The Mantles
by Kevin J. Elliott

If there’s one absolute that can be culled from speaking with San Francisco’s Mantles, and in an exercise of obsession, listening to their self-titled debut incessantly since the day it arrived, is that this band does not sound like the Clean. All New Zealand comparisons should slide off the table (though I do hear some of the Chills hollow rattle-round). I’ve been indulging with my Byrds records in the new crisp autumn air lately and this near-perfect introduction to the Mantles serves as a perfect compliment, were it crossed in a punkish frappe with a Wipers band less agitated or an early-Cramps line-up less morbid. Likely no one will agree on an apt descriptor, instead adjectives like solid, raucous, shambolic, and catchy will have to do. Who would pose a complaint with that? What most will agree upon is that the Mantles debut, after a couple of small-press singles, is a peculiarly straight-laced record for the usually obtuse output of Siltbreeze (then again, that might launch an argument as to what’s straight-laced and what’s obtuse). Whatever the case, the record is a more than welcome addition to bands like Wooden Shjips, Thee Oh Sees, the Fresh and Onlys, and Sic Alps, who are spearheading the current San Francisco psych renaissance.

First off I’d like to get everyone’s names and what they do in the band?

Michael O is the mastermind of the band (he plays guitar and sings); Virginia W lays down the beats and helps with arrangements; Matt R plays bass and talks a lot; and Drew C “shreds” on guitar with his face to the wall. There’s also a new dude, Matt K, on organ and who adds his boyish good looks to the band.

How did the Mantles get started?

Virginia: I lost my job and was advised to find a couple of “shitbags” to help me kill time. Enter Michael, who was impressed that I lived in a house in San Francisco with a garage that you could practice in. He convinced me to jam even though I had never really played drums before. With some 40s in hand, Michael lured his high school buddy Jermaine to come play bass and the three of us spent the summer playing music as an excuse to drink during the day and not feel guilty.

Matt: I saw this incarnation of the band and asked to put out a single. I goaded Drew into letting me “co-produce” the record in his garage. Slowly Drew seeped into the band and I wasn’t too far behind, as I was the only bass player shitty enough to get in the ballpark of Jermaine after he decided to leave.

Were you all in other bands before this one? If so, can you list them?

Michael: I was in an emo band in high school called the Swine, and a “spacerock” band in Santa Cruz called Knights Landing. There was a total of four shows between the two.

Matt: Crabapples who put out a floppy disk on Slumberland and The The David.

Drew: Empathy, Chelsea’s Gone Under, Mainspring, Brokenspoke, Khai, Waves Plus Michael, the Utensils, Technicolor, the Mosquitoes, the Kissing Book, the Lucksmiths, the Mosquitoes of Death, Still Flyin’, and Personal and the Pizzas!!!

Virginia: Nope

How did they differ from what you do now? What was it about those bands that led to the Mantles?

Michael: They taught me the magic of minor chords.

I noticed that the first single came out in 2006, in this day in age that’s light years for a band. Why has it taken so long to get an album out? How have the Mantles changed sonically and aesthetically since the time of creation?

Virginia: Good question. I guess we’re not the best at being total go-getters. But to our credit, we record, and then the tracks just sit there on the back burner. We recorded this album almost a year ago now, and because of timing issues, it’s only just now being released.

Michael: We ain’t losers, I swear.

I’ve heard you compared to everything from the Paisley Underground bands of early-80s LA to the late-80s bands of New Zealand. Do you think those comparisons are apt? Are you fans of those records, and if so, are there records in particular that inspired you to do what you’re doing now?

Michael: I will be completely honest and say that I had never heard of any of these bands or scenes before I was in the Mantles and people started comparing my songs to them.

Matt: This is where I can chime in and completely bore you to tears unless you are currently sitting behind a counter at a record store. Rather than alerting the snooze police, I’ll just say that Michael is a deadringer for cool-era rabbits-in-pockets Graeme Downes and Michael has no idea who that is. If you, the reader, do not know who that is, you are probably much more fun to hang out with. But seriously folks, can all you writers stop comparing everyone to the Clean these days? It’s obscene.

I always ask this one. It’s a fill in the blanks. In 10th grade I was in ___ listening to ___ with ___ doing ___ and wishing I was ___.

In 10 grade I was in detention listening to Madness with self doubt doing Madlibs wishing I was happy.

To my ears, you guys/girls fit into a similar fold of bands mining ’60s psychedelia and pop—a much more traditional sound found in bands like Sic Alps, Fresh and Onlys, Thee Oh Sees, and to an extent, Wooden Shjips. Is there a communal aspect that you share with those bands?

Virginia: I have lived in the Bay Area all my life, and it’s true that I have never seen the scene more thriving then it is right now. So many people doing rad stuff. We dig all the bands you mentioned a lot, but honestly have not played with any of them except for the Fresh and Onlys at an Oakland show attended by six people.

Matt: Our wall of sound is shittier than theirs.

Michael: But we love them!

Why do you think San Francisco continues to nurture a sound like this?

Michael: There is always a thick fog hanging over the city resembling a gigantic marijuana cloud. There are also flowers, paisley, and Jerry bears everywhere you look. It’s kinda ridiculous. So you just pick up a guitar and try to do your art, ya dig?

Are there other bands from that community that you think the world ought to know about?

Sonny & the Sunsets, Aerosols, Art Museums, Coconut, Wild Thing. Just got back from tour with Ty Segall, and that kid dominates!

How did you get hooked up with Siltbreeze? Are you fans of the current or past bands on that roster?

Virginia: Tom Lax contacted us out of the blue saying he liked our first 7-inch and said if we were ever interested in putting out a full length we should let him know. Stoked! Everyone in the band loved Siltbreeze stuff except for Michael, who had never heard of it. He soon learned.

Michael: Teenage Panzerkorps, Sic Alps and Eat Skull are on heavy rotation.

What’s in store for the Mantles? What can we look forward to?

Michael: Our new record is in stores! Go buy it!

Virginia: We are writing more songs as we speak. We are hoping to record the next album with Chris Woodhouse of the Mayyors. Sonic explosion.