Bushwick-based impresario Oliver Ignatius could easily be classified as a restless spirit. After spending his youth overseas, bouncing around Asia, he landed in NYC and almost immediately signed his high school band Hysterics to V2 Records. Things went South quickly during the early two-thousand industry implosion, and the label experience was a bitter, firsthand lesson in how the traditional music industry was failing its artists. After some further therapeutic free-form traveling, Ignatius regrouped and formed the art/music collective Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, which acted as a brick and mortar recording studio as well as the banner for a satellite group of artists whom he produces. Now, for the first time in his life, Oliver is stepping out as a solo artist, buoyed by the release of his retro-tinged, psych rock single “Light and Dark”.
Culture Collide: What was the impetus to start Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen collective and its respective recording studio?
Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen began as a small-scale recording operation way back in 2010, and almost immediately accidentally flowered into a collective of fantastic weirdos making music and art in cahoots with each other. I’d been involved in the music industry since high school, and at age 21 had become very disillusioned with the lack of magic in the ‘biz.’ I started the studio as a safe place to work on my own creations, unmolested by social or business pressures, and it quickly became a safe space for a lot of musicians to do the same. Once it was underway, I wanted to develop it as an experiment in communal transcendence through music. I really think it’s helped hundreds of musicians find community, find an audience, find the support and belief to hang on, and really develop and mature as artists.
Is there a critical difference between recording other artists and producing your own music?
I see the process of making a record as taking the artists, with all their honest quirks and unique qualities and talents, and kind of creating a superhero version of themselves. In some ways, it’s easier to look at other artists through the impartial lens of trying to figure out what their “record” should be. In other ways, it’s much easier to just work alone. And in other ways, the process is the same – just internalized.
How has your spiritual outlook influenced the way you operate your studio and release music?
Spiritual is a dirty word, and I understand why. With that said, I believe that some of the highest experiences in music and other art are achieved by getting oneself out of the way, tricking the controlling, rational mind into shutting down long enough to allow the music to flow straight through. We’re all looking at the same things, and we all choose how to interpret and personify them. I struggled severely with bipolar disorder when I was growing up, and opening myself up to slightly more mystical possibilities was a good way for me to re-contextualize all those highs and lows and weird energy surges. Of course, I’m no monk. I like f*cking and partying and watching cartoons as much as the next idiot.
What words of wisdom can you impart on other burgeoning collectives? How can you survive in a healthy climate of co-creation and avoid tragedies such as the Oakland Ghost Ship fire?
The Oakland Ghost Ship fire was a terrible tragedy and it exposed a lot of deep-seated issues. Much of the blame can be placed on unaffordable real estate, and a general devaluing of artists that forces us to cut corners when it comes to our own personal safety. But I’ve also seen way too many community arts spaces that operated for years in hazardous conditions with no fire safety precautions, despite clearly having had enough successful events to put in sprinklers. I put in sprinklers when we built the MCFK studio, and I know how much it costs. And I think that once you’re operating on a certain level, if you really care about your community, you’ll do it.
How did your upbringing, which involved traveling the world, influence who you became as a musician?
Growing up overseas probably influenced me as a musician more than any other thing. Being an American that was isolated from Western culture is I’m sure part of what prompted my extremely passionate love affair with rock and roll and other popular music from early childhood. I definitely absorbed a lot of unconscious influence from different musical modes, especially Asian ones, as I spent much of my childhood living in Hong Kong and traveling around Asia. It also probably helped me become pretty open-eared. I try not to get hung up on genre. I like to think I could recognize and appreciate talent in any style.
How have your travels provided a broader vision of culture and music?
Actually, less and less. With steadily rising living costs and decreasing quality of life, I think a lot of artists have become quite disillusioned with NYC and I’m no exception. There’s nothing particularly inspiring about a playground for the rich, especially at a time when the traditional music industry infrastructure has disappeared while an opioid epidemic claims more and more young lives. My wife Bernadette and I recently bought a small farm about an hour north of the city. When the monthly mortgage on acres of beautiful pasture and woodlands with a 4-bedroom house, horse barn and detached garage is significantly cheaper than rent on a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, it might be time to start thinking about broadening our definition of what the metropolitan area is. This year we are beginning to develop the farm as a creative hub, artist’s retreat and animal sanctuary. This is definitely the most creatively, personally and financially sustainable direction to move in, in fact probably the only one that makes any sense in the long run. We just want to contribute our own little vision of paradise as a respite from the turbulent world. And hopefully lead happy lives, and generate and enjoy as much wildness and love and energy as we can.