Out today, Mantell’s new EP The Fog marks a sonic turning point for the band.
A couple of years ago, Melbourne five-piece Mantell sounded like a conventional indie rock band. Tracks like ‘Can I Set It Right’ consisted of chiming guitars, driving rhythms and scuzzy garage rock solos. But on their new EP, The Fog, Mantell premiere a more languorous, soul and surf-inspired sound.
While this could easily be interpreted as a consequence of spending much of last year in lockdown, the two-song EP was actually recorded in late 2019 and early 2020.
“There has been a definite shift in our sound, which from an outsider’s perspective probably seems like quite a big jump,” says guitarist Gabriel Olivieri. “Looking back, though, there was always a part of us that wanted to explore this sound.
“I think it’s a combination of maturing as a band and also as people; we are in a place where we are more confident with our creative voices.”
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Mantell released their debut EP Thirty Two in 2018 and followed up with the singles ‘Can I Set It Right’ (2019) and ‘St Louis’ (2020). They’re in no rush to remove these releases from streaming services, but Olivieri says they no longer resonate with the band members’ vision for Mantell.
“We were teenagers when we wrote the Thirty Two EP. The experiences we had that inspired that music are distant memories. Those songs will always have a place in our hearts, but we are definitely trying to carve out a new path.”
The stylistic change-up demonstrated on The Fog was influenced by a few of Mantell’s favourite contemporary artists; most notably, The War on Drugs.
“A Deeper Understanding had a massive impact on us when it came out and still does to this day,” says Olivieri.
Mantell have also been soaking up influence from the likes of Whitney, Durand Jones & the Indications and The Arcs (the short-lived collaboration between Dan Auerbach and Richard Swift).
“Finding those bands was a big turning point for us,” says Olivieri. “Their music sort of gave us the kick we needed to start exploring the sounds we’ve always wanted to and the confidence we needed to be more authentic with our voices.
“We really concentrated on songwriting with this release and let go of a lot of the studio glitz and glamour. Even during the recording process we kept things super organic by recording most of the instruments live together, which was something we were scared to do in the past.”
In order to complement the organic sound and soulful arrangements, stronger performances were required from Mantell vocalist Sam Reader.
“The lyrics in the EP were a lot more personal to us and came from a place that was a lot more vulnerable than before,” says Olivieri. “I think that’s why the vocal performances are so strong.”
The EP’s production was handled by Mantell drummer, Connor Tuan. An experienced engineer in his own right, Tuan’s connections came in handy when putting the finishing touches on The Fog.
“During the writing process we spoke about having a female feature on the title track,” Olivieri says. “At the time Connor was doing some engineering for local band, Norwood, and when we heard Olivia Bolmat’s voice we knew she’d be perfect.
“The back-and-forth contrast between Sam’s vocals and her vocals is definitely one of our favourite moments of the EP.
“It wasn’t until the final stages of the EP when we decided to bring in Lochie Thompson [saxophone] and Marley Del Prete [trumpet] to bring another soulful texture to the EP. This, along with Liv’s vocals, was the first time collaborating with other musicians and it was an eye-opening experience – it really breathed new life into the songs and helped us successfully achieve the vibe we set out to from the start.”