Mandala members Oli Mortham and Jack Fargher speak openly about their life on the university circuit, upcoming live shows and what’s next for the instrumental progressive metallers…
How did Mandala come to be?
Oli: Technically, mine and Jack’s musical love affair was sparked by an ice-breaking chink of our pint glasses on the first night at our then university halls bar. We were each sporting a band t-shirt; Jack was rocking a Deftones shirt while I turned up sporting my Rage Against The Machine top, in the same unsubtle hope of luring someone like-mindedly musical.
Jack: Yeah, it soon became apparent that metal was our promiscuous muse.
Who are the band’s main influences?
Oli: Reuben and Biffy Clyro, for their ability to be catchy motherfuckers without ever sacrificing their honesty, heaviness and inspiring disregard for traditional song structures. The Mars Volta, for proving cacophonic psychadelia can make completely justifiable musical sense. Tool and TesseracT, for using guitars, drums and vocals to create symphonies epic and realised enough to bring Sibelius, Shostakovich and Grieg crashing back to life. Meshuggah, for teaching me that rhythm is equally as evocative and powerful as melody, and showing me how to channel absolutely disgusting brutality with masterful control. Jeff Buckley, for providing a standard of what it means to be a front-man whose only concern was the precision and elegance of his voice, not his image.
Jack: Don’t forget Hans Zimmer!
How does the creation of now material come about?
Jack: Oli writes music that makes me cry. I then spend weeks crying and playing drums to go with it. Stuff gets added and taken away, you know, standard procedure really.
Oli: All our music starts with a theme or a lone riff, a very basic pulse on which a song can be built, and each one of those pulses happens by accident: I never sit down with a plan to compose, the themes either pop into my head on the bus, in the shower, or are mess-arounds in between practising an already fully-formed song and capture my attention. After that I will obsessively explore that single theme for all its possible nuances, reinterpretations and progressions into further sections, and slowly the fractured pieces of a song will reveal themselves. After that point it’s almost an act of glueing and riveting the song together with mini bridges or fills, which can sometimes balloon into further three minute sections if I’m feeling frivolous – hence the 8 minute epics in our repertoire like ‘Spaniard’s Sigh’.
What is the best gig you have played?
Oli: The majority of our gigs have been intimate affairs, so size wise we haven’t really got much to brag about. Although what they’ve lacked in numbers has been made up for in character; the first gig Mandala ever played was just Jack and I as a two-piece at a friend’s Hallowe’en house party in the second year of Uni. The house itself had literally no insulation so it was almost colder inside than it would have been out, to the point where you could see everyone’s breath, which, in a way, provided us with a free smoke machine – atmospheric! We had no PA system, no lighting (we made do with a lamp strategically placed behind a red curtain to give the room a moody red glow) and no stage, so ended up playing amongst the crowd in what was essentially a dining room with zero acoustic quality, meaning the sound of the drums drowned out the guitar. On top of that we were in our Hallowe’en apparel, me an acid-crying-vampire and Jack, a tree. Good times.
Jack: Yeah, that was a great night. Biggest crowd prob at the old Upin Arms pub in Reading, we packed the place out. Best gig that one!
How did you find being a band at university?
Jack: Excruciatingly difficult. There is a reason why ‘insert famous musician’ dropped out of university/art school/the circus to make bands a success.
Oli: Unfortunately, Reading – despite it’s musical reputation – doesn’t have much of a local scene. Most of what once were music venues have been converted into clubs and bars to appeal to the masses of students, so there isn’t really much in the way of dedicated gig venues. This took its toll on playing live a bit and gigs were few and far between, but it allowed us a lot of time to write music and develop our set and sound to a place where now we’re like a loaded spring.
If you could support any band, who would it be?
Oli: Any of the hundreds of bands who I have seen which give me the buzz to go out there and play myself, but top of that list at the moment has to be TesseracT.
Where do you see the band going in the future?
Oli: Right now we’re keeping our foresight restricted to the coming year, and in that time our goal is to put together an EP that we’re proud of. There are probably two/three songs that need finishing and then we’ll be ready to lay it down.
Jack: Yeah, we will be spending the year focusing our sound & finding more like minded musicians to help us achieve our goal.
How is the search for a vocalist going?
Oli: At the moment our crosshairs are locked on getting a solid new bassist, in order to get the musical foundations of the band set in stone. So, we’re not actively putting feelers out for vocalists, but that doesn’t mean the vocalist slot isn’t open, it definitely is. Finding a vocalist is and always has been the ultimate goal. Anyone who is interested is welcome to send us a demo, as putting vocals to our songs is the final puzzle piece we need.
Contact Mandala if you are interested at firstname.lastname@example.org