November 03, 2006
What can one say about a band they really, really love? Sometimes it's best just to stand back and let the music do the talking. That's sort of how I feel about Mahogany; they make great music, so trying to describe what it is that makes them wonderful just seems to be a futile exercise. This collective makes music that's inspired by those early 1980s records on 4AD, Factory, and Crepuscule, but with a decidedly modern sensibility. This collective is more than just mere tribute; as you'll see below, they take great pains to make a grand artistic statement with their music. My discussion with Mahogany leader and artistic advisor (for lack of a better term) Andrew Prinz has been a long time coming, so it didn't really surprise me that the conversation headed in a direction that might best be called nerdy. But it's cool; Prinz is a very talented man, and his art is worth seeking out. I enjoyed our conversation and I enjoyed their newest album, Connectivity!. It's worth your time, my friends, as you will see below.
The first record I owned of yours was a four-song, one sided 12" EP that you released under the name Mohagany. What was the reason that your name was different? Was it because there was a different lineup?
Yeah. We were just unsure of what spelling of the name to use! (Laughs) My sister and I had primarily worked on that material together.
I know you had already released records as Mahogany before that one appeared, so I have always wondered about that.
I believe that those songs were ones we did right before we finished the first album, and we were just like, "we'll do this for fun, let's see what happens!" So it was just done as a fun experiment.
It was one of my favorite records at the time, when I had a record player. When I had it, it was one record I would play a lot. I bought it in a package deal when Mike Landucci was selling ten records for five bucks on the indie-pop list.
Yeah, I remember that! That was cool.
And when I got it, the artwork was a drawing one of his kids had done at school, and it had a grade on it. They made a B! (Laughs)
(Laughs) I don't think we had anything to do with that pressing! WE had taken it to CD by that point, and whatever he wanted to do with the vinyl, that was cool.
Jumping forward to the present, I really love Connectivity!. How was it to work with Robin Guthrie?
He is an amazing and very kind, yet very opinionated, human being. He is, ultimately, an artist of the best kind. You get a sense of all of the things he has done before when you talk to him and when you look at the work that you are doing together. It's very friendly, but it's also very challenging to collaborate like that. For us, it was a dream come true to work with him. He was so great to work with, and we had so many positive things to say about what we were doing. I think it really helped for him to come in, listening to some of the things we were doing, and say, "How do you feel about this?" I felt like he was bringing us a sonic hug to everything. He'd say, "Yes, this is really cool, why don't you bring out these elements more," or, "Why don't you develop this idea a little more?" He helped us make everything more than what it could be.
I imagine going into the studio with him for the first time was a humbling experience.
Actually, the great part about it was that we worked on it over the internet together. We sent him tracks, and he would edit them or mix them or add guitars to them at his studio in France, and then he'd send them back to us. We did three songs together, which are all on the record. We definitely want to get in a room together with him at some point and be more directly involved in creating music together. So I guess what I am interested in is a dialogue. Not just with Robin Guthrie, but with any musician. He's been here to hang out, and I talked to him when he was in California, but so far this has been all a romance of letters, and I think we're both looking forward to working together in person, because there's been a lot of talk about that. It's something we're all anticipating.
When I got the record, the first song I went to was the remix of "My Bed Is My Castle," which has been touted as featuring Lucy Guthrie (Robin Guthrie's daughter with former Cocteau Twins lead singer Elizabeth Fraser.) It was so amazing to listen to that song, because it sounded like an outtake from Garlands. Did you know she was going to sing on the remix?
He had mentioned it to us, and we thought it was a great idea. I think that if we were to do another project together, we would definitely want to bring her in to sing. She is very much the product of both of her parents, hearing the way it came together and the way she sang. I though tit was great! The thing about the Cocteau Twins was that they were--and still are, honestly--they always did things the right way. If you listen to them, it's just hit after hit after hit, and every song on their records was wonderful. They were really into the art of the album, and I liked talking to Robin about all of that.
That's the thing I always loved about them. They always focused their creative energy on whatever they did. I remember being a kid in the Eighties, paying six or seven bucks for records like Tiny Dynamine or Love's Easy Tears, and those three or four songs would just blow you away.
Yeah! Those were the best.
I understand that during the recording of Connectivity!, you had some difficulties. (Their studio was robbed in September of 2005, while working on the album.) With having to start over, do you think it improved the album?
Sure! (Pause, then loud laughter) I had been working on the record for a while, and had been working with other people on it for a while. Bobby, who is the drummer and programmer, Lorraine, and I, we had a core set of songs that we wanted to finish, that we felt should be on Connectivity!, and we had a pretty good idea about what they should sound like. There had been a lot of work that needed to go into them, and when we got to the point where we could take all of those elements and put them together, the robbery happened, and we lost a lot of equipment in that. In the end, we had a lot of the backing tracks, and a lot of the work that we had done was on a hard drive. We were basically given the best chance to go back and fix all of the things we felt weren't strong enough yet, or, in some cases, just give it a fresh face. I think that it was good for us. I think we're looking forward to working a completely different way the next time around, and going towards the next step in our sound. I don't want to get stuck in a formula. Music should be fun, you know?
Yeah, and as you mention it, there's a happy, hopeful vibe to Connectivity!. When I listened to the music, the first thing I heard was your dark, post-punk/new wave style, but when I listened to it again and again, I couldn't miss the undeniable ray of positivity that comes beaming out of your songs. I apologize for the hippy-dippy, metaphysical bit there.
(Laughs) No, actually, that's the kind of thing we were hoping would resonate with other people.
All of these bad experiences, it reminds me of a phrase I hear what religious people say about God, how "One door doesn't close without another one opening." Do you think that was the case with Mahogany?
Yeah, you could definitely put it in those terms. If you've got an idea, you just have to carry it out. Sometimes, I don’t think that's always the right decision when you are faced with an "I don't have any of my things anymore and I don't know how to continue" moment. But I think everybody really pulled together, and in the end, it was a really good thing for the band to have. A lot of expensive things were stolen, but they were things that don't really matter to us, you know what I mean? It's just equipment.
You can always replace it, you can borrow it, no one got hurt like Jam Master Jay, and it doesn't end the band because you don't have it any more.
Mahogany has never been into technology. What makes the band is the compositional content, the lyrical content. It's not about the technology. The idea of the band is stronger than technology. I think that's one thing that's interesting. Over the last few years, with digital technology coming in, the dot com boom and everything, there have been a lot of concepts that have seemed "good" just because they were digital. Sometimes the technology isn't appropriate.
Just because you have the ability to make a great-sounding record doesn't mean you have the ability to make a great-sounding record.
(Laughs) Right! And in our case, it took us a long time, because we needed to learn a lot. I was really looking back at a lot of music theory I had kind of gotten into over the years, but I really felt I needed to learn more.
Going back to what we were talking about earlier and the Cocteau Twins' ethic of making each record a strong artistic statement and full presentation. One thing I've noticed about Mahogany is that each release is a strong artistic statement, too--from the artwork to the music. Are the visual elements of your artwork as important a part of Mahogany as the music?
I think it's a total concept. I grew up liking bands that seemed to have an idea of what they were doing at all moments. Bands like New Order and Cocteau Twins, and even a band like Throbbing Gristles, a band that's more akin to a performance group--you could really tell that they cared about what they were doing. We look up to that, and hopefully we can do that, too. We're just trying to add to the dialogue. The band has, more and more, become a collaborative effort, and the artwork is like that, too. Everybody contributes to the art and we talk about what to do with it. It's important. For a band like Mahogany, it's not so much about our look as people or anything like that, as much as it is about the look and the feel of the music itself. I think our music is kind of autonomous. You don't need to get the concept in the graphic and the visual to get the music. It's not so ego-centered.
(At this point, Andrew and I totally geek out, with a long conversation that leads on to subjects such as Frazier Chorus, our personal record collections, 23 Envelope, and growing up in the 1980s. It was an interesting conversation, but ultimately, um, a bit mundane.)
Mahogany's Connectivity! is available now on Darla Records