Mark Mandeville (vocals/guitar/banjo/harmonica) and Raianne Richards (vocals/clarinet/guitar/ukelele/piccolo) are a folk duo from Massachusetts that are both incredible musicians and wonderful folks in the truest sense of the word. I had known them since they were part of a slightly bigger act: The indie-folk trio The Accident That Led Me To The World (where they were with bassist Zack Ciras). Since their continuation as a duo, they have put out solo CDs (Mark’s is No Big Plans and Raianne’s is Simple In This Place; I highly recommend both of them) and started doing the “Walking Tour” where they’d been playing songs from both releases, and some older favorites in a paired-down fashion. Now, with an upcoming CD titled Old Constitution, Mark and Raianne (After displaying an even straighter folk sound as a duo than TATLMTTW) delve a bit further into the sound of country, and have added some more musicians that they have also been bringing with them on the road. (EDITOR’S NOTE: As of this writing, the music is still under wraps, but I am allowed to say the still-unreleased tracks that I actually heard sound beautiful, and this could very well be one of the most anticipated indie releases of the year). They’ve taken a break from walking to stop and chat.
CM: When you guys had your musical upbringing, was it mostly folk music that was your inspiration or were there other things?
Mark: Chris, until the time that I first began playing guitar, I hadn’t really been exposed to much folk music. Learning how to play guitar, unconventionally strumming chords and singing along, tuned my ear to songs which had this sort of structure – people like Dylan, Baez, Croce and Kristofferson had my full attention. Before I learned to play guitar, I’d been more into angst filled singers like Kurt Cobain, Axl Rose and Steven Tyler – divas really.
CM: This is the second year in a row for The Walking Tour. Is there going to be a Walking Tour each year?
Mark: Of course. It’s going to become a statewide institution, especially if the people keep being as encouraging and supportive as they have been. Walking into towns and playing music for people is the basic foundation of what Raianne and I have been up to all along.
CM: Probably a tired question by now, but why the “Walking Tour”? Is this more out of necessity, or do you guys feel you’re making a much stronger statement by walking as opposed to driving or riding in some other form of vehicle?
Raianne: The emphasis of walking draws attention to slowing down to take in each moment or surrounding. This premise, I think, also encourages people to look a little deeper into our music as well. We do the Walking Tour for the small towns who don’t get music very often to remind them why they enjoy it and to take the pressure off the few people who strive to bring art into the community. We get them involved too, but we don’t ask them to do much. Just attend a free concert in their town.
CM: Would you say these particular outings are more rewarding than any of the ones that The Accident ever had, or just about the same with some differences?
Raianne: Every show we ever played has something rewarding about it. We look at the Walking Tour as more of a way to give back to our community as we spend as much time as we can touring to other places in the country.
Wrong Side of That Line (Live at The Space, CT 9/16/10; I was there! )
CM: The new CD Old Constitution is going to be decidedly much closer in style to country than anything else you’ve done. What was the inspiration for this?
Mark: The inspiration for my songs, I think, has always come from both a conscious and unconscious attempt at explaining how things appear to be. In this case, Old Constitution holds two meanings. One, I haven’t worked with a live band with a drummer since before The Accident That Led Me To The World, hence, an old way of doing things aside from ensembles and duets. Two, lyrically I try to convey that there is a “right” based on a history of human understanding. Things have been written down, a “right” has been more than established by countless generations. I think songs like “Underneath The Cost” and “House of Stone” touch that sense of doing things not only for personal gain and immediate satisfaction, but rather for a greater sense of purpose, taking into consideration both the past and the future…That one’s actions set precedents and we, most of all, make choices which ultimately come down to one side or the other.
As for a country style, those responsible are the musicians on the album. Pete Hart (dobro, pedal steel) and Doug Williamson (piano, upright bass) are mainly responsible for the authentic, recognizable character. And Raianne and I might be vocally twang-i-er than usual, but the tunes seem to call for that.
CM: One of the songs that I’ve actually managed to hear is called “Land of Plenty”, and from what I understand, it sounds like you are addressing current events.
Mark: I guess so. I mean, not in a topical sense. “Land of Plenty” appears to mention the topic of foreclosure, which harkens maybe economic woes but it’s more a song of faith that people can do good amidst a sea of poor decisions. “Their hearts ain’t empty, but their moves are slow…”
Live at Table Coffee Shop, PA 4/17/2011 (Songs: ‘Best Advice’, ‘I Ain’t Goin’ Out There’, ‘No Secrets’)
CM: Can you talk about the new guys, Zach Peckham and Dylan S. Clark and how they have been to work with on this recording?
Mark: Raianne and I have been blessed to work with musicians we have admired for years. Zach Peckham plays in a post fusion rock duo called Motel Mattress and having him join was partly out of recruiting the most unlikely lead guitarist one could place in a country/folk outfit. I remember watching Dylan Clark perform with the indie band Tiger Saw and thinking that he was the most heartfelt drummer I’d ever seen – I was consciously ignoring the whole of what was going on as he rose and fell from his throne onto the rest of his set. As for ever’one else, I only wish I could put them all on a bus and really show the world what we have. There will be certain shows where we all will be on stage together, but the fall tour will be mostly the four of us.
CM: [to Raianne] Very happy to hear you are bringing back the clarinet, it was greatly missed (EDITOR’S NOTE: Raianne had left it behind on last year’s WT, but she does play it on “Calm Down” from Simple In This Place). Remember that time I asked you about its use on the TATLMTTW songs, if you were playing it like a blues instrument similar to the way it’s used on Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue”, and your response was, “No, I just like the sound”! Do you still feel that way or do you think maybe there’s some aspects of the instrument that do relate to that style since blues and folk (at least from what I understand) have a shared history?
Raianne: I have played clarinet since I was a little girl. It has been part of my life for so long that I just hear a calling for it on a song sometimes. I think it can obviously be used as a folk instrument, but in my experience this is unusual. It is much more common in blues than folk.
House of Stone (Live on WSCA, NH 5/20/11)
CM: Thus far, I have loved everything you guys have done, and it has been all acoustic (And I wouldn’t change a thing). Do you ever think about going electric for just one record (or even just a song) or is this 100% unthinkable?
Mark: Aw shucks. I think the major difference to date is that Raianne and I now have a live band, where throughout our past solo recordings, we’ve taken a more ”studio” stance, recording multiple instruments ourselves on record, then performing as a duo. Not to mention that TATLMTTW was strictly acoustic and never strayed. As for the question of ee-lec-tris-i-tee, we’ve both had electric guitar and bass on our previous records, but the Old Constitution will certainly be more amped than people are used to. However, I still think of songwriters like Jim Croce and Kate Wolf, or Melanie…in that they presented folk music with accompaniment like electric bass, or electric guitar and even drums. The challenge is making the distinct categories of music fans out there understand that we’re still songwriters, certainly sensitive of the “listening room” nature/volume of our music/presentation, and just because we have a drummer does not mean we’ve taken the path of some 12+ dB basement band. Music fans, especially the folk crowd, are finicky people – they want to understand only “solo human with an acoustic guitar,” but we’ve been that, and now we are growing up.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I believe this is another new song of theirs: Ted Kaczynski Blues (Live on WSCA, NH 5/20/11)