The eight-piece band, named after a former bandmate's dog, in turn named after Rudyard Kipling's famous character, possesses no front man or woman; rather, the band's all-inclusive vibe welcomes multiple songwriters and points of view, which lends the group a dynamic and ever-evolving sound.
I recently interviewed bassist and vocalist Matthew Di Panni about the Mowgli's' tour experiences, growth, love-infused worldview, recording and writing process, the thought behind their "San Francisco" video and the brilliant idea aimed at encouraging fans to commit random acts of kindness. The Mowgli's return to St. Louis for a performance at LouFest on September 8.
Will Kyle: When is the last time you were here in St. Louis?
Matthew Di Panni: About a month or two ago. We were stuck there during a tornado, playing with our buddies, American Authors, at the Firebird. That whole month we were hitting tornados and everything wrong throughout the entire Midwest. It was a fun show, regardless.
Was that the worst stop weather-wise?
Oklahoma City was a bit worse, and then we drove through the night during a tornado to get to Tusla. We've been through some crazy weather. We were stuck in Hurricane Sandy last year.
I guess it makes sense. The Mowgli's has a tropical vibe, and with it apparently come requisite bouts of terrifying weather.
Totally. We like to get a little wild and free with it.
On the last tour, the one where you recently stopped in St. Louis, were you playing rooms similar to the size of the Firebird?
Everything is progressively getting bigger each tour. We started out on tour with a band called Walk off the Earth and our friend Julia Nunes where we did a tour of the East Coast. Those were all the biggest rooms we've ever played, a thousand person, or bigger most of the time. We did that every night for a month. We were opening that tour, so it was a huge blessing. We then came home and went out on our own, doing some smaller rooms. Afterwards, we toured with Family of the Year for almost two months, playing mid-range rooms, where some nights we'd fill them, and sometimes only 60 people showed up. After that, we started doing the festival circuit. The festivals really boosted everything. We went from playing to a couple 100 people at the first festival, to the last festival, Lollapalooza, where we played to almost 10,000 people everyone was saying. It's been pretty gnarly, building for the last four years, trying to progress as much as possible.
Can you talk about how the Mowgli's formed?
About five of us grew up together. A few of us went to elementary school together, and most of us went to middle school and high school together. We grew up, in other bands together, playing music and being friends. Then Colin [Louis Dieden], Josh [Hogan] and Spencer [Trent] all moved to California. Spencer moved to California during high school, and Colin and Josh moved after high school. Michael [Vincze] was in bands with Josh and Colin was writing music with everyone, so it just made sense to start playing music together. We formed this thing called the Collective back in '06 or '07. We had so many friends all making music, but we didn't know what to do with it. It was like 20 bands all with rotating members.
So we started throwing our own little festivals in Los Angeles, doing two-stage festivals in a small venue, you know, that Warped Tour thing of performing back and forth, and back and forth. That started spreading the word, and that's when things really started coming about. All those bands would play, and at the end of the night the Mowgli's would play. You could call it a super group, though we were just regular people, but like it was a super group in that this guy from this band played guitar in the Mowgli's or the drummer of the that band was the drummer of the Mowgli's. It all sort of culminated that way and we've all been friends ever since.
So the Mowgli's are like the collective of the Collective.
Yeah, that's what we were going for. We wanted everyone involved.
The Mowgli's tackle the theme of love in many different ways. Can you talk about where this stemmed from?
Most of the songs are generally praising the fact that we're all human and we're all capable of giving love and being loved. The idea is that everyone is the same, everyone can do everything together -- it's a unity type of thing. Colin wrote the song, "Say it, Just Say it," which is about a certain situation with a certain person where he didn't know how to feel at certain times and he just wanted this person to just say something, "Just Say It." On "Love Is Easy," written by Josh and Katie [Jayne Earl], they sat down and decided that being in love with certain people is really just simple. You don't have to hold back from anything. You just have to do what you feel is right, and if you feel that love is right, then "Love is Easy." In most of our songs, we have this theme that all people are just honest, regular humans, and everyone can be the same. That's one form of love. Then we also have "Love Is Easy" where you can really feel like these two people are having this connection that other people can relate to insanely. We go from both spectrums, general to the specific, but it's all in a sense, just about love.
There is so much pessimism and negativity in music today, its nice to hear such a saccharine and sweet feel for a change. It seems that some of your inspirations are from the '60s, which include that notion of free love.
It's a big California vibe. We all reside here and we love this place. The bands from California, past and present, have really helped our music. We've been listening to it since we were kids. It's an intense thing.
Do you ever perform covers?
We've done a few covers in our time, but mainly we've focused on trying to get original songs together. When we went to record "Waiting for the Dawn" we had a total of 20 songs we had to choose from, and even more past that we previously put to the side, but we really wanted to choose just the right ones. Neil Young also inspires many of us, so we covered "Helpless." We also did a wedding a while back, during our first year of performing, with a little bit different of a Mowgli's line up, where we covered Depeche Mode and INXS. That was interesting for us. We all loved those bands and heard those songs, but we were like, "Are we really going to cover these songs right now?"
Perfect for a wedding.
Exactly. As of right now, we haven't really covered anything else. Everyone always throws out, "Why don't we cover this song?" It's like, "whatever," lets just do it!
I know you just released your new record, but you mention all these songs still in the barrel. Are you going to try and hop back in the studio after this round of touring?
We never really get out of the studio. On the road, we have time to sit down to play acoustic and jam. While we're home, a lot of us will just go to the studio with anyone and everyone, our friends, new people, or other people and see what we can come up with. Writing for the Mowgli's is interesting. Everyone sort of just starts writing. They write on their own a lot and bring almost a fully-formed idea to the band, but the song won't be a Mowgli's song until everyone has put their part into it. For instance, Colin will do a demo song and record a bass track to it, but he won't say, "This is the final bass." Rather, he'll say, "I want you to write a bass line to this song," and I'll put my piece to it.
It's awesome you guys don't step on each other's toes. Seems like your love vibe supersedes a lot of the cockish, "this is mine" type stuff.
Totally. A lot of times, there are few songs, where it starts off with one or two people as the focus, but opens up later in the song. Like on "Love Is Easy," Katie and Josh are the focus, and "Slowly, Slowly" and "Just Say It" are mainly focused on Colin, but by the chorus of the song, everyone is singing. It's still just a Mowgli's song, nonetheless. We like to have one lead person open the song who eventually steps back and then have four lead people again. Some people have called us crazy for doing it, but we're doing it.
The "San Francisco" video is awesome. I love how it goes from random act of kindness to random act of kindness so fluidly. How did the vision for that video come about?
To answer that, I have to talk about how we started this project called beamowgli.com. Throughout our entire lives, we've been trying to do random acts of kindness, to always give back more than you receive. Whether that stems from our family life or whatever, that's something we've always done. For the video, we worked with a director, Justin Baldoni, and he knew who we were and what we were about, and put the idea on the table, saying, "What about random acts of kindness, everywhere, for everyone, and your whole video is one big love fest, captured with one big, long shot?" We brought in a choreographer, we did all the dance stuff, and had Spencer do the whole main dance scene, cause he is the best guy to dance. It really spoke to us. So we thought, if you can commit random acts of kindness in this music video, why can't you do it every day with everyone? That's where beamowgli.com stemmed from. It's a little foundation where people post photos, commit random acts of kindness, give the homeless something, you know, do whatever you can. Post your photo of it, share it with us and we'll share it with everyone to make sure you're known, doing your part to be a good human.
On my birthday, I like to buy someone, a total stranger, lunch. I dig the message.
So you guys are currently on essay writers tour?
We are taking a week off right now. We were on tour from March until the other day. Soon, we're going to Vancouver and Seattle. Then we do a couple more dates, and then come meet you guys in St. Louis. After that, we have another week, then a few dates in Atlanta. September will be a little bit spotty, couple things here, couple things there. But at the end of the month, throughout all of October, we are on tour with Walk the Moon. We are really excited. We've been seeing them all over the country, enjoying hanging out with them. They are really sweet guys.
If you had to pick a favorite band that's currently touring right now, who would it be?
I'm a huge fan of American Authors. They are everywhere right now. We also love Walk the Moon, and it's amazing we are going to get to hang out with them for a month. The other band I highly recommend is called Lucius, from Brooklyn [N.Y.]. They were on tour with Wilco for a little while. They are an impressive five-piece band. We also just started working with X Ambassadors. They're from Brooklyn as well. Those guys are insane as well.
The Mowgli's perform at LouFest in Forest Park on Sunday, September 8. KDHX is a media partner of LouFest 2013.