Interview: Montag Mania

© Montag Mania © Montag Mania

For Montag Mania, creating music is about combining styles and attitudes to achieve a truly unique result. We spoke with the trio about their upcoming work and what Berlin means to their creative process.

Dash Majesty: For those who don’t know, please introduce yourself.

Fredrik Blank: We are Montag Mania, from Stockholm, Sweden. We try to make the music we want to hear, music that we haven’t heard before. We mix sounds and styles into some kind of creative chaos. We carry the spirit of 1968, the energy of punk and the mindset of the present.

The group consists of Isabel De Lescano (vocals, guitar, SP 404 and more), me, Fredrik Blank, (vocals, guitars, and many other things) and Juan Romero (percussion). Me and Isabel write the songs together, Juan arranges and plays the percussion. Helene Berg is our fourth “satellite” band member, she does live visuals on stage when we play.

We’ve released two albums and we’re now working on a third. We like to think of it as an album, even though some say the full-length album is dead.

DM: Why Berlin?

Isabel De Lescano: When we first came to Berlin in 2010, we fell in love with the city – the open-minded and beautiful ambiance, as well as the fact that people with all kinds of personalities meet up here from all over the world.

We love the street art and the creativity that can be found everywhere. The sense of making things out of anything. The city reveals something secret that’s hidden. It is trashy and beautiful at the same time. It is the place.

 

DM: Talk us through your creative process – do you place more of an emphasis on lyrics or melodies?

FB: They’re equally important to us, and the songwriting process can start in many different ways. The lyrics tend to be finished afterwards, but sometimes they come as we’re creating the music. The more you can do without thinking too much, the better. It’s all out there, like a collective subconscious. We try to connect to that source as often as we can.

It can be a chord change, a vocal line, a rhythm, a bass line or a soundscape. Sometimes we just jam with an acoustic guitar and when something interesting comes up, we record it.

Into the Highlife on Tropical Birds came from a guitar intro I had and a simple drum machine beat. I couldn’t take it further, so I gave it to Isabel, who immediately found vocal lines, separating it into verses and choruses. Juan, who leads a Batucada street samba orchestra in Stockholm, added the drum intro, which makes people go crazy. We always try to expand our minds when it comes to creating music.

That’s what drives Montag Mania: the energy! When we don’t perform, we feel like there’s something missing.

DM: Why the album name Tropical Birds – or Montag Mania for that matter?

IDL: Montag is the name of the protagonist in the movie Fahrenheit 451 by Truffaut – we were mad about it for a while! In the movie, instead of extinguishing a fire, the firemen burn all the books. Montag is the one that tries to save them. The movie has a lot of hidden messages. It is simultaneously political, abstract and poetic. It has artistic vision – these are the things we want to convey in our music. Unfortunately, Montag was already taken by another artist, so why not Montag Mania?

We are strongly influenced by the Tropicália movement from Brazil’s psychedelic period in the 60s. Most of the Brazilian records from the Tropicália period were recorded at a time when the country was ruled under a dictatorship. The Tropicália movement was a music and art movement that included many artists. The great band Os Mutantes have somehow become representatives of the movement. Two Tropicalistas were in fact imprisoned, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. The government found it scary that the hippie movement was growing in the Brazilian music scene. They thought that the Tropicalistas had a depraving effect on the youth, with the political messages in their lyrics and the way they looked.

DM: Your latest record seems to have fairly prominent influences of psychedelia-slash-ambient-slash-electronica. Where did these ideas come from?

IDL: As mentioned, the Psychedelic influences come from the Tropicália movement. The Tropicália artists were strongly influenced by the psychedelic 60s and, of course, The Beatles. They mixed their own native rhythms and musical styles with up-and-coming music from the UK and the US.

My mother listened to The Beatles, as well as lots of jazz and 60s music from Brazil. Growing up, all of this was mixed together for me with music from some cassettes that were circulating, containing crappy covers of the most popular songs at the time. I don’t know where she got them. Anyway, that was my childhood.

Montag Mania is a mix of me, Fredrik and Juan. We were all raised in Sweden, but we have different cultural backgrounds. I’m Swedish with a mother from Argentina and a father from Finland, Fredrik was born in Sweden to a Swedish family and Juan is from Uruguay, living for a while in Spain and Argentina, but now he lives in Sweden.

We are a mix of everything within ourselves. The music we listen to is a mix of different styles and countries. We are three different people who have a lot in common – one thing being that we hate to limit ourselves – which makes things more difficult, but at the same time easier. We are all curious people who love to experiment.

We are the opposite of the nationalists, no country is our home, or we could say all countries are… I guess that’s why we love Berlin.

 

DM: How would you compare the music scene in Stockholm to that of Berlin’s? Do you have plans to go back?

FB: Stockholm is the place we grew up, except Juan who spent most of his childhood in Uruguay and Spain. I hate it and I love it. It’s all so familiar and organized to me. But we have to go back to meet our friends and family. I sometimes miss it a lot, but when I’m in Stockholm, I miss Berlin.

I’m afraid that Berlin has shaped us so much that it will be very difficult to move back. There’s no place quite like Berlin and I really hope that its character will remain the same for a long time. I’m afraid that the rent will become too expensive. And that’s really the foundation for everything going on here. The affordable rent. look at Neukölln and the skyrocketing rents there. The politicians should really do something to stop that. But I still have hope for Berlin and the people who live here. Culture and creativity is an important part of the soul of this city – that’s what makes it so special.

There’s a lot of good music coming from Sweden, but when you’re actually there mainstream TV and radio culture dominates. The strange thing is that all the independent Swedish music that the Berliners know are not so well known among Swedish people in general. But Stockholm is a good place to live and there are a lot of amazing musicians there.

In Berlin, the alternative scene is present everywhere. It’s so liberating to go into a cafe and, instead of the ordinary top playlist, the staff are playing the music they like. It can be indie, jazz, chanson, electronic music, Brazilian or whatever. There are also more venues and small places where you can play live. The tolerance for sound is much higher here than in Stockholm. You really get the sense that this is a creative hotspot. Everyone seems to come to Berlin now.

© Montag Mania
© Montag Mania

DM: Will you be touring this latest record?

FB: Yes absolutely! Performing is a really magical experience. It can be hard sometimes, but we get so much back from the audience and there’s nothing quite like it in life.

It forces you to be in the moment, doing your thing and being 100% present, focusing on giving as much as possible, instead of thinking solely about pleasing the audience and satisfying the ego. That’s what drives Montag Mania: the energy! When we don’t perform, we feel like there’s something missing. It takes us out of our comfort zones. We have already toured all over Europe and Sweden with the last album Tropical Birds, so we will now focus on finishing the next one.

DM: Tell us a little about the video for Bohemia – the minimalist visuals really complement the track. Who came up with this idea?

IDL: Helene Berg creates all of our visuals, which really add a lot to our shows. She tries to see the possible in all the impossible – the minimalist video is very much born from this. Why not make a video out of the live visuals?

DM: Any upcoming projects you’re particularly excited about?

FB: We are very excited about the album and the new songs we are making. We also want to integrate visuals and art even more than before. We will also do some really interesting videos for the songs with our friends Helene, Jose Figueroa, Miko Lazic and Tobias Vogel, who are directors and film makers.

The song Egotopia, produced by Pete Smith at Trixx studio with Fabio Buscemi, will also be pre-released on the BIMM compilation album that comes out in June.

We are trying not to play live so much now, in order to record the new material, but we will definitely do some shows in Berlin, so please keep your eyes and ears open.

DM: What does the future look like for Montag Mania?

FB: Before, we always felt that we were the wrong artists, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Now, it feels like time and Montag Mania are coinciding – And that’s really cool!

Upcoming Show Dates

Alternative film festival “Guldkottegalan” – 29/7 Gotland, Sweden

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