Meet Axel Mansoor, founder of the Lullaby Room, the former Clubhouse icon, and radical self love advocate whose music captures listeners like the pages of a diary.
Born to Mauritian parents but having moved around a lot throughout his life, Axel embraces the Third Culture Kid identity, which also heavily influences his music. On May 14th, 2021, Axel released his EP “i hadn’t ever loved myself” that is structured as a diary to and from himself. We had the incredible opportunity to speak with him from Mauritius, where he’s been staying since the end of 2020, as he opened up to us about his music, life, and journey to self-love.
How has your definition of being a “3rd culture kid” changed throughout the years and what does it mean to you right now?
The most interesting and personal shift for myself has been defining what the third culture refers to. For a while, I relied on the Wikipedia definition (take it as you will) which states that it is the in-between space of your parent’s culture and the culture that you are growing up in, hence your circumstance of straddling both worlds.
But, when I was hosting a “3rd culture room” on Clubhouse, someone named Nettra shared her take on the definition that really blew my mind. Her definition was that the 3rd culture is what happens when you bring all of the third culture kids together, and it’s the culture that they create. That really opened my heart because growing up as a 3rd culture kid can be extremely isolating- prior to joining Clubhouse, I’d personally met maybe 10 other 3rd culture kids in my life. I hadn’t grown up in an international city like Hong Kong, so I wasn’t exposed to other people who I could identify with. It’s really special meeting other 3rd culture people because while we may not have shared the exact experiences, we can still understand each other through our unique processes of having to move, adapt, lose and gain people and interpret social norms from a very young age. We may have different coping mechanisms, but that doesn’t stop us from having common ground. For example, being a 3rd culture kid shows up for me in being hyper-social, but I know others who respond to it by being social hermits and that’s okay.
My home is actually a sense of connection and community with the people around me, and my “safe space” is always meeting with other 3rd culture kids because we can easily connect on a visceral level due to the lack of barriers to connection.
In some of your art, you’ve explored the themes of “breadth vs. depth” and have gone broader rather than focusing in one area. Is this still true, and what are some of your favorite parts of your art to hone in on?
My relationship between breadth and depth has a lot to do with being a 3rd culture kid. I interpret my relationship to music and creativity in units of years. There’s the first 26 years of my life where I did not love myself and I was extremely insecure; I created music with a need to prove my value to the world and myself. My mindset and motivation was to make “great music” (whatever that means). But in that pursuit, I experimented with a lot of different “hats” because I was looking for reactions and validation. I was making music trying to predict what people would react well to and because of that, I would constantly challenge myself never to repeat myself. But doing that meant that, I could never really find myself because I was always trying to be someone different than who I really am; I was worried that I would be boring if I was creating what naturally came to me and so “breadth” was my answer to “how can I make music that pleases people?”
What I am most excited about my EP, i hadn’t ever loved myself is that it’s the polar opposite of that because my EP goes really deep. Lyrically and conceptually, it is a microcosm of my relationship with myself and I made it specifically with the intention of having a cohesive sound. What separates this EP and the music that I will be making from now on, is that I will vet my art with the question to myself that is, “is this honest?” That’s now the only thing that concerns me and it’s a question that only I can answer for myself. People will always have their opinions but it only matters to me if I feel like it’s honest, and this EP is the most honest music I’ve ever made- even to the point where there are songs that were very scary to put on the record because they are extremely vulnerable. The focus on depth is about learning to love myself and be as honest as I can. It comes from a deeper relationship with myself that I am willing to put out into the world.
How have you learned to listen to your inner guide and not other people?
I used to be a serial people pleaser, such that putting a song on the record that a few people advised me not to, was one of the scariest things I could do. My song, “i wrote this when I was mad” is a prime example of that. My greatest fear was entertaining the thought that I could disappoint someone and know that I may stand by something that could make other people uncomfortable. That turning point was a true moment of growth for me as an artist and a human being.
I had to realize that the point of me making art was not to make anyone uncomfortable, the point was to be honest and not censor myself or shut myself down for the sake of other people’s ease and comfort. Standing in my truth is about making honest choices, such as releasing vulnerable songs, because it feels honest for me. If I can’t do that, then why should I even be an artist? It’s certainly not to make money, because I can make way more doing literally anything else. So if I am intentionally choosing to be an artist, then I have to respect my own integrity and create from a place within me that’s as honest as possible.
What’s been the hardest part in creating your EP?
A few things come to mind. One, is the idea that I’ll put something out into the world that makes people uncomfortable. There’s this consistent sort of dance that happens when you’re trying to make money off of your art, which is, are any of these songs going to be a hit? Or, in other words, will I get great streaming numbers off of it? I had to completely redefine musical success for myself. In making this EP, I was very transparent with myself, my manager Bryan, and producers Koby and Dalton from the start that this EP would not be the record that becomes an international smash hit. I had to learn to be okay with that, which spoke to my own growth and progress since everything that I used to make was solely for the purpose of trying to produce a hit.
This project is about showing people who I am, and by the end of people listening to it, I want listeners to know me, the depth of the bullshit that I’ve been through, and who I am as both a person and an artist. Switching into that mindset was definitely challenging but I’ve been able to do it. As an artist, the media is constantly forcing you to make hits- the music industry has become a world of singles and if you’re not making a hit, the industry questions your motives and your worth. So, it’s important to find the strength within myself to be the one who decides that I matter, whether my streams are zero or 3 million. I’ve also had to redefine how I measure impact, because it’s certainly not streams.
The second hardest part of the EP creation process for me has been promoting the EP, it’s my least favorite part because it’s like doing more work for work that I’ve already done. I have put so much effort into actually creating the promotional content, for example, for the last 6 months I independently made nearly all of the content by myself in Mauritius. While my manager, Bryan, has helped me conceptualize ideas, most of the time it’s been me creating it. It’s hard to keep mining this record that I’ve spent a year and a half birthing, but it’s important for people to have context on all of the details so that they can actually understand and appreciate my work. I just want to make music and do anything else but it’s a really important piece of the process because otherwise, the music won’t impact the listeners and all of my efforts in creating it will be in vain. For me, I don’t define impact by the number of people my music reaches, but rather, by what it does for the people who listen.
How has it been living in Mauritius during COVID?
I was never originally intending to live in Mauritius during COVID. I’ve spent the last 10 years living in Los Angeles and as a 3rd culture kid, it’s the place that I’ve lived the longest- so I guess I’m technically more of an Angelino/Californian. Call me cliche, but I’ve been fully embracing the West coast lifestyle and even took up surfing.
Back in 2020, I ended a 10-year relationship with someone. Even returning to our place in L.A. made me feel really isolated because she had made the house a home…her home. I’m not one who plants roots or defines their identity in physical spaces so I knew that I had to leave. Not long before that, my dad retired and was living in Mauritius, so when my dad recommended that I return home in October, it seemed like a good idea. At that time, Mauritius was not experiencing a lockdown and since the beaches and atmosphere weren’t restricted, it was the perfect opportunity, especially because L.A. was just announcing their second lockdown.
What do you love most about yourself?
I’m most proud of the fact that I have not allowed anyone to take away my innocence. Despite all of the shit I’ve been through, which is a lot, I still choose to give people the benefit of the doubt and default to trust. Even though I’ve been wronged many times, I’d still rather wait until someone has wronged me before I mistrust them, and I like being this way.
I like to operate from abundance in this aspect of my life and give my trust freely.Axel Mansoor
It’s funny because my brother and mom are the exact opposite and are very wary of people and expect their trust to be earned. However, I like to operate from abundance in this aspect of my life and give my trust freely. No matter what, I always try to see the best in people and assume that people mean their best until they give me a clear reason not to.
From my experiences, I could have easily become jaded and distrustful, but I’ve never allowed anyone to take that away from me – it’s become my superpower. While I was the Clubhouse icon, a lot of people were coming out of the woodworks. I could have been annoyed at that, but that takes more energy from me. It’s a lot less burdensome for me to react with openness and assume that people have good intentions. When people do wrong me, it provides me with clear evidence to filter them out from my life in the future- but I won’t allow one negative experience with someone to change the way I interact with another person who was not a part of that situation.
Has your innocence enabled you to be more honest in your music?
Absolutely! I used to have this idea that I had never loved myself and therefore I loathe to love myself. It took me a long time to build self-trust, and I had to build it from the ground up. On Clubhouse, a lot of people include their accolades in their bios as if it’s the most important and impressive story about them. Clubhouse is full of bios that are, “I learned how to build a 7 or 8 figure business” or “I make a [specific amount] of money.” But if I was to put something in my bio, it would be that “I’ve built a strong, self-loving relationship with myself.” That takes equally as much hard work, dedication and consistency as building a successful business.
But what is so fulfilling about learning to love myself is that it will serve me no matter what business I am in. It’s ever-lasting and will benefit any situation for the rest of my life. However, it did not come easy, it takes time to build something that is robust and strong and so it took me a long time to get to a place where I could be extremely vulnerable. I could not have made this EP 8 years ago, 5 years ago, or even 2 years ago. It’s only because of the strides I was able to make in my relationship with myself that allowed me to access true and core parts of my being that I am now able to share with everyone through this record.
Is there a dream you haven’t realized and if so, how did it get lost along the way?
I have this dream where I wish that I could disappear for a couple of months and not have it affect my career. I’d like to reconnect with myself and experience the lax lifestyle that I was hoping to have when I decided to return to Mauritius. I did get to experience some of that, but so much of my time was spent in the zone working, fully connecting to the world, and everyone wanting to connect with me. It was still a great experience, but I would love to have the time to live under the radar for a bit.
Another dream that I have is related to that, which is having a lot of time and space to explore my curiosities without it being linked to time, money and space. I want my existence and legacy to transcend music; there’s so much life to live and I don’t see myself as solely a musician or someone who is defined by one quality. Art and music will always be a really important vehicle for me to connect with myself and the world around me, but the world has so much to offer and I want to explore the full richness of it. For example, I really want to go to surf camp in Bali! I’ve also wanted to learn martial arts and get lost in astrophysics. Interestingly, this brings us back to “breadth” in my career but in a different sense because I am not trying to prove anything to anyone else, rather exploring a genuine curiosity of the world. I love discovering, exploring and pushing boundaries and it’s my dream to continue doing that on a larger level.
What was a cool clubhouse connection you experienced?
I’ve had a lot of cool ones, but something I never would have expected was becoming IG/ DM friends with the comedian Dane Cook. I’m 28 now but in middle school, Dane Cook was the dude- I remember him selling out venues like Madison Square Garden and I’d watch his standups all the time with my friends on television.
How it happened was that I was invited to a room where Dane Cook was talking. What was unique about it was that he was talking about some real stuff that’s not usually associated with him, such as self-forgiveness, and self-compassion. I love to talk about those topics the most and since I was the Clubhouse icon, I was invited up to the stage and joined him in conversation. Afterwards, we followed each other on instagram and DM every now and then. It’s so random but I love it.
What’s the one biggest advice you have for emerging musicians?
My biggest piece of advice is to get a good lawyer and don’t ever sign anything without talking to an entertainment attorney. Also, don’t give your art away! There were so many deals that I’ve been offered in the last few years that were shitty 2-3 year term deals, and I would have signed onto them out of desperation had it not been for people like my manager, Bryan, who reminded me of my worth and value even if I wasn’t able to honor it. At that time, 2 or 3 years did not seem like a long time- it even seemed attractive to take a $20,000 advance (do NOT do this, that is not a lot of money and I can guarantee you that your art is worth much more). But, experiencing the trajectory of my career in retrospect, I’m so grateful that I had not signed those deals.
We live in a world right now where artists have more power than ever because of internet decentralization. Labels are doing deals that they’ve never done before, such as 50/50 licensing deals with artists. As an artist, your biggest piece of leverage is ownership over your shit. Don’t let anyone take it for themselves because nowadays, you don’t need to give it away. Staying true to your worth and retaining ownership over your art will also provide opportunities to work with better partners in the future, even if it takes more time and effort to get there.
It’s really easy to compare yourself with signed artists in the label system, but when you take the time to understand it, the labels are often exploiting the artists, and are making way more money than what they pay the artist. These artists may have big streaming numbers, but labels pay for playlist slots on Spotify and other streaming services to guarantee stream hits. An artist’s streams are not directly proportional to the money they have in their bank account and because the label owns their work, they can’t actually reference the work that they created in the future ever again since it’s no longer their own. Being an independent artist is really hard and I’ve been at this for 8 years, but it’s turning into a life that I actually want; I know artists who got there faster but are extremely miserable. So to paraphrase, get a good lawyer and don’t sign your shit away.
You’re quite vocal about your love for ramen, sushi and pho. What are your favorites food spots in the city?
I won’t claim to know spots in New York since I’m based in Los Angeles and New York is so expensive. But, I can tell you that you won’t find good pho in L.A., you have to go to Alhambra, which has a high Vietnamese population, to get it. I have this thought which is, good pho restaurants have bad service, and bad pho restaurants have good service. If the restaurant has bad service, then you know the staff is putting all of their effort into making amazing food; they have only one purpose which is to make the best bowl of food every time. This sums up how I feel about places to get pho and local food in Mauritius too.
For great ramen, go to Japantown or Little Tokyo. Lastly, for sushi, it always depends on how much one is willing to spend. I am a proud sushi snob and enjoy high quality fish (Nigiri because Maki does not exist in Japan). Jinpachi in Hollywood, which is surprisingly not well known, has an amazing balance-of-price-to melt-in-your-mouth ratio. One trick, that also applies for Jinpachi, is that sushi is always cheaper for lunch than dinner. I don’t know why, but the concept is authentically Japanese. The same meal at Jinpachi for dinner that costs you $60, will cost you $25 for lunch.
Follow Axel Mansoor on Spotify, Apple Music and Instagram. As a complement to his EP, Axel is releasing a journal filled with prompts that you can purchase here[LINK].
Check out our latest Instagram post on him here: