Mantra’s – aka Rob Tremlett – moving too quick for Tone Deaf – we managed to get a hold of him when the album tour for his second record Speaking Volumes was coming to a close; just ahead of the homecoming show at the East Brunswick Club on November 19.
Hey Rob. So the album’s out. How you feeling it about it now that there’s no turning back?
It actually feels great to have it out there. It can be a little nerve-racking sitting on a record that no-one’s really heard yet, that you’ve put your heart and soul into, having no idea how its gonna be received. But I’m really happy with the album and the response so far has been amazing.
Lyrically, you were looking at love, introspection, doubt, loss, the industry and the universe in general. Running the full gamut. Doesn’t sound like you ever get stuck for a story to tell. What’s important to you in your writing?
I don’t really have any rules when it comes to songwriting, but there are definitely things I always try to make sure of when I’m writing a tune. I have to be excited about the theme or topic of the song. Even if it’s really abstract or whatever, I wanna make sure I’m putting strong pictures in the listener’s head, that I’m evoking some kind of feeling, whatever it may be.
You were recently involved in the Words Not Weapons, working with school age kids in hip hop songwriting workshops; you are frequently involved in spoken word events like Going Down Swinging. What compels you to accept invitations like these and how do they help you expand, personally or artistically?
Working with young people is very important to me. I do a lot of songwriting workshops and mentor work and I really enjoy it. Young people becoming passionate about music and working hard to develop their skills and their art is an incredible thing to watch and be a part of. It also teaches you a lot about yourself, which is really valuable.
As for the spoken word thing, I think its good to challenge yourself and take yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit. I have a lot of fun doing stuff like that because it’s so different to how I usually perform.
Sometimes I sense a bit of derision about Australian hip hop (ie, the “skip hop” comments) but from this angle the scene seems to be quite supportive, with an overall social conscience. What does it look like from your vantage point?
I think overall its in a good place. The fans are really supportive and the scene has never been healthier in terms of exposure and quality music. I think there are still a few camps that have very conflicting opinions about hip hop music and what Australian hip hop should be, but I try not to think about it too much. As long as people are making good music that they believe in, I don’t think there’s a problem.
It interests me that while some collaborators in Aussie hip hop are cross-genre (you and Urthboy making music with Mark Pearl for example) sometimes it’s not always well received when lines blur (case in point: Phrase’s new album). Is there a snobbiness about hip hop within the ranks, or from fans?
There definitely can be, but again, it has to taken with a grain of salt. There are always purists who have very strict boundaries of what they will accept in terms of music. And in the end it comes down to personal taste. No one will ever make music that everybody likes, so I just try to make music that I enjoy and that I’m proud of. That way if somebody doesn’t feel it, it doesn’t break my heart.
Are there any artists that you would like to collaborate with, that might come as a surprise to Mantra fans?
Rod Stewart. Just kidding. There are heaps of amazing artists around the world that I would love to work with, though I don’t know if they’ll be very surprising. That said, I would love to collaborate with some soul artists – Sharon Jones, Menahan Street Band, peeps like that. That would be a blast.
Tour: how have the crowds been? Have you noticed any marked difference between different audiences in different areas? What are you most looking forward to about coming home?
It can be quite different from place to place. Crowds can be pretty rowdy in the regional spots, because I suppose they don’t get as many acts coming through, so that can be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to playing Bendigo again, last time I played there it was off the hook, and the peeps out there really get behind Australian hip hop, so I can’t wait for that show. Then we have the Melbourne show the night after, which is more or less the end of the tour. Being my hometown it should be a ripper!
Speaking Volumes is out now on Obese Records.