Mandalan is the music project of Los Angeles-based musician, songwriter and producer James Brennan. He produces a tropical house genre of dance/pop music with a dramatic sound including heavy drums and electronic elements. Together with So Foreign Productions, Mandalan is creating a music video experience for his new dance single ¿CÓMO SABRÉ? ft. Emarie, which you can be part of. On PATREON, they have launched a campaign inviting Patrons to be part of an upcoming official music video for the song. Supporters will receive a digital download of the song along with credits in the music video. They will also get personalized THANK YOU’s on social media, participate in an exclusive livestream event during production, and receive free merchandise. The project will go 100% toward funding a production crew and dance team to film the video under strict Covid-safe production guidelines.
- When and how did you get started producing music and do you have any formal training?
Mandalan: I experimented with electronic music in high school and started producing my first tracks after purchasing a Yamaha keyboard while studying improvisational piano at college in North Carolina with Paul Jeffrey, a tenor saxophonist who had performed with Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, and B.B. King. I later studied conga percussion in Los Angeles with Afro-Cuban Master Lázaro Galarraga. Since then I produced various musical pieces including a soundtrack to an indie trailer and accompaniments to several dance performances. In the last few years I began sharing a few tracks on SoundCloud. Then in 2019 produced my first single with the release of How We Live.
- Where does the moniker Mandalan come from?
Mandalan: The name comes from the Sanskrit word Mandala, which means a connected line – or a circle, which defines a community. I love the simplicity of this idea and for me music is a way of connecting with people across boundaries and creating a feeling of community.
- Who were your first and strongest musical influences that you can remember?
Mandalan: I was inspired early in my piano studies by blues and jazz musicians including B.B. King, Taj Majal, Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff introduced me to the reggae-style drum beat and call and response vocals. Latin Jazz legends Poncho Sanchez, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz were a tremendous influence while I was learning conga percussion and growing my passion for Latin music and dance.
- What do you feel are the key elements people should be getting out of your music?
Mandalan: I like to hope that people experience my music as a journey. Surrendering emotions to the ebb and flow of the sound as it moves through different moods and rhythms… and inspired by vocals and lyrics with a message of vulnerability, love, empowerment and hope. Whether heard at home in quarantine, in a gym or at a dance club I hope my music inspires people to move their bodies, embrace heart and humanity, and connect with one another – especially during this time of Corona.
- What do you think separates you from the crowd of producers emerging right now?
Mandalan: I love how music has become so global, and that many of my listeners are in Mexico and Germany and Chile and Colombia, Spain and the UK – as well as in the United States. I try to let my music speak to universal themes with an aesthetic and energy that is accessible across cultural borders and boundaries. I feel I bring a unique mix of improvisational blues/jazz, Afro-Latin percussion and electronic dance energy to my music.
- What is your process when composing a new song? Where do start, and what usually comes into your head first – the melody or the beat?
Mandalan: I focus first on the overall sound and feel of the song including instrumentation, structure and groove. The melody emerges as its own instrument in the mix, which I often find by riffing on an acoustic piano. I studied improvisational blues and jazz on the piano and love the percussive acoustics of the instrument as a source of creative inspiration. And then I love to collaborate with an experienced studio singer to finalize the vocal arrangement and bring personality and voice to the track.
- What key ingredients do you always try and infuse into your music?
Mandalan: I like to find a basic groove that has some strong energy and inspires movement. Then I look for an instrumentation that evokes a melodic structure and emotional journey. And then I love the creative collaboration and refinement that happens working with an experienced vocalist to bring the song to life. I look for singers that have a specific connection to the vibe I am trying to create in the track.
- You released the song “¿Cómo Sabré? (feat. Emarie)”. Every song usually has a backstory or interesting anecdote behind its creation. How did this one come about?
Mandalan: This song was truly a musical journey that began with experimentation with various sounds and beats. I had the intention of creating a second single that would release after my first, How We Live, released last December to amazing response and listenership.
How We Live had a Tropical House EDM sound to it. This time I wanted a more specific connection to the Afro-Cuban and Latin Jazz heritage I had learned through my musical training. So I brought in more instrumentation and vocals that helped create the right vibe.
The lyrics and melody emerged from the call and response structure of the song. With Spanish lyrics the title and lead refrain translates to “how will I know” with a response “listening to the heart.” This connects universally with every decision we have to make in life and the lyrics evolved into a love song of vulnerability, choice and empowerment.
In the music video we will tell the story of a woman divided between emotion and reason. A love triangle with two lovers. In the end she will follow her own intuition and the message of the song… listening to the heart.
- How did you go about choosing your feature and collaborators for the song “¿Cómo Sabré? (ft. Emarie)”?
Mandalan: I have worked with Spotify and SoundBetter for some time and find it an amazing place to discover and connect with professional artists who are looking to collaborate. Emarie’s recording experience and vocal quality made her a very strong fit for this song. We both vibed right away on the direction of the vocals and it was an amazing experience working with such an exceptionally-talented singer.
- How did you go about recording the aforementioned track? Were you and the singer based in different places, or did you come together in the same studio?
Mandalan: Much of the song was created in the studio, where I go very deep into the creative process and spend many hours of solo time. As the song took shape I would layer in various melody lines recorded on an acoustic piano that would interact with the other instruments and become a foundation for the vocal track. Then I would listen to the song and melody many times and imagine an emotional journey that inspired the lyrics. I recorded a rough mix of myself singing the lyrics and used that to guide a dialogue with the vocalist. I recorded with Emarie this year during the pandemic. She was in Miami and I was in Los Angeles, so all our work was done virtually. It was a tremendous pleasure working with Emarie and she really helped shape the final vocal arrangement.
- Besides yourself and the singer Emarie, who else do you think deserves a special mention for contributing to the recording, production or release of this track?
Mandalan: Austin Leeds is a Miami-based mixing and mastering engineer/producer who has collaborated with Avicii and worked with some of the best producers and DJs in the world. Austin helped layer in the vocal tracks and balance the elements in the final mix. Nahuel Amaya is a super-talented Buenas Aires-based comic book artist who designed the cover art and brought the song to life visually with a Latin House theme and a lyrics video.
- Did you compose and write both the music and lyrics for “¿Cómo Sabré? (ft. Emarie)”?
Mandalan: Yes I composed and wrote both the music and lyrics. Emarie is exceptionally talented and was incredibly helpful in refining the final vocal arrangement.
- What is your relationship with visual media? How important do you think videos are important for your music?
Mandalan: I have worked in media/entertainment for many years, enjoy producing digital content, and love how video can enhance music to tell a story and create a mood. It can also make music more accessible to today’s digital audiences who increasingly discover music visually on TikTok and Instagram. My first single, How We Live, received over 730,000 views on TikTok – far more than other platforms. I feel the power of visual storytelling can help transcend cultural and language barriers of the audio experience and give new meaning to a song.
- You have launched a campaign on Patreon, for the creation of an official music video for the new single “¿Cómo Sabré?”, Could you tell us more about the project?
Mandalan: We have partnered with So Foreign Productions to create an indie music video for ¿Cómo Sabré? Through individual donations via Patreon as well as brand sponsorships we hope to raise $15,000 to create a high-energy dance video for the single. We’ll be hiring a choreographer and dance team, writers and production crew, and renting a studio location and camera/lighting equipment to shoot the video by the end of the year.
Patreon (www.patreon.com/mandalan) allows multiple ways you can support the project — a $15 donation to receive a digital download of the song, name credited in the music video, and invite to an exclusive pre-release viewing of the music video; a $45 donation includes a shout-out on social media and an invitation to an exclusive livestream event on-set; and a $105 donation includes a digital download of the music video and a commemorative hoodie. Patreon spreads out the payments over a 3-month subscription as we produce the project.
We’re also looking for brand sponsors to support the project and receive significant promotion on social media as part of the video release.
- How and why, did the choice of collaboration with Los Angeles based Production Company, So Foreign Productions come about?
Mandalan: Brazilian actress/producer Mariana Brassaroto and Ukraine-born actress/producer Albina Katsman at So Foreign Productions are personal friends of mine. Beyond our friendship, I have been on-set with them and watched them in action. They are talented creatives both on-screen and off, super business-savvy executives, and extremely resourceful get-things-done producers who can pull together a big show with a low budget.
With a track record producing a comedy web series about two girls from different parts of the world experiencing life together as roommates (“So Foreign, The Series”) and a short-film about a divorced Iranian woman’s experience in America (“OKAY”) they were a natural fit for this project – which connects Latin beats and vocals with a global EDM sound.
In our high-energy dance video we will tell the story of a woman divided between emotion and reason. A love triangle with two lovers. In the end she will follow her own intuition and the message of the song… listening to the heart. We are excited to bring this story to life in film!
- What do you find most rewarding about this latest single and video project so far? And do you have a specific vision or goal set in your mind that you would like to achieve with “¿Cómo Sabré?”?
Mandalan: For me the most rewarding part is the creative collaboration and process of producing art through music and video that is good enough to share with the world. And also the amazing love and support from people who hear and connect with the song. Our goal right now is to create a music video that is an original and engaging way of telling a story through movement and dance and that can be produced safely for everyone involved during this pandemic. Beyond that our goal will to create an impactful release of the video on social media.
- Beside the official video, are there any remixed versions of “¿Cómo Sabré?” in the pipeline?
Mandalan: I would love to collaborate with other producers and have begun exploring remixed versions of the song. Though nothing official is planned.
- Do you only create and work in a studio environment, or do you also find time to perform live? And if so, which of these two do you ultimately enjoy more?
Mandalan: My most deeply creative and original work occurs within the walls of a recording studio. Though I love to perform live! I will sometimes take my congas to a park or join a drum circle for the energy of a live audience. My favorite performance was last year playing conga to a cover of Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones alongside Remi Kabaka – the original conga player from The Stones! Remi is a legendary musician… and yet he insisted that I play his part on stage… with just a few minutes of coaching from him before the show. It was an incredible and humbling experience!
- In the time of social media, how do you handle criticism and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?
Mandalan: Once you begin sharing your creative work with the world you are immediately open to criticism. And when you promote it you receive frequent rejections, often with negative feedback. Sometimes the feedback is all over the map (I love the vocals/mix vs hate them)… but other times there’s a pattern and learning opportunities for future tracks. I love to receive the feedback and especially when you realize it’s helpful!
- Finally, what’s your favorite thing to do when you aren’t writing / producing / recording / playing etc.?
Mandalan: I am a competitive triathlete and enjoy swim/bike/run workouts and core fitness training. I used to be terrified of swimming in the open ocean. But after years of ocean swim workouts once or twice a week it is now my favorite activity. Watching the sunrise over the city from way out in the ocean, or seeing dolphins approach you playfully in their natural environment are magical moments for me. It’s also a way for me to stay connected in-person with friends while also social-distancing during the pandemic.
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