INTERVIEW with Aunty MNGO about ADHD, Neurodiversity, and 'The Brightest Timeline'

INTERVIEW with Aunty MNGO about ADHD, Neurodiversity, and 'The Brightest Timeline'

Melbourne, the Australia-based artist Aunty MNGO, aka Samuel Stopforth, recently released his single, "The Brightest Timeline." The song's official title is "LUV-B1C1: The Brightest Timeline (ELGNCE)," and it's an appetizer for his forthcoming EP.

Aunty MNGO explains, "This song was written in August 2021 with my producer Corey Ernsdoerfer, who is also my housemate and one of my best friends. He is a solo musician known as Younique and a chameleonic genius at what he does."

Shortly after "The Brightest Timeline" was written, Stopforth was diagnosed with ADHD, a diagnosis he declined to accept.

Stopforth shares, "Do I believe that I have a disorder? No. Do I believe that my brain is broken and in need of fixing? Absolutely not. What I believe is, considering ADHD is inherited 74% of the time (according to the National Institute of Health), I have a certain brain type that is not very well understood brought on by most likely a particular genetic variant."

Stopforth's take on ADHD is not only interesting but illuminating. So is "The Brightest Timeline," which blends a funky bassline, sparkling percussion, and soothing melodies.

XS Noize spoke with Aunty MNGO to discover more about the person behind the music, his evolving sound, and ADHD's connection to his music.

What three things can't you live without?

My family, first and foremost. My mother Jocelyn, my father Wayne and my sister Sarah. They were the cocoon where my journey began. They have given me everything. I can never repay them for all they have done, and the ironic part is that they wouldn't want me to. But the life that I am leading now is all because of them. I wouldn't be the person I am today without them; every opportunity I have been given was only possible because of their support. I moved out of home at 22, and since then, it has become abundantly clear to me just how easy my life was before that point. They've all been living on The Gold Coast since 2017, so I've only gotten the chance to see them about once a year since then. I haven't been able to admit it until recently, but that's been very hard. I miss them a lot, and I don't call them enough, that includes my half-sister Gia. She lives in South Africa with her husband Dieter and my two nieces, Lily and Amber.

Next up are my friends. Don't get me wrong; I like my alone time; I need it to recharge. But above all, I am a social animal, and my close circle of peers have always been the thing that provides me with the most inspiration. They push me to do more and always strive to become a better version of myself. Over the years, I feel that I have slowly gotten better at finding people who want the same things out of life that I do.

Lastly is my laptop. I've been addicted to this thing since I was 15. It's a wonderful blessing and a terrible curse that I am trying my best to regulate daily. It's a portal to anywhere I want to go in the universe, but sometimes I can forget to eat, sleep and take a walk outside, which I find is generally good for staying alive.

What inspired your new single, "The Brightest Timeline?"

Well, I've been dating this absolute angel of a human being for nearly 2 ½ years now. Her name is Agata, and it can be found next to the "heavenly body" in the thesaurus. She is my polish princess and I love her this |_______________________| much.

We fell in love in literally one week. It was wild. We were dating a week later, and my life has never been the same. This was just before Covid began, and throughout this time, I have undergone my biggest period of personal development and spiritual growth. She has been the most consistent presence in my life in what has also been the most turbulent period of my life.

She is a force of stability and wisdom who always has my best interests at heart, constantly (for the sake of longevity) pushing me to put my personal well-being ahead of everything else. In the process, she helps me acknowledge my own self-worth and inspires me to go deeper in my healing efforts. Shining a light on and then processing the trauma baggage that surfaces from time to time when I hit a speed bump. I feel this is what self-love truly is, the time and effort we spend holding space for ourselves in an open and non-judgmental way. I wasn't very good at this for a long time, but she has helped me strengthen this muscle with some consistent practice.

Even before I got my ADHD diagnosis, she accepted me warts and all… and after I got it, she was the first person to take it seriously and listen to me when I wanted to talk about it. She never judges me; she is the most patient and empathetic person I have ever met.

She taught me that you can never hope to accept love from anyone else until you first love yourself unconditionally. It is largely because of her that I was able to pull myself out of the ditch I had dug for myself during Covid and see a future in the sky that I could call the brightest timeline. It is always darkest before dawn; sometimes, we need a little help to see the light.

In the press release, you talk about being diagnosed with ADHD, yet you don't believe you have a brain disorder. Why?

Thank you for asking this question. I believe it's a very important one. I don't believe I have a brain "disorder," the connotations of this word have never sat right with me. To be frank, I think it's because of this label that I neglected the pursuit of understanding my brain in the first place.

In most places you look, a "Disorder" is defined as something along the lines of: "An illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions." Do I believe that I have a sickness? Hell no. I believe I have a particular brain type brought about by a specific genetic variant. This label of "disorder" implies that there are no positive aspects to this brain variant, only downsides that need to be fixed. The consensus is that our brains are broken, and we are abnormal.

Well, I would love to know what a "normal brain" actually looks like. I don't understand what this means, I don't think anyone does, and yet the medical and scientific community has been implying its existence for decades.

The largest study I could find of brain imaging scans included 62,454 people (Daniel G. Amen, MD), and that's just SPECT scans, not to mention CT, PET and MRI scans… which all use different technological methods for peeking under the hood. There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet-spanning seven different continents inhabited by innumerable cultures impacted by varying climates. How could anyone possibly know what a "normal brain" looks like? Is this even a possibility?

It is 2022, and the brain is still a complete mystery to us; it is literally the most elusive object in the known universe. With all the artificial intelligence and quantum computers that are available to us, we still have no idea what is going on. There are worlds below the neurons and synapses that we can only begin to dream of. I believe in the next decade we will make huge leaps in this space, but at the moment, we are still so ignorant.

The term "neurodiversity", I think, is the answer to this problem; this is a term that promotes the idea that we all sit on not just a spectrum but a complex multidimensional matrix of different brain types. Like fingerprints, no two people have the same kind of brain. Sure, there will be similar characteristics that we can use to group them in particular ways, but each of these variants will manifest themselves differently for every individual, just as ADHD is present in many people but will be a unique combination of traits taken from a large soup of potential.

All of these brain types have their own strengths and drawbacks. In my opinion, the real important questions then become; "Are you in an environment which supports you and the skills which come more naturally to you?" "Are you aware of both the positive and negative qualities of your specific brain variant?" Because if you're not aware, then you're walking blindly in the dark.

For instance, I find it very difficult to verbally express my emotions. This can lead to a lot of friction in my personal relationships, which is not ideal. But it is also because of this that I have found other ways to help me express myself, such as writing, acting, and making music.

Something that could be viewed as a scourge on my life, a curse even, is actually the character trait which forced me to make the art I have made. I do it out of necessity. I can't do anything else. If I do not create, then my soul begins to shrivel up and die. It is the thing in this life that provides me with the greatest sense of joy, fulfilment, and purpose.

You also spoke about neurodiversity. Please explain how that connects with depression and anxiety.

When it comes to our choice of language surrounding conversations about the brain, I believe that the more we can embrace the idea of neurodiversity, the lower the rates of depression and anxiety will get. This may take some time before the stigma of "disorders" and the narrative of a "normal brain" has worn off, but eventually, I believe this will happen exponentially.

A hard lesson that I keep finding myself having to re-learn in this life is that whenever a decision is being motivated out of fear, then usually something is wrong. You are approaching the situation from a scarcity mindset instead of from a place of abundance. For six years, I blocked out the mere idea of looking into what ADHD actually was because I didn't want people to think I was mentally challenged. This is the same stigma that stopped my parents from ever telling me about the first and second diagnoses I had received when I was 6 and 11, respectively. They were advised to take me to a paediatrician twice, but they never did. They also didn't try to learn about what ADHD was; they just gave me more time and attention, and that was their solution. A valiant effort, but what I lost was the opportunity to learn more about myself, and what they lost was the opportunity to learn more about me and finding potentially better ways of helping me... Out of sight, out of mind.

If this is the stigma that permeates in the minds of the collective unconscious, imagine how the people who actually get diagnosed feel? It's hard enough to just accept yourself and love yourself; now you've got to deal with the rest of the world who either think your brain variant doesn't exist or if it does, then you're sick in the head. Either way, you're in the toilet.

In my opinion, this has led to a rampant victimhood ideology for many people of my generation. People who frame their identity solely around the label of a "disorder." It becomes an excuse for not trying instead of a catalyst for pursuing a deeper understanding of self! I find myself sometimes falling back into this way of thinking, and it is the thief of joy, a cancer to the spirit.

We believe we are broken, damaged, and not good enough because the world tells us we are. This can lead to intense feelings of shame and guilt, either leaning on the label as a crutch or constantly gaslighting ourselves, convincing ourselves that we might be just making a big fuss out of nothing.

I believe the term "disorder" is extremely damaging because it does not promote a sense of wonder and does not inspire people to learn more about themselves. I did not choose this brain, sure, I built some of it, but most of it was given to me through my genetics. Why are we chastising people just because they are different? I think we are stronger as a collective if we embrace our differences and seek to understand ourselves, not label people as deficient because they perform better under different circumstances to you and in different environments.

What's the story behind the name Aunty MNGO?

Well, that's a story as old as time itself. It begins with a man who loves his mangos and ends with an Aunty who did not share this same love. So, they chose to agree to disagree because what is most important, after all, is not whether you see yellow or I see green, but rather that the truth lies somewhere in between.

Where are you from?

I was born in Durban, South Africa, but I grew up in Perth, Western Australia, until 2018, that's when I moved to Melbourne.

Did your hometown impact your sound?

Absolutely. Perth is a beach paradise. I miss that place so much. I used to play in a band called 'Boykie', which was more inclined toward Blues / Folk / Rock / Grunge. Perth is a very laid-back place; the weather is 25+ for like 75% of the year. You can drive for weeks down the coastline and find a different beach every day that is just as gorgeous as the last. We are also the most isolated city in the world. We are so far removed from the rest of the country, let alone the rest of the world, that there is this feeling that we kind of exist on our own planet.

What I feel this results in is a vibrant music scene that is very eclectic, with many different subcultures that is only continuing to grow. But what I also found it had on my own work ethic is that it was such a beautiful place to spend your days, where the living standard was so high, that I would find it very easy to get complacent and forget that there is a whole world outside of Perth that I also wanted to explore. For my whole life, I never wanted to leave, not even to go on a trip to Europe or whatever.

Ironically enough, as soon as I left, in a similar way to when I moved out of home, I suddenly had a newfound appreciation for my hometown. It is truly one of a kind. I was so blessed to grow up in such a goddamn beautiful city. My aim is still to go back once a year for summer.

How did you get started in music?

I started solo gigging around the city in 2013 under the name 'The Tin Man.' Soon after, I was playing with my friends Andreas Pfeifle (Keys) and Chris Young (Guitar). I released a bunch of demos on Soundcloud, which I recorded on a Guitar Hero Microphone. I started a band called Green Light District with Ben French (Lead Guitar), Andrew Siffleet (Bass), Keahn Sardinha (Guitar) and Sean Tighe (Drums). This didn't last too long but became an essential incubator and springboard for what would become the Boykie project when I decided I wanted to make an EP.

We recorded the EP 'Still Hiding' over about 12 months with the iconic Andy Lawson of Debaser Studios. Keahn and Sean said their farewells, and Isaac Diamond (Drums) became a mainstay, with Chris coming back for round two! Eighteen months later, we played the same songs to a sold-out crowd at Jack Rabbit Slims, launching the EP. I'll never forget that night. These are the people I owe for setting the foundation for me as a musician, giving me the confidence to push for bigger venues, inspiring me to make music that pushed the envelope, but also that this doesn't just have to be a hobby. Without them, I would probably still be playing solo at Village Bar in Subiaco.

Which singers/musicians influenced your sound?

Rough Chronological Order of the last 16 years:

Greenday / Eminem / Red Hot Chili Peppers / Panic! At The Disco / Jack Johnson / Pete Murray / Bon Iver / Ed Sheeran / Elliott Smith / Pink Floyd / Nick Drake / Bombay Bicycle Club / Bloc Party / Blink-182 / Radiohead / Tame Impala / Smashing Pumpkins / Mac Demarco / Ben Howard / The Strokes / Kendrick Lamar / Frank Ocean / Kanye West / Pinegrove / Post Malone / Brockhampton / Hobo Johnson / Childish Gambino / Tyler The Creator / Biggie Smalls / Drake / Jay Z / Slowthai / Deb Never / Jack Harlow / Russ / Juice WRLD / The Kid LAROI / Powfu / Phoebe Bridges / Clairo / Soccer Mommy / Amine / J. Cole / Berwyn / Baby Keem / Stunna Gambino / 070 Shake / Doja Cat / Mac Miller.

If you had to explain your sound to the uninitiated, what would you say?

Take an Acoustic Folk kid and introduce him to Rock and Grunge, then take that same Indie Grunge kid and introduce him to Hip Hop, R&B and Pop. In other words, I have no idea.

Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction? 

It has always been a very organic process. Usually, a friend will introduce me to a new artist, and I will get lost down a rabbit hole straight away and listen to their whole discography in a week, or I'll dip my toe in, and if nothing grabs me straight away, then I will keep an eye out and wait for their next release.

The most pivotal moment of my life musically in terms of inspiration was in 2015 when my two favourite albums of all time came out in the same year; Tame Impala's 'Currents' and Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp A Butterfly.' That was when everything changed for me. I think my sound will undergo many iterations over the coming years, but these two projects will serve as the core. However, Radiohead's 'The Bends' and Mac Demarco's '2' deserve honourable mentions.

What inspires your writing?

Mainly my neuroses, but also my aspirations. Love is a common theme, but also deep frustration and sorrow. Family is a mainstay, and I also touch on bullying a fair amount, as well as anxiety and depression, and mental health in general really.

I think about my writing as time capsules to capture a certain moment, messages to my future self to remind me of what I was feeling and what my perspective was on a particular situation, like a diary. When we look back years later on something, I find the more time passes, the hazier it becomes, making it difficult to understand accurately where we were sitting and why. But if we tie that event to an emotion, I find the recall is far higher in resolution. I think this is why music is so powerful; it's nostalgic medicine for our hearts.

A song is like a time machine for feelings; it was not until recently that I have started trying to make songs to manifest a future that I desire for myself instead of looking back on something in the present moment. Something that was an unexpected byproduct of this was that all of a sudden, I felt that the music became less indulgent, and I think that's because I was finally ready to share it. All of a sudden, I wasn't just making music for myself; I was making music to help other people. It was first and foremost for me to help me express the ineffable, but that was not the only reason for its existence. I wanted to start telling stories that other people could connect to and help them express things that they couldn't find the words for, and I think because of this, the music got much better.

Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?

Oh yeah, for sure. I love to journal. Not at a particular time of the day or night, just whenever I'm feeling inspired, which is a lot of the time. I've been writing slam poetry for a long time now. I started after 'To Pimp A Butterfly.' After that, album writing became an obsession for me. I've done it every day for the past seven years. I have to; it's just second nature to me now. There never comes a day when I'm not writing something or making notes on something; it's become my biggest strength. Whether it's for a future book, a future script, or notes on a video I'm watching about a particular subject I'm into. Song lyrics or a Slam poem, it just never stops. Half the time, I don't even know what I'll use it for. I'm just stockpiling information and content.

I love film and TV as well; I spend a lot of my time ingesting visual media. Films like The Dark Knight, Superbad, and Whiplash. TV Shows like Breaking Bad, Atlanta and WestWorld. I could name plenty more, but I feel like I used up all the leeway I had with the music influences question.

What can you share about your writing process?

In general, I like to vomit as much language onto the page as I can, throw all the paint on the wall and then distil it into a story in the edit later on. Timothee Chalamet said it best that when we are creating, as opposed to being analytical, we are using two different parts of our brain. We make our job more difficult for ourselves if we try to blend these two completely different processes together. They both deserve their own undivided attention and separate part of the process, so that's what I usually do.

However, because I've been doing this awhile, sometimes, if I'm in a really good flow state, I'll be able to do both at the same time, and I finish the whole thing in one sitting 10 hours later after coming out of a hyperfocus rabbit hole. But those are usually the days when I forget to eat.

Which artists, in your opinion, are killing it right now?

I'm going to shine a light on specifically Australian music for this one. Spacey Jane, Adrian Dzuke, Noah Dillon and Stella Donnelly out West. Genesis Owusu, Winston Surfshirt, and BLESSED over East! Crazy inspiring stuff is coming from all of these artists!

What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? New material? Live gigs?

There will be some visuals for 'LUV-B1C1: The Brightest Timeline (ELGNCE)' dropping very soon, as well as a lot of new music being released before the end of the year!! If all bodes well, our first headline show will be announced for around late August.


 

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