Band Interview: Mantravine Is Singapore’s Very Own Sonic Sorcerery Group

If there’s one word to describe the band Mantravine, it will most likely be “psychedelic musicians”. With their bohemian fashion style – consisting mostly of loud prints and tribal-inspired clothing – the members look like they came straight from the 1960s with their free-spirited vibes. And their music well reflects that. Since they’re back from New Zealand, we talk to Deborah (Singer), Karen (Violinist), Rupak (Music Producer), Isuru (Guitarist), and Eriko and Farhan (Trumpet) about the unique sounds they produce.

Hey folks. Tell us, what’s the ethos behind Mantravine? It’s not simply ‘music’, is it?

D: No, it’s like a perpetually evolving organism. Our music has its own ever-changing personality – like a vine, it grows this way and that, always reaching for the light. There’s also an inevitable conscious edge to our music as it means something from the soul for each of us, just like a mantra. We use sounds and words that are true and ancient to us, how all our essences come from that same ageless place.

R: We engage in collaboration with other art forms like visual arts, puppetry, dance, live painting & poetry. Reach out to us if you have a project that could use music. We’re blessed to be supported by an incredible community that gets involved in the creation process and whom we share music workshops. Here’s a video of our community helping us make a music video from the Arambha album last year.

Your profile describes your sound as World Electronic Music. What is that about?

K: Rupak mixes global rhythms with our respective instruments to create a cohesive whole, featuring all sorts of styles from African percussions to groovy bass lines. Eriko and Farhan add jazzy New Orleans brass, Isuru gives Carnatic Indian ragas with crazy progressive rock riffs, Deborah chants mantras, spoken word poetry and words from other cultures, and I add bluesy, classical melodies. We love some of the genres other people have coined for it like “ethnic psychedelic rock” or “electro organic dance music”.

R: It has also become part of an endeavour to travel to different parts of the world to record live albums, where we collect sound samples from our audience through live looping. When we were playing in Berlin, Germany last year our label wrote to 40 venues with no luck in finding a show. I put out a post on Facebook and a friend in Malaysia, tagged a Japanese guy living in Berlin, who contacted a Mexican guy who got us a show. World Electronic Music has its way of finding shows for us through worldly movements.

It’s quite a mixed bag of nationalities and culture too. How did everyone come together?

I: Essentially we fell into each others’ lives naturally and clicked effortlessly. We have an interesting variation of diversity all weaved together by an attitude of awesomeness.

D: Music transcends all culture and nationality. The cool thing about art is that anyone can make it if they are prepared to reach into their guts. That’s what brings us together. A shared love for gut-grabbing!
R: Mantravine started as a solo electronic project in 2012. As the project got better shows, I invited my favourite artists and whose vibration I felt resonated well. It has been a satisfying selection on a spiritual and personal level to work with the geniuses in the band. 

What does that bring to the table when writing new music? How does the process work, with such a unique ensemble of instruments?

D: As we’ve moved into organic music making in the last year, we’re currently making more music in the moment, using our flow to feel the right time to respond to the beat. That being said, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into each of our shows. We rehearse, record, listen and learn how to communicate better. At first, the improvisation was a bit intimidating but it was through practice and facing my fear that I managed to break through a lot of self-imposed barriers. It has been so liberating to let go on stage. After all, I’m just a channel, part of something much larger than ‘I’.

I: A perfect example of that is our recent performance at Atman Festival in Sri Lanka as a duo, and finished the show as a full on six-piece ensemble with violin, trumpet, clarinet, and vocals. It was an epic collaboration with another band where the music just wrote itself.

E: For structured songs, Rupak gives us an electronic base where we get together for rehearsals to test ideas at shows. We experiment, reflect and settle on a musical flow that feels right which at some stage gets recorded. It has been liberating and challenging because the configuration of the band and set list have changed for every show over the last seven years.

F: We’ve moved into the world of live looping where we make the audience become part of the music-making process. It has been a lot of fun to see people jump up on stage and let go to make funny sounds to help us make our shows always uniquely different.

R: Here is a song called Mama that’s a work in progress piece that we created for our botanical gardens show last year and is dedicated to giving more care to mother earth.

You mentioned that the band went to play and do a workshop at New Zealand’s Luminate Festival. What was that experience like and what kind of workshop did you conduct?

F: It was my first time travelling outside of Singapore far away and Luminate blew my mind. An eight-day camping festival with no garbage anywhere. People brought their own cups and plates to get their food and drinks. The music lineup was phenomenal and we had so much fun playing three shows on different stages during the festival. Hands down, it was the best experience.

R: It can be challenging to get costs covered to travel and share art at international festivals. It was our second time performing in New Zealand and this time we were privileged to be well-supported by Luminate Festival and the National Arts Council. Such support is magnanimous with so many positive consequences like getting more shows, encourages us to be financially self-sustainable and inspires us to write better music.
D: You should check out the video! We share our process of organic music-making with the participants. Each of us is involved in the workshop process, even the participants because they write a song from scratch with us. We even released a track thanks to our label Chill Sessions Records.

You collaborated with two kiwi artists too. What was the experience like?

F: AWESOME. Jonathan Frame Milburn, also known as Loom, is the greatest DJ I’ve ever heard. He gave us this incredibly unique New Zealand-styled sound that was wonky, organic and edgy. The other virtuoso is Noah Dubieniec on dijiridoo and guitar. These guys were seriously inspiring to work with, easy going and we hope to play with them again.

R: We met Noah and Jono at another festival in New Zealand last year called Twisted Frequency Festival. We’re into collaboration so having two kiwi masters on our side this year was gold in giving us an edgy tone.

We hear there’s an album launch in the works. Tell us more!

R: It’s called Cosmic Shaman and it’s a four-track EP we’ve been working on for about two years with artwork made by one of our favourite artists – Ashley Christudasson from Jungle Eye. It will be released by Elliptic Audio Research from USA, which have some of the best electronic funky jazzy glitchy music. We’re planning to organise a party and release it on 7 September 2019 at a secret venue with a visual arts show. We will announce the event via our Facebook page, and here‘s a sneaky teaser exclusively for City Nomads.

Any other upcoming projects and shows to share more about?

K: We’re playing four shows at the F1 alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hans Zimmer, Fat Boy Slim and a bunch of other musical monsters!

R: Three ways to discover how to find out about our next show – like us on Facebook or Instagram to get updates, our website here has a calendar listing about when is the next show, or subscribe to the mailing list on our website to get show updates.

What’s the eventual grand plan for Mantravine?

R: It’s always about making more and better music. We’d like to achieve more consistency with playing transformational and inspiring music to help people connect with each other, the planet and encourage more conscious thought at festivals, collaborations and events. Giving back to the community is an important focus by making albums with our audience, sharing workshops and finding new ways to get people involved with our creative process.