Canal Street Tavern Will Present the Band’s Sense of Positive Enlightenment
By Nick Schwab
The modus operandi of The Mantras according to guitarist Keith Allen is for people to “feel like anything is possible. That there is hope in the world and like they can do anything.” Then he continues about the feeling that the band emits at lives shows: “It is a positive message: music can save us.”
This higher sense of happiness is the very definition of their band name. According to Allen, their message and their music make a reference to that repeated phrase or sound used in meditation to clear your head or keep negative energy away from your mental state. It can help you reach a point of enlightenment or peace during meditation.
The Mantras reach this sense of happiness by making their sound cut from the same cloth of the positive bands of yesteryear, but they add different types of influences. Also, according to Allen, he and his bandmates (Marcus Horth on guitars and vocals, Brian Tyndall on bass, Justin Loew on drums, and Brent Vaughn on percussion) put a large emphasis on creative aspects and greater instrumental skill.
Despite having influences that range from electronic to world and psychedelic, Allen does consider The Mantras a jam band.
“I think that is a staple of a jam band: not playing one specific style of music,” Allen added on that note.
However, Allen says the Mantras are “a little more organized than most people expect a jam band to be.” He also speaks of their “larger emphasis on songwriting and musicianship that gets overlooked by most jam bands.”
This skill is evident on their leadoff track, “Blue Tiger,” on their most beloved album, How Many?. On it, the listener can hear Allen’s slide-guitar and a southern-grooved rhythm section.
It is this kind of ear for tune and guitar-hero worship that Allen hopes sets them apart from the usual jam bands that are put on pedestals, such as Phish and The Grateful Dead.
“People want to hide that they like those bands when they are in these types of bands,” Allen says about the “hierarchy” that is created in the sub-genre. “I don’t know if it’s an asset either though. If you sound like those bands you will always be second or third tier. It’s hard to break away from that if you don’t have a different sound.”
Allen even admits that, with the way that music is digested nowadays, it is harder to sound progressive than it was in the days of “classic” rock and MTV popularity.
“It’s hard to break out and sound original now, because people have access to so much out there,” he stated.
However, Allen thinks The Mantras will prevail with their talent … and their sense of fun.
“I think some bands get locked into being a fun band or a party band, but might not have the musical caliber. We have a great deal of intensity,” said Allen. He then adds, “We also have a little bit of humor. It’s not just super serious all the time.”
As far as the album How Many? goes, Allen is also quite proud of it, as he had much more time to make it great.
“That album is a baby of mine. It was the first time we ever got free rein in the studio. We had no limits on time,” he described. “We finally found a sound we really liked and we were able to put it down.”
Allen also says that he spent countless hours editing and doing multiple takes on the album, including sixteen takes of the slide whistle on the song Miguel’s Dream.
“I do get perfectionistic when it comes to the production,” said Allen. “I can’t say if there is anything I would have done differently. The past is the past. It’s like drawing a picture: you can continuously shade it over and over. Or you can step back and say: ‘This is done.’”
Despite the often cheerful themes of their music, Allen says he is at his most creative during times of “crisis”.
“Usually I write the best when I am going through changes,” Allen concluded, “trying to make the world more explainable by putting it into song.”
The Mantras will play at Canal Street Cavern on Thursday, January 19th. Also, an event they hold , The Mantrabash Music & Art Festival, is scheduled to be held in Ferguson, North Carolina on Thursday, June 21 – Saturday June 23, 2012.
Reach DCP freelance writer Nick Schwab at Nick Schwab@DaytonCityPaper.com.