Community Artist Of The Month   2023 - saint rumi

Community Artist Of The Month 2023 - saint rumi

Community Artist Of The Month Aug 2023 - saint rumi

In the fourth edition of our Community Artist of the Month series we are delighted to showcase guitarist, producer and all round incredible guy saint rumi.

Meet producer saint rumi, a seasoned pro whose musical journey began pre-internet. Receiving his first guitar at 11 and founding his first band aged 12, he embarked on a path that led him to record as a hook singer under his original name, Mike Maven. Alongside this, he spearheaded an experimental jazz ensemble known as Young Pandas, affording him the invaluable opportunity to collaborate with numerous musical icons. Following a hiatus of 7 years, he most recently resurfaced under the new moniker 'saint rumi,' marking a pivotal moment that enabled him to fully embrace his talents as a multi-instrumentalist.


First of all, let’s take it all the way back to the beginning. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got started making music?

I’m a 90s kid, born in ‘84, so my story began in the days before the internet, back when the gap between writing songs and label releases was a massive cavern and playing shows for 20 people locally felt like being famous. My dad skipped out on my mom and I when I was 11, and we had to move from Arizona back to the East Coast very suddenly with only one suitcase between us. A few months later my dad sent a few boxes of our stuff, and - strangely - my mom’s guitar from the 70s that she hadn’t played in years. Armed with that Guild acoustic and a whole bunch of angst about a newly deadbeat dad, I learned a few chords and started writing songs right away. I got my first recording rig and met my first bandmates at 12, and we started putting out cassettes that year. Here I am 26 years later, and I’m still at it.

After diving deep through your Instagram (Hot Ones style), I noticed that saint rumi isn't your first musical project. Could you share a bit about your musical journey and the experiences that have led you to this point?

I’ve been doing this a long time, and saint rumi is a return for me after 7+ years since I last released music. For years, people knew me as Mike Maven, my stage name since I was 19. I mostly made a name for myself as a hook singer in hip hop, working with some true legends. My last project, Young Pandas, was the indie jazz / neo soul experimental arm of a songwriting group that got together as we were making records for other artists, writing for and with our keys player’s huge touring band, Bad Rabbits, and putting together a backing band for some major hip hop artists and a few American Idol alumni. We toured and put out records back when we were still hawking CDs and before Spotify was the most dominant force in the industry. If you really want to hear your boy sing, check out the Young Pandas album “Enigmas”. We never made a huge name for ourselves, but we got to work with a lot of our idols, and when I stepped away from music, I was honestly very satisfied. But, an artist can never stop being an artist, and I’m happy I’ve found my way back. I’ve always been a multi-instrumentalist (thanks to my love of Prince and D’Angelo), and this project has let me explore that more than any other.

Can we talk a little bit about your setup. I’ve seen photos and I know you’ve got a lot of incredible gear, what software/hardware are you using?

I’ve actually been on an anti-GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) kick since the beginning of this year, and I’ve sold off a lot of gear! But for a long while I worked only on hardware because I wanted to learn about hip hop production foundations, the way my idols did, sampling vinyl records and chopping. I’m glad I did, but I also wanted to take those skills and bring my own instrumentation into it. These days, my tried and true pieces of gear are my 70s Rhodes Mark I, Lakland Skyline bass, a few guitars I’ve stood by, the ASM Hydrasynth, a Mini Moog clone, and Ableton Live. I’m a guitar player first, and while I’ve sold off all my boutique amps and most of my pedals, I’ve found my sound again in the Neural DSP Archetype Corey Wong plugin. I also recently acquired a 64 key portable upright piano from the 80s that I’m just starting to incorporate into my work, and it’s totally unique. I also have a small cocktail drumkit with microphones set up and ready to go. I like having all my gear connected and ready to record. It’s what I like to call “mise en place,” like a good chef who has all their vegetables diced and ingredients measured out before they start to cook, I want all my gear connected and ready to be creative with at all times. It’s taken a while for me to get the setup the way I want it, but it was worth the patience!

Do you have any favourite plugins that you use on pretty much everything?

I was lucky to work on a solo album when I was still recording as Mike Maven with both Russ Elevado (the engineer and producer of D’Angelo’s Voodoo) and Jason Goldstein (grammy winning engineer for The Roots). I did pre-production with Russ and then finished the record with Jason after Russ got called to mix the new D’Angelo album. They had completely different philosophies toward plug-ins and digital recording. Russ is famously an analog purist, which is what I thought I wanted at the time. But Jason gave me insight into his mixing process while working with him, and he put an SSL Channel Strip plug-in at the start of every single mix channel for gain, subtle EQing, and a little compression, essentially turning his Pro Tools setup into a virtual SSL Console. That stuck with me, and to this day I generally put the API Vision Channel Strip as the first plug-in on every channel. It’s barely noticeable, but it gives everything just a little saturation and warmth, like an analog console would.

Likewise, is there a piece of gear that you just couldn’t live without?

I think I used to have a strong attachment to my gear and my DAW but recently I’ve become pretty gear and DAW agnostic! I started in Pro Tools years ago, migrated to Logic, and now use Ableton. As long as I have some things to make noise with and a way to record them, I’m making a track. I will say that having my iPhone on me with Koala Sampler is a must for when inspiration strikes.

You've had an incredibly busy year with all your releases. How do you manage to maintain such consistency in your musical output? Additionally, how do you keep on top of all the collaborations you have on the go?

For me, it’s all about maintaining the work ethic and dedication. I work my 9-5 and then I set aside 5-7 or 5-8 every weekday for working on music. I’m always listening and trying to learn something new to gain new inspiration and keep creating. I can’t say that I always feel inspired and some days I stare at a blank project and feel frustrated, but to me it’s important that I still spend the time doing the work.

When I stopped touring 7 years ago and became a software engineer, I realized my new career needed a lot of attention to detail and project planning, and now I’ve started to apply the skills I learned there to my music projects. I maintain a Trello board of all my open collaborations and solo tracks or compilations I’m working on and have columns for backlog, in progress, sent back to my collaborator for changes, submitted, etc. That kind of organization helps because when I sit down at my studio desk, I actually have a list of things I know I can work on.

One of my favourite releases from you this year was ‘Pier Santa Monica’, can you just tell us a little bit about that track came together?

A few months ago The Jazz Hop Cafe opened up submissions to their label artists for a compilation drawing inspiration from bossa nova, and as a jazz head this really appealed to me. This was before I was a label artist with JHC, and I was fortunate that my homie MoonEra reached out to me to provide vocals, guitar, and bass for that compilation. I’ve discovered I really love incorporating acoustic and classical guitar into my beats, and I’m hoping to make that a big part of my sound. Landing that track was actually what brought me in as a label artist at The Jazz Hop Cafe, and I’ve got several released lined up with them now for later this year, including my first ever solo EP release on September 22nd which was mastered by Chillhop’s own Drips Zacheer!

How do you tackle creative blocks and seek inspiration when feeling stuck when making music?

There are definitely days I sit down to compose and I’m frustrated and unhappy with everything coming out. There are a few things I do when that happens.

One thing I do is to allow myself to be with the frustration and live in it for a bit. The worst thing when feeling blocked is to give up and stop working.

Another thing I do is take a look at my Trello board and simply try something else. If I’m having trouble coming up with new musical ideas, maybe there’s a project I have running that needs mixing or editing. That process is more technical and is a completely different mindset and set of skills than writing, and sometimes that mental shift helps to break the block.

And lastly, if I’m just not in the space to work in my DAW at all, active listening to music that inspires me is a really great way to analyze and internalize what it is that makes me feel something when I listen to those songs. I try to draw just one element out of something that grabs me and use that as a seed for composing something new. Is it the funky bassline? Maybe I need to start a new track with a funky bassline. Is it a really heavy backbeat on the snare? Maybe I need to start with building a beat that has that feel.

Who are some of your favourite beatmakers/producers in the scene right now?

I’ve already mentioned him, but my friend and regular collaborator MoonEra is an incredibly unique beatmaker with a style that has really evolved and come together over the time that I’ve known him. I also have to give a shout to L33M, who I’m currently working on an album with along with the legendary Farnell Newton. L33M has a real neo-soul sensibility, which is where my love for music started, and I’m excited to work with someone young who is bringing that back.

Congratulations on your new role as the A&R and Community Manager at Chill Space Records! Can you tell us a little bit about the role and what the job entails?

Thank you! I’ve been doing A&R duties for Brunch Collect for awhile, and now Chill Space for the past month. At the moment I’m trying to help Chill Space move into the next phase of how they want to run their community and handle releases, and it’s been a really interesting project to apply my experience in community building to. Being an A&R for me is primarily an opportunity to help create opportunities for other artists to release their music (which I feel is very important) and to help create community, which provides support for people to grow creatively (more on that in the next question).

And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to somebody getting into making music now, what would it be? it could be something someone has told you, or just something you’ve learned along the way.

My biggest piece of advice for people making music right now is one I often heard repeated in our Bread & Butter community by Birocratic and that’s that fans and community are infinitely more valuable to your long term success creatively than streams and monthly listeners. I see a lot of artists who pop in to Discord communities to post in the self-promo channel and do nothing else and while some of their music might be great, they’re neglecting the one most important fact - the members of your producer community are going to be your first fans and supporters. Value them. Collaborate with them. Help lift others up, because one day one of them will do the same for you in return.

Thanks very much to saint rumi for letting us into his world and sharing his production process. You can check out all of his music on Spotify and be sure to give him a follow on Instagram.