Rapidly building a following, The Mantras combines a unique sound of high-energy funk, rock, Middle Eastern, electronica and metal. A band that cares as much about the show as they do the music, The Mantras create a fusion of music and visual projections that are literally jaw-dropping.
With shows accumulating at a rapid pace across the East Coast and midwest, The Mantras are steadily gaining support in the jam-band and festival corner of the universe. Last year, they released their fourth studio album, “Jambands Ruined My Life”—a collection of songs about dealing with rising popularity and how it affected not only the progression of the band but the members in it. The Mantras wanted to make an album that was expertly produced but also highlighted the human factor in music. With a lowering number of bands whose sounds focus on live instruments, The Mantras believe their next album will be a relief to those looking for improvisation in progressive rock and electronica.
encore chatted with guitarist/vocalist Keith Allen and talked about the band’s knowledge of what a truly live show means, and why they’ve been tearing through cities in its hailed glory.
encore (e): How did you first start playing music together?
Keith Allen (KA): Brian, Marcus and I met through UNCG in 2004. Marcus was starting a new band called Marcus and The Mantras and was looking for players to join. We played our first show in August 2004 and just kept going. We changed the name to The Mantras in 2006 and acquired our current drummer and percussionist around the same time.
e: You have a ton of different styles in your music. Who are your influences?
KA: My first guitar influences were Duane Allman and Jerry Garcia, but it was ever-widening and diversifying. I began to really get into jazz when I started attending music school and listening to guys like John Scofield, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Pat Metheny etc. In reality, we listen to everything in the van, from Pantera to Wu Tang, and everything in between.
e: Do you have a process of making music or is it more spontaneous?
KA: Both. Some songs are pretty much done when they get written; others we toil over for several months, even years, to get them arranged. Overall, though, it is a collaborative process—we all contribute.
e: You have a disposition toward electronic or computer-automated music. Why do you think the idea of a jam band—which has none of this—is important to keep alive?
KA: We do electronic music; we don’t use automation though. We use real-time samples from an SPD pad. We do everything. I think it’s important for jam bands to utilize every single influence. We all listen to that stuff, and it comes out from time to time but we put our own spin on it. Tracks like “Man You Rawk” and “DirtNap” have heavy electronic sounds, mixed with a Beats Antique kind-of world vibe, all with a prog-rock twist. You have to make it your own. I don’t see anything wrong with it; most people these days listen to every genre. As long as you are still playing your instruments, I don’t see anything wrong with it, but you will never see us just press the space bar and ride it out, we interact with everything and create new spaces in these songs every night.
e: Your latest album, “Jambands Ruined My Life,” has a very interesting story behind it. I’ve read a little about how Marcus Horth left the band to spend more time with family … did that inspire this album? In what way?
KA: “JBRML” has so many stories behind it, it’s hard to tell what is what. Basically, though, myself and the guys in this band have sacrificed any kind of “normal” life to chase this crazy dream we have that may or may not come true. We have cried so many tears of pain and joy trying to make this our reality. But it’s also a bit of sarcasm, or like when someone says something is “bad” but they really mean “good.” Jambands changed our lives forever, for better or for worse.
e: What’s happened with the band since?
KA: The last three years have been tough, but we have toured more than ever, created tons of new music, grown closer as players and friends. We are in a position to really make this a reality at this point, and nothing is going to stop us.
e: Why is the live experience so important to you? What all goes into it—and the projections by Dustin Klein?
KA: The live experience is everything to us. There are a lot of things in life that I’ve only been able to sort out on the stage. The feeling you get from a great show is unlike any other you will ever find, and making people in the audience happy is something we crave. Music saved our lives, and we are humbled to be able to return the favor and spread that feeling to every room we go into. The human side of music is reflected in the art. Art imitates life; I feel like improv and songwriting are a direct model of everything we go through as humans.
We decided we would always travel with production, either lights or projections. It makes it a real “show.” Most recently, we have been collaborating with Dustin on the projections, it really brings our songs to life. He can tell a visual story and it drives everything home. I have seen it completely blow peoples’ minds when it all comes together.
e: What’s your favorite memory playing live?
KA: We do a festival every year called “Mantrabash.” This past year while we were playing I was completely overwhelmed with emotion when I looked out and saw how many people not only showed up, but knew all the words to our songs and were so excited to see the show and be apart of something greater than all of us. I really started to feel a small cultural impact that our band has begun to have in this area. After our last set, I had to just go be by myself for a few minutes and try to absorb it all.
Ziggy’s by the Sea • 208 Market St.
Friday, Dec. 6th, 8 p.m.; $7 adv. or $10 day of • ziggysbythesea.com