There was a moment during the recording of Don’t Ask, the most stirring and evocative track on The Mandevilles’ new album Windows and Stones that came to epitomize the heart, soul and energy of the band.
The vocal performance by band co-founder Serena Pryne was so gut-wrenching and so emotionally draining, mining the very depths of her soul that she practically collapsed into the arms of superstar producer GGGarth Richardson when it was over. That vocal take and the similarly powerhouse performances from her bandmates, came to be the template and benchmark for the rest of the album.
“I knew it was a powerful song with a lot of emotion behind it and I was a little intimidated to record it” said Pryne. “He let me do my thing and just pour everything I had into the microphone. He said I would know when I was done.”
From that moment on, that song set the tone for the rest of the record.
“I don’t know if GGGarth knew it ahead of time and planned it with that song, because he would always reference Don’t Ask if we were struggling at any other moment. He set the entire tone based on that track,” said guitarist and band co-founder Nick Lesyk.
The entirety of Windows and Stones is just as creatively, spiritually and emotionally intense and takes the listener on an aural and experiential journey that they won’t soon forget.
This too is emblematic of The Mandevilles’ ‘leave it all on the floor’ approach to writing, recording and especially performing the music live. And it’s music that couldn’t be more straightforward and unpretentious in its approach and delivery. No studio trickery, experimental flights of fancy or self-indulgence – just rock and roll.
“Being a Canadian, I think it’s funny that I describe it as American rock and roll. I say that because it’s reminiscent of Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen – all rolled into one. Our music comes from the same place.” said Lesyk.
Pryne and Lesyk are the creative nucleus of The Mandevilles and have been musical partners for nearly 15 years, although both bring significantly different musical influences to the table.
“Serena’s influences are steeped more in the roots of rock and roll whereas mine are a little more contemporary. But there are a lot of commonalities: we love Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. And then there are newer songwriters like Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell,” said Lesyk.
As the frontwoman for the band, Pryne is the focal point and centre of attention for the band for both her force-of-nature stage presence and her amazingly dynamic and unmistakably authentic whisky-soaked voice.
“I played in a blues band when I was a kid. That definitely shaped the sound of my voice. Even though I don’t listen to blues records all the time there is just something about it that I gravitate to – it was natural for me,” Pryne said.
“And oddly enough I didn’t really dig into a lot of female artists until I was in my mid-20s. Until then, Robert Plant was more of an influence on me. When I started to discover women in music it was Tina Turner initially. And Bonnie Raitt is huge. I just love the tenderness in her voice, which she can also turn into a real raspy growl.”
The Mandevilles is the latest incarnation of Pryne and Lesyk’s musical merger, which began around the turn of the millennium in the Niagara Region of southern Ontario.
After playing in cover bands separately and then together, the duo started penning their own material and formed the hard rock outfit Oliver Black. Soon thereafter they were courted by an American record label that soon went bankrupt, leaving the band at loose ends, and living in the United States.
After moving to Europe for a short time, the band released an album under the name Serena Pryne and The Mandevilles which saw them begin an ongoing songwriting collaboration with Nashville-based Niagara Falls transplant Dave “Dwave” Thomson. But with a revolving door of musicians and a yearning for something fresh, Lesyk and Pryne decided to return to Canada and reboot the band.
Only guitarist Taylor Laslo was kept, and long-time friend Brett Bendo was brought in to play drums a couple of month before the band was set to fly to Vancouver to work at Richardson’s The Farm Studios. After auditioning a number of prospective bassists, Waylon Glintz blew his future bandmates away and got the gig – three weeks before recording was to begin.
Alongside Don’t Ask, Windows and Stones features infectious, melodic rock tunes like the lead-off track, Hangovers, which as evidenced by the name, encapsulates the unpleasant result of an evening of overindulging.
“We visit our friend Dave (Thomson) a couple of times a year in Nashville. During one visit he had a massive blow up with his then fiancé. But then they reconciled and we decided to have a party to celebrate. We bought several litres of rum and drank it all in one night. I think we almost killed him! The next day he didn’t wake up until well into the evening and he looked like death. When he woke up we wrote the song in about 10 or 15 minutes,” said Lesyk with a hearty laugh.
A more blues-rock fueled version of the traditional country break-up song is I Stole Your Band.
“I was working as a seamstress and I was bored one day and kept singing this line ‘I stole your band when you broke my heart. It was just one of those funny little anecdotes where I’m saying to a fictional boyfriend ‘if you do something stupid, I’m going to steal your f***ing band,” said Pryne.
While The One was another defining moment for the Mandevilles as it was a song that truly brought all five members into the creative process.
“When we were in pre-production we had a magical moment which I never would have expected. It was in a completely different style when we first brought it to GGGarth, just a happy little folk song. He said it was good but didn’t really go anywhere,” Pryne explained.
“We said let’s take five minutes and work on it a bit. All of a sudden we just started playing and all five of us together created this whole new song. It was one of those inexplicable crazy moments. It’s kind of a heavy song about death, but ambiguous as to what has died – a person, an idea, a dream a relationship – it means different things to different people.”
“It’s all us on this record. There are very few tricks, no Auto-tuning of the vocals, and we’re all playing real instruments on every track,” said Pryne.
With this remarkable, well-crafted album that manages to be tight in its musicianship but loose in its vibe, The Mandevilles have taken one giant, definitive leap for rock and roll.