After years on the road, Sydney trio Mansionair used their months at home to refine their sound, returning with drive and hope.
For Alex Nicholls, Lachlan Bostock and Jack Froggatt, the past year of working and writing remotely hasn’t been too much of a shock. “We made our first song via Dropbox,” explains Froggatt over a Zoom call. “I really think the scene at the moment feels like it's the best it's ever been because we've kind of adapted to the internet.”
The Sydney trio released their first single before they’d even met. Growing up an hour north of Sydney, Bostock knew Nicholls via mutual friends, connecting over a shared love of electronic music, while Froggatt was in the same school, a couple of years above.
Froggatt and Bostock met at Splendour in the Grass, “We did that thing where we go, ‘Yeah, we should definitely make music together’, when you're drunk and waiting for food at a festival,” laughs Bostock.
But the two stayed true to their promise, collaborating on an instrumental which Bostock sent over. “I think I recall Lach sending me the piece of music, and I hadn't met Alex at the time. And then I went into the studio and tracked it, and then we released it,” Froggatt smiles. “Then I think, like two weeks later, I met Alex at a cafe. I remember the moment we were like, we did something really cool together.”
But it took another music festival for the trio to finally connect, in a moment of serendipity, watching now labelmates alt-J at Laneway Festival, the multi-city event co-created by their now manager Danny Rogers. “The first time we met him and the whole team properly was at Laneway, and then we played it a year or two later. We’re very much within the Laneway family,” says Bostock.
With a strong team around them, Mansionair found themselves constantly on the road alongside the likes of Mikky Ekko, Florence and the Machine and Chvrches, with whom they share management. “That Chvrches tour, that was twelve weeks of touring that we'd never done before across the world. That was an amazing experience, but that was also like, woah, we've got a lot to learn,” explains Froggatt. “There were so many support tours where we would all just be standing side stage watching the other band go do their headline set, and it was just this ability to dream, like maybe we could get there one day.”
“We've been lucky that the people that we've got to play with are so damn good at their jobs and being musicians. Surround yourself with the company you want to be,” Bostock continues. “You look at the Chvrches guys, and you look at the Odessa guys, and then they care so much. Those guys, really early on for us, were like, hey, don't waste this. Enjoy and have fun, but do the work and show up and don't be hungover all the time. Put on a good show. I think that was the thing that I really learned from them.”
Releasing debut album Shadowboxer in 2019, a chill ride of pulsing and powerful electronic indie, the group self-produced the record, still working out their sound and process. “Every time we tried to bring someone in, we either didn't quite get there, or we just couldn't find the right piece,” explains Bostock.
After a long run of live shows they wrapped their touring just as the world shut down, playing their last gig on March 2nd. However, they’d already begun working on new material, writing on the road and for a week in LA whilst playing Coachella.
In November of 2019 they’d rented a cottage on the South coast of New South Wales in a town called Jamberoo. “It's like this old theme park and there was this ad on TV when we were growing up,” explains Froggatt. “It was like, ‘Jamberoo, where you control the action’. It was really funny because every time we told our friends or our managers that we're going down there to write, everyone was like, ‘Oh, are you gonna control the action?’.
The group set up in the living room, bringing their own mixing desk and pushing aside the furniture. “After a few attempts at trying to write some music in the studio, I think we were like, let's just go play together. And it was almost like permission to just go make mistakes and find a vibe and not be precious about it,” says Froggatt.
After a run of demoing, the band reached out to British producer Jon Gilmore to help refine and arrange their work. With travel restricted, the group found themselves back working via Dropbox, and getting creative with their collaboration. “The timezone sucked, so we would be like, ‘OK, we're going to go in and record the drums today’, and we'd set up just like ten mics around a snare drum. The nicest mic we could find, the shittiest mic we could find, it was all positioned so that he could listen through all the takes and go, that one's a good sounding mic. I have photos of the ridiculousness that the recording sessions ended up being.”
The result was recently released single “More”, a rich and relentless hit of driving synths and euphoric chorus that found the group cleverly experimenting with time signatures. “I'll never forget the dialogue we had when we were playing that idea out,” smiles Froggatt. “I remember Lach asking Alex, ‘Do something in seven, eight, or five, four?’ And Alex, as quick as he always is like, ‘Nah, five, four, because there's one more than four in five, but there's one less than seven in eight. I think we love music like that. It's a bit unsettling, but it just pushes the statement a little further along, which is what we wanted that song to do.”
Following on from “More” comes “Don’t Wait”, out today. Contrastingly, it’s an upbeat breakup anthem full of bouncing percussion and sharp highs. The band had been holding it back, editing and perfecting, and waiting for the right time to set it free: “We wrote it together at a writing camp and we were like, there's something in this,” explains Bostock. “It sat with us for years and we had to take it into our ecosystem, play it and produce it tonnes of different ways. It's been this song that's been worked on in tour buses, at home, back and forth for years.”
“That song reminds me of roaming the streets of New York a couple years ago when we were playing the demo out loud,” smiles Froggatt. “It's been a hard single to place, so hopefully it comes out in a time where people can really enjoy it and use it at its full potential.”