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Eleni Mandell is set to play a show at Mercury Lounge tomorrow night (and Iota on February 4th for all you DC amigos), and because we’re huge fans and are WAY too excited to wait around until then, we thought we’d tide everyone over with a little interview; read up on her brand new record Let’s Fly A Kite (which dropped JUST YESTERDAY and is incredible), what parenthood’s meant for her creative process and MORE, and in the MEANTIME, remember to grab show tickets before they’re ALL SOLD OUT. HERE WE GO:

So you’ve got Let’s Fly A Kite coming out next week, which is exciting!

Yeah, I’m very optimistic (cautiously optimistic) and realistically jaded. [Laughs]

And so roughly how long did this one take you from start to finish?

It was pretty quick; there were a couple of songs on the record that are fairly old that I just always loved and kept around but never recorded (like “I Like You” and “Midnight Hauler”), but most of the songs I wrote between December and April, which is pretty short.

And you recorded it in London. Did that put any extra…I don’t want to say “pressure” on you, but did it sort of get you in the mindset that you really needed to get it done efficiently? 

It did put pressure on me, because I had this one chance to do it (I had to be really careful, because I’m not Britney Spears, and I don’t have a million dollars to spend on a record flying back and forth); this was my one shot to get it done in London, and my children were sick, and I got sick, and it was a lot of pressure. But it was also an incredible opportunity to work with some great people.

Well that sounds like the good kind of pressure! Now, going into the writing process, did you have any sort of mission statement at the outset in terms of wanting the record to sound a certain way, give off a certain vibe, be a certain length, etc.?

I did not have any preconceived ideas. The only thing I said to Neil Brockbank before we started (he’s one of two producers; Bob Trehern is the other) was that I didn’t want a lot of fancy stuff; I have to tour by myself, so I want it to sound really organic and natural. My idea of doing something really stripped-down for the most part did not happen, though, and I’m really happy with the results!

Preconceived ideas or not, the finished product sounds INCREDIBLE. Was there any standout track on the record that was particularly difficult (or maybe especially easy) to complete?

I feel like there are so many songs like that for me, because I can get really insecure and question myself. The song “Little Joy” is kind of interesting, I think; I wrote it and submitted it to Mavis Staples (who’s in her seventies and is African American, was a gospel singer, and I knew she was looking for songs for a record), and I was inspired to write this song (because at the time my kids were six months old or something and were so freaking cute). So I wrote it and thought, boy that’s corny, but I thought that Mavis Staples could pull it off and it’d sound really cool. Of course, she didn’t do it, and so I thought, “I’m just going to submit it to my producers and see what they think,” (because it’s kind of catchy) and they loved it. And then we were in the studio, and Nick Lowe brought biscuits, and that’s the song they decided to play for him. I said, “Listen, Nick, these are not my most clever lyrics,” and he listened to it, turned to me and said, “I love that song! Mama Cass could’ve sung that song.” So that was such a great surprise; taking the risk of not being clever was scary, but I’m really happy with the results. My kids love that song.

That’s great! I was actually going to ask you about whether or not your kids had a favorite (or maybe least-favorite) song of yours…

They often ask for “Put My Baby To Bed”. And sometimes I’ll say, “Oh, you wanna hear a song?” and they’ll say, “No, mama. Don’t sing.” [Laughs] But right now they mostly request other people’s songs; there’s this country song by a guy called John Anderson from the seventies called “Wild and Blue”, and it’s about somebody who’s totally heartbroken and being destructive, and everyday my kids are going, “‘Wild and Blue’, mama. Let’s play ‘Wild and Blue’.”

That’s hilarious! So bringing them on the road…I mean, have you got it down to a semi-science at this point? I guess it changes as they get older…

Well, I feel like we’ve done it a few times and kicked ass, everything was great, but now they’re almost three and a half, and it’s like a whole new planet; they’ve got ideas, and my daughter wants to wear pink and a tutu (and I never even bought her anything pink, so I don’t know where she picked it up…), and they don’t want to eat…so it’ll be very interesting to see how it goes on this tour, especially because it’s winter and we’re not going to be able to be outside running around. But I’m very optimistic, and I think it’ll be fun! As long as we can survive the drives, we’re golden.

Fingers crossed that all works out! (That age is a funny one, because they definitely do have their opinions.) How do you feel parenthood has affected your overall writing process, though? I’ve spoken to Beth Orton before (who’s got kids), and she said that it made her a more disciplined writer since she really had to take advantage of the free moments in the schedule, but I’ve also talked to other musician parents who say it’s made them more sporadic.

Well, when I learned that the record in London was going forward, I thought I’d better write some songs. So when they went to bed, I would actually go into my closet (sounds very glamorous, I know), pick up my guitar and write. But I like that! I used to always write in the morning, stare out my window and start playing guitar, but I can’t even keep a guitar out anymore because they’ll destroy it. So it does require a lot more discipline; I’m a very lazy person, so it’s a great exercise for me to focus more and get down to business.

Right, a challenge within a challenge, I guess! And I heard you’ll have a track playing on an episode of Girls soon, is that right? 

Yes, I’m very excited about that!

So if you could soundtrack any TV show or movie that’s in existence (of your own choosing), what do you think it might be?

Well my new favorite show is True Detective. I think I could really fit into that scene, which, if you’ve seen it maybe makes me sound a little crazy, but I just love detective stuff, I’ve always loved that noir thing. So that would be cool, but my skeleton in the closet (which I should never tell anybody) is that I would love to have one of my songs featured on Vampire Diaries.

That would be kind of amazing…

[Laughs] Especially given my age and their demographic, it would definitely be amazing. But there are a couple of love scenes where I think, “Hey, you could play one of my songs right here!”

Well, shout-out to the CW or whatever the channel is now: Vampire Diaries, get at Eleni. [Laughs] But now that you’ve brought up age demographics, how do you feel in this weird tech-heavy world as a musician? Is it strange having interviews like this where you’re sort of laying it all out on the table for people to read on the internet?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, when I was a teenager my favorite band was X; I wrote them a fan letter, have no idea if they ever read it, never got anything in return, but nowadays there’s just so much more access to information and very little mystery. I think some artists still retain some sort of old-fashioned air of mystery, but I’m not one of them, especially given that everyone knows I used a sperm donor to conceive my children. [Laughs] But I think there’s an upside to it; without the internet I don’t know if I’d even have a career. I also really love when people write to me and tell me they appreciate what I’m doing, and that wouldn’t be able to happen if things weren’t the way they are today. For the artists I love and admire, though, I like when there’s that little bit of mystery. (I’m not that cool, I think that’s the problem…)

I think the silver lining is also that it (in my opinion, anyway) seems to have heightened the value of the live experience, because that’s one thing you can’t get through all the screens, is that energy. Do you enjoy the live performance experience? 

I love performing, it’s really my thing; I know it’s not for everyone, isn’t important to everyone, but the ultimate thing to me is performing live and connecting with the audience, because it’s sort of transcendental. I think that’s been the thing that’s kept me going, because I haven’t had the success I dreamed of when I first started out, and I still feel like I’m such an underdog in so many ways, but when I get out on the road and somebody in the audience likes what I did, that just makes it all worth it. I really love touring for that reason. So I hope people continue to come out; I love meeting them, I do my own merch, and it’s great to have people come up and talk afterwards.

So be sure to stop over and say hello to Eleni after the show, and in the meantime, follow her on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest updates.

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