By: Gemma Mastroianni
MBG (Lena) is a Toronto-based alt-rock/pop musician. She started her journey in music in her sister's playroom, then Long and Mcquade, and now plays on Toronto stages. The self-taught artist sat down with me (virtually) to chat about her story, favourite coffee, and her big TikTok moment with The Beaches.
How are you?
I'm doing good! It's a beautiful day outside. I was actually just outside for like 20 minutes, just kind of soaking into the soaking in the sun, that Vitamin D that I need.
Can you give a bit of an introduction to who you are?
My name is Lena. I'm from Toronto and I'm under the solo project called MBG, which is pretty much an alt-rock solo project where I write, record, and produce all of my music. When I play live, it's a full band kind of thing. I kind of branded it as a band, but really it's a solo project for myself.
Cool! And what does MBG stand for?
So MBG stands for ‘Music Box Girl.’ It was given to me by a little kid when I was at Long and Mcquade.
So when I was 15, that's when I started playing music. My parents couldn't really afford to buy instruments or lessons. I discovered at the time when I was living in Brampton that I lived really close to Long and Mcquade and every day after school I would just go there and practice there almost every day until closing time. At one point during the summer, my routine was to wake up, go to the gym, and then go to Long and Mcquade because the gym was right beside it. Any customer that came in the store would usually hear me or whatever, and they would kind of just like stop and stare, which I don't really mind.
This one child who came up to me when I was at the piano section of the store, was at the electric guitar section practicing. I was playing bass and I was doing my rounds. He came up to me and said, “So you like to play like, everything?” And I was like, “Yeah, I guess I do play everything.” And he's like, “Oh, so you're kind of like a music box girl or whatever?” That compliment just kind of stuck with me. I'm twenty-six now and I started at 15, so it's 11 years later and still kind of stuck to me. When I started putting this solo project together, I didn't want to just use my name because it doesn't seem appealing. So I thought of music box girl and I wanted to abbreviate it just to make it more mysterious, I guess.
That's such a cool story. So you're entirely self-taught?
Yeah, I taught myself.
And did you how did you teach yourself?
I guess how it really started was with my little sister, she had a bunch of toys. She had a room dedicated to her to toys and one of the toys that she never played with was this toy piano. It was a very small pink little keyboard that you can’t play more than two notes on it. You can't even play chords on it! I don't know what came over me but every time I finished homework in high school, I was super bored and I like to keep my hands busy. I was just kind of going for it. I just kind of play with whatever and the keyboard was one of those things and that's how it started.
I started picking up the demo songs on the keyboard by ear and I didn't really think anything of it, I just thought it was something fun to do. The next thing you know, I started to actually learn pop songs on this toy keyboard. remember showing it to my mother and she was like, “Huh, interesting. You actually are pretty decent.”
I didn't think that I was going to end up becoming a multi-instrumentalist, it was just something that I loved to do and it made me feel happy.
How did you find the music store staff? Were they good to you? Did anyone ever give you a hard time?
No, no. It came to the point where the people that worked there knew my name and knew which guitar I wanted to pick up, which piano I wanted to play and they just knew that every time I’d come in they would be, like, “Hey, what's up?” And I would be like “Hey, I’m just doing my rounds!” and I’d stay there for hours, which is good because not a lot of music stores will let you do that. They knew that I didn't have any instruments and that I couldn't afford any instruments. So they kind of just gave me the free ticket to play around in the store.
So how would you describe your current sound?
It's definitely more indie punk rock than it is pop, but there are some elements of pop because to be honest, even though I do play rock music, I'm a pop girl, I love pop music! I like to mix the best of both worlds with my music.
Who are some of your favorite pop artists?
Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish
Would you say your sound has evolved at all throughout this pandemic?
For sure. I feel like when this pandemic started and I started working from home, it gave me more time on myself and on my songwriting and production skills. It definitely has evolved. Listening back to my debut EP that came out two years now, I definitely have evolved and I'm kind of glad that I did.
What do you like about the Toronto music scene and how would you describe your place in it? Do you have any favorite venues?
Toronto is such a diverse scene, it doesn't really stick to one genre. There's so many, amazing talent, like the local talent that are just like doing R&B and then there's rock and then there's like so many other elements. I love it and it’s such a loving community. One of my favorite venues to play at is The Supermarket.
Do you have a favorite venue that you like to attend?
The Danforth Music Hall.
Are you a coffee or tea person?
Oh, I'm a coffee person, I love coffee! I have a Tassimo and a French press.
Do you have a preferred blend?
I just recently bought this one from Pilot Coffee which is a Colombian coffee. It's called Las Palmas. And I love Colombian coffee, it's like the top-tier coffee. As soon as I saw they were saying that, I was like, I got to get it, and I snatched it. It's really, really good. I'm actually running out and I gotta go buy more.
Beer or seltzer?
I've got to say seltzer, I'm not a beer girl. I just recently had like a Whiteclaw for the first time, like last week. I love it. It's so good. Oh, my God. I can't believe I missed out on this because I kept seeing everyone having a Whiteclaw and seeing the hype of it and I was just like, this better be good for what it's being hyped up for. I bought the Mango one and I was like, whoa, this is a game-changer.
What's your typical show outfit?
For me, it would be like sweats, I want to try to be as comfortable as I can and try not to be too suffocated. I always dress as comfortably as possible, like loose pants and a shirt. I try not to wear too many layers because coat check is expensive. I just wear a cute sweater and jeans and then that's it. No other layers. If I take off my sweater, have my little backpack and that's it. I try to come into a concert dressed as light as possible because you just never know.
Talk to me about GO O.U.T
Yeah, I love this track. Oh, my God. I haven't really been this excited about a song in a while. I originally this song as a jingle for a TikTok. A lot of people were doing look books and I wanted to be like a character in a video game, and show the fits I would wear. Since this pandemic started I've been using retail therapy as a way to cope and I've been buying so much stuff, it's not even funny. There were so many times I had to,, binge and purge my closet and give all the stuff to my sister because I was just buying stuff. But I wanted to show it off in this cute little lookbook so I wrote the song and originally it was only a minute long.
I posted on my Instagram and a lot of people really seemed to like it. I was like, OK, so then I took the song to my co-producer Phil and we made it into an actual song.
What is next for you?
I’m going to keep extending my discography. After meeting with Phil recently I realized that I have enough songs to make an album so now it's just recording, writing, and practicing my production skills, and putting it to play. I definitely would want to have an album by next year for sure.
I think, for now, I’m still working on my songwriting and my sound because I feel like I will be forever evolving. But yeah, that's pretty much the game plan so far. And hopefully touring. I'm manifesting this, but I totally would love to open up for, The beaches one day.
Tik Tok is literally doing something for the music industry, it's doing a lot of things for the music industry, but I did think a little cover on Tik Tok and Leandre from The Beaches found it and followed me. We just talked and next thing you know, it's on their TikTok account and now we just kind of like vibing and conversing and just like now we're like friends or whatever and we're talking or whatever.