Mandy, Indiana is a Manchester-based experimental quartet composed of vocalist and lyricist Valentine Caulfield, guitarist and producer Scott Fair, synth player Simon Catling, and drummer Alex MacDougall. Following a series of early recordings in 2019, the group released their first EP, …, in 2021. Treading the line between the playful and violent, the collection balanced militaristic grooves with formless, visceral experimentation, paving the way for the band’s debut full-length, i’ve seen a way, out this Friday on Fire Talk. They recorded parts of the album in bizarre, unconventional locales – screaming vocals in a shopping centre, live drums in a cave in the West Country. One session even took place in a Gothic crypt while a yoga class was underway just above them, a sort of literal manifestation of their disruptive, even combative approach to creating dissonance. But the real battle is happening within the music, as Caulfield, singing in her native French, infuses the amorphous chaos that buzzes through the record with fiery intent. In marrying the unrelenting fury of post-punk with the intoxicating pulse of electronic music, Mandy, Indiana fashion a world of discomfort that pulls you further in the more you try to turn away, all while ensuring the view they project is no more grim than galvanizing.
We caught up with Mandy, Indiana’s Scott Fair for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the origins of the project, the process of recording i’ve seen a way, its conflicting dynamics, and more.
If not a message, is there a driving force behind Mandy, Indiana’s music that you want people to be able to pin down? I think part of it is communicated through Valentine’s lyrics, but there’s obviously a language barrier if you don’t know French, and even then it’s pretty elusive.
There’s a lot going on, I’m not gonna lie. Maybe there isn’t a clear message, because I think the music and the lyrics sometimes come from very different places. We think it’s a strength of our music is that it is messy and it doesn’t quite fit together. We’re much more interested in exploring the unfamiliar and the unknown and stuff that doesn’t feel comfortable, so that was kind of the driving force behind the creative process, just trying to get out of our comfort zone and do something that felt challenging. In terms of the lyrics, there are definitely strong opinions about the state of the world, about inequality, but that very much comes from the personal experience of Valentine, so I can’t really speak too much to that. The lyrics always come second, so Valentine doesn’t write anything in preparation for the music. It’s always as a reaction to the music, so that’s the thread that pulls those things together.
The music that I’ve written in the past before I met Valentine was always very much focused on myself and wasn’t especially collaborative, so what I find really exciting about Mandy, Indiana is that process of allowing somebody the freedom to co-create. That’s much easier to do when it works well, and I think that’s the thing, is that Valentine and I work well. Maybe it’s just chance, I don’t know how it happened really. It just started working, and then we were like, “Let’s explore this further and deeper.”
I know you were playing in different bands before you met, but what struck you about Valentine’s approach to music and performance, and what do you think she saw in what you were doing?
It was that first show where we met each other. She was playing in a band called Maelk. They weren’t doing anything that was especially experimental – they were a good band, but the thing that struck me was that she kind of looked like she was just in her living room, relaxing; she would just sit down on the stage occasionally and she didn’t look like she was in a venue at all, and then she’d just get up and casually walk around the stage. It didn’t really make sense with the band that she was playing with, to be honest, and I think that’s why it stood out to me. One of the later tracks that they did in the set was Valentine singing in French – the rest of it was English – and that’s the moment where I went, “Wow, this is really cool and interesting. I should go and talk to her.” I don’t even know if I did talk to her, actually, but my band was playing as well, and that was a two-piece. It was sort of a precursor to Mandy, Indiana – that was when I was getting a lot of these ideas and listening to music that was informing my taste at that time. So I think she saw that band and was like, “This is really weird and interesting.” And that was it. It’s just noticing something about somebody else, I guess, and having the desire to actually reach out to them afterwards.
What excited you about the possibilities of how that collaboration could play out?
I’d never really had a project where it was super collaborative. I think other musicians used to get involved with me because I wrote everything and I was singing everything and I was the driving force behind the band. So other musicians would be like, “Cool, this guy is kind of doing everything, we’ll just come and do our thing.” With Valentine, it really was a new experience for me because I’d never worked with anybody in that way before. It was like, “I’ve written this song, what do you think? Could you do something with it?” And then she’d be like, “Yeah, maybe,” and then go away for weeks and weeks and I wouldn’t hear anything from her, and then I’d kind of prod her and go, “Did you do anything?” And she was like, “Oh, no, I’ll do it now,” and then like an hour later she would send me an idea, and it’s fucking amazing. [laughs] So when I heard it back, it wasn’t like any experiences that I’d had before of writing my own music where I was like, “Is it any good?” I was just like, “She’s added her thing to this, and it’s made it amazing.” I love what she’s done to it, so I’m a fan of it. It’s a lot harder to do that if it’s just you because you get inside your own head and psych yourself out about things.
The possibilities seemed limitless, and the fact that she was singing in French, which is her native language, sort of gave me permission to be slightly more obtuse. We only thought we would ever play shows in Manchester as well, we didn’t have any ambitions to play beyond that. We were like, if we can play a festival in Manchester, then we’ll have done it, we’ve done what we set out to do. People in Manchester, most of them don’t speak French and they’re probably not going to understand this, so maybe it doesn’t matter if they don’t understand the music, either. So let’s just make the music as weird as we can – and it’s still not very weird, it’s still very much informed by popular music. But I guess it gave me agency to go, we can be weird with this, because it’s already sort of atypical.
Even with how limitless the possibilities seemed, were you surprised at all at the direction you ended up taking creatively?
All I could say is that I was surprised by how strong the album is. I didn’t know that we could make something that I would love as much as I do. I was thinking, “I’m never going to like this, I’m too close to it.” Because the EP was, I feel, very much focused in one particular area of what we do, whereas the album embraced things that we were just starting to become interested in when we did the EP. There were seeds that were being planted along the way that really flourished on the album in a surprising way. I think the stuff in the album is always trying to look forwards instead of looking back too much. There’s definitely some older influences on there, but we’ve always tried to take that and and put it alongside something new and different. I was like, “This easily could have been a bad mess. But it’s a good mess. [laughs] A fun mess.”
We spent a lot of the budget for the album on recording in these slightly unconventional recording spaces, and I think for a debut album, it was a big swing. It could easily have backfired and resulted in a bit of a disaster. But I always think, if your intentions are right, then the idea is the best thing. It kind of doesn’t matter as much what it turns out like if the idea is good.
How much of an impact do you think recording in these environments actually ended up having on the final product?
It has had a tremendous impact on the record as a whole, because we weren’t even done writing it at the time that we went to record some of these sessions. Things that happened directly influenced decisions that were made when we were mixing it and producing it and writing the parts of it. I mean, going into a cave, or specifically the cave that we went into, felt like going on to another planet. It was this weird sort of Martian landscape, there was all this orange sand, then the walls around us had this weird, purplish tint to them. It was so alien, and like with the other things that we’re talking about before, it gives you permission to go hard. [laughs] It gives you permission to just throw caution to the wind and be experimental and enjoy it. There’s a lot of silly qualities to the band members and the influences that we draw from, and the record is not just aggressive – there is a lot of that, but there is a lot of fun in it as well.
This didn’t necessarily influence the decisions, but I remember reading about Animal Collective and how they made records. They would take, like, paddling pools and have these projections of dinosaurs and things on the studio walls. It’s just like what kids would do. Having a little field trip to a cave to go and record is just a fun little trip, you know, so that was really liberating. I mean, it was nerve-racking that day in the cave because we couldn’t hear anything that we’re recording because the reflections were so loud. Even if we had headphones on, we couldn’t hear while it was being tracked, and we had such little time that we didn’t have time to listen back to what we recording either. I think it was like an eight-hour day, and five or six hours were loading in and loading out. So we had probably about two hours to record in there, which is not a lot of time at all. By the time we got out, it’s very late, so we weren’t going back anywhere to listen to what we had recorded. It’s the next day when we listened back, and we were all exhausted. We’re like, “Oh, thank god, it sounds amazing.” [laughs] That really buoyed us for the rest of the journey.
There was even a cave diver that came up through this pool in the cave while we were recording and was like, “What the fuck is going on?” The first track on the album, ‘Love Theme’, that has this sort of filtered moment where it’s kind of like passing through water, and that was inspired by this guy coming up and discovering this drum kit. I mean, it was so loud in there. You hit the snare, and it’d just be like ear-splitting levels of volume, so I can only imagine the terror that this cave diver must have felt as he came up through the water and was hearing this cacophony. I really wanted to imitate that experience in a fairly sort of obvious way.
Do you have any other favorite memories from those field trips that are more on the silly side?
The clearest one that jumped straight to her mind is, we were in a crypt underneath this church, and I was basically given free rein with this loudspeaker and this microphone – I had my ear defenders in my ears as well that I use when we’re playing live, so I could still hear everything perfectly well, it was just the volume was reduced. So we just cranked this speaker as loud as we could, and I would walk around in this space with the microphone just pointing at the speaker and then moving it off axes and getting all these different reflections, and it was amazing. I did that for probably about 15 to 20 minutes, just wandering around doing this experiment and getting different sounds and rhythms with it. And when we finally stopped, there’s this massive banging off the door. I was like, “Holy shit, who’s that?” We went to open the door, and Isaac, this guy that was recording with us, he was like, “Guys, I just had a complaint from upstairs, because apparently they’re doing a yoga and meditation class up there.” [laughs] So we’re like, “Oh shit, that’s hilarious.” But we didn’t do any more. We were very respectful.
There’s something about having music at those sorts of volumes – it does something to your body. It’s too loud to listen to for too long, so you have to have ear defenders on or something to save your ears. But having that level of noise, it just moves you in a weird way. Some people might not call it music, but I think it’s very musical. There’s something really affecting about just the sound of feedback and the rhythms that emerge from it. I was having a great time. I’d love to just do a performance of that – everybody comes in, and it’s like, “Just so you know, you might want to wear ear defenders for this,” and then it’s just loudspeakers, microphone. I mean, people have been doing that shit for years, it’s nothing new. But that was a fun “I’ve been let off the leash” kind of memory.
There’s a kind of conflicting dynamic between Valentine’s vocals and the noise that you’re talking about. It’s almost like they’re in opposition, which is interesting because there’s this revolutionary bent to a lot of the lyrics. For you as a producer, the way the music is staged, do you see the voice resisting against the chaos of the music, or is it almost amplified by it? How do you see that relationship?
I think that’s a really nice observation, that they’re in opposition with each other; Valentine’s voice, the defiance of it, comes from its attempt to try and drown out the music, or to rise above the noise. It’s not something that I considered, really, when we were we were producing it. But a lot of it was just going off that desire to make something that felt unfamiliar. There wasn’t necessarily a lot of thought if there was that kind of dynamic. I guess when you’re mixing something, if you’re doing a pop record, then it’s all about balancing the elements so that you know you can hear the vocal and that it cuts through. And with this it was like, we don’t have to worry about any of that. The voice can be drowned out, can be drenched in reverb, or distorted, and it doesn’t matter because it’s just another element. Maybe it feels like there’s a battle sometimes because it was treated when mixing like it was another instrument.
Sometimes when you’re listening to a track, certain things pull focus – often a voice can do that because of the dynamics of it, but sometimes you listen into a track and all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh shit, listen to that snare.” Something jumps out from the mix, and sometimes things are just in the background because you’re focusing on something else. But in our music, it can be anything; it could be the vocal, it could be the drums, it could be a sample.
Does that desire for the unfamiliar ever clash with your sense of precision or attention to craft, which I feel are also important elements in your music?
I’ve always been uncertain about my skills as a producer. But I also couldn’t really let anybody else get too involved in it, because I’m so picky and the things that I’m aiming for – often when you do involve with people, they bring in things from their own experience, and this is an experiment in trying to deliberately go against what we all know collectively, or what we’re all influenced by. It’s trying to just tread its own path, I suppose. But with this, there did come a time where I was like, “I know these things need more attention and more craft, and I can’t do it myself.” So that’s when I started getting other people involved. We got Robin Stewart from Giant Swan involved to mix some of the tracks that were maybe a bit more electronic leaning, and Daniel Fox from Gilla Band to do stuff that was maybe a bit more in the experimental and guitar-based world. And that was really amazing. Some of the album I felt sort of comfortable doing myself, but some of it was like, “I don’t necessarily possess the skills right now to make the thing that I’m hearing in my head.” So it’s really about getting somebody that I knew could and talking to them.
Certainly for this, I was so much about, “Let’s embrace the chaos, let’s embrace the raw nature of things, let’s not overproduce and not overthink and not spend too much time.” But then I started spending too much time, and I was like, “I’m too close to this, I need to move away from it. Let’s get somebody else involved.” So there was a bit of a battle between embracing the chaos, but also having that level of completion that it felt like it needed. You can work on something and really hone it and craft it without it becoming overproduced. But it can be difficult, especially once you get other people involved, to maintain that level of rawness.
I think that dynamic intensifies at the very heart of the album with ‘Mosaick’ and ‘The Driving Rain (18)’, which seem to offer different interpretations of Valentine’s words about order and beauty. How did you conceptualize that middle portion of the record?
My favorite albums are the ones that work hard to draw you in, so there was always going to be repetition of themes and motifs, maybe more akin to something like a score or a soundtrack. It’s supposed to call back to things and remind you of things. And the more time you spend with the record, the more you notice that connective tissue that pieces things together. We use structure occasionally, we use melody occasionally, we use more obvious rhythms because that makes the chaotic moments more impactful. If the record was all noise, it might be fatiguing – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, there are great noise records are completely devoid of melody, that don’t have structure or form, and they’re amazing. But we wanted to pull elements of that and contrast them with elements of melody, stillness, calmness, because we wanted the more aggressive moments to have that much more weight because of it. We’ve tried to make a dynamic record that leads you on a bit of a journey – as cheesy as that sounds, that kind of is the point.
Because of that cinematic quality and the sense of momentum that builds, I’m curious whether ‘Sensitivity Training’ is a song you were tempted to stretch out for the finale.
I think it’s supposed to be abrupt, really, and it’s supposed to be primal. A lot of the tracks come from the a place that’s more feeling than anything else, and that feels like a very defiant note to end on. There is a certain darkness and doom in the album, but we wanted it to finish on a note that felt optimistic and sort of galvanizing. So that’s why you’ve got this, it could be like a march, or it could be anything that unites people and gives them hope and gives them a driving force. That’s probably the one that maybe speaks most to the lyrical themes that appear throughout the record. It’s like, “Let’s not end this album rocking back and forth in the corner of a dark room.” I think there’s like 10 guitar tracks on that – we didn’t do that anywhere else on the record. I don’t know how we’re going to do that live, or if we’ll be able to. There wouldn’t be any point doing it, unless you could get loads of drummers and loads of guitarists all doing it together. Maybe one day. But that’s what it’s supposed to be – it’s not just a four-piece band anymore, it’s loads of musicians.
Weirdly, that track was somewhat influenced by – I don’t know if you’ve seen Moana, the Disney film. There’s a few sounds on that soundtrack – there’s a call, and that’s right at the start of Moana. That was sort of what influenced this kind of tribal call that happens while Valentine’s singing in the background. It’s not referencing any sort of particular culture or tribe, it’s just a primal shout. It’s not a word, it’s not in any language. I think it’s an optimistic track, but it’s still very grounded-feeling. It’s like, if you want those moments where that really amp people up, you have reference things that maybe aren’t all smiles and sunshine. So there’s like a shout influenced by Moana, but there are also dark melodies that are influenced by an artist like Coil. Again, it’s a clashing of things, it’s a coming together of things that maybe shouldn’t work, and maybe don’t work. But maybe it’s okay that they don’t work.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Mandy, Indiana’s i’ve seen a way is out May 19 via Fire Talk.