At the time David Tillman turned this piece on The Mowgli’s into MIMO back in April, they were just starting to gain attention with their single “San Francisco,” with a debut full-length record in the works. Since then, they’ve guested on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, had their music featured in a major motion picture trailer, and seen their song “San Francisco” climb to No. 11 on the alternative charts. For 2014, they show no signs of slowing down, already confirmed for a slot at Wakarusa 2014. We thought revisiting this interview was an appropriate celebration of their success. –Ed.
Since officially forming a little over three years ago, LA-based indie-rockers The Mowgli’s have been spreading good vibes with their contagious combination of rock, folk and surf elements–sort of a blend of the joy of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros with the musical legacy of Laurel Canyon. Their EP Love’s Not Dead, and their recent single “San Francisco” in particular, have generated plenty of buzz in recent months. Recently signing to Island Def Jam, and with a full-length record expected this summer, The Mowgli’s are set to reach a much wider audience with their joyous sound and positive message.
MIMO recently caught up with frontman Michael Vincze, who was good enough to chat with us by phone while the band was on the road.
MIMO: Thank you for agreeing to talk with us.
Michael: It’s an honor.
MIMO: Let’s start with a little bit of back story about how you guys got started in this.
Michael: The Mowgli’s are born of a collective back in Los Angeles. A bunch of us grew up together; we’ve been making art for most of our lives. I stood on stage with Katie [Jane Earl] when I was in the third grade, and Andy [Warren], he was in the second grade. We were all acting and singing together in plays and what not.
In middle school, we started meeting some of the other members. In high school, we were all in separate bands competing against one another. After college time was over, I was really hanging out with everybody and wanted us to be doing shows together instead of against each other, and the idea of forming a collective really started to take shape. I started talking to friends about it and they started adding their ideas. The next thing I knew, we were literally throwing all of this energy and gravity at this thing that was basically a scene that we were going to create, because we didn’t necessarily like what was happening in Los Angeles at the time. We took it upon ourselves to start a love movement that would change our lives and the lives of everyone who attended, and then start to reshape the face the art in LA itself, as far as music was going. There was some stuff happening with visual artists as well, back in those days, but now it’s mostly about music.
The Mowgli’s took shape out of that, where it was just I so badly for so long wanted to be in a band with all my friends. I was like, “You know what, forget it. I’m just going to invite everybody and see what happens.” The next thing I know –you know, some shows we play, we’ve got 25 people on stage with instruments. Not so much when we’re touring, but when we’re at home. It really is this opportunity for everyone to come on board and really be a part of it, and have it be their band as much as it is everyone else’s. It really leads to some of the highest possible collaboration that can exist because you’re creating a vision that is between a bunch of people. When you add that many minds together and they can find a way to compromise, it’s like this whole ‘the sum is greater than the parts’ thing, where there’s a magic that can occur when everyone’s working together and very passionate about it. When you find that harmony, it’s more powerful than anything else I’ve ever known, personally, in music.
MIMO: With that much collaboration, what does songwriting process look like for you guys? How do you come up with tunes?
Michael: What’s crazy is that the best songs are so beyond us; they’re so already written somewhere on some cosmic plane of creativity that I don’t know if we’re even attached to or not until the actual writing goes down. “San Francisco,” for instance, came as a guitar riff. I started strumming it. Immediately, I was like, “I want to play this to Colin [Louis Dieden]. I think that he will resonate with it.” Played it to Colin, nothing happened. Four months went by, Collin and I take a trip to San Francisco, I play him the riff again, we start writing the song right then and there, and it happened in the period of 12 hours, from basically me showing him the riff again to the song being finished. It honestly felt like we were remembering it, like it had been recalled from somewhere because it just came through us.
Another instance where something where that happened is with our other song “The Great Divide.” I wrote all the pieces one night; I was on vacation with my family in Hawaii. I was sitting on a beach and I was just strumming these happy chords. Instrumentally, the whole song came, and two verses [of lyrics]. I came home, I showed it to them, and Colin had a chorus that fit my choral progression like puzzle pieces. He had written something with almost the exact same progression. He’s like, “Check this out. Look what I wrote. It fits with your thing perfectly.” It’s like we had written the same song in two separate parts of the world, and when we got together, they were magically intertwined like DNA. Stuff like that happens…We like to not play by any rules. We just follow the muse.
MIMO: Is it seven people or eight in your band right now?
Michael: There are eight right now.
MIMO: That must make for some interesting times on the road.
Michael: It certainly does. There’s eight in the band, and then two crew. We’re ten people in a 15-passenger, good old Ford Econoline.
MIMO: What is it like on the road with that many people?
Michael: Everyone in the band is highly involved in something called SnapChat. They are constantly making these funny videos that only last for 18 seconds or less. They send them to each other and to all their friends. They seem to get a kick out of that. For some reason, I don’t want to get on that train because everyone else is doing it. I see them enjoying themselves and that gives me a lot of joy, just when I see them smiling and laughing. They’re having a blast doing that.
Also, constantly, literally, there’s a never-ending comedy routine going on in the van at any given moment. They just make joke, after joke, after joke. The more time that we all spend together, I think the more fun it gets. It’s really cool, just on a level of happiness that everyone’s trying to maintain. It’s not necessarily easy for everybody out there, but we all lean on each other and make it fun, even in the hard times.
MIMO: It helps to have had long-standing relationships, I imagine. You already know each other pretty well.
Michael: Yeah, we do.
MIMO: There really seems to be a sense of mission involved with The Mowgli’s in a collective sense. I wonder if you can put into your own words why you guys are a band. What do you hope to accomplish?
Michael: I think first and foremost, The Mowgli’s exist with the intention to change the world by spreading love, joy, and positivity, and we embed that in our music. Anytime the music’s playing, that job is being done. It doesn’t always work, not everybody likes it or gets it. The people who do latch onto it, I think they feel a similar thing to what we feel, where it’s just that something that inspires a smile or some happy thought. Really, that’s the first and foremost.
Beyond that, it’s like attempting to inspire people to commit random acts of kindness whenever possible. If you look at our music video for “San Francisco,” we’re just running around doing nice things for people when we have the opportunity. Some of it’s ridiculous and quirky in the video, but it’s just to say that if you’re out and about and something’s going on, and you have the chance to either ignore somebody or actually step in and do something nice for them, committing these actions will actually help make for a better life for everyone, because if you do that for someone, maybe they’ll have the opportunity to do something nice for somebody and they’ll do it. It’s like constant pay-it-forward energy that we’re trying to build…This band is crazy enough to think that it can change the world. I think that one way to do that is to think that you can; whether or not it’s impossible is irrelevant. We’re just going to go out and add as much goodness as we possibly can and see what happens.
MIMO: Tell us about the name The Mowgli’s. Did that come from the Jungle Book character? What prompted that name or that connection to the name?
Michael: We all grew up watching The Jungle Book. Some of the band [members] even were nicknamed Mowgli by their parents when they were kids. It was prompted when my brother named his dog Mowgli. He’s this amazing wolf dog, and there was just something really special about him. We started joking about the dog and calling the band that. I think it resonated so much because of how we all feel with regards to the character Mowgli.
MIMO: You currently have an EP out, Love’s Not Dead. Do you have a full-length recording in the works, or you just planning on touring for the next few months? What’s on the horizon for you guys?
Michael: We are currently working on our full-length. Love’s Not Dead is going to be five songs that are on the full-length. We’re going to turn it to an LP, release it sometime in June. I’m hoping to get as many songs on it as possible.
It’s really interesting right now; I’ve never made a record like this. Before, we just made a bunch of music, put it together, and released it as a cohesive vision. Now that there’s the band, we have management, there’s a label on board, and multiple writers that are outside of our thing, I feel like there’s 50 people that have their hands on the steering wheel right now. It’s a little intense as far as collaboration goes, because everyone wants it to go in a certain direction. A lot of the decision-making is not necessarily in regard to the art; it’s in regard to the best possible way to get The Mowgli’s out there….It’s a little strange right now, the deciding factors that are creating this record. It’s not just straight-up artists making art, delivering the art to the people, it’s now a team of people combined with artists, and everyone together is going to make this thing. I’m actually more excited about that, because like I said, when we made The Mowgli’s, everyone was invited. Our label [Island Def Jam] is invited to be in the band, and by helping us put this record out, they’re actually acting as band members. I’m excited to see what happens, because the fact that there are so many brilliant people on board with us all acting in the intention to make The Mowgli’s the best possible thing that it can be. I think that we’re going to come out with the best possible product because of that. I’m excited about it. It’s weird, but it’s also really cool.