Interview: Mangoseed – “Live and Crazy: Up Close and Personal”
I have interviewed this up and coming, edgy, Indie group before, but not like this! They come to us infused with Reggae, Soul, Pop, World, a taste of Punk, and an flamboyant hint of genius. On a recent trip to London to see the iconic Adam Ant in concert, the members of Mangoseed, Karlos, Richie and Nikolai joined me in the lobby of my hotel, and stayed for several days. Never before have I spoken to a band in such a candid and in depth fashion. Never before have I experienced the love and caring they process towards one another.
A kaleidoscope of brotherly love, brilliance, talent and comedy defines these individuals, with influences from: Australia, Jamaica, Trinidad, Ireland, and Great Britain as well. Coming off of their new single “Jah Jah”, they are ready to show the world who they are, and what they stand for, with their very strong passion for music, and their unique look.
Karlos Coleman, hailing from Jamaica is a self taught guitarist, who began his quest to play using a cereal box as the body, and rubber bands for strings. He has a background in theatre and the arts, and is a phenomenally huge fan of Star Trek, and Elmo. Quirky enough however, he vehemently refuses beyond any circumstances to “high five” anyone, ever. The band declares that if anyone can get Karlos to do a “High Five”, they will get 80 Quids.
Sam Campbell the drummer, originally from Ireland is the only one I did not meet. However, he resides in Germany and is summoned to South London whenever the band needs him.
Nikolai La Barrie, also originally from the Caribbean, is the poet, and the lead singer, with a heart of gold, and a dramatic animation about him far surpassing anyone I’ve ever met. Although he couldn’t appear with the others the first night of the Mangoseed escapades, as he couldn’t retrieve a babysitter for his young son Nova, he certainly had much to say when they revisited the night after. He too has a background in the theatre, and currently works with kids to pay the bills.
Richard Hardy, born in Australia, but raised for some time in Trinidad, likes to be referred to as Dick. He entered the hotel lobby doing cartwheels and back flips, literally. A master of parkour, and the ability to solve a Rubik’s cube in a minute, ( which he proved in 9 different ways ), can balance drinking glasses on top of one another. The other members make no attempt to curb his child-like ways. Living in an abandon police station for the purpose of making sure there are no unwanted residents moving in, he makes “Escape Rooms” by day. He is also an extreme fan of drag queens and RoPaul. By the time we finished speaking to the band, it was decided that, “everybody needs a Richie”.
Louder Than War: Karlos: What do you do when you’re not banding?
Karlos: I worked in the theatre. I worked with young people as agents, but I had enough of that because there wasn’t enough pay.
Do you act?
Karlos: I use to, and then I flipped over to the other side. I had to pay the rent.
Where do you see yourself going? Where do you want to be?
Karlos: We just want to tour. We want to be known as a live band. That’s what we love to do, and that’s where we excel the most. We would like to tour the US, Australia, Europe. The U.K. , well the people here, their minds are programmed in the UK. They are followers, their minds don’t work that well. We just want to move forward as much as we can, do new recording, and just tour. Japan as well, we just want to gig like crazy. We are getting better. We’re still exploring new sounds. We set out not to be a kind of genre. Each song dictates what sound we have. People come to our gigs and don’t know what to expect. They ask us how to explain what we do. Because we have dreads, they expect Reggae, then they listen to us and can’t explain what they heard. We’ve got to sort out our business and forget waiting for people.
Who writes the songs?
Karlos: Lyrically Nikolai. He’s the poet. But we all chuck in. What we do with his lyrics, he does with our instrumentation as well. So it’s a big melting pot. None of us are precious about what we do. Nikolai and I worked in the same theater, way, way, way, back. We just talked about music and what we were doing, and stuff like that. So we put together a band. We had a very loose kind of unit to begin with. Then our bass player was going away, and we bumped into Richie. He jammed with us, and we said “OK, you can be the bass player”. So that’s how Richard got involved. The drummer was another theatre connection. He was meant to audition for the band, but he couldn’t come, so he sent Sam.
Why does Nikolai wear the white stripe across his face?
Karlos: That was only for one video. It’s actually Richard that goes all out on face paint. Last gig he was a wolf. A wolf with a dress on. He had tights on as well. He does it in secret. So when we’re gigging we never know what to expect. There’s also a 5th member of the band, the other Sam that was meant to audition as the drummer. He produced the song “Lucy”, and produced “Jah Jah” as well.
“Lucy” is one of my favorite songs in life. It makes me happy.
Karlos: Thank you. The song was full of transitions. You sort of think you have it…we played it for a month and thought we had it. But we didn’t so we literally tore it apart and pieced it back together. We knew something was their but we just wanted to make it the best that it could be. We loved the energy of the song.
You don’t have a genre, but do you want a pop hit?
Karlos: Every month this changes how it all works. Is it the A & R people? We’re not sure any more, is it the bloggers?, we’re not sure anymore, is it the music company’s themselves?, not sure anymore, are the hits dying away now? Its just one of those things. For us it’s making sure our craft is on point. If our craft is on point, then we are on point, then “Whatever”! The world will catch up with us.
So Richie, Karlos said he’s having a cup of tea for New Years Eve, what will you be doing?
Rich: Well there’s a proviso in the contract that we wrote for ourselves a long time ago, saying that no one can drink or smoke before a gig. That’s basically because I kept showing up like out of my head.
What do you do Rich when you are not playing with the band?
Rich: Have you heard of Escape Rooms? I’m the manager of one of those. So I lock people in a room for an hour. We tell you what the story is, you have one hour to do your mission and get out.
So you lock people in a room and at night when you go home, you go to an abandon police station?
Rich: Yes. Escape Rooms are great fun.
and you’re a Parkour coach?
Rich: Honestly I think it was just an expression of society telling the world that we’re interested in jumping and running and playing on things. I think I watched so many kung fu videos, that I just trained very hard to become really good.
Karlos: Everyone should have a Richard!
Do you have a leash for him?
Karlos: We have a voice.
Rich: I got told off once before a gig and I ran off because I got so annoyed that I sat in a corner by myself in the dark and said, “no I’m right”!
And Karlos doesn’t ever “high five” anyone.
Rich: After a gig this little kid went and high fived all the members of the band, and Karlos wouldn’t do it. That’s the way he really is. It was just a little kid.
I don’t know which one of you I love more.
Karlos: When we’re together it’s like we’re a family and Sam and Richard are definitely the kids.
Rich: Sam is the Irish drummer. He’s in Germany now.
And you summon him whenever you need him?
Rich: Yep, pretty much.
You’ve spent time in Trinidad?
Rich: My mom is Trinidadian, and she got homesick. She took the whole family and moved to Trinidad. We stayed there for 8 years. That’s how I got the connection to the band. The kids I grew up with, we thought that we were gonna be rock stars. In the Caribbean it is very hard to become a rockstar. No one believes in it, there’s no money in it. We started to paint peoples houses and collect money to build our own studios. Those people then grew up to form a Calypso band and all of those big bands of the world connected me with Mangoseed at a party. Kiwan introduced me to Nikolai, who needed a bass player.
Now Karlos, you are a self taught guitarist, correct?
Karlos: Self taught. My first guitar was a box of cornflakes, a ruler and about 3 rubber bands. I’d make these religiously. I grew up in a church so I always heard the people playing and stuff like that. My sister played piano. Then I actually got a real guitar when I was about 9 from my uncle. I busted every single string, apart from one. I played that one string guitar until I was about 13. Then my dad brought me a 12 string guitar. I tried to play that and it made noise. Constant noise. Then I went from guitar to percussion. My first drum kit was my mum’s knitting needles, a plastic bag, a mat, and pots from the kitchen. Before this band I was in a Funk band and for that I was a percussionist.
Rich: He always has a really good percussion with his guitar. Sam and I went to music school, and we tell him to diminish your seventh, and Karlos looks at the guitar like its a stranger. Our language in the band room is completely alien. Nikolai told me that I play like a petulant white child, and that I needed to play more like a sassy black woman. He didn’t mean me, he meant the bass.
Karlos: I love the way we communicate. I don’t know if I could work with another band. In the early gigs we use to play really terrible, and I use to want to give the audience their money back because I thought we really punished them. I didn’t think it was fair.
Rich: Everyone that went to that gig, just come back. We are really sorry. I wasn’t there for that so….I’m sorry that they did that to them.
Nikolai, how do you practice the Voodoo religion?
Nikolai: There would be ceremonies like anything else only it wasn’t practiced in a church. We practice in a back yard or some ones house.
Are the songs that you write sometimes influenced by your religion?
Nikolai: I get influenced by a contemporary idea…I grew up a Catholic so I was in Church when we were young, but by the time I was in my teens, different people were hanging out in different parts of Trinidad, and every body was practicing a lot of different things. So we celebrated everybody’s thing. We have more national holidays than any other place on the planet. We celebrate all the Indian and Hindu religions, Chinese culture and religions, even Middle Eastern religions. We celebrate everything.
Do you believe in Santa Cause?
Nikolai: Do I believe in Santa Clause, how could you not!
So how do you get an idea for a song?
Nikolai: From interactions. Shit that I get annoyed at.
If you could be asked any question, what would it be?
Karlos: How can we fix the world?
Nikolai: What would you like to hear God say when you get there?
Okay, that one wins. What would you like to hear God say when you get there?
Nikolai: You can go back. ….So 2016 is summed up for me in one thing that happened earlier on this year: so before Brexit, and before Trumph there was this ship. They rebuilt this old Imperial war cruiser from 1914. They had it in London, and they wanted to name it. They had an online pole to give it a name. Anybody could vote. The thing that won the most votes was Boaty Mc boat face. It happened in February and I think that was the key to 2016. If the entire population of this country wanted to call something Boaty Mc boat face. We were in for something. We should’ve figured it out. If that’s what everyone is going after then we are screwed.
Rich: I once used the words tits-anus in a song when I was 7.
You’re not 7 anymore.
Karlos: Yes he is and we love him for that!
Nikolai: I’d forgotten that you were wearing a dress Richard. I was looking back at a video and you were wearing a dress. I was like, “Shit he’s wearing a dress”. There was a guy in Islington who stripped down naked while performing. It was the show with the midget that was crowd surfing.
What was the name of that band?
Rich: I can’t remember their name. If the musics not good we’re not interested.
Nikolai: You see, the thing is we play a lot and the best thing for us is to hold a gig where 1: we are not headlining with a band that is really, really good. The problem is that in London there is so many bands. You can spit and hit five bands. Like in any art, 90 percent of it is bullshit. Ninety percent of them disappear eventually because they are not good enough to sustain themselves. A lot of it is just noise, and a lot of it you have to tune out. If a guy takes his clothes off, that’s the shit you remember.
Rich: Do you remember the gig where everyone left and I sat there with this one guy? That was torture. I sat there and thought that there is no one else here. I though “I will be the audience”! It was just the weirdest experience. It really hurt. It was awful. I was just intrigued. It was beyond feeling bad for him. It was actually painful. It was so noisy and discordant. Clearly without a purpose, there wasn’t any thought behind it.
Who named the group?…. Dead silence ….okay once again, who named the group?
Karlos: Huh…um, um….Nikolai wanna start this one…
Nikolai: So we put some names in a hat, and we picked and we voted on a name.
Rich, How did you get the name?
Rich: It was a Bible verse. “Man Go Forth and Seed”. Like to seed the population and we thought, “Man go seed”.
I like that way of thinking. Now you all just started to make sense to me. It’s like I had a revelation. It’s an interview of Biblical proportion. So Karlos did you drive them all over here?
Karlos: I did.
Rich: He made me sit in the back seat. Was it because of last night?
What happened last night?
Rich: I touched his face.
Maybe he needs a little medication?
Nikolai: No we love him just the way he is. Honestly I love everyone in my band exactly how they are. I don’t want them to change. I want them to grow and to become who they want to be.
So you all seem like you have a lot of fun.
Nikolai: Yeah. We like each other. We genuinely, genuinely like each other. I’ve never been in another band so this is my only reference point, but the other guys have. We hear some stories about other bands that don’t respect each other. We also respect each other. No one steps on each other’s toe. The four of us in a room is magic. For some reason it just feels electric, it feels right. We can argue about the music, we can complain to one another, but ultimately we just wanna be doing the best for us. We wanna be doing the best show that we can be doing, and having as much fun with the audience as we can.
So Karlos wants to tour, and Richard wants to play Rubiks cube. Nikolai, what do you want out of this?
Nikolai: I want to be the best that we can be….wait…that’s a bullshit answer…I want Bliss! I know it’s esoteric, and it might sound bullshity but, I want to be in a situation where we are going onstage every single night and giving as many people as we can, the best experience they can have. I want to bring joy and bliss to as many people as we can, for the rest of my life. That’s my goal!
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.