It takes a man in a mantis mask to release a Ninja Tune type of album months after remixing “Black and Yellow” — depending on which one makes a bigger wave, it’s good to keep the identity hidden lest you piss off the Armitron and/or Amon Tobin crowd.
Man Mantis is from Madison, Wisconsin. Being a diehard Chicago Bears fan, my default train of thought is to smite anyone within spitting distance of the Packers and Lambeau field. But when you put in work like Mantis, via live shows with the band Dumate, a soulful EP with emcee J Dante, remixes of Big Boi, and haunted hallway instrumental EPs and LPs dropping every 3-4 months or so, it’s hard to hold a grudge over professional athletics.
Being a fellow artist on World Around Records, I was drawn to Mantis’ stuff first because 1) there was ALOT of it 2) I thought he was paying homage to the mid 90’s Friday night Fox show M.A.N.T.I.S. and 3) his mask creeps me out. Intrigue always garners a listen.
With a new album Cities Without Houses (and very choice Kickstarter campaign behind it) that shows flashes of Sixtoo and Music By Cavelight-era Blockhead, it’s time for Man Mantis to learn you something.
1. At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?
My mom had a piano in the house and made me and my brother take lessons for eight years, and when she finally let me quit I realized what a cool thing it was that I had learned how to do. So I just tried to learn as many instruments as I could, and sort of wrapped myself up in it. I don’t think I can remember when making music was something I didn’t want to do.
2. How has Madison, Wisconsin shaped your sound or molded you as a producer, arranger, and songwriter?
When I moved out to Madison to go to school in 2004, the car me and my dad were traveling in was broken into in Omaha, Nebraska and all my records, my turntables, my monitors and most of my clothes were stolen. So all the music I made in Madison has been made on equipment I got here, sampling records that I bought here, and with people that I met here. Madison is a very comfortable place to live, and a great place to sharpen your skills. There’s a lot of really creative people, several really cool venues, and the scene is very supportive, in that when you go to a local show a good part of the crowd is other local musicians. Its definitely a place where you can experiment and try different things, and folks for the most part encourage that and support that. There’s not these jaded scenesters trying to drag you down. If you suck, people will tell you “Hey I’m not feeling it, but don’t give up.” Instead of “you need to stop, you’re terrible.” That being said, its not a place you can really make power moves; most truly successful Madison musicians end up leaving for bigger markets.
3. Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
I look up to a lot of the musicians I play with here in Madison, particularly my band dumate. I’m the youngest in the band, and Jah Boogie and Nick Moran, the drummer and bassist, are serious musicians with serious chops. They’ve dedicated themselves to making music a livelihood without making it a chore. And the MCs, Dudu Stinks and DLO are like my big brothers, they taught me how the music scene in Madison works. As for how I learn from, I work with Middle School kids when I’m not making music, and when I see all the bullshit they stress so much over it helps me get perspective on the bullshit I stress so much over.
4. With everything you’ve learned thus far, what do you wish you could have told yourself at the beginning? Would you have done anything differently?
I would have told myself to pay much more attention to the marketing side of things when I was younger. I spent a lot of years just making beats and messing around with different ideas with absolutely no plan on how to get the music out to the world at large and make at least enough money off of it to keep doing it. And honestly, I might have told myself to be a little less generous. That sounds weird, but frankly I handed out a lot of free beats and did a lot of free recording sessions before I was able to convince myself that my craft and my time was valuable.
5. What’s hard for you? What do you struggle with?
Man, one of the biggest struggles is staying motivated when there’s so much good music being released every day. I have to shut myself off from music that’s not mine when I’m trying to finish a project sometimes, because if I hear something amazing it makes me want to go and try to make something completely new and off the wall. Dedicating so much time to being a musician introduces a certain competitive feeling into your consumption of music I guess, which is a little strange and uncomfortable.
6. Here’s a scenario: tomorrow you become the CEO of a major label. What are the first 3 things you would do as the boss?
1.) Fire everyone.
2.) Sell everything.
3.) Invest in World Around Records.
Labels, even major ones, should be run by dedicated, humble, artistic people that call and talk to each other about random bullshit. There should be no ripping of offs, nobody is kissing of asses, and all artists should be invested in their own success, rather than blowing some advance on drugs and strippers while some business school prick tries to sell them.
7. What are some of your favorite albums?
The Beatles – The White Album
GZA – Liquid Swords
Masta Ace – A Long Hot Summer
Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits
Black Milk – Tronic
The Roots – Game Theory
And the first Presidents of the United States of America album.
8. What is inspiring your work right now?
Well music is supposedly all about “expressing yourself.” Which is a huge cliche, and most of the time its taken to mean that your music, or art, should have a “message.” But the music I’m making now is kind of me talking to myself. I honestly can’t say, or write or draw or even think, the contents of my mind as well as I can arrange them musically, so its kind of a way to figure out what exactly is going on up there.
9. What advice would you offer to someone getting in the business at this time?
Get all of your most creative, honest, and energetic friends together, read a few books about marketing and copyright law, and make shit happen on your own. No matter how awesome your music is, people usually won’t care about it unless someone really cool tells them to, so create an artistic experience that tasteful, cool people want to associate themselves with. Then monetize.
10. Any words to live by?
Be excellent to each other, and party on, dude.
Man Mantis “Red Dragonfly” Video
Man Mantis Live MPC Jam
Wiz Khalifa “Black and Yellow (Man Mantis Remix)”