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A trailblazer in the DJ-producer world, Tokimonsta (Jennifer Lee to her mama) spends an ungodly amount of time in the studio and on the road, all in the name of helping her fans produce more endorphins. The Grammy-nominated Korean-American artist (she paints too!) has worked with everyone from Anderson Paak to Sia. But her favorite collaborators are her roommates: her Scottish Fold cat, Misha (named after a promoter she met in St. Petersburg who once gave her a stuffed cat) and her dog, Mandu (which means “dumpling” in Korean), an Australian Shepherd/Chihuahua/Pug rescue.
This year alone, Tokimonsta — currently promoting her album, Oasis Nocturno, which Pitchfork heralded as “a shape-shifting blend of styles” — has performed at Coachella, Burning Man, and even the official NFL Season Kickoff Concert.
The Wildest caught up with her during a rare break to find out how she multitasks between feline and canine when at home, as well as her attempts at taking them on tour with her.
You’re a bit of a unicorn — you’re both a dog and a cat person.
They offer very different things as companions. What I really, really love about Misha is that he is a lot more affectionate and social, compared to what many people’s experiences are with cats. He will go and sit on your lap and just dig his head into your hand. He’s super lovely. It wasn’t until people would visit me and go, “Wow, your cat makes me want to get a cat,” that I realized their reputation can kind of precede them and cause a bit of bad PR.
What is the puppy like?
Mandu is a really interesting character. He’s very, very sociable. He loves people. He’s a little ADHD, but he’s also the smartest dog I’ve ever had — the most trainable! He’s also extremely needy and athletic, so he requires a lot of exercise. I’m very lazy, so he has allowed me to be more active.
I have total pet-parent guilt: If Mandu looks at me because he’s bored, I have to take him out. It’s just taught me another lesson in how to be a responsible adult and care for something else. I am not sure I really want children, so it’s nice to be able to express kind of this nurturing side of myself.
So, an obvious question for you. Your stage name is Tokimonsta, and Toki means “rabbit" in Korean. Have you ever had a pet rabbit?
When I was really young, I had two rabbits. Basically, I went to the pet shop and picked up a white rabbit and a brown rabbit. It turned out the brown one was a dwarf rabbit. And the white one ended up being this massive, 10-pound rabbit that was albino — it had red eyes. Yeah, and then...they just disappeared. I think [my parents] got rid of them.
I feel like the way that my parents viewed animals is very different than the way that I view them. I had a mother who worked full time, very entrepreneurial. She was mostly a single parent. A rabbit, I think, she thought was going to be a low-pressure pet but started becoming more [work].
We also got a Jindo, which is a Korean [dog] breed, when I was in the fourth grade. She was with me until college. My dog was a slightly atypical Jindo in that she was very sociable. They have a reputation for sometimes being aggressive, but my dog was not that way. She had a tendency to escape the backyard by climbing over the fence. But then the mailman would be the one to let her back in.
Do you ever take your pets on tour? Like, you did Coachella, which isn’t too far from where you live.
I did! I actually brought Mandu. A previous time I played Coachella — I think was 2016 — I brought Misha. We rented an Airbnb and he disappeared. I had 10 people looking for the cat. He ended up being underneath one of the beds. He was just so far back that he was in the dark. I was like, “No more cat [on tour].” Right now, I have an amazing sitter that I use when I do go out of town, and she has kids that love to play with him.
Are your animals around when you record?
I do work from home. When I really need peace, I’ll close the door, but usually it’s open. Mandu stays in the living room most of the time, but Misha will come down because he has more free rein of the house. I have so many videos of him being disruptive. He’ll just, you know, come into my studio, maybe, like, walk on a piano or knock things over or start breaking things. I actually wrote a song dedicated to him. It’s not out yet. The whole song is about my cat. It’s called, “Furrever.” The song has him purring — more as a foley sound.
What is their reaction when you play them music?
Misha’s expression is really funny if I play anything bass-y. His eyes open up really wide, and his ears go up. He looks like a stoic pigeon. Mandu is pretty mellow because I’m always playing music in the car with him.
How did the animals help you get through the pandemic, a time where your entire profession was off-lined?
For me, it was kind of a blessing in disguise. I was getting a little burned out from touring. It just gave me purpose because I had time to be home. I just learned how to adjust my life so that the animals are well taken care of.
Do you FaceTime them when you’re on tour further away?
All the time. The cat is like, “Whatever.” But the dog gets very confused. He’ll look around like, “Where is she?” I actually have a bunch of Nest cameras inside my house. Once, I tried talking to him from the Nest camera, and I think it kind of freaked him out. I was like, “OK, maybe I should not mess with that.”
The dream-pop musician on how her speckled rescue pup got her through the pandemic.
How the Surfbort frontwoman and Gucci model’s rescue pups, Foxy and Pony, get her out of the house and out of her “feels.”
How the musician’s pets — present during the making of her new album — counterbalance the weightiness of her work.
“He’s my support system when I’m making a beat. He’s kind of like my A&R — he listens to all my music and tells me if it’s good or not.”
Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.