard “Wasted My Love” when it came out and hit me up on FB, and we decided to get together. His stuff had taken off a year or two ago while I was still very much struggling, so I was super flattered when he reached out. I’d already produced a demo for “Hit Rewind” but it wasn’t really feeling done and didn’t have a “fuck yeah” kind of chorus. When he heard it, he just lit up. That energy brought renewed life to the track for me, and we reimagined the whole record in a single day basically. As far as the concept of “Hit Rewind” itself, I was fantasizing about fixing bad blood at both a personal and political level.
TYF: “Hit Rewind” was more upbeat than “Out Of My Head” — what’s the vision for the next track? TBD?
Mansoor: I don’t usually write upbeat stuff, my zone is in softer, slower, more intimate kind of music. Making “Hit Rewind” was both an experiment and a challenge to myself, and I think Louis and I succeeded in making a fresh and exciting pop song. The next singles are gonna have a more intimate energy to them; I’m really excited to head towards a more minimal, guitar & vocal driven sound.
TYF: What other projects do you have in the works?
Mansoor: Musically, there’s a lot in the oven. I have a couple of collaborations with dope people coming out before the end of the year (Check out BLU J, Christofi, and Zuma). I’m finishing out the year with 1-2 more singles, and I’m working on a kind of concept EP. Misha (my brother) and I are also tossing around ideas for a fun little project. We put out one song together and his fans are demanding more, so gotta give the people what they want.
I’m also trying to up my Instagram game by giving back and posting stuff that is inspiring/helpful to creatives. I spend a ton of time learning about creativity, self-development, etc, and over the years I’ve amassed some helpful tips/lessons/resources to share with those who struggle with the grind. If you’re interested in occasional tips on developing a healthy creative lifestyle, follow me @axelmansoor on IG.
TYF: How/where do you hope to see your music career in 3-5 years from now?
Mansoor: By then, I definitely hope to be touring and sharing my music all around the world. I’m still working a day-job and while I’m incredibly grateful for the lifestyle it grants me, it’d be great to work entirely for myself and focus on my own ventures. It would also be so great if I could not live in LA but still be able to push my career forward. I love LA but I’ve been here for a while and there’s so many dope cities/countries I want to experience living in. Receiving a Grammy or award of some sort might be cool, but only if it was a surprise to me and kind of an accident! [laughs]