"Our floor tom actually sits on the floor" - Creating Music at Home with Edmund Mantelli of Fan Palm
Words by Thea Martin
The art of writing music is a topic that for me, never ceases to fascinate. It has been subject to incredible theoretical and philosophical thought throughout history, and the most exciting thing is that for every single individual who creates music, they all do it a little bit differently. I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to delve into what Edmund Mantelli's project Fan Palm means to him, how he considers its role in his creative expression, and to explore the process and intention behind his songwriting.
Edmund is an 18 year old multi-instrumentalist from Ocean Grove, Victoria. He's been creating and releasing music for a number of years under the name Fan Palm, which has taken various forms. After having moved to Brisbane at the beginning of 2020, Edmund is now back home due to Covid-19 where he has been busy releasing a demo, a new single called 'Why Walk and Hold Hands,' as well as curating and co-managing a weekly livestream gig series called Fan Palm Fridays, where some of the best unearthed musicians across all genres are having the opportunity to perform in a unique space.
In the past 7 months that I have had the pleasure of knowing Edmund we have had numerous deeply interesting conversations, and I am so pleased to be able to share this one with the world.
T: You've had Fan Palm going as a project for quite a few years now, how did this band come to be? E: It basically started when I wanted to enter a competition that I'd already entered and won the previous year, the Queenscliff Music Festival Foot In The Door competition... I wanted to have people I could play with so that I could do something different to the year before where I just played guitar and sang. The main reason I wanted to do it was to get free tickets to the music festival... (laughs) so I got my brother and his friend who is now in Bones and Jones to play with me, and that was the first configuration of Fan Palm. Then later that year I recorded an EP with another friend (Heath Robertson) and decided to call that Fan Palm, and from then on decided to call all of my 'band stuff' Fan Palm. In 2018 it evolved into being a full band with friends from school and my brother. T: Is Fan Palm currently functioning as your solo project with a band, or more as a cohesive group project? E: At the moment it's functioning with me as the song writer, however in every iteration of the group I have always sought the individual input of the band members to put their own spin on things. I had to think about this recently as I was putting our new song on Triple J Unearthed and was filling out the bio, and I guess I now think of Fan Palm as the more 'indie rock' output of myself, in collaboration with other people. I just want to use it as an outlet. T: It's interesting that you say this project is how you express a specific part of your musical taste or expression. Are there other ways you're expressing yourself musically at the moment? E: Well, I'm studying music at university, I'm doing classical performance. I've always considered Fan Palm as a project, but at this point its been such a slow burn of progress that it's just kind of come to represent everything I do, so I guess we will see where it goes.
T: Do you think there would be certain sound boundaries where you would consider it as being something outside of Fan Palm, or do you see this project as something you can really experiment with? E: It's hard to say, I write a lot of different songs, some are very indie rock pop, some are very jazz influenced, but its a good question because I'm really not sure! I think if I were to do something where I wasn't singing and playing guitar, that would be a turning point into something else.
T: You come from a musical background where you've been exposed to a lot of different music, as well as what you play yourself. How has that shaped the way you write music for Fan Palm? E: It has shaped it completely! I think I began very much as indie rock, as I started at my first high school where it was quite a garage-y environment and we'd all switch around instruments and just have a play, it was very surf influenced I guess as a result of where we were (Edmund comes from Ocean Grove in Victoria). I think an influence that was a turning point was Hiatus Kaiyote, from then I was like - jazz. You can blend jazz with pop rock, and so I really wanted to make some more challenging pop songs... things that were easy to consume, but still challenging and different. Once I moved to the Victorian College of the Arts in Year 10, I was overwhelmingly exposed to jazz and classical, and it was very mainstream in the school culture. Suddenly jazz wasn't just a thing for fancy people in skivvy's and berets, it was just normal and exciting. But now I've started going back to using more tropes rather than doing too much... Like a weird time signature to make it more cool and exciting. I went the challenging way, and now I'm backtracking to try to find a really genuine point in my song writing. My experience with classical music/western art music has majorly influenced my writing, there was a moment when I was in one of the Melbourne youth orchestras and I was just sitting there and I remember hearing this brass part and I was like woah, that chord change was really cool, I want to use that, I want to hear more of that chord change. I suppose that's what pop music is like really, taking satisfying moments and looping them in a way. Studying classical music has also given me a much better understanding of phrasing, and how you can say something without actually using words.
T: I feel a lot of artists struggle with the desire to create complex music in the vein of creating with very original ideas, versus the sometimes clashing desire to be genuine. So what does writing genuine music mean to you currently? E: For me, its about being genuine but also the mindset of writing something satisfying that feels right to write and suits what I'm feeling. I find being genuine comes more in performance, I've been trying to use my natural accent more when I sing as it feels odd to try to impersonate another culture when it's got nothing to do with where the music is coming from. Having a knowledge of what the phrases are and what I'm saying is really important, I used to think about the chords and about the band fitting together while I was playing, but now I think about what I'm actually saying and trying to put across. In the songwriting process that affects how I write melody, and it also continues in performance because I'll try something different every time I perform. I'm always refining, I'm still working on the songs from that EP in Year 9. That's what I'm focusing on now rather than trying things just for the sake of being complex. I think it's a balance of sticking to convention, and doing it your own way and what feels right. T: It's perhaps more intuitive.
E: Yeah. T: You spoke about doing live shows... I'd love to know how important they are to you, and what role they play in your creative process. E: It's tough because I haven't done too many live shows with the band, I haven't gigged immensely. The only time we have rehearsed has been leading up to shows, we're all in different places and have very different schedules. So it's always been like, we have 2 weeks to a gig, lets learn 10 songs and play them as best as we can, so in that sense its been extremely important. However, performing is much different to rehearsing, or on another level different to me just recording in my voice memos and layering myself, because you realise the things that logistically will work or where there is a bigger energy at certain moments. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of the time when I'm writing music and sending the most raw draft or demo, they (friends) don't hear all the other elements that I'm hearing in my head, but in performing live you can tangibly hear what it'll sound like. T: I would guess that the struggles of getting the band together has been made further difficult by the current situation with Covid-19, and so I wanted to discuss your new release, 'Why Walk and Hold Hands' in relation to Covid restrictions and isolation. From what I know of the song it feels to be very much a product of the environment, would that be fair to say? E: Yes, definitely. I moved to Brisbane at the start of the year, and in that very short one and a half months, I realised I missed having a drum kit... even though our drum kit is very makeshift, our floor tom actually sits on the floor... I have all my tools here (in Ocean Grove), so I wanted to take advantage of them and have as much fun with them as I could while I'm here. In terms of recording, I just wanted to get things out there and do them in the moment. I think a lot of the things I'm writing are of course a product of the time, this and my previous release were written in a week or so. The lyrics I would just put down in an hour, it was just in the moment. It's kind of less profound... some songs I've written I've been sitting on the sentiment and thought, yes, this is what I feel, but these feel more like an image of the time.
T: I was going to mention this idea, you've used the word image, I was going to say writing about specific events - not necessarily in a narrative style, but certainly in contrast to writing about broader thought concepts. In general do you have a preference for writing more image based material or about broader concepts? E: It's interesting, for most of the time I've been writing music I've written about broader concepts, a lot of the time I begin with chords and that's the start of the song for me, then I consider what melody I can put over it. The melody is very directly linked with sounds and words, I'll construct the melody because I want to say this... I have a demo at the moment that is just me saying random phrases but have a sound kind of how I want it to get to, it has no cohesive meaning. Then I usually come up with phrases and meaning after that... a lot of my songs in the past have been reflective of a specific event, but I've worded them in a way that's more broad and that caters to a larger feeling and audience, I suppose to create greater connectivity. I've always admired the songwriting of Paul Kelly and Courtney Barnett because I like the reflection and storytelling nature of it. People like Gareth Liddiard, he writes very profound and intelligent lyrics, I don't know if I can write like that but I aspire to. I've been trying recently to branch out in terms of how I write music by trying a lot of different things. I think writing about a specific event in these songs is an effort to be more genuine. I think part of the reason I'm usually not so explicit is because of a nervousness, and not wanting to show what I'm thinking and feeling. So now it comes from a place of attempting greater genuinity. T: I think the idea of finding meaning or even assigning meaning to words after you have the foundation of sound is reminiscent of a quote I like a lot, "to create is to live twice." I think it's an interesting way of looking at how through creativity we can find meaning that perhaps is different to what we experienced, or adds on to experience... what do you think about that? E: Yeah, I like that quote, I think its true. I think the creative process and recreating something that was already there is in itself another... I don't know why I'm thinking of history terms here... but another, like, primary source... its like you have your feelings in the moment, and then also your feelings described in response. Maybe that's why the songs I spend longer on have more complexity in terms of lyrics, they have more nuance in perspective.
Next week I chat to Edmund more about Fan Palm Fridays, but for now you can check this weeks' lineup here.
Stream 'Why Walk and Hold Hands' here. Images provided courtesy of Fan Palm.