The first time I saw The Mentalist Collective was when they played to a crowd of ten or so at one of ReFuels open mic nights.
This was 2014, when ReFuel was still ReFuel and going to gigs there wasn’t cool. The open mic night performances ranged from impassioned singers with acoustic guitars covering Neil Young to the legendary banjo originals of Wolfman Stuey. It was an interesting time.
And then The Mentalist Collective showed up out of nowhere one night and blew me away. Five people in one band has the potential to just be a big mess, but these guys clearly knew how to play together. Each song warmed me up like a shot of positive vibes and I loved it.
Since then they’ve built a bit of a following playing numerous more gigs around the South Island, including a Fringe festival experiment where the audience was blindfolded as the band performed between them. Four years later though they’re still yet to release any recorded material.
But this Saturday they’ll finally be releasing their first EP with a launch gig at Fifty Gorillas. It’s called Mandala and contains five songs, covering a variety of the diverse digressions of indie folk the band explores.
I met with bandmembers Danie Erickson, Simon and Brendan Christie (Scott Campbell and Robert Milne couldn’t make it) over a well deserved pint of the good stuff to find out what’s going on.
“We’ve had more fun creating songs and performing those songs than concentrating on the songs and recording them” explained Danie, vocals (although attributing instruments to a band like The Mentalist Collective is a fruitless exercise because they’re constantly swapping them).
There were also the usual responsibilities of work and family. Simon for example works as a hydrographical surveyor and is offshore for weeks at a time. But as Brendan explained they felt like it was time to immortalize some of their songs in recorded format.
“We really wanted to actually have some recorded music because whilst the performing is fantastic and it’s a lot of fun and we really like composing and just meeting together as a group and refining songs, it’s nice to hear it as a polished version, like I guess it’s just a little time capsule of where you were.”
“Which is interesting because the songs we’ve recorded for this EP are probably amongst our oldest songs that we’ve had for yonks”
“They’re also songs that we’ve gotten the most feedback from, positive feedback at least, from audience members who follow our music, and they’re the ones that stick in their heads the most”
“They’re fan favorites”, agreed Simon, “which is good because they can finally have a copy they can listen to whenever they want.”
The album is named after a symbol used in Hinduism and Buddhism which represents the universe, and a depiction hand-drawn by Danie can be seen on the album cover, or engraved into the wooden flash drives the album will be distributed on.
“Yeah, I started drawing them last year,” she explained “they’re good for mindfulness and keeping yourself in the present time, and through that it’s helped supported neuroplasticity and that’s why I started doing it so much and it became this weird habit”
“But we picked the particular one for the album because it’s symmetrical from a distance, it looks like it’s perfect, but when you look up close it’s not actually symmetrical and there’s like inaccuracies.”
To me this also seems like the perfect metaphor for their music. The songs are written together in a collaborative process with no “Lennon and McCartney type ‘no one gets a word in’ thing” as Simon put it, and it’s more about the sum than it’s parts. The sum is the imperfect collision of five different creative inputs with five different backgrounds and influences, and just like the Mandala gracing the cover it’s beautiful.