San Francisco is notorious for hyper-prolific bands. The rock productivity formula of home recording, revolving line-ups and sympathetic record labels enables releasing several albums a year amidst rigorous touring dates. We’ve suspected Ty Segall of making a record to promote his next record and Thee Oh Sees don’t make records so much drop a new platter every time Jon Dwyer stands still. But these eager-to-please journeymen album dispensers have their opposite, who operate at such a pace that hiatus is a state of mind from which songs emerge. Willfully amateur, relishing in a sluggish release pace and respecting the maxim of making fans want more – The Mantles are scene underachievers, issuing their second album since 2006 this month on Slumberland following an acclaimed debut on Siltbreeze in 2009 and 2010’s Pink Information 12” for Mexican Summer the following year. Long Enough to Leave is an excellent record that warrants repeated listening, the curious idiosyncrasies of Michael Olivares’ vocal delivery continuously revealing themselves over time. I might still be deliberating on my favorite track when The Mantles issue another record in 2016, whereas I can’t remember any song titles from Slaughterhouse. We badgered married core Mantles members Olivares and Virginia Weatherby in their home about being the most successful “hobby band” going.
At any point during The Mantles have you considered approaching it as a career?
Michael Olivares: I never thought we could make money off of playing music. None of us have ever imagined quitting our day jobs. If we made a “career” out of music, we'd be on the streets. You know, touring all the time, coming back home only to live with our parents.
Virginia Weatherby: I like the status of the band. I don’t really want to tour that much, or even try to be successful in a traditional sense. I’ve seen so many bands of the day and then be gone. I like that we've stuck it out since 2006 and maintained people's interest with minimal amount of work. It sounds like we're lazy, which I don't think is the case, we just don't feel a rush to put out a ton of music, I don't think there is anything wrong with leaving people wanting more. My biggest pet peeve is when a band plays too long of a set. Even if they are an amazing band, you should know when to leave the stage. I like to think that's how we operate.
Do you think artists who make four records a year are oversaturating their fans?
MO: Well there’s a dance to be done. It’s fun to ride that momentum if that’s how the songs are coming, but I think it’s better to distill that output into a record more likely to be classic.
Were there a lot of songs left behind because you work on records for so long?
MO: There’s definitely a lot of songs that came and went or never became fully realized. Our song writing style is to work on three to five songs at once, and some come together quickly and others are shelved or die all together.
Does taking so much time between records filter out the chaff?
MO: Yeah, definitely. One of the benefits of writing over a period of time is that… the songs are connected through different eras [of the band.] Some newer songs are getting played with songs from three years ago that end up on the same album.
After your SXSW tour for the first record, do you remember feeling as if you could become road warriors or not?
MO: We ended up getting sick – some crazy sinus infections. By that time, those shows were painful. It ended at Gonerfest where we had the best show. Right before we got to that point, Drew quit the band. He was acting insane. He was dark – turning himself up really loud [and] sending weird texts to his family. He basically texted Matt saying he quit the band and Matt was sitting right next to him, then Virginia texted him back about it from the other seat like, “You’re seriously quitting, dude?”
VW: This was all in a van with Ty, who was just trying to be super positive.
MO: Drew would bum him out and Ty was just trying to ignore him.
I like the word “amateur” because it’s etymologically rooted in Latin for “lover.” It has some kind of undeserved negative connotation, though. Most bands aspire to a sort of crystallized professionalism that seems at odds with the actual implication of amateurishness. Can you relate to that?
MO: Definitely. We’re very aware of not being too polished and not coming off cocky. It’s about not taking ourselves too seriously, we don’t let ourselves go there. We’re just amazed when we pull off a cool song.
VW: We’re bummed when we don’t play a good show, but I don’t think we’ll ever be professional.
MO: It’s not as fun.
Have you ever been in a situation where your label has certain expectations of you that you’re not interested in meeting?
VW: Siltbreeze had zero expectations and Mexican Summer didn’t really have any. Mike Schulman [of Slumberland Records] knows that we’re not the kind of band to tour constantly. But, at the same time we had to get press photos, bios and all of these thing we’ve never done. The bio was uncomfortable. We didn’t want to write our own but didn’t like what other people wrote.
In the 60s or 70s, you didn’t have a choice to not be professional. If you wanted people to hear your music, you had to submit to all of the agencies of the music industry. Today, it’s easier than ever to run your band without those professional agencies, but there are still bands desperate to outsource all of the facets of running their band.
VW: We are pretty deliberate in trying to do most things ourselves, because we don't operate on a scale that makes sense to get others involved. We don't tour enough to merit paying a booking agent, even though we have been tempted several times and we'd probably get better show offers and get paid more for playing. We do have a PR agent for the first time though. Now I have no idea whether certain things would happen without this guy. An example is Pitchfork is suddenly interested in The Mantles, which is completely weird for us, as we were a bit off the radar before. Having a song almost instantly played 10,000 times is absolutely crazy. Who are these people?
The Mantles' Long Enough To Leave is out June 18 on Slumberland.