[Originally for DC Music Download on 7 December 2012]
Interviewed By: Clay Conger
With juggling several bands, composing songs for movie soundtracks, and straddling her time between New York and D.C., Olivia Mancini‘s work-ethic is unrelenting. In the midst of all her musical projects, DMD took some time with the multi-talented artist to get to know her a bit more.
D.C. Music Download: You are actually part of a few music groups, including The Sleeping Secrets and Olivia & the Mates. Give us a quick synopsis of them.
Olivia Mancini: Beyond Olivia & the Mates, my primary project at the moment is actually pretty electronica based. It’s called Astra Via and it’s a collaboration between myself and Jarrett Nicolay (My New Mixtape/Virginia Coalition). We write songs together and then totally deconstruct and rearrange them so they sound nothing like their original demos.
Musically, it’s probably most similar to but still wildly different from Sleeping Secrets, which is the brainchild of Randy Scope. Randy writes beautiful, haunting songs, and I try to sing them as beautifully and hauntingly as possible.
In other groups, like Donny Hue and the Colors and Ruby Rae, I play bass, which I consider to be my spirit instrument. The meat of the sandwich, the glue that binds…the bass is the essential ingredient in every song you can dance to.
Oh, and don’t forget Band of Gold – Washington, DC’s Premier Wedding Band of Friends of Family. We’re legit, folks – we’ll customize a set list for you and even let you sing.
DMD: You use/adapt to different styles in your different groups, with a more electronic sound in The Sleeping Secrets. Is the composition/creative process for one group harder than another?
OM: Everyone brings to the table their own strengths. I enjoy but don’t fabricate electronic music. MIDI is a mystery. But I work with people who can fuse this element with my more organic instrumentation, singing and songwriting. This technique works especially easily and effectively with Astra Via, in which our goal is challenge ourselves to make songs that sound unfamiliar even to our own ears. Like, “Wow, we wrote that?”
DMD: When did you first start to take music in a more career-like direction?
OM: The Washington Social Club was a “serious” touring band. Though we didn’t stand the test of time, I became accustomed to thinking of music as a career during those heady days between 2002 and 2007. Music is my favorite pastime; it occupies the majority of my thoughts whether I’m awake or asleep. I have other pursuits and other activities I enjoy, of course. But if a career is something to which you dedicate most of your time and energy, it’s always been music for me.
DMD: Who are your biggest influences?
OM: Musically, there’s a range of mainstays (your Beatles, your Elvis Costello, your Tom Petty, oldies, swing, jazz standards) among thousands of tunes that have wormed their ways into my ears. But also books and movies and friends and experiences. Any and all can work their ways into the music I write and play. I recently read a study about the neurochemistry, and that research report inspired a whole song.
DMD: You are based both in New York and D.C.-does this ever get tiring?
OM: I’ve learned how to make good use of my 4.25-hour one-way journeys. Computer work on the bus and train (never, ever count on the internet to work, no matter what Bolt and Megabus may promise). Songwriting by way of iPhone’s Voice Memo, if I drive.
DMD: Where are your favorite places to perform in D.C.? Would you recommend any for other musicians to play at?
OM: If I could play house parties all the time, I would. One of my most favorite show nights included a rained out show at Nationals Stadium relocated on the fly to someone’s birthday party in a basement bedroom of a house in Mount Pleasant. People danced and yelled and screamed for more music and we sweated, danced, screamed, yelled and played with them.
The best shows are when there’s a symbiosis with the audience – you feed off each others’ energies. At a house party or a DIY venue, there’s less of a barrier between the band and the people who are there to see the band. People tend to be more reserved and less open-minded at clubs. I often play solo at the farmers’ markets around DC. I love taking requests and talking to people while I’m playing. And when a local farmer presents me with a loaf of bread or a bag of apples at the end of my set, I know I’ve made a positive impact. I find that extremely rewarding.
DMD: You’re snowed in from an avalanche with hours, possibly days to wait until a rescue. What is the one album you would want playing in the background?
OM: Good question. But I think I would use the time to make an album. When you describe oodles of isolated, uninterrupted, guilt-free hours, I only think of songwriting, microphones, and my trusty M-Box.
DMD: What was it like writing songs for movies, such as The Undying? Is it something you wish to continue doing?
OM: Oh, yeah, I love soundtrack work. In the case of The Undying (thriller!), I had to write a theme for the main character of the movie. Putting yourself in the head and shoes of another person is a wonderfully liberating way to create a new song. I had to imagine what the character was thinking and write in her voice. I remember I got it wrong the first time. The director sent it back and said, “This doesn’t sound like Barbara to me.” Fortunately, I must have captured Barbara on the second go-around because the next thing I got from him was a rough cut of the movie with my song in it.
For other projects, I’ve written background and atmospheric music, which allows me to flex my instrumental-music-as-emotion writing muscles. For commercials, you have to think in very small blocks of time – a whole song must be presented in under 30 seconds.
DMD: What’s next for you?
OM: Fame? Fortune? But, definitely: more songwriting, more recording, more collaborations, more shows and tours, and house parties. Astra Via is hellbent on putting out four EPs a year, and a single and video every month (Aim high!). The Mates are finishing up a recording a long-overdue collection of songs with Randy. I’m looking forward to sharing those with everyone early next year.