The Present talk Animal Collective, Japan, & New Album 'FSG'

Rusty Santos and Mina Ohashi step out of the elevator and shake my hand. They’re both polite, friendly, dressed in casual garbs, but even from the get go I can tell there’s a balance between their differences. Rusty is tall and quiet, with big blue eyes that navigate our surroundings. Mina – though petite – stands tall and firmly in her place, looking directly into my eyes as I ask them about their band genesis and their musical past (Mina found fame in her native country of Japan under the name Fayray, and Rusty has been a frequent collaborator with Animal Collective since producing their 2004 sensation Sung Tongs). With new album FSG recently released, Rusty and Mina sat down with Milk Made’s Ana Velasco to talk about making only fun sounds, the beauty of Times Square, and what makes them feel so good.

Tell us about The Present, how did you two meet? How did you start collaborating?

Mina: We were friends. We probably met around 2006 and we started jamming at Rusty’s house. We really hit it off and things took off and we’ve been collaborating ever since.

What is The Present’s music philosophy?

Rusty: To make music right now.

M: The present moment is perpetual, the present, but it’s new and different every time so we want to incorporate that.

R: That’s why we chose the name – so that we’d always be making what were into now, what we want to make now, so we’re not tied to the past and the future, it’s just right now.

M: And not doing retro music or anything like that, it’s just what we’re feeling at the moment, who we’re with at the moment and what we’re interacting with at the moment. So it’s really organic.

I know that you were doing music in Japan before, how is it different to be in the music industry there and to be in the music industry here?

M: It’s a completely different process but it was my choice to come here and explore music. What I wanted to do more than anything was to collaborate and I’m able to do that, so I feel very blessed and happy. The difference is just that we’re all friends. I think that’s the biggest difference. As The Present, we’ve only ever collaborated with friends.

I think that’s a good aspect of making music, or just collaborations in general, to have a relationship where you can trust each other.

M: Exactly, where you can feel free and have fun with it. In Japanese when we describe music in Chinese characters we write ‘Sound Fun’ and that’s music. So to us having fun with it is a very important factor. If it’s boring, or if it doesn’t have a good feeling, we’re not that into it. We want to have fun.

Rusty, you have a really incredible past producing for Panda Bear and Animal Collective. How is it different to produce music for other bands than to create your own?

R: When I work with other bands I try to produce what’s as much them as possible. I try to take away the filters, so what comes across to the person that’s listening to them is as pure of a musical statement as possible. With myself, I try to do the same thing but it’s different because it’s coming from the inside. You could say that I have more freedom when I work with my own music and when I collaborate with The Present. The main objective is to take away as many filters and obstacles so that the music is as pure and raw as possible.

Your music is very up-beat and fun to dance to. What is the ideal place that you envision The Present playing?

M: One with a big sound system. We recently had a show in Lisbon and it was one of the best shows we’ve ever had. The reason for that was because it was an intimate venue. We were right by the audience so we could test out the songs that we made in the studio and really see how the audiences responds to our music. So definitely an intimate venue, like all the underground venues in Brooklyn and New York. I think that’s the place where we really feel alive and connected to our music through the audience that’s right there.

How would you describe the album in 3 words.

R: ‘Feel so good’ would be the perfect description – well that’s the acronym [laughs]. I guess that’s a shortcut answer. I think of it is a hard, raw album, and kind of sensual at the same time.

M: Enthusiastic, visceral, and fun.

I love that Feel So Good is the acronym for it. What makes you guys feel good?

R: We like light, brightness. Today was really nice when we left — the sun feels good, music feels good–bright melodies, some of the great records we listen to, like Roy Ayers ‘Everybody loves the Sunshine’. I feel that that song kinda sums it up. Dancing.

M: And I have one word which is ‘life,’ which also sums it up.

You both emigrated to New York from other places. What is your favorite part about living in New York?

R: Energy

M: A lot of people who grow up here don’t go to Times Square but I actually like it because it reminds me of Tokyo like Shibuya, Shinjuku Roppongi. I grew up there. It really reminds me of the chaos there, and the silence within the chaos— how you can kind of be yourself because there’s so much going on.

R: I love Brooklyn. So many cool things are happening there. The art, music. But my favorite place is Manhattan because it’s an island and all the contained energy within the island. It’s really kind of cut off from everywhere else. There’s nowhere to go but up. You could look at that in many different ways. I always feel like being in Manhattan itself is inspiring, just being here feeds into what we do.

What kind of bands inspire you?

M: There’s a lot but underneath it all, in the pop sense, I love Stevie Wonder’s songs, how he makes you feel good. Like if you listen to his song, ‘Hardest Times’ it always makes you feel good. And then we talked about our all time favorite album and it turned out to be the same, which was Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Off the Wall.

Listen to FSG here

Photos by The Present and Cris Moor

Read our interview with Panda Bear here

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