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That was 2014, when going to gigs at Re:Fuel wasn't cool. The open mike night performances ranged from impassioned singers with acoustic guitars covering Neil Young to the banjo originals of Wolfman Stuey. It was an interesting time.
And then The Mentalist Collective showed up one night and blew me away. Five people in one band has the potential to be a big mess, but these guys clearly knew how to play together. Each song warmed me with its positive vibes and I loved it.
Since then, it has built a bit of a following, playing numerous gigs around the South Island, including a Fringe festival experiment where the audience was blindfolded as the band performed between them. But until now the band had not released any recorded material.
Today it is going to change that, releasing EP Mandala at Fifty Gorillas. It contains five songs, covering a variety of the diverse digressions of indie folk the band explores.
I had a chat to band members Danie Erickson, Simon and Brendan Christie (Scott Campbell and Robert Milne couldn't make it) over a pint 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," explains vocalist Danie, although attributing instruments to a band like The Mentalist Collective is a fruitless exercise as they are constantly swapping.
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, the band felt it was time to immortalise some of their songs.
"We really wanted to actually have some recorded music because, while the performing is fantastic and a lot of fun, 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.
"They're fan favourites, 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 support 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 is more about the sum than its 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 is beautiful.
The Mentalist Collective EP Release Party with Seedy Marsh and James Phizacklea, Fifty Gorillas, tonight (Saturday, Sep 8) at 9pm. Tickets $10 on the door or pay what you can afford.
- Fraser Thompson