The Mantras counted down the new year to a sold-out crowd on New Year’s Eve at New Mountain Asheville. This show marked the end of a busy chapter for the touring band, filled with growth and continued success, as well as some distinct challenges and turbulence. The night’s high energy, positivity, and attendance are all things The Mantras hope to carry over with them into a new year, one that will hopefully prove to be monumental in securing their position as a regional power-house.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong got the night started right by laying down the funk with an exceptional opening set, sneaking in instrumental teases paying tribute to Guns N’ Roses, Star Wars, and Legend of Zelda, as well as debuting an original song, “Somethin For Ya”.
Following the Pigeons and a brief technical difficulty involving the fire alarm, The Mantras took the stage, commencing with two solid sets of distinctive mantra-brand rawk. Newer additions to their musical roster, “Okoboji”, and “Knot Suite Pt. 1 & 2” brought a serious range of style to the first set, while showcasing the broad set of skills from newer members. An always fun “Bobble Depot” provided some great dancing, while a raging “Man You Rawk!” threw down some heavy eastern energy right before a debut cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dogs” got the crowd really going towards the end of the set. A raucous “Dirt Nap”, and an epic “Destroyer> Kinetic Bump> Destroyer” jam made for a memorable second set.
Prior to the show The Poke Around had a chance to talk with Keith Allen, guitar player and vocalist of The Mantras, in a conversation that covered the past year, a new album in the works, and some points of interest for 2016:
Q: “So, what were some of your most memorable musical moments of 2015?”
A: “Getting to do Mantrabash again this year was awesome. We all work so hard towards that every year. Two big highlights [of Mantrabash] were getting to meet Bernie Worrell, he’s such an interesting dude and he’s been in the industry for so long. Also Ozric Tentacles was huge, I’ve been listening to them for years, and getting to meet them and see they’re so down to earth was pretty humbling. Getting to work with other artists and see how they function and getting to meet them on a personal level is always cool.”
Q: How about other music that you got to go see this year?
A: “As a touring musician I don’t get to enjoy as many shows as I’d like as a patron, but I did get lucky with some good ones this year. I got to see Umphrey’s on Valentine’s Day with my wife in Raleigh, which was awesome. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead was really cool. I really like what he’s doing. I think my favorite would have to be the ‘Fare Thee Well’ Dead shows in Chicago. We got to see Saturday and Sunday, and that was really special.”
Q: “What can you tell me about the new album?”
A: “We recorded it in our new studio that we built from scratch from our Kickstarter. This album is going to be totally different from anything we’ve done before. All of our other albums captured the essence of a live show, but now that we release all of our shows on Bandcamp there’s not really any sense to capture the live band in the studio anymore. So this album we did differently than any of our other albums in that we recorded each part separately. Other albums had all been live recordings of the whole band for the most part, but for this none of it was recorded together.”
Q: How does this new recording style carry over into what we will hear on the album?
A: “It becomes less about the jamming and puts more of an emphasis on it being about the music and about the songs. This album is on the edge of being more progressive, and a little heavier than anything. It’s much more heavily produced and sounds more like a studio album than anything we’ve done… It sounds really big. Kenny is an incredible producer and he’s working with Matt to do a lot of really interesting stuff. There’s a lot of sounds on there that you might not think are guitars that are. Also, there are other lead vocals on there besides mine which is good I think…. We’re really trying to bridge the gap between what people go to see live and what people are listening to at their house.”
Q: What makes that distinction in your eyes?
A: “I’ve noticed that a lot of what people are going out to see live is different than what they are listening to recordings of… I think a lot of people in the scene just want to dance. They want to go where everyone else is going and party and have a good time, and the message can be secondary sometimes. A lot of music available right now is really easy to tune out to. It gives you the option of not really paying attention, but with bands like the Dead you have to pay attention. It’s not really passive music.”
Q: What are some goals for the coming year?
A: “Besides getting incredibly buff, and you know, push ups and stuff, new music. Writing it. Recording it. We have our permanent studio now so we can just record as much as we want. Also just trying to stay focused, being in a band is always full of challenges, its important to keep your priorities straight. I want to be able to stay on the road, stay healthy, and bring new material.”
Q: What do you have coming up that fans should know about?
A:“We have our new album coming out and a handful of new songs that will start to emerge. We will continue putting up our live shows and make them available on our Bandcamp page. We have a two night run coming up at the Boon Saloon January 8-9th. Boone holds a special place in our hearts and our shows there are alway a lot of fun. We also have a big six-show run with Papadosio’s “Extras in a Movie” tour in late January, which will go through Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida.”