Aquarius season was in full swing when beat maker mint.beats returned home from work exhausted on the eve of their 27th birthday.
Attempting to battle fatigue with creativity, Mint pulled out their guitar and SP-404 sampler. Out flowed a four minute instrumental featuring a looped ambient guitar riff over a combination of woozy beats and tripped out synths. Mint remembers thinking at the time that it was the best beat they’d made in their life.
“It became something that I was really proud of, as far as the composition,” they say.
Now, a year later, the song (appropriately titled “Aquarius”) serves as the outro track to LVLZ, Mint’s second album as a solo producer. Released this summer on cassette by San Jose label Needle to the Groove, the 20-minute, thirteen track compilation of lo-fi beats is a perfect document of Mint’s personality, musical background and lived experience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My vision for [LVLZ] was to create a soundscape that resembled one’s subconscious, a place where things don’t always make sense as they unravel,” Mint says in the album’s press release. “The tracklist was meticulously arranged to transport the listener from one immersive environment into another.”
All written over the course of 2020-2022, the tracks on LVLZ are what Mint calls “journal entries.” Up until a month before the album’s release, each was simply titled with the date it was written.
“I really wanted to document my journey through the pandemic,” Mint says. “I wanted to be able to look at a date and know how I was feeling on that day.”
Having lived in San Jose for the past decade, Mint grew up in a musical family in Fresno.
“I was just a young kid, maybe five years old when [my dad] started his band with my uncle,” Mint says. “My dad bought me a toy drum set that he set up in the garage at our house. He let me come in and play with them sometimes during their practice.”
From there, Mint was drawn to the guitar. By middle school, they were teaching themselves to play their favorite songs. One day, their dad bought a “shitty beat machine” already programmed with several beats. Mint remembers learning how to manipulate those recordings, playing guitar over them.
When Mint moved to San Jose for college in 2013, their musical world grew larger. Mint was a founding member of indie rock band Swells & the Lünatics, who opened for the likes of Shannon & the Clams. In 2019, the band released a record, but Mint was soured by the studio experience.
The engineer wasn’t “speaking the same language as me as a producer,” Mint recalls. “I remember being really helpless in that moment. I had to surrender my artistry. I remember walking out of the studio and saying, ‘I never want to have that feeling ever again.’”
When the pandemic kept everyone at home, Mint bought their SP-404 and took to hashing out beats. With that feeling of helplessness fresh in their psyche, Mint wanted to own the entire creativity process, from conception to release. That same year, they did exactly that, independently releasing their first solo album and several singles. Since then, they’ve also produced three other albums with three other artists.
Impressed with Mint’s beat work on San Jose-based rapper Gatsby’s 2022 album Butter, Allen Johnson (a.k.a. DJ Albert Jenkins) felt the beat maker was a good fit for Needle to the Groove.
“Musically, we really liked what Mint was doing and the sound they’re coming with,” Johnson says. “Whether it’s a video game sci-fi kind of joint or it’s just a really laid-back jazzy kind of chord progression, it’s tasteful.”
“It’s kind of surreal working with Needle to the Groove,” Mint says. “They were really hands off, allowing me to just put together the project.”
In the album’s press release, Needle to the Groove compares Mint to beat legends Black Milk, Ras G, Knxwledge and even Dilla, something that Mint found “unbelievable.”
“I just have so much more I want to do. I really just want to focus on creating my own legacy as an artist and try to influence or inspire others like those folks did to me.”
Needle to the Groove Records