HomeInterviewsMandancing Channels Collaborative Spirit to Create Music Straight From the Heart

Mandancing Channels Collaborative Spirit to Create Music Straight From the Heart

Photo by Meagan Broccoli

In the words of their song “Passing Out,” the music of the New Jersey-based indie folk rock band Mandancing makes you feel like you’re not alone. Whether it’s from the cathartic build-ups and breakdowns, complex arrangements bolstered by three guitars, or frontman Stephen R. Kelly’s delivery of raw, honest lyrics, there is a palpable connection formed between the music and listener that is undeniably powerful.

This past spring, Mandancing joined the team at Take This To Heart Records, which is a Massachusetts-based indie record label. Readers might be aware of this label through Hodera or Save Face, which are two other notable New Jersey based bands signed to this label. They’ve all shared the bill with each other at shows.

This year, in addition to joining Take This to Heart Records, Mandancing re-released their debut album, Everyone Else, released a new 4-song EP called Hands on 3, spent a bunch of time on the road touring and earned a spot in the lineup for the upcoming Champagne Jam 2018, The Front Bottoms’s annual holiday show at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park on December 16.

Mandancing is Stephen G. Kelly on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Ben Petty on guitar, Mark Bucci on guitar, Thomas DeVinko on drums and Adrian Kabigting on bass. Together, Mandancing creates music that forms a bond with the audience—listeners realize that they have shared the same thoughts, feelings and experiences expressed in the songs and this makes a lasting impression.

The Pop Break had the chance to interview Mandancing to talk about joining Take This To Heart Records, the new Hands on 3 EP, the songs of Everyone Else, songwriting and the impact their music has on listeners.

While explaining how it came about that Mandancing joined Take This To Heart Records, Kelly said that it was a good happenstance. It was one of those scenarios that all bands hope for where the right person heard their music at the right time.

It all occurred at a show they played at Asbury Park Brewery with Save Face’s frontman Tyler Povanda who was playing solo that night. Before Save Face signed to Epitaph Records, they were on Take This To Heart. Povanda enjoyed their set so much that he got in touch with the head of Take This To Heart Records, to tell him to check out Mandancing. A few days later, they were in contact and it resulted in a record deal.

Ironically, Kelly said, this all happened soon after they decided not to go searching for a label. Clearly, fate had another idea for Mandancing.

Since they became a part of the team at Take This To Heart, “It’s been helpful,” Kelly said. “We have someone else helping to steer the ship and it’s a new atmosphere that we’re not necessarily used to.”

Photo taken by Laura Curry

A major benefit of being a part of Take This To Heart Records is that they’re able to extend Mandancing’s reach to potential listeners. It has also given the band more experience in the business side of the industry.

“It’s been interesting getting to know the other end of things as far as music business is concerned,” Kelly said. “It’s an added bonus to have someone who has much more knowledge in terms of the industry on our side. They help take our vision and make it more accessible to people who might not have found out about us just through the DIY scene.”

People who have encountered Mandancing in the DIY scene quickly discover that their sound is very distinct and memorable—and so is each show. Kelly describes how each show is different in that they play to the room and it’s an improv type of situation.

“Although the songs have certain structures that are always there, the way they’re played can be nuanced and played around with at each show,” Kelly said. “For the space that we’re playing, and for the people in attendance, we’d like to provide them with something that is unique to that place in time.”

Mandancing’s EP release show for Hands On 3 at Fm Jersey City was a perfect instance of giving listeners a distinct show that cannot be replicated. Their set had show-goers fully immersed in the experience—they sang the lyrics, moved to the music and simply appreciated the passion with which Mandancing performs.

Their before-show ritual – that some may have witnessed at their release show – had a direct impact on their latest release, the Hands on 3 EP.

To explain the origin of the EP’s name, Kelly said that during live shows, they started putting their hands in like a team does before playing a game to reflect their new collaborative spirit.

“It was the first effort that all of us as a five piece band really worked on together,” Kelly said. “Whereas with the first record, it was primarily just Ben and I, and now everyone had their hands in on it.”

In particular, this EP has four tracks, some of which were written a couple years ago, and some more recently. On the topic of themes for the EP, Kelly summed it up concisely: “The EP has a lot to do with remembrance and memory,” he said. “While things have happened in your past that weren’t so good, you can use what you’ve learned from your past to make yourself better now and for the future.”

Kelly thinks that perhaps it’s learning from your mistakes and the notion of remembrance in general that shines through the most in these songs.

From their first record Everyone Else to the Hands on 3 EP, Mandancing evolved in a sense that they’ve become more collaborative. And as far as the sound of their music, Kelly said, “Stylistically, it’s going to change and manifest itself the way it will—without too much pressure. We don’t put a lot of pressure on how everything is supposed to sound.”

The way in which they operate as a five-piece revolves around everyone’s individual style of playing.

“It’s every piece of the puzzle just coming together in a way that is unique to the song and to the person who’s playing their instrument,” Kelly said.

In other words, no one is settling on any particular sound, and each band member plays the way he enjoys it the most.

“There’s not necessarily any constraints on how things should be played, which lends itself to a nice creative process,” Kelly said.

Photo by Maegan Broccoli

This lack of constraints transfers over to live shows, as Kelly finds that performing provides him with a sense of liberation.

“When I play live, it’s one of the few times I’m in a space where I get to forget about everything and be in the moment,” Kelly said.

Reflecting this, listeners may find that they are fully living in the moment during a Mandancing show.

Songs like “Passing Out,” “Broken” and “Stones (again) ((and again))” will stick with you since your first experience hearing them, no matter how much time passes. You’ll quickly recall the raw emotion of Kelly’s vocals as he delivers heart-rending lyrics about loss, loneliness and fear.

“Broken” in particular stands out as an emotionally-moving track, and upon hearing it, listeners may wonder what brought on its creation. Kelly explained that his cousin passed away shortly before writing the song and the first lyrics are inspired by this tragedy.

“Nothing like that had ever happened in my life or in my family’s experience, collectively,” Kelly said. “It was a very heavy time. Perhaps it was a practice in trying to find some light in the current darkness of that situation. And it was also pondering my own mistakes and shortcomings.”

Their songs “Broken” and “Stones (again) ((and again))” are impactful in any setting, especially for acoustic performances, Kelly explained. They’re very word-based and it’s more of what the song’s about rather than how it sounds. Songs like these inspire a shared understanding brought on by knowing that someone else feels the same way you do.

As contradictory as it sounds, Kelly explains that during the songwriting process, creating a sense of connection with the listener is both intentional and instinctive.

“It’s partly both—the reason why I like to write music is because I want to give back to what it was that made me feel okay in the past,” Kelly said.

Back in high school, he was listening to certain bands that none of his peers had heard of and he felt a strong connection to their music.

“I could be by myself listening to music that was very deep and I found profound meaning in it,” Kelly said. “It would help me be okay with the stuff that I was dealing with growing up. Part of the goal is wanting to give back to that. And then I also enjoy the challenge of writing something that makes me feel a certain way in the hopes that there’s a shared connectedness.

While the intention to create a bond with listeners is definitely there, Kelly explains, he’s also just drawn to that style of writing, especially when it comes to the words and the content. He enjoys the challenge of it all.

For example, if Kelly has an unanswered question or a certain feeling that he is unsure of, songwriting helps him figure it out. And once he does, he’s eager to share his newfound wisdom with others.

“I realized recently that every time I finish writing a song, my life makes more sense,” Kelly said. “We’re in a time where a lot of things are so polarized, people just can’t agree with each other. And a lot of people don’t even want to have conversations. They’d rather just ignore their neighbor or hate on them. And I’ve always been on the opposite school of thought of wanting to find a common ground or understanding with everyone that’s here.”

Photo by Emery Meyer

Mandancing’s song “Passing Out” is an instance in which Kelly found enlightenment after writing the lyrics and ultimately, it helped him overcome an emotionally-daunting situation.

Listeners may find that hearing this track will help them feel better if they’re down. “Passing Out” reminds listeners that while we might feel alone and have our own personal issues that get overwhelming at times, we all experience this and go through rough patches. This track may help put everything into perspective when it feels like your mind is unraveling.

Interestingly enough, ”Passing Out” was written long before their debut album Everyone Else was released. This song came about from a very intense relationship that just didn’t work out.

“Things fell apart and dissolved as fast as they started and there was no ending to this story, it was just left open,” Kelly said. “At the time, it left me feeling really beside myself and lonely. I think that song was a practice in figuring that out and seeing how I could be okay.”

It also helps to share an experience that you’ve gone through with someone else, and playing songs for people allows this to happen, Kelly stresses.

It’s easy to understand that a connection with others is how we survive in life, and music has a way of bringing people together. For Kelly, this is seen as the best part about creating and performing music.

“We weren’t necessarily a group of friends before we started playing as a band,” Kelly said. “Some of us didn’t even know each other. And now, we’re best friends and we get along. For me, that’s the best part of it. It’s like having another family and we always have a good time together.”

Kelly also loves providing a space for people to enjoy music and each other’s company.

“The camaraderie and feeling of family that has been able to grow as a result of us playing together is really special,” Kelly said.

Catch Mandancing’s performance at Champagne Jam 2018 on December 16, where they’ll be playing alongside The Front Bottoms, Manchester Orchestra, SWMRS, Remo Drive, Beach Bunny, Shannen Moser and The Moms.

Laura Curry
Laura Curry
Laura Curry is a Rutgers University graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies. Interviewing bands and writing about music is her passion. She is a frequent concert-goer, whether they’re happening in New Brunswick basements, Asbury Park venues, concert halls in NYC and anywhere in between. Alternative rock is her go-to genre (i.e. Kings of Leon, Cage the Elephant, Foals, The Maine and lots more). When she isn’t writing for The Pop Break, she works at the North Brunswick Public Library, which offers plenty of Fantasy/Adventure novels to quench her love of reading. Additionally, she takes on creative projects from dream catchers and scrapbooks to paintings and jewelry making. She’s always happy to talk about her furry Maine Coon cat Austen and his knack for playing fetch and hide and seek. Just try not to ask about her next career move, because trust me, she’s working on it.

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