Mike and Mandy: fly us to the room
Interviewing the couple (spoiler) Mike and Mandy, even if from a distance, brings us the same feeling as listening to their music. A certain warmth in the heart and a brief belief that the world is nothing more than an adventure to be lived together – preferably. In other words, it’s like watching a good romantic movie with the certainty of a happy ending. And as an unlikely love story, here are the 2 main characters, who share a taste for American music (and space themes): Mike used to be a ska/punk singer and a reggae keyboardist, & a jazz, funk, and acid-jazz drummer. Mandy grew up in the heart of the US, singing with an Orchestra Children’s Chorus, an Opera Children’s Chorus, and in musicals.
Based in Los Angeles, the couple breathes Californian showbizz, which somehow contributes, and a lot, to the concept of the “Shelter in Place” EP, whose cover, a desert night area directly refers to the vibe of the album’s tracks, such as “Wormhole” (which actually should easily be on a soundtrack, a movie about space, aliens and beautiful girls) and even the curious “lounge” cover of “Lovesong” by The Cure. “I didn’t really come around to the idea of covering it until after lockdowns started, when all of a sudden the lyrics took on new meaning… “whenever I’m alone with you,” at a time when many were forced to be alone for a long period of time, at least initially”, recalls Mike.
Speaking of pandemics, the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus ended up being productive for the musicians, who used all the time they had to compose the EP tracks, among many others. According to Mandy, a worthwhile, although harrowing, experience that she believes not everyone has been able to take advantage of.
The pandemic was an opportunity to regroup, recenter, reprioritize and listen. I don’t think everyone took that opportunity, but we tried to. Folks who didn’t see the meaning and purpose behind stopping, or “being still,” possibly missed a lesson.
From the early acoustic “Are you now” to the unlikely The Cure cover, “Shelter in Place” offers a journey of many turns through the diverse universe created by this couple, a world filled with Mandy’s sweet melodic voice and Mike’s boldness to mix unthinkable genres. The rest is magic floating in the air.
Fly us to the room, Mike and Mandy. We’re ready.
2 5 Things about Mike and Mandy
RC – Hi Mike and Mandy. It’s a pleasure to talk to you. The first thing I would like to understand is how the dynamics of the duo work in terms of composition – recording. BTW, are you guys dating, siblings or what?
Mike: Ha! We are actually married! Mandy wrote all the songs on this EP, except for the cover, “Lovesong,” and I did all the producing, arranging, and recording.
Mandy: That sounds like you did the singing too.
Mike: I hope people don’t think that’s my voice. I have been in a bunch of bands over the years, starting when I was 13.
Mandy: Mike is a multi-instrumentalist.
Mike: And you played the ukulele part on “Are You Now,” and the hidden autoharp that people don’t know is there. But the majority of this EP was done in-the-box.
Mandy: I actually wrote “Are You Now” on the ukulele. It and “Ricochet” were two of the first songs I wrote during the pandemic.
RC – Your ep has only 5 songs, but it covers a diversity of genres to the point of pleasing both ABBA and M83 fans, including The Ting Tings. Is this “difficulty” in labeling your sound intentional?
Mike: This is the first time we’ve heard the M83 comparison… very cool! The other French duo we love is Air. And we’re similar to the Ting Tings because we’re a duo and I play drums just like that guy.
Mandy: We are both character actors based in Los Angeles, so we approach music wearing different hats or characters. I approach each song when I write from a different mood or point of view. Sometimes when I write, I see each song as an extended scene or short film. We don’t intentionally try to do different genres. When it’s time to produce the song, I think we both come to the collaboration with the mind-set, okay how can we best tell the story of this song? We don’t set out to do different genres; instead it’s how can we best tell this story?
Mike: It’s just however the particular song speaks to me. The arrangement of all the parts has to support the story, and sometimes that can be very different from the one that came before. Still, Mandy had a very specific vision about the track order, reflecting a lot of people’s collective consciousness over the course of the pandemic.
Mandy: And I feel like this EP still all comes together under the heading of “indie pop,” “alternative” or “electronica.” However, during the pandemic, I also wrote alternative rock and alternative country, we just haven’t had a chance to get to them yet.
Mike: We’re mostly an “indie-pop duo.” But I maintain that genre is a cage, and I don’t like being in a cage.
RC – I was very impressed by the highly professional sound quality of each track. How was “Shelter in Place” recorded, and having managed this ep during the pandemic contributed to you being able to focus more broadly on each track?
Mandy: The vocals for “Are You Now” were recorded under a vaulted ceiling, “Lovesong” inside and outside a closet, “Wormhole” was recorded on a bed; and “Ricochet” outside a closet.
Mike: We basically experimented with different rooms in our living space in order to get the right sound… or you could say we were making it up as we went along.
Mandy: The pandemic was an opportunity to regroup, recenter, reprioritize and listen. I don’t think everyone took that opportunity, but we tried to. Folks who didn’t see the meaning and purpose behind stopping, or “being still,” possibly missed a lesson. And perhaps, the pandemic has lasted longer because of humankind’s tendency toward over-complacency and minimizing, downplaying, denying or the desensitization of other people’s suffering. I was fully aware that it was and is a once-in-a-century historical event. It’s a reminder to stop and listen even in the middle of hard work and sacrifice. I wanted to be purposeful and intentional about the moment, and not irresponsible towards other people or the importance of the moment.
Mike: I felt no less busy during the pandemic. Instead I remained busy… only doing things closer to my heart, whether learning new skills and crafts, like new recording and/or mixing techniques, or making the most out of every creative moment and opportunity.
RC – You end the EP with a kind of unusual “lounge” version of “Lovesong”. How does The Cure’s work connect to yours, and how complicated is it to release a cover of a popular The Cure song that has even been re-recorded by 311 and Adele?
Mike: I’m still not sure that I’ve heard the Adele cover… I was familiar with and love the 311 cover. I think there are over 300 released covers of that song. The idea to cover it was Mandy’s, even before lockdowns started.
Mandy: It’s a great song. The original by the Cure is still on heavy rotation on radio here in Los Angeles. I hadn’t heard any other covers. I love it for its simplicity and universality. It’s both simple and profound. It’s timeless. One of the best songs of its time. When we went into the recording studio, I had a very strong point of view about how I wanted to do it, and we laid that down, but then Mike asked, “what else, what else?” So we explored the song from the inside out and every direction and this is just what happened in that time and space. We didn’t plan the arc of the song until it happened.
Mike: I didn’t really come around to the idea of covering it until after lockdowns started, when all of a sudden the lyrics took on new meaning… “whenever I’m alone with you,” at a time when many were forced to be alone for a long period of time, at least initially. Remember, at the beginning, when people were giving concerts on balconies, or banging pots and pans for first responders? We recorded it at home, and then made the video for it at home too, with a green screen, and it is a like a Major Tom-style metaphor about loss and disconnection and universal love.
Mandy: In those early days, there was so much uncertainty and connection was something a lot of people were aching for, and this song just perfectly captured that time and space. We tried to study a little about the pandemic of 1918 and read what historians, sociologists, epidemiologists, and virologists were saying. All of them were saying pandemics can take 3-5 years; not one of them said 3 months. We knew that we were entering a weighty, heavy period of time. If we were to do the song now it would probably be completely different.
RC – Now that the pandemic has taken a break and the lockdown is practically over, do you intend to take your work to the stage? What can we expect from the duo until the end of the year? Have you ever come to Brazil?
Mike: I’d love to visit Brazil! But that’s probably a long ways off. I have a great respect for Brazilian musicians like Jobim, and Gil and Astrud Gilberto. There’s even a slight Bossa-nova baseline in the chorus of “Wormhole.”
Mandy: We have a tribute act that gigs regularly, even gigged virtually during the pandemic for private events. Those gigs have not quite yet returned to normal but we are just starting to think about gigging our original material.
Mike: It would be fun, but to do it right I’d definitely want to put a band together, which also ups the expense of touring.
Mandy: And we are still working in the studio, with a couple new singles in the pipeline. So please follow us on Spotify / Apple Music, or wherever you stream so you can hear what’s next.
Mike: It really helps when people click that follow, like, save, or the subscribe and share buttons. We are so grateful to talk to Rock Cabeça, who has supported us before. Thank you so much!
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