LA songwriter Eleni Mandell brings her lush, summery eighth album I Can See The Future [Yep Roc] to Toronto in the fall but, as she puts it, she's a late bloomer.
Mandell debuted in 1999 with Wishbone and put out six albums on Toronto indie label Zedtone Records before her recent move to Yep Roc (also home to Nick Lowe, Josh Rouse, John Doe, Gang Of Four, Greg Brown and The Sadies).
With a title inspired by a visit to a tarot reader years ago, the songs on I Can See The Future capture the fleeting beauty of summertime, vivid memories of past relationships, and feelings of longing, frustration, and hope for the future.
Mandell's vocal delivery is breezy and sultry, intelligent and wryly funny. (Her sense of humour is also evident in her decision to dance with her ex-boyfriend, Charlie Wadhams, in the video for Magic Summertime).
On the album, which was produced by Joe Chiccarelli, Mandell is backed by pedal steel, horns and strings, with backup vocals from her Living Sisters bandmates Becky Stark and Inara George. There's also a duet with Benji Hughes.
Mandell plays on a bill with Lily Frost at the Drake Hotel Friday, October 19. See listings here.
Can you explain your Toronto connection to me? You were on a Toronto-based indie label called Zedtone here until recently, correct? How far back does that relationship go?
I put out my first record myself and was lucky that a couple of music writers liked it. One of them was Tim Perlich at NOW. The Internet was just getting going, and I got an email from Ian Pearson who had read about me in NOW. Ian told me that he wanted to start a record label to put out my material and he released my next six records - and even financed my recent disc - but then sent me out of the nest like a baby bird (I'm a late bloomer) and gave me to Yep Roc Records.
How did the shift to Yep Roc happen?
Ian had been warning me for the last few records that he might be done with the record business (who could blame him?) but then he'd hear a new song I wrote and get excited. He heard me perform A Possibility and said he wanted me to record just one more. I figured if I was going into the studio I should do at least five songs.
Then suddenly it was a whole record. [Ian]'s always really wanted me to do well and to reach more people so he was very happy that Yep Roc was interested in the record. I still really value his opinion and included him in the final decisions, like sequencing and mixes.
The press release for I Can See The Future calls it a bittersweet record. I actually find it quite humorous at moments. How do you take intense emotions like sadness and disappointment and transform them into songs that tell a more complete story?
I do it unconsciously. I'm glad you see the humour in many of the songs. I have a real knack for feeling sorry for myself - at least I used to - but I also can really see the humour in some dark times once they've passed. And I like a song to be well-rounded; otherwise I feel embarrassed.
I just realized how rare it is to hear a sexy song about or from the perspective of a pregnant woman. Were you intending to shock a little with Bun In The Oven? What's been the response to it so far?
My intention was just to write about what I was going through at the time. I decided to have kids on my own so I was single and pregnant with twins. I was extremely flirtatious when I was pregnant, probably more so than at any other time in my life. I'd flirt with the guy selling flowers at the farmers' market and walk away then catch a glimpse of my shadow and remember that I was six or seven months pregnant. It made wonder if anyone would want to date me again. I also wondered if I'd ever write another song and a friend encouraged me to just write about what I was going through. So, I wasn't trying to shock at all. I was just trying to be honest.
People seem to really love that song, though there's also sometimes an uncomfortable silence when I introduce it.
Is this the biggest group of backup musicians you've worked with on a record? And did you have an overall vision of how you wanted the album to sound?
I don't think this is the biggest group of musicians I've worked with, but I've never counted. I didn't have a clear vision of what I wanted which is one reason that Joe Chiccarelli was such a good producer. We worked it all out in the studio and it happened organically while he steered the ship.
Are you going to be touring alone, or will someone be backing you up?
I've been touring alone throughout the United States and it's been a complete blast. I think it's a great way to hear the songs and relate to the audience. It's very intimate and very fun. However, I'm lucky enough to have Bazil Donovan from Blue Rodeo playing along with me for my Canadian dates.
What are you working on now? Anything else I should mention?
I just got off the road opening for Nick Lowe and I was very inspired. I don't write when I'm on the road but I take notes. I'm getting that special feeling...songs should be coming soon.