A myriad of musical influences make their place known on this ROSES EP, from jazz to classical to rock, and more. It's both something you'd never heard before and a sound achingly familiar. Reminiscent of dreams, deep breaths, and yet sudden flights of feeling, Mendenhall has crafted one of the most intriguing and delightful works of lyric-less music in recent memory. From the growling bass to the layered guitars and atmospheric effects, a through listen is truly a must.
I first met Austin Mendenhall in the bitter and cold winter of 2013, in my hometown of Ames, Iowa. Snowmine was touring through on the way to Chicago, and I drove home for the weekend to see them. Not only was it a disarmingly intimate show, but the men of this five-piece were wonderfully welcoming as well. The next year, in the spring of 2014, I'd see them play in Saint Paul, and then again in Minneapolis that fall.
I was convinced the talent in the band was far greater than the sum of its parts, and after a year and a half without any news, I knew I should either be worried, or expectant. So when I caught wind of Mendenhall's solo project, ROSES, this spring, I knew something good was afoot. Growing up on jazz and classical music myself, under the influence of a talented musician and classical guitarist (my dad), Mendenhall's compositions speak to a part of my ear that hasn't been loved for a long time.
I caught up with Mendenhall in this exciting moment to learn more about how the ROSES EP came to be, and what's in store after today's release.
AM: I started working on the material in April of 2013 when my daughter, Adeline Rose, was born. It was also the year that Snowmine really kicked into high gear with touring and recording our latest LP, Dialects. There was so much happening in my life at that time that all those emotions had to go somewhere. So it was very much a passion project from day one and something I did in my spare time, in the tour van, and nights that I felt I could function with less sleep the next day... I knew from day one that I would be releasing the material as an artistic statement (in dedication to my wife and daughter) but I had no idea what the final product would end up being. And there's something very pure about writing music in this way, with no preconceived notions or intentions, simply letting life and your experiences channel through to create something that is undeniably you.
KS: As a member of Snowmine, you get to make and perform some pretty experimental and modern music. But what does making your own music as ROSES allow you to do that being a part of Snowmine doesn't?
AM: I would say anytime you're in a collaborative music project (such as Snowmine) and you do solo work that is 100% your compositions, the freedom you have in the aesthetic and artistic decision making is very rewarding (albeit daunting and difficult as well). But I did have some serious help from Alex Beckmann who wrote all the drum parts and really made this music come alive.
KS: There isn't a lot of purely instrumental music being made these days, especially within the realm of indie rock or in that broad spectrum. Can you tell me more about why you chose to do instrumental only with this project, and what musical influences led you in that direction?
AM: I've always written instrumental music since the start. I'm not much of a singer and I come from a jazz background so it's very natural for me to write this kind of music. Playing in Snowmine really influenced the way I approached the EP in regards to intention and aesthetic choices. But I was definitely listening to a lot Grizzly Bear and Tortoise at the time which certainly influenced the sound and style.
KS: Is there a concept to the album, although it has no words?
AM: The concept of this record is kind of 2 fold:
1. I wanted to create a seamless body of music that takes the listener through a multi-sensory journey.
2. I wanted to make a sort of non traditional 'guitar album'. One that has the guitar as it's focal point but uses more subtle methods to create texture and atmosphere. A kind of 'each part makes the whole' layering approach.
KS: I'm curious what inspired the mesmerizing visual for this EP, with the music closely tied to the video through its release. How did the video come about in connection to the music?
AM: I knew pretty early on in the process that I wanted it to be both an aural and visual experience. Once I finished the EP and found a name and concept for it, I scoured the web for archived footage for about a week straight and finally stumbled onto this gorgeous footage that you see in the video. There were more than a dozen different pieces of this work at variable lengths and speeds, so I edited everything to the music and tried to sync the important dynamic parts with the right type of visuals.
KS: How do you plan to perform this music live? Will it be a one-man show with looping pedals and a computer, or more of a collaboration style show? I suppose that's one of the more common conundrums of modern music and solo projects.
AM: I’m currently rehearsing with a 5 piece live band featuring members of Snowmine and Violet Sands. No computers, no backing tracks, but there will be looping and 3 guitars involved[!] I will be playing shows in NYC starting this summer.
KS: What are your plans for this year after the debut release?
AM: I will definitely be performing in the city for the rest of the year with this project but I am also in the middle of writing a new EP under the ROSES name. This music is being written for vocals so it will be a bit of a shift from the current sound but I’m very excited about it. And yes, Snowmine is about to start the recording process for a new release.
That's TWO doses of good news! But until that new material is out, first get your hands on the debut Roses EP on Bandcamp (proceeds go directly to Austin) or Itunes (90% of the money goes to Apple), or stream it on SoundCloud or Spotify.
special thanks to Austin Mendenhall