Mandy, Indiana (who started life as ‘Gary, Indiana’) are most definitely a band to watch for. Utilising the time since their obliquely titled opening salvo, the EP ‘…’ in 2021, Scott Fair, Simon Catling, Alex Macdougall and vocalist Valentine Caulfield have been crawling down caves and in crypts to record drums, shouting in shopping malls, and grafting those sounds onto driving beats, noise, distortion, and caustic lyrical blasts in French directed at the lying shits who parade in front of us as our Lords and Masters. We’ve not experienced this level of direct sonic confrontation with the brutal truth since the heady days of Anarchist Punk.
I caught up with Scott and Alex over Zoom on a blisteringly hot summer day to ask, why so angry?
OL: Thanks for talking to Outsideleft. 'I've Seen A Way' is a great debut album. When I first heard it, it brought to mind (not in sound, but in attitude and approach) PIL, NIN, Prodigy, early Sheep On Drugs, and original Industrial bands like Whitehouse, SPK, Throbbing Gristle etc. Those are all good comparisons by the way, because it had that kind of caustic, confrontational nature, but also married that with strong and direct statements about society, telling it like it is (but in French!), which you don't see a lot of nowadays. The album came out in mid-May and has gathered really positive reviews, but how has it gone from your point of view?
Scott Fair: It's been weird, because Alex has put records out before with another band but for the other three members, Simon, Valentine, and myself, we've never released an album before. It’s been unusual, because we haven't followed it up immediately with any shows. We've got some festival appearances, which start this weekend but since the album came out, we haven't played a show, so we've just been sitting around! People have messaged us, and we have read things that people have written about it as well, but it’s a weird thing to get used to.
OL: So what kind of reaction did you ideally want people to have to the album?
Scott Fair: I think Valentine is very aware that there may be a bit of a barrier for some people who don't speak French, and therefore don't know what she's saying, but she does definitely speak from a very passionate perspective and I think has a desire to ignite something within people that feel similarly. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but I think that she has a desire for this to spark something in people who are desperately seeking a change from the way things are.
OL: Does she provide all of the lyrical content, or do you all contribute ideas together as a band?
Scott Fair: Valentine writes all of the lyrics. We don't have any involvement in that, that all comes from her own mind, which is not to say we don't align with her core values. I think we're all very similarly minded when it comes to that. But yeah, there certainly has been something of a reaction. We've had messages from people who say "I feel the same way and your music has a way of giving me confidence in that". So it seems like so far, it's a force for good in some people's lives. The music can be somewhat bleak, but we are not looking to drag anybody down into a pit of despair. I think there is actually something about the record that is motivating and galvanising. You mentioned some acts that you were reminded of when you were listening to it, and if you are familiar with that world of music, then you won't really hear anything that's shocking on our record. Whereas if you're listening to something like this for the first time, then it might be something that shocks you at first, but that's not really the motivation behind it. It's just experimenting really. It's about challenging ourselves as writers as performers, and trying to blend elements of things that interest us into something that that feels unique to us.
Alex Macdougall: I know what you're saying, Scott. I don't think we aim as a priority to shock, but we have talked in the past about putting people in a state of discomfort with the kind of sounds that we use, especially in our live performances. I think it's in our live performance that our music is heard in the way it's intended, which is as a quite an extreme sound. It is based on the electronics as well as what Scott's doing with his textural abrasion on the guitar. Also, for me as a drummer, I definitely like to play with intensity, and Val has a background in opera which feeds the theatrical style of performance she tries to craft live.
OL: She reminds me of Lydia Lunch a little bit. I know I'm talking about figures from the musical past here, but she has that kind of energy.
Scott Fair: The first time I saw her perform, it made me think of the New York No Wave scene, because she was didn't really treat that environment like a gig at all. She treated it like she was in our bedrooms. It wasn't even as confrontational as something like No Wave, but she just had this complete disinterest in the performer/audience divide. It was more like, "I'm just going to stroll around, I'm going to sit down, I'm going to lie down". She looked like she was just relaxing in her flat or something and that's what really captured my interest when I first saw her perform, and is why I reached out to her and said we should do something together. It's easier to understand what we're aiming for though if you see us live. On record, it's quite a different thing, but in a good way! It's much more considered and something that's probably best experienced through headphones, at a decent volume, at night when there aren't a lot of other distractions around. Whereas seeing us live is a sensory overload! There's lots of dynamics in the lighting, there's a lot of volume, and the more abrasive aspects of the sound become more apparent in a live setting where volume makes a huge difference to that stuff.
OL: Do you have any problems in getting the live experience to be as intense as you want it to be, having to deal with promoters and venues and supporting other bands?
Scott Fair: Yeah, we're still a fairly new band, so we're still dealing with the stuff that bands deal with at this level, only getting very short sound checks and so on, but we've got a pretty simple set up really so we can just throw our gear on stage and most of the time we can get something like what we're aiming for. If the people at the gig are engaging with it, and being excited by it, then it just elevates the performance. The sound does matter, but I think it's as much about the people that are there and that experience the show with you. We go to a lot of live shows and Simon in the band is a gig promoter anyway, so that's a big part of our lives.
We want our performances to feel as communal, and reciprocatory as possible. I'm not really a fan of going to a big venue and seeing the band high up on a stage. I much prefer it when things are more on the same level. Less division between band and audience? I think that translates better on an emotional level as well. The band gets feedback from the audience, not just the traditional applause after every track, but there is an energy that is released in the room if people let their guard down and allow the music to take them over. Val is a really gifted performer because she's one of those people that shatters that glass that seems to separate band from audience. That can sometimes be difficult when we've done bigger support slots, where we have been in a larger venue and we are on a bigger stage very high up. It feels stilted and disconnected.
OL: How do you feel about being on that rock treadmill though, playing the gig circuit and dealing with the music industry where it's all a business? To me that feels very traditional and a bit tired. I could certainly see you playing places that aren't traditional rock venues, factories and caves and suchlike. You recorded parts of the album in caves and shopping malls, so could you extend that out to your live performances as well, rather than just play the same old sticky stages that everyone else has been on before?
Scott Fair: I agree. We've talked a lot about this kind of thing, but it usually comes down to the budget and our availability. Val doesn't live in this country any more. She is in France now and plans to move to Berlin pretty soon so she's not around as much as she was, which makes it more difficult to plan. I think that you're right, though and it's all been a bit of a realisation for me. I work in the music business as well so I'm very much aware that it is a business and that money is a big factor in a lot of the decisions that are made. We're trying our best not to buy into that too much, but at the same time, it's only feasible to do what we do if we're not getting ourselves into massive debt. And it would be very easy to get into a lot of debt doing this, because I think we're at a stage now where we're starting to reach an audience that is responding to what we're doing.
That's a really great achievement for us, you know. We didn't necessarily know if that was going to be possible, and it wasn't even really the reason that we started doing it. We started doing it because it was cool, and it was interesting, and we were having fun doing it. It was only when other people started getting interested, it started having a bit more of a reach. Now, with the album coming out, it's reaching a bit further, especially in the US where we seem to be getting a bigger following. I guess now we're starting to think about what we do next? and do we want this to be a bigger part of our lives? How much of your normal life do you sacrifice do something like this?
OL: And how do you keep your own control? Even arranging this interview was a bit of a process to be honest, and I had to go through a publicist and manager before I could get to talk to you.
Scott Fair: We don't do anything that we don't want to do. I'd say we have a lot of control and we're very fortunate to have a team of people around us that are very understanding of who we are and what we want to do creatively. We never just shut things down though, we'll always have a conversation about it but I don't think we've ever felt pressured to do anything that we didn't want to do.
OL: What about the name change from Gary, Indiana to Mandy, Indiana?
Scott Fair: We did that because the case was made to us that Gary, Indiana is a very impoverished place in the United States, primarily occupied by people of colour, and as soon as we had any kind of press in the US, it was met with a lot of negativity. We were like, yes we totally understand why this is insensitive and ill advised, so before things go any further, let's correct that now. I think everybody was happier for doing that.
OL: The tracks on the album are very percussion driven. Some have more of rave/dance feel, yet others are not danceable at all. Alex, you are the drummer in the band, were you aiming for a rave audience or is that just how it came out?
Alex Macdougall: We've always borrowed sounds from punk and hardcore and blended them with the electronic and dance world. I find it a very interesting kind of niche to be in, you know, trying to marry those two things together. You've got the intensity of those extreme genres, but then also the dance aspect as well. In the past, I've been in bands that been called New Rave, but I've also done stuff that's a lot more full-on drumming. It's been an interesting challenge for me to hold all of that within one project, if you see what I mean. I feel like that's almost like a route into people being more willing to open their mind to a wider set of sonic ideas.
OL: Drums, as we know, were the first instrument that mankind had, and we are still using them today to underpin the music we make, they have never gone away, so there is something very primal about drums…
Scott Fair: Yeah, we sometimes introduce different ideas through a familiar rhythm or a different kind of rhythm. That can really, really, change what you're communicating through a track. You can start off with a track that is very much in the noise rock world, or the electronic world, and when you put a certain rhythm to it, it completely changes the context of it. The rhythm is certainly something that's a jumping off point within the music. It all starts with a rhythm and then it's like, how can we make this unexpected? or different and more interesting?
OL: Rhythm has the ability to unsettle as well. We talked about trying to move people out of their normal comfort zone and if a rhythm is a bit odd, or if you change the rhythm around, it can switch the focus with a bit of a jolt. Some of your tracks do have slabs of sound and a jolty kind of switch from one thing to another within the track, which have that effect I think.
Alex Macdougall: When Scott was putting together the track listing he was paying very close attention to how some of the rhythmic ideas could bring the feeling of the album into different realms when it needed it. It's like a mechanism for orchestrating that, isn't it?
OL: Listening to an album as an album, if you see what I mean, is not necessarily the way people listen to albums now though, as they will stream individual tracks.
Scott Fair: Occasionally I listen to a playlist, but otherwise, I listen to albums. So 'I've Seen A Way' was definitely written as an album, end to end. I can't tell people how to listen to things, but if people engage with it, and understand it, and appreciate it, however they do that, that's fine. You can listen to it in whatever order you want, but it was written as an album in the way that it's structured. There was a lot of thought and consideration put into that. So, that's how I'd recommend people engage with it. It is quite an honest and raw look at who, and what, this band were at that time. I think we've pulled that off pretty well. It sounds a lot to me like where we were as a new band when I was writing that.
OL: So what is your next step? What does success look like for Mandy?
Scott Fair: We're really excited to tour and go to some more places of course. We're going to go to the US later this year to do a few shows before hopefully doing a bigger tour next year. I'd really love to go to Japan and play there too, as we seem to be catching some ears over there and I've always wanted to go! Creatively, I'd love to do something more audio visual, like making our own short film and music to accompany it.
OL: Many indie music videos are already going that way actually. Some of them are mini movies with the song acting as a soundtrack.
Scott Fair: Because there's a lot of visual and film influences in Mandy, Indiana, it feels like that would be a natural progression. We call ourselves an experimental band because we want to try things that maybe haven't been done loads of times before.
Alex Macdougall: I think success to me would probably be maintaining the spirit of the project. Keeping the core principles of the project in place by trying to push ourselves to do stuff that's not necessarily the ordinary way of doing things. That would be success.
OL: Staying true, and not getting diverted...
Alex Macdougall: Yes, we're trying to make decisions along the way that will maintain that and not close that side of things down.
Scott Fair: I think one of my biggest goals is to leave some kind of lasting musical legacy. That's why a lot of musicians that have real integrity do what they do, because we all want to make a contribution to the advancement of what it is we're doing. There's a level of cynicism these days that all the best music has already been released, and maybe we've already gone past the point where we're all just regurgitating stuff that's happened before, but I have to believe that that isn't true because otherwise, I wouldn't have any motivation to do this. I want to discover something that maybe isn't happening at the moment, and maybe be a part of something that's really interesting.
Alex Macdougall: Yes, I'd definitely agree with that.
OL: When I was prepping for this, I read a lot of your recent interviews and I was thinking that I won't have any questions to ask you, because they've already all been asked. So maybe I'll finish off by asking you what question would you want to be asked that you haven't been asked so far?
Scott Fair: I'm quite happy with the questions that we've been asked, honestly! It's been nice having conversations with people like yourself that clearly understand the music and have an opinion about it. But I don't think that people necessarily need to talk about their art as it can make the thing a bit less special, so I certainly understand why some people choose not to, but we like having these conversations, which is why we do it. It's nice to hear what other people think because that can influence things we do in the future. They can offer up an idea that you never would have considered before and that can change your perspective on things.
OL: Like playing shows in weird places!
Scott Fair: Maybe after we do this tour that might be on the cards. We don't really have a big enough following at this stage to organise stuff like that. I think if we can get more involved in the organisation of these things, and once we've got a solid following that's going to show up so we aren't going to lose money, then we can do it.
Alex Macdougall: Yeah, I'm fully up for playing odd places that don't usually get bands playing.
OL: I would love to see that happen. Thanks to both of you for sparing the time to talk. Hopefully I will get to experience you live soon too.