HOUSE MUSIC | Mark ‘Sounwave’ Spears
Grammy award-winning music producer, Mark ‘Sounwave’ Spears at his West Hills home.
Reyna Biddy wrote in her 2017 book “I Love My Love” that “the beauty of being a writer and connecting with someone’s soul is, no matter where the relationship leads, the love never dies when pen meets paper.”
It’s a fundamental truth about any artist and one that especially drew Mark “Sounwave” Spears to connect with the author, Reyna, who is his partner and the mother of their first child, Umi. The Grammy-winning and Academy Award-nominated record producer, best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning album “DAMN” with iconic musician Kendrick Lamar, knew there was something special about Reyna from the beginning.
“I couldn’t let her go at that point. After knowing her and seeing where her mind goes to, I was blown away. I was like oh my goodness, this is the one for me,” says Mark. Reyna used to write music when they first met but reconnected with Mark a year later when she was working on her first book. “I told him I have this book and I don’t know how I feel about it, can I read it to you? Then I went to his house that night to read it to him, and literally ever since then we’ve been together, “ says Reyna. The Los Angeles natives – Reyna is from South Central and Mark grew up in Compton, found they had similar mindsets and values, a trait important to both. “I feel like it is hard to connect with someone who lives in LA but didn’t grow up here. Because it’s different,” she says.
The couple first lived in DTLA together with their dog Mooki, but over time became miserable with the hectic vibe. They craved a quieter, serene place that was more aligned with their minimalist lifestyle. It took eight months, but their search eventually led them to the San Fernando Valley. “As soon as I saw the prices for the quality of the neighborhoods – I moved toward this…the neighborhood was so quiet, peaceful and friendly. The view and price – everything lined up so perfectly. To me, it was a fixer-upper, a normal house that had nothing really to it. I was like, I can make this my own,” says Mark.
The 2,500 square foot, five-bedroom home was originally built in 1972, but needed significant renovations. Mark’s innate talent as a visionary artist played a crucial role in how he re-imagined the space but also was careful not to “overproduce”. The couple wanted a modern and creative haven while integrating family- friendly practicality and comfort. Mark first knocked out a set of French doors off the living and dining area and installed wall to wall sliding glass windows that expanded the first floor to sweeping views of the valley. The backyard is surrounded by lush greenery and an abundance of white noise through the continuous flow of hummingbirds, eagles, and falcons, something Mark and Reyna especially love about the property. The couple also installed a second level balcony on the back of the home, a place where Mark’s favorite place to reflect and unwind is in his swing chair.
The kitchen, designed entirely by Mark, is bright and contemporary with a delicate color palette of whites and subtle hues and includes new appliances and a deep farmhouse sink. An adjoining room lends itself to a fun pool table and a large piece of artwork that originated from Mark and Reyna’s trip to Honduras. He impressively curated much of his style from his personal collection of photography and decorated without the use of a designer. As with his music, Mark relied on his ability to produce layers of interesting and functional art. For example, he strategically placed stacks of wood in the living room for a sense of warmth, a noticeable detail that perfectly offsets a room of cool colors.
“When we first moved, he tried to modernize it with new windows. But I feel like when he found out I was pregnant, everything changed. His entire style changed,” says Reyna. Fatherhood for Mark changed him in ways he never imagined. He is quieter in his home studio and only works in there when he knows he won’t disturb his young son. “I don’t like to be too noisy. When he’s home I like to take him (into the studio) and play the guitars. And, I am the most careful person in the world now! Everything now is tippy toes…it changes everything. You don’t want to miss out on anything,” says Mark.
An unmistakable focal point in the main living area is the stunning gold pair of Grammys sitting on a simple shelf, along with several of Mark’s other distinguished awards. Most notable is the picture of a pregnant Reyna and Mark, dressed in elegant black-tie attire as they head to the Academy Awards as a nominee for Best Song in the box office hit BLACK PANTHER. The regal-looking photo feels somewhat in contrast to Mark and Reyna’s relaxed demeanor in person. During a visit to their home, the couple was both dressed in a casual, California cool style of jeans and baggy tees, along with their 12-month-old son playing around their glass coffee table scattered with a few toys. For a moment it seems like they are just like any other LA couple, and almost nonchalant about the enormity of the awards perched in their living room. Their grounded humility is perhaps the most admirable trait of all.
“When I was first nominated, of course, I was excited, shocked, nervous. The moment you actually win one, it’s an amazing feeling but as soon as that feeling happens, you automatically start thinking, how can I top this? And I don’t know, it’s a gift and a curse I guess. Your mind just never stops wanting to do better than what you did. And fortunately, we have made good stuff, according to the people. But I don’t know…to me, it makes me more hungry. This happened, so let’s see what else we can accomplish,” reflects Mark. It is something many artists who have catapulted to such critical success have to make peace with, the idea that they’re ready to move on to the next thing already. Reyna says this is the story of Mark’s life and that he tends not to revisit his music after it’s been released. “I hear it on my own time because he won’t play it,” says Reyna. laughing. Mark is a self-described perfectionist, and works tirelessly to keep pushing the boundaries of his personal sound. “That’s when I try to take pages out of her book, and I just go to work. And whatever happens, happens. But I know myself, whenever I get to a level of it about to be released, I have to perfect everything as much as I can. That’s the only thing I can do, and the only control I have before the world will hear it. I have to make it as perfect as possible. It’s tough. It’s really tough. And at times, it is really, really tough.”
The producer’s home studio gives just a hint of some of his most important collaborations. Scrawled on a whiteboard hidden behind a door to the studio is a list of artists Mark is working with (currently it’s Mary J. Blige and Beyonce). Elsewhere in the room, framed candid photography showcase Mark’s work with Dr. Dre, J. Cole and of course Kendrick. Mark first found Kendrick Lamar in much the same way he found his home and Reyna, by following his keen sense of intuition. Not surprisingly, they met by chance at first and reunited later. Mark instinctively knew there was something extraordinary about Kendrick. “Basically we were random kids in a hole in wall studio and out of ten rappers he was the one I said was going to be a star. And he was ironically the only one who didn’t sign. We separated, and then a year later we met in the Top Dawg studio, and have been working together ever since. From that first moment really, I thought, this kid is something special. I didn’t know what it was yet, but I just wanted to be part of it” says Mark.
When Mark graduated from Compton High School in 2005 he knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. “I always said I had no Plan B, and if I didn’t make it as a producer I’d live at my parents’ house the rest of my life. So, fortunately, it worked out for me,” laughs Mark. He went on to teach himself how to play the piano and other instruments simply by watching YouTube videos, and at the time was heavily influenced by artists such as Timbaland and jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd. He is a self-made musician and producer, and his success is largely owed to always following his instincts, and working tirelessly to achieve the vision he imagined.
Mark and Kendrick would spend the next several years experimenting in the studio as kids. But in 2010, Kendrick decided to change his name from K. Dot (the first alias of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth) back to Kendrick Lamar. “He wanted to be himself. And once he changed his name I automatically knew that this was it,” says Mark. Their musical partnership and longtime friendship propelled them to iconic status and prestige (Kendrick is the only non-classical, non-jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize). Their work, especially with Black Panther, has played an important part in the film and music industry with a wide-reaching impact. Still, true to Mark’s life as an artist, he’s always looking forward and says he doesn’t pay attention to the role he’s played in making history with Kendrick. “I still haven’t done that. Even for Kendrick’s albums, we just go to the next thing. I have not sat back and said just wow. This happened. It’s just like, I’m proud of it…what’s next? And that is how we have always functioned.”
Similarly, Mark and Reyna look forward to what’s next as they continue to build out their family home and continue their numerous projects as artists and as parents. “I feel 90 percent there with this space. I probably will never be 100 percent and she would probably agree with that,” laughs Mark.
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