A Q&A with Amy Mantis
Boston, Massachusetts rock duo Amy and Eric, going under the name Amy Mantis & The Space Between…
How did you get the title of your latest release, and what does it mean to you?
Amy: After a lot of deliberation over other titles, we landed on A Place to Land. I don’t remember exactly when it was decided upon… oh wait! I do! We needed the title before we could have the album mastered. So that would have been September of 2019. I wanted something that was connected to the record itself, but there wasn’t a song title that we felt really captured the full scope of this record, so we started looking at the lyrics. There’s a line in ‘If I Told You’ where I sing, “Have you been where I am/Heart in your mouth with no place to land,” and I kept coming back to the last words: no place to land. In some ways I feel like we kind of live in the space between, and therefore we don’t have a place to land. I look at the bands who are our contemporaries in Boston, and they’re awesome. I can rattle off dozens of awesome bands, but none that I feel like we match well with, you know? But this record felt like a place to land. It felt like a homecoming for me as a songwriter, singer, and guitarist. It was, in fact, a place for us to land. We became our own runway so to speak.
Eric: I think about it a little in terms of the line-up, too. There was quite a bit of turn-over for a while, and then we just kind of hit on something that totally worked. It was perfect for that moment in the band’s narrative.
What was the hardest part about putting this release together, and why?
Amy: Once I made the decision to make a full-length album, everything came together. But making that decision was probably the hardest part. I knew I had the material and the band and the producer, but I was scared at first by my desire to do a full-length. To have ten songs all sung by me. When the band was a quartet, we had two singer/songwriters in part because I didn’t believe people would want to listen to me for an entire set or album or whatever. I’m overly concerned at times about taking up too much space, even in my own work.
Eric: From an arrangement and recording standpoint, A Place to Land really came together remarkably easily. There were a few songs that took multiple arrangements or lots of repetition to really nail down, like ‘Next Time We Talk’ or ‘A Distance’, but for the most part, Amy brought the songs to us, and we just rehearsed for months until it was time to track, so by the time we got into the studio, we knew pretty much exactly what we wanted to do. I will say, though, that we recorded in the winter, and in the winter the cold dries my hands out really bad. So, by the end of day one, my hands were a chapped, painful, bloody mess.
Who produced the release – what did they bring to it?
Amy: Sean McLaughlin. He’s the man. I adore Sean and can’t say enough good things about him. He brings a real sense of joy to what he does, and I think it shows. He comes up with great musical ideas and isn’t afraid to try anything. He’s not afraid to be wrong either – we’ve scrapped entire parts that we spent hours doing because they didn’t serve the song. He creates an open and exciting vibe in his studio, and that’s why we keep going back there.
Eric: Sean’s got this way of making one or two small suggestions for a song that make the song itself feel somehow totally different. Like, for our upcoming release, we recorded a song called ‘And the Tears Roll Down’, and once we had all the main ideas for our parts, Sean suggested that he and I should come in during the first chorus rather than at the start of the song. It’s a simple change, but it just did so much for the song. It made the intro feel unique from the rest of the song, and the main drum idea showing up for the first time in the second verse made that part feel like a new part rather than something we were repeating. It also differentiated all the choruses slightly. The whole song just kind of stretched, and the arrangement became so much more dynamic with just that one small suggestion. That’s the kind of producer Sean is. He’s not going to play mind games or just let you do whatever you want or get bogged down in endless experimentation. He’s always open to try something we want to try, but he knows all these really subtle, small tricks to get something that’s not working, working or something that’s just working OK sounding great.
What do you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?
Amy: I’m looking to make people feel something. That’s it. My songs mean one thing to me, but they become the listener’s as soon as they make a connection with it, and it means something entirely different to them. I don’t know who Laura Marling is singing about in ‘How Can I’ but I know how that song makes me feel. Music shaped my world in more ways than I can count. I remember sitting bolt upright in bed after hearing ‘Black Dog’ by Led Zeppelin for the first time and thinking, “Music can do THIS!?” I’ve cried at more concerts than not, and I’d be beyond honoured if my songs moved people the way other people’s songs have moved me. I just want to pay it forward.
Eric: I’d like for people to find it exciting. I’d like for people to want to dance to our music. The idea of dancing to rock music has become this kind of weird taboo. I don’t know why. I guess because moshing kind of subverted the idea of rock as dance music, and then ironic, self-aware moshing kind of subverted the idea of moshing. Now everyone just stands around with their arms crossed, looking self-conscious – myself included. But I feel like we go out of our way to make sure our songs have a kind of groove that will make you want to move your body. Tap your foot. Nod your head. That, and I think Amy’s lyrics deal with important ideas about mental health and self-care. We have this song for our upcoming record called ‘Boundless/Boundaries’ that has a great chorus about setting and keeping boundaries with people you love, which is such an important idea that so many of us overlook in our relationships. The idea we have right now, and we’ll see how it goes, is to do a kind of gang vocal on it, a sing-along kind of vibe. If that song could help someone understand how to articulate their boundaries or better protect and care for themselves or just make someone feel more empowered to protect or care for themselves, and if they sang along, that’d be pretty f’in’ cool.
How does a track normally come together? Can you tell us something about the process?
Amy: I wrote a song in 2019 called ‘I Don’t Know How to Stop’ and it’s about how I literally don’t know how to stop writing songs. I’m constantly writing songs – it’s how I make sense of things. There’s something very grounding for me in finding a rhyme. Long before I started playing guitar, writing songs, and pursuing life as an artist, I was writing poems. Song writing came really naturally – at least the instinct to do so did. Historically, I’d bring in a song to rehearsal, run it down, and if Eric and Jeff liked it, we’d jam on it and work on the arrangement. Every song on A Place to Land was done that way: I’d write a song, bring it to the band, they’d approve, we’d play it endlessly, and then eventually we’d record it. Sometimes I’d bring in a few songs at a time and the one I felt the least keen on were the ones that resonated the most with Eric and Jeff, and they were always right with their assessments. Jeff put his bass down this past spring, bringing our trio to a duo with Eric and me. Since then, our process has evolved into a collaborative writing effort which is so exciting, rewarding, and something I’ve always wanted in my bands but rarely had – until now. We’re working on our next release and going through each song with a fine-tooth comb and getting every line, every word, and every metaphor to be as strong and meaningful as possible. I think it’s bringing our songs to a new level and has me stepping up my game with the songs I’m working on now that will probably be on whatever we do after our current project.
Eric: I think over the years I’ve gotten a good sense of what Amy’s trying to do as an artist, and we’ve developed a good rapport. Generally, Amy will demo a song, and we’ll go through it line by line and work on lyrics and melodic or arrangement ideas.
What band/artists have influenced you the most since you started this project, and why?
Amy: Eric will definitely have a much more robust answer to this question. He sends me stuff that I have no idea how he found. I feel like my influences haven’t really changed that much. My top played artist on Spotify for the past three years has been Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. I’m a classic rock disciple and preach that gospel far and wide. That said, I listen to a much larger variety of music than anyone gives me credit for – myself included. This might not answer the question, but seeing artists like Lucy Dacus, Courtney Barnett, and The Beths get bigger and bigger has been very inspiring and exciting for me. Like, female-led guitar-driven bands with pop sensibilities are on the rise? Deal me in!
Eric: The Beths are super cool. I think Amy doesn’t give herself enough credit in this department. She’s often introducing me to stuff I’ve never heard, Lucy Dacus being a good example. I am a bit of musical hermit crab, though. It’s kind of like gambling, I think. Or maybe mining. If I find something I like, I want to know why it exists, what influenced it, and how. When we first started playing together, I was listening to a lot of New Band Boom stuff out of Japan. I guess I was a little frustrated with the state of the American rock band, and the stuff that was coming out over there was very band-oriented, where the like bands had very distinct sounds and identities. The whole band. They were more than just vessels for a lead singer, which is what I feel a lot of American rock music has become. You know, does it really take that many people to make a Maroon 5 song? Or could you just do it all with some midi sounds and Adam Levine? What do the other members of Imagine Dragons do? Do they even go into the studio with that main guy? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like it when you listen to the music, you know? But Gesu No Kiwami Otome or Tricot or Passepied, however manufactured they are in reality, those bands feel like bands to me, collectives in which every player has a voice, and they’re marketed that way. That, and I was going to a lot of shows at the Middle East in Cambridge, mostly Illegally Blind shows. So, I was seeing a lot of great unsigned Boston bands at the time who may or may not still be together, like the Televibes and Ghost Box Orchestra and Vundabar and New Highway Hymnal, Creaturos, Guerilla Toss, et al. That all sort of led me to the psych revival stuff, like King Gizz, Osees, Quilt, La Luz, etc. That was the music that really got me back into the idea of being in a band.
When the world is back to normal where would you like to tour, and why?
Amy: Europe. I’ve always felt that my music would do well across the pond, especially in the UK – and I hope your readers agree! I sometimes think of what we do as Brit Rock because I draw so heavily on the music the UK has given the world from every decade. From the Beatles to the Clash to Tears for Fears to Muse to Amy Winehouse to Laura Marling to The 1975 to Sam Fender. I love it and I am convinced we are on the wrong continent.
Eric: The easy answer is anywhere/everywhere, but I think it would be a blast to play in Australia right now. My wife and I are considering moving there someday, too, so it’d be a good way to feel things out, find out how big those spiders really are.
If you could pick one track for our readers to listen to in order to get a taste of your music, what would you pick, and why?
Amy: I think the opening track, ‘Better Than Me’ is a fantastic place to start. I wrote it about my issues with social media and the impact that it has. A friend of mine called it a “self-reflective-fuck-you” song and I was like, yes! It combines a lot of elements we continue to draw on over the course of the album – big ideas, personal impact, unanswered questions, punchy grooves, and snarly guitar solos.
Eric: For me, it’d have to be ‘God’s Gift to Man’. I think we do a little bit of everything we do on that song. It’s definitely the song that gives you the best idea of who we are as players.
What ambitions do you have for the band/your career?
Amy: To grow and develop a relationship with our audience. To keep writing and releasing music, play bigger and bigger shows, and see how far we can take this. I love music with every fibre of my being. It has been a grounding, liberating, and positive force throughout my life, and I want to pay that forward. I’d love for us to grow our team beyond Eric and myself. As much fun as we’re having, it would be more fun (and we’d reach more people) if we had more hands on deck.
Eric: I think just being able to make music the centrepiece of my life would be great. It’s kind of the only place in life I’ve ever felt totally comfortable.
Finally, as you leave the stage, what are your parting words?
Amy: Here’s what I say when we finish up a set, “Thank you. We love you. Tip your bartenders. And goodnight!”
Eric: “Unless your car is severely damaged or you are incapable of operating it, you can’t just stop in the middle of the street and put on your hazard lights. That’s not a thing. Thank you and goodnight.”
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