Irving Plaza | New York, NY | November 18, 2015 | Words & Photos By Cortney Armitage
Sitting in the green room at Irving Plaza in New York City, laughter warms the small, chilly space. We are cramped, but somehow ten people squeeze in and it feels bigger than it should. By the mirror, Katie Jayne Earl (vox) applies her make up next to Mowgli’s wrangler and tour manager Alex Merchant who is working away getting the set lists ready. Colin Dieden (vox, guitar), highly affected by a very caffeinated Mountain Dew from two hours ago, has been bouncing around the room (and most of Irving Plaza) but is finally starting to settle in the doorway next to Katie. Josh Hogan (guitar/vox)) walks over and the two start giggling intensely at their phones. Based on what was witnessed earlier in the day, they are looking at what one can only assume are more bat dick pics. Dave Appelbaum (keyboards/vox), Matthew Di Panni (bass/vox) and Spencer Trent (guitar/vox) share the couch discussing all the ways that they have been emotionally tested by other band members: the ways that only the love of a true family can put you through. At this moment, Andy Warren (drums/vox) sits on the high corner of the couch and is the victim of this love, but he will not be broken. Watching the intricate dance of controlled chaos swirling around this band, it’s easy to feel swept up into their laughter and openness, as well as being in legitimate danger of forgetting why we’re here and wanting to simply hang out and enjoy their company.
Back in February The Mowgli’s released their second album, Kids in Love, and have once again piled into a bus to share the love on a North American tour with the artist, Lights. Having become a successful touring band that believes love is going to change things for the better, these free spirits are on a mission of music and they work incredibly hard at it. It’s mid afternoon and they have already unloaded their gear and done a meet and greet with fans who were treated to hugs, conversation, photos and a couple of unplugged songs (normally, fans would have also been allowed to watch sound check but, due to a strange noise ordinance, they weren’t allowed to). Gear was moved onto the stage, the dogs walked (tour pups Minnie and Abby), press interviews done, food grabbed from somewhere prior to changing for the show and – somehow – among it all Katie and Josh made time for our interview in the green room which felt more like a conversation about…whatever.
High Voltage: Josh, on the website you’re quoted as saying the song “Whatever Forever” was about the time you and Colin both got tattoos with that phrase a few years ago. You spoke about it being a perfect motto. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience it had that might have impacted you at the time?
Josh: Well (laughs), in a nutshell, the story behind us getting the tattoos is that we found a sticker with this logo that says “Whatever Forever” around the shell. We found that in Lawrence, KS on this wall of an old epic venue that Colin and I used to both go to. I always thought it’d be a cool tattoo. One night on tour, we got these tattoos in a hotel when we were stranded during Hurricane Sandy. I was talking about tattoos and this girl overheard me and she’s like, this guy right here is a tattoo artist. So we met him.
Katie: …and he’s got his kit.
Josh: …and he’s like, “Hey I’m Donnie Bear, what’s up?” He came into our room, gave us tattoos right then. We were all kind of half drunk but it was such a spontaneous moment which I think is kind of everything in that motto. It’s like, whatever forever; I can’t live my life worried…
Katie: …can’t leave the hotel right now and our show’s been canceled, but whatever forever.
Josh: At the end of it all, I’m very happy because I love the song and I get to sing it every night.
High Voltage: Like most musicians, at some point in time you were pursuing your art while holding down a day job or two. How has being full time musician impacted your songwriting and your overall creative spark compared to being musicians with day jobs? Theoretically, you have more time now, but you also have your own music business matters to attend to.
Katie: That’s an interesting question. It’s definitely interesting. I notice it the most when we’re home and we’re off tour and we have nowhere to be. That’s when it starts to feel really weird that your career is as a touring musician or a songwriter, because I know that you write when creativity strikes. If there’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and you have no shows and you’re not feeling super creative that couple of days and you’re like, what am I doing with my life? But then as soon as you start feeling creative again, then you feel like there’s not enough hours in the day.
Josh: I guess, like you said, when I’m off tour, sometimes I find myself not knowing what to do. But we also have the opportunity to always write. I think when we’re off tour that’s when we do that the most. We write the most when we’re home and have some time to actually sit with it. We try to write on the road and work as much as we can but, like you said, there’s so many other things involved with touring like meet and greets and interviews and things and…
Katie: …and staying on top of social media, letting people know what city you’re going to. We try really hard to connect with fans and stuff so there’s less time to really be creative.
Josh: I don’t know if we’ve answered the question, really (laughs).
High Voltage: It’s actually a great transition to the next question which is, as creative people doing music for a living, how do you stay motivated with your art?
Josh: A huge one is meeting fans out in the world and them telling us stories of like, I was at a super low point and your song – whatever song – brought me out of it.
Katie: There’s times when you’re playing a show and you can see the music healing somebody. You can actually hone in on somebody in the audience and you watch the song heal them. Or even likewise: I’m sure that there have been moments that the audience has looked up if they’ve honed in on any one of us, they’ve seen a song heal us in front of them.
Katie: That’s pretty inspiring, in itself, just knowing that there’s people who are listening and hearing what we have to say. That, I think, is probably the most inspiring part about being a musician.
High Voltage: We’ve been following you for a good deal of time: One of the most noticeable changes that we’ve seen on stage…your live shows are fun, warm, welcoming and have a sense of free spiritedness and looseness. Sometimes a little haphazard. Over the past one and a half years you definitely stepped up and tightened up your live show but you’ve lost none of the warmth. Were there any particular changes or is this simply a case of growing up and getting better as performers?
Katie: It’s definitely that 10,000 hours-thing where we’ve played so many shows at this point. We’ve played for so many live audiences and we’ve played the songs so many times and when we’re home we rehearse multiple times a week. At this point I think that we really are the best band we’ve ever been and hopefully the worst band we’ll ever be moving forward.
That’s a huge part of it. The first few years, especially when Trina probably first met us and started coming to shows, we were very drunk…we’d gotten off of work. We had day jobs. We got off work when we went to the bar and we started drinking and we played a show and it was kind of this relief at the end of the night. It was almost our own, “Whoo! The day is done!” Let’s have a few drinks and play a show. So it was haphazard and it was kinda messy and it was a blast but it wasn’t the best musicianship.
Katie: Now that it is kinda going back to that first question: now that it’s our career, we take it a lot more seriously. It’s not something we do when we get off of work: it is work. So we don’t drink before shows anymore, we don’t smoke weed before shows anymore. We really put 100% of our energy into a show. It’s definitely a different thing playing for a couple of people at a bar versus playing for people who paid $25 bucks and got a babysitter and drove an hour and have a designated driver. These people come out for a night and you really owe it to them to give them a good show. If you don’t, then they’re not getting their money’s worth and that’s not fair.
High Voltage: Who has the best “I quit my day job” story?
Katie: Oh man.
Josh: Not me, because I had a really awesome day job. I was super happy with everything that was happening with me. I was working in an art house in Echo Park and being in the Mowgli’s. I was like, this is great! I could do this my whole life.
Katie: My quitting my day job – there were stages. First, I was working in reality TV in casting, which I actually really liked but the production-world is too time consuming to be involved in two production worlds at a time. It was either music or television and I couldn’t do both. So I quit that and got a job at a pot shop because they would let me get of work early and I could switch shifts with people if we did a long weekend or something. I just kinda eased out of that job and it was actually pretty organic and chill.
So it wasn’t a big blow out, but I’ve quit some jobs. I’ve had some job quitting blow-outs.
Josh: I don’t know that any of us were like, “Fuck you, I quit.” you know?
Katie: We kind of all started taking steps towards making this the number one priority so it was kind like: First I quit this job and started doing this for cash and then going on tour so much. So it was kind of like we all knew we were shifting our priority to the Mowgli’s.
Josh: Having said all that, when we got to the point where we were officially full-time Mowgli’s, it was just the best feeling I’ve ever felt, you know? I felt like I graduated med school and I got a great job as a surgeon, or something like that.
High Voltage: This is another question that I really like. That your music has a mass appeal is fairly obvious and a large section of your fan base is in your age group or younger; a slice of our society which may be considered our future. We all know how powerful music can be and considering that most of your songs – if not all – point to a moral compass, do you ever worry about saying too much or not saying enough?
Katie: I think that we definitely talked about how we don’t really feel like we want to or need to preach our message as far as we just want to show it. Because we don’t wanna preach to anybody. We just want to find those like-minded individuals who do want to see the world be a better place and just show them or inspire them. Show them that it’s easy. It’s really, really easy – so many people want the world to be better.
Every single city we go to we meet people who want the world to be a better place. We just hope that we can show them that it’s really, really easy to take a day out of your week to go to a shelter or to find a charity you like online and kick them down five bucks, or to spend a few hours a month volunteering, or to find other people that feel the same way as you and create an idea together that will make the world a better place. It’s not that hard. I think sometimes you have see it to realize that it’s easy.
So hopefully just by linking up with different charities and by doing these kind of things that really cost us no extra effort, no extra energy: donating a song to an organization we care about, having a poster available at merch that proceeds go to something we believe in. So hopefully we just show people through our actions and not necessarily through preaching in lyrics that love is easy and that if you want to make the world a better place, all you have to do is just take the steps to do it.
High Voltage: “Room for All of Us”: that hooks in with the…
Katie: IRC [International Rescue Committee]. That actually was a song that we had written when we were writing for the album. Then the Syrian refugee crisis happened and we were very affected by it just as much as a lot of other people. They’re one group of many groups of refugees that are fleeing their homes to find a peaceful life because their homes have been ravaged by war or by natural disasters. They don’t have a national guard to come and help them, you know?
There’s people all over the globe who are looking for a better life and we were very, very struck by the fact that this organization has dedicated all of their time and energy into helping these people resettle and find peaceful lives. We had said many times, it feels like we want to do something. What can we do?
Josh: Sometimes it feels like we can’t do anything.
Katie: But there are these people who have their feet on the ground and they’re there and they’re making a difference. We can support them because they’ll never stop needing support. So we thought that they were – the song, message and the organization – just really made sense to us. They matched. We’ve all really believed in the song and the message behind it, so it just made a lot of sense to us to link those things up. We’re hoping that we can raise awareness about the IRC and that they will never stop getting the help that they need.
High Voltage: Let’s end this on a good note: What’s the craziest, most embarrassing tour story that you can think of?
Katie: Can it be about another band member?
HV: Absolutely. They’re out of the room.
Katie: Well, Matt Di Panni was trying to send some intimate photos to his fiancé and he accidentally sent them to group text with the whole band. So our tour manager, our sound guy and every band member has seen a softer side of Matt.
Josh: (laughs) I’ll never forget the night. I was just chillin’ in the Comfort Inn of wherever, America and in comes Matt and he’s like, “I’m so sorry about that last text!”
Katie: “That wasn’t for you guys.”
Josh: …and he’s running around the hotel…
Katie: He’s like, “Katie don’t open your phone!”
Josh: He apologized to everyone and I’m like, what is he freaking out for? I looked at my phone and I was, “Ahh, this is amazing. This is cool.”
Katie: But to be fair, you know what? To his credit, you gotta put effort into keeping the love alive from a distance.
Josh: Yeah. It’s true.
High Voltage: Absolutely.
Katie: So kudos.
After shadowing the band throughout the day, calling when The Mowgli’s took the stage later in the evening a pay off was a bit of an understatement. Their high energy show made the balcony shake as super fans jumped and screamed, “We love you Colin!” and those knowing the words sang along with all of their hearts. Even folks who weren’t familiar with the music were won over by earworms like “San Francisco” and “I’m Good.” The Mowgli’s perform with everything they’ve got and the joy they have for music shoots out of each one of them like a burst of fireworks that lights up the venue. It’s the type of feel good that can make even the most cynical New Yorker crack a genuine smile. When the show day was done, the last person I run into is Josh: He stops and gives me a big hug. As I thank him for the day, he smiles, thanks me for coming and flashes a peace sign as he heads back inside. Yeah, the Big Apple felt a lot of love tonight.