Interview: Cosima Jaala From ‘Mangelwurzel’
Just three weeks from the release of their debut album, Melbourne six-piece Mangelwurzel are preparing for their first tour, kicking 0ff super soon! We had a chat with the band’s lovely lead singer Cosima Jaala about all things inspiration, collaboration, touring, and diplomatic decision-making.
You’re set to release your debut album ‘Gary’ on February 26. How long have you been working on it?
We started it like a year ago, we just took ages to finish because everyone’s kind of busy and it wasn’t really a priority for a lot of people in the band, and we’re also independent, so [we have] money restraints – paying for mixing and stuff was a bit of a thing. It sort of feels like the record’s already a year old.
How did it feel to finish it?
I suppose it felt pretty good, but it sort of feels like one of those things that should have been done a long time ago (laughs).
Where did you find the inspiration for the album?
Some of the songs I wrote, and some of them were a collaborative effort, so the inspiration sort of came from lots of different places. Mostly the songs come about on their own and we play what comes up without thinking about it too much because I think if you think about it too much you start to question why you’re even there in a room making music (laughs). So yeah, we just play what feels good.
Would you say you’re pretty intuitive?
Kind of… I mean, we don’t really jam that much, we just come together and nut it out and then the song will develop like that.
What’s your favourite track from ‘Gary’ and why?
Definitely Gary. It’s just really unlistenable and abrasive and the subject matter’s odd and I feel like it’s really the pinnacle of Mangelwurzel right now. It’s a bit of a shame it wasn’t the single. I think it’s a testament to the vibe and spirit of Mangelwurzel.
So what’s Gary about?
It came from a story that my friend told me…she said she came home at 18 years old with a tattoo of a wolf on her arm and her dad Gary was really upset. He brought her in front of her mother and said, “Look what she’s done to herself!” and her mother said, “She’s a wild woman, Gary!” I felt like that story stuck with me because Gary represents such a big part of our society and the way society looks at wild women.
I love that! It’s only been two weeks since you released your new single I.O.U. What’s the song about?
We don’t play that song anymore, it’s pretty old! I can’t even remember what was going on when I wrote the lyrics to that, probably something about not feeling good enough for someone.
Both I.O.U. and Fishy Fry in particular have a pretty laidback sound, but you’ve also got plenty of upbeat tracks like Hawaii and Baby Pie on the album. How do you manage to make each song so different?
Fishy Fry was written by me, Baby Pie was written by Charlie who plays trumpet, and Hawaii was a collaborative effort…I think different influences really help with getting different sounds coming in. Most bands have one main songwriter, but with Mangelwurzel there’s more heads together and more ideas coming together, so I think that helps a lot.
When you play live, is it a challenge to play music with so many unpredictable changes?
Yeah, it is really hard. You have to practice a lot and work really hard to do that; it’s especially hard when you’re a bit nervous, and I think it’s even harder when you have to sing.
You still get nervous?
Sometimes I do. Less and less, but sometimes it can be really confronting, especially if you’re sick or you really don’t feel like performing. Sometimes you feel like curling up in a ball and not going outside and then you have to get up there and be this thing that you don’t feel like being. I remember [playing] one gig [when] I didn’t really have the energy to jump around much or perform and this girl came up to me and said, “You looked like you were really bored up there”, and [so] I’ve set this precedent now for myself. If I’m anything but incredibly high energy then there’s something wrong with me, so I suppose I did it to myself.
Your style is so technical; have you guys all had training?
The horn section are trained – they went to VCA. Johnny, who plays bass and guitar, is self-taught. I think [Christopher Windley] got some drum lessons, Loretta got some guitar lessons at school, and I played flute in the school band but I’m mostly self-taught. There’s a bit of a mix, and I think it’s good to have that mix because people who have an understanding of theory [tend to] play by the rules a bit more. If there’s an untrained ear or a raw talent in the mix then you can really go to places that you might not have gone to [and] get a more authentic sound.
Mangelwurzel’s sound is notoriously difficult to classify by genre; it’s been described as a cross between “experimental tech pop and punk rock”. How do you describe your music?
I don’t know, I feel really desensitized to it. In the beginning there was this mentality behind the songwriting which was…[like] an annoying smartarse sitting in the back of a classroom poking fun at the teacher – just this real cheekiness, wanting to go to funny or odd places because…well, just because. Just because we could, and because we felt like a lot of bands took themselves so seriously, and just out of sheer boredom, I think. That’s sort of something in itself. Sometimes it’s good to be silly, and Mangelwurzel is a very silly band. I feel like it’s the opposite of what’s in trend at the moment – I don’t even know what’s in trend at the moment, but it’s definitely not a cool goth pop band.
Can you describe the process you go through when you’re writing?
It’s different for every track. Sometimes one person will bring a whole song, sometimes there’ll be an idea and then groups will split off and come up with things, but it’s just a real combination of those things. It’s very rare that a song will come out of a jam.
So it’s not random?
Not really. It sounds random, but time has been taken to write the songs. It’s more planned out than it sounds, definitely.
Do you ever have disagreements within the band over your music?
Not really. I think if someone’s written a song, they’ll have a vision for it, and then maybe they’d want to stick to that, but [we don’t have] too many disagreements. I mean, sometimes people might have different ideas about how a song could be structured or what the form should be, but you’ve just got to sort it out, maybe have a vote (laughs).
Either that or we’d have a punch-on in the backyard or something (laughs).
You’ve supported some great acts with their live shows; who has been your favourite to support and why?
Probably Sex On Toast, because they’re the best and they’re our friends. Angus Leslie who sings in Sex On Toast has been super supportive since early, early days when [Mangelwurzel] was a punk, screamer, girl-band (laughs). We have too much naughty time [with Sex On Toast] in the green room and have a great humorous time together. I think supporting a band is one thing, but unless you can hang out with them and connect with them, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just like playing another gig.
You guys are going on your first tour to promote ‘Gary’ later this month. What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming Australian shows?
We don’t have any grand expectations, but I think what you can hope to get out of playing in different cities is just meeting new people and being in a situation where you’re instantly sharing and starting a dialogue. [It] means you can interact and meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise met [if you were] just walking down the street or in a classroom or at work. You’re in another new place, and that can open up a lot of doors, even it it’s just making a new friend, or finding another musician that really inspires you, or inspiring them. It could be the catalyst for some sort of change in that individual or in yourself, so that is the point of touring in my mind, and I’m sure it’s the same in other peoples’ minds too. I’ve been to all the [major Australian] cities before, and all travel is good travel. We’re just so grateful that we can even do it. Touring and being in a band is a total labour of love – we’re not getting anything out of it monetarily, it’s purely experiential!
There are plenty of artists out there who will identify with that! Your live shows have been described as “a spectacle that needs to be seen to be believed”. Without giving too much away, what’s the best thing about a Mangelwurzel live show?
I don’t know, [that’s] a bit of an overstatement! I’ve seen a lot of live shows that were crazier than what we do, so maybe it’s just because most bands stick to looking cool. Maybe we don’t look as cool, jumping around a bit in a funny way. Maybe that’s why it’s a spectacle. The live shows are pretty cool. I think looking at Johnny [is the best thing about the show]. He’s really tall, and really interesting-looking, and I think anyone who gets to see him in action is a very lucky person. He’s pretty incredible, and I’m not joking.
‘Gary’ will be released February 26. Tickets for Mangelwurzel’s first tour are now on sale – don’t miss your chance to see Johnny in person!
Mangelwurzel ‘Gary’ Tour
Northcote Social Club, VIC
Newtown Social Club, NSW
The Foundry, QLD
Crown & Anchor Hotel, SA
Get tickets HERE