Mandy, Indiana are chasing the unexpected
“It must have been pretty frightening?”
The four members of Mandy, Indiana are reminiscing about a recent outdoor recording session in a cave, when everything stopped because a cave diver rose up from the black waters, their day out spelunking upended by a tidal wave of industrial noise. The Manchester band became fixated on what this underwater sonic pummelling must have felt like, so they wrote a song – Love Theme (4K VHS), the wistful, synth-drenched track that opens their debut record, I’ve Seen a Way – to try and make sense of it.
Trying to make sense of things is something of an organising principle for the band. “Writing Love Theme (4K VHS) was about trying to get inside the mind of this diver as they emerged, wondering what the hell is going on,” explains the band’s guitarist and producer Scott Fair as we chat over Zoom. He’s joined on the call by his bandmates, vocalist Valentine Caulfield, synth player Simon Catling and drummer Alex MacDougall, who’s framed by green wallpaper so he can project “explosions and shit” behind him. Together they’re recalling the process of creating I’ve Seen a Way, which involved other outdoor recording sessions in unconventional spaces, including deep down in a crypt. “We recorded very loud feedback with a mic and loudspeaker for about 20 minutes straight and when we finished we got a noise [complaint] from a meditation group above,” Fair explains, sheepishly.
“We’re aiming to capture something that might only occur once, or that is completely unexpected,” he says. “The idea [of the band] is not as much about the songwriting as it is about just capturing moods. We’ve struggled to talk about the album because we spend our time chasing things that we can’t put our finger on; it’s hard to define with words.”
Words are key to Mandy, Indiana’s distinctive, urgent sound, but not in the way you might expect. Paris-born Caulfield sings mainly in French, which helps obscure – for predominantly English-speaking audiences anyway – any immediate meaning in their songs. Instead, the vocal becomes part of a rhythmic torrent that stirs up something more expressionistic. Also, Fair thought Caulfield sounded cool. “There were a few bands I was listening to [around the time we formed] who sang in French and I was really interested in working with somebody who could sing in a language that wasn’t English,” he explains. Then he was still playing in a duo experimenting with the ideas that he would develop fully with Mandy, Indiana – ideas that were percolating when he first heard Caulfield sing at a local gig. “We were playing the same venue in different bands. I saw her performing and thought she was mesmerising,” he remembers. “I was going to a lot of gigs in Manchester at the time and I hadn’t seen anything like what she was doing.”
Caulfield and Fair, both active figures in the city’s fecund DIY scene, already knew of each other prior to this. Caulfield, an occasional promoter, had attempted to book Fair’s former band but was scuppered when the drummer dislocated his knee. With a connection established, it wasn’t long before they were testing out ideas in a rehearsal studio with a laptop and microphone. (Mosaick, a brief burst of chaos in the middle of I’ve Seen a Way, feels like it has been lifted from one of those exploratory sessions.) Despite the band’s close involvement in this scene, they are wary of being too closely associated with a city so well known for self-mythologising when it comes to musical output.
For a start, Caulfield no longer lives in Manchester – she’s based between France and Germany, and expects to be “fully Berlin-based” in the next month or so. But their resistance is not just to do with geographical particulars, it’s about the baggage that comes with labelling yourself a Manchester guitar band. “I don’t think we necessarily fit the bill,” she says, resolutely. “When Scott and I first met, the music coming from Manchester was 90 percent psych revival. I feel a lot more kinship with the rappers making their mark [here] than I do to the guitar music.”
“I FEEL A LOT MORE KINSHIP WITH THE RAPPERS MAKING THEIR MARK [IN MANCHESTER] THAN I DO TO THE GUITAR MUSIC” – VALENTINE CAULFIELD
In the band’s early days, Fair and Caulfield spent much of their time hunkered down, refining a harsh, techno-inflected sound at odds with Caulfield’s formal musical background (she studied at the Paris Conservatory, aged ten, specialising in classical singing). A combination of this and Fair’s day job as a sync agent licensing music for TV, film and games has given the band the tools to develop their visually arresting live performances. This doesn’t necessarily manifest in projected visuals in the vein of former tourmates Scalping, but more in full-throttle shows inspired by absorbing a diverse mix of visual media, spanning everything from Gaspar Noé’s unsettling film Irréversible to the opening scenes of decopunk video game BioShock. The band’s aversion to recording solely in studios is part of this same mentality. “Being in spaces that are visually interesting adds something to the recording, they might change the performance,” Fair muses.
Being a “visually stimulated band” meant putting together a live show that felt more overwhelming than a regular gig, even if this didn’t involve projections. “I think we were all very invested in it being a very live band feel,” Fair confirms. “Even with the more electronic influences, we wanted to feel like a guitar band.” On stage, Caulfield is the band’s focal point, expressing powerful emotion through affecting theatrics. When Catling joined the group in the summer of 2021, they were able to craft their set from the foundations of his internecine bass frequencies (“my theatrics are when I get people to shit themselves,” he notes with a puckish smile), and the band’s first gig – and an EP – soon followed. The evasively titled … featured three original tracks and two remixes, including one from new admirer Daniel Avery. In the year following the EP, drummer Liam Stewart left the band, to be replaced later by MacDougall.
If … was littered with bouts of sonic chaos boiling to a froth under Caulfield’s casual blend of rage and nonchalance, I’ve Seen a Way builds on this work by deftly conjuring a storm of industrial noise that acts as a kind of framing device for Caulfield’s politically-fuelled fervour. These songs were in part concocted under the watchful eye of Giant Swan’s Robin Stewart and Gilla Band’s Daniel Fox, who both came on board to mix certain tracks.
Creating noise that frees audiences to experience catharsis is something of a specialty for the band, who’ve built a following by pushing crowds to transcend their comfort zone. “It’s not for shock value, it’s about making those lines of communication [with a crowd] possible,” Fair asserts. Caulfield sits bolt upright, delivering her words with a kind of amused seriousness: “I’m not going to be mad at someone being like, ‘Genuinely, you make me want to vomit.’”
It’s an uncompromising spirit that filters through into Caulfield’s lyrics. Here, chants are delivered with a dramatic flourish, like a punk recitative, divining something communal with the listener. This isn’t a coincidence. “A lot of operas are written either in Italian or in German. You need to be able to convey emotions and meaning through sheer performance, and I think that’s very much the way I try to do the live shows, because most people who come and see me don’t understand what I’m talking about,” she says with a disarming frankness.
Without immediately recognising their meaning, Caulfield’s voice, and the way she delivers her lyrics, becomes another percussive instrument. On Injury Detail, Caulfield’s delivery reads as robotic and impersonal, taunting the listener with user manual instructions: “Joueur 1, avancez, haut, haut, bas, bas, gauche, gauche, droite, droite, rien n’est vrai, tout est permis, achevez votre adversaire,” (“Player 1, advance, up, up, down, down, left, left, right, right, nothing is true, everything is allowed, finish off your opponent”). Despite the button-mashing references, Caulfied’s performance takes on a kind of otherworldly affectation of being lost in the smoulder of a dark club. Elsewhere, her voice becomes more human and textural, shouting heartfelt rallying cries on album closer Sensitivity Training, a rousing lament that ends with an ominous question: “Entends-tu le bruit des bottes qui claquent sur le pavé?” (“Do you hear the sound of boots clattering on the pavement?)”.
“WE’RE AIMING TO CAPTURE SOMETHING THAT MIGHT ONLY OCCUR ONCE, OR THAT IS COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED” – SCOTT FAIR
“There’s definitely a two-way street with me and Val,” MacDougall explains. “What she does with rhythm, and what I do with rhythm.” This is most obvious on the bruising lead single Pinking Shears, where MacDougall’s angular groove interplays with Caulfield’s blunt spoken-word. On the fairytale-inspired 2 Stripe, Caulfield’s vocal takes on a storytelling quality akin to Audiobooks’ The Doll, laying low over a sinister, tom-led beat, while on Peach Fuzz she’s in political mode, shouting that this is not a revolt, it’s a revolution. Syncopated drums puncture through a hyperventilating synth, while a recurring scream recorded on a phone in a Bristol shopping centre is dropped into the track incidentally, like something from a Luc Ferrari field recording. “There’s definitely something about how ferocious I might play in relation to what I feel Val might be speaking about, [even if] I’m not certain [what that is],” MacDougall laughs.
“I try to use rhythm in order to try and create music in the words,” Caulfield confirms. The refrain of “souris, souris, souris, souris, c’est plus joli une fille qui sourit” on Drag [Crashed] doubles up on itself to create a vocal rhythm that serves as a kind of container for the snarling bite hidden within their meaning (“smile, smile, smile, smile, it’s prettier a girl who smiles”).
Caulfield’s lyrics also speak to a fleeting tranquillity, like on album highlight The Driving Rain (18), a sort of cyberpunk intermission: “Tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté/ Luxe, calme et volupté,” or, “All is order and beauty/ Luxury, calm and voluptuousness”. Like the deceptive serenity of the album’s cover – an image of a still, concrete corridor that wouldn’t look out of place on a Tumblr page dedicated to Brutalist architecture – it’s a lyric that is menacingly pleasant, hinting at something darker lurking beneath.
This is the duality that exists at the heart of I’ve Seen a Way. It’s a mysterious album, crafting a sense of uncanny familiarity within the walls of its distant synths and weird atmospherics. But it’s not some vague exercise in teasing out liminal soundscapes. At its core, there’s white-hot rage. Pinking Shears is a rallying cry against a “saloperie d’société” (“filthy society”) that lets humans die “dans la mer Méditerranée” (“in the Mediterranean sea”); Drag [Crashed] ventriloquises a chorus of misogyny. The power of the band’s performance lies in the severity of these harsh truths. Caulfield looks up, directly into the camera lens. “I think it’s a very honest and brutal look at the state of the fucking world, honestly.”
I’ve Seen a Way is out on 19 May via Fire Talk