SXSW 2010: The Mantles

Posted on Feb 20th 2010 for AOL Spinner by Annamarya Scaccia

With two acclaimed 7-inches to their name and a mesmeric self-titled debut released this past September, it’s no wonder California-based garage rock quartet, the Mantles, is the subject of flattering blogger buzz. After returning from a US tour with fellow San Franciscan Ty Segall, the indie outfit is ready to bring their brand of shimmering throwback pop to this year’s SXSW festival. Vocalist-guitarist Michael Oliveras and bassist Matt Roberts recently chatted with Spinner about what inspires their music and how they went from a garage band to a touring act.

How did the Mantles form?
Michael Oliveras: Originally, it was me and Virginia [Weatherby], the drummer. She lived in this place that actually had a garage. Two of her housemates were in bands, and everything has always been set up in the garage. When I saw that, I was like, “Wow, can we use this? Do you want to jam?” She knew how to play the drums. She kinda did, but not really. So it kinda just came out of that. It was an excuse to play out of order and play on her roommate’s equipment.

Matt Roberts: It should be noted that it’s insanely rare for a place in San Francisco to have a garage. They’re the only people I’ve ever met that didn’t have a garage with four cars in it or no garage at all. I was actually playing in a band of one of the roommates in that same garage, so that didn’t really crossover, playing music, until Drew Cramer, our guitar player, and I sort of recorded the first single together in Drew’s basement, and then we joined a little bit after that.

How did you pick your band name?
MO: We went under a couple of band names. Tiny Vikings was one of them. Horrible. The Grains, also bad. West Wind was terrible. Thunder Lips, horrifying. Those were all our attempts at a band name, but we were never really happy with any of those, so we just continued to play the name game. We would blurt out names every time we saw each other.

MR: When they said Mantles, nobody vomited, so they stuck with that one.

MO: Mantles was the least offensive.

How would you describe your music?
MO: It’s like ’60s/’80s garage rock. It can only be made by this group of people, and it takes a lot longer to make than it sounds like it would.

MR: The band was started by Michael and Virginia [Weatherby] as kind of messing around. I don’t really think they were going for anything specific, but when I saw them, I definitely thought they had an original sound, even though it referenced stuff from earlier eras. Other people often compare it to New Zealand ’80s pop music. I described it a long time as “If the Clean was into the Seeds instead of the punk underground.”

MO: There’s an element of carefree-ness and just having fun. That’s basically why we started the band, just to have fun. It’s very uncalculated.

What influences that sound?
MR: Things I like I don’t think necessarily are influencing the music. I’m just trying to do stuff that’s tasteful. The Mantles, before I was ever in the band, maybe wasn’t fully developed, but I felt they had a sound. The kind of bass playing I like in music would be totally inappropriate for this. I’m just trying to do stuff that doesn’t take away from what they already have. We all share in liking the classic ’60s rock, and I’m kinda like the obscure-record guy. I like a lot of English ’80s, totally inept pop music. I feel like it’s not really related. Things I like that would [be] influences would be all that New Zealand ’80s stuff, and also the early ’80s LA paisley underground stuff I like a lot. We get compared to that a lot, and I don’t know if it actually has an influence, but I certainly like the Rain Parade and Opal and stuff like that too.

MO: I like a lot of old radio music and all that stuff that is really good [but] doesn’t get much radio time, like the Seeds, Love, and the first Pink Floyd album. Also, the Shags, Can and Link Wray.

Any musical guilty pleasures?
MO: I’d say freestyle music.

MR: I think we’d all agree on liking freestyle. I don’t feel very guilty about that. What I do [feel guilty about is] Genesis’ ‘Abacab,’ the first or second album Phil Collins sings on. It’s pretty uncool.

MO: I’d say country music, because it’s hard to find people to listen to that with you. It’s usually people leaving the room when I start to put on B.J. Thomas’s version of ‘I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry.’

Who was your first celeb crush?
MO: I think Molly Ringwald.

MR: I would say, what was her name that played Mallory on ‘Family Ties’? I suddenly can’t remember her name. I think more important, in relation to Molly Ringwald, was I knew that I was weird when I was into the Ally Sheedy character in ‘Breakfast Club’ and not Molly Ringwald. I also thought she looked better when she had dandruff and stuff, before she cleaned up.

Beatles or Stones?
MO: This is constantly changing for me but, more often than not, it’s the Stones. But last year, it was the Beatles. This year’s just starting, so I can’t tell if it’s a Stones year or a Beatles year.

MR: I would say the Beatles, no question. I’m also positive that Drew would say the Stones, no question.

Any crazy tour stories?
MO: Being really sick and trying to play a set, or being at a frat house in Princeton. That was like the craziest. It was basically like being inside Animal House. There was open urination and stuff going on right in front of you.

MR: Also, on tour, at multiple shows, I’ve been witness to Michael and Drew having some on-stage battles that maybe nobody in the audience noticed, but they involved Drew trying to play as loud as he could and then Michael unplugging Drew in the middle of the set. Once it was successful, and Drew continued to play and didn’t notice.

MO: The most unsightly and uncomfortable viewing experience on tour was [traveling] with Matt and watching him eat a new regional meat.

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