An interview with Project Mantra

Today, we are speaking with Leigh Bursey (singer and guitar player) and Justin Steacy (drummer) of Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) band Project Mantra. 

Can you give us a little background information about yourself? How did you get into music?

Leigh: Justin and I started jamming while he was in high school. The earliest versions of this group started while I was still a teenager. I had a way with words and a lot of opinions but I still needed to learn how to use my voice. Music was my platform, and for Justin it was very much the same. We set up an old Ludwig drum kit on the front lawn of my apartment building and jammed with my cheap acoustic until we knew we had something. And it’s been an up and down creative process ever since.

Justin: I learned how to perform with Project Mantra. I cut my teeth on that front lawn, and in basements and back room venues across the province.

You have just released a new single – Scream for Me. What was the writing/creative and recording process for the track like? How’d it differ from the rest of your new album, Moonlight Over Vagabond?

Leigh: I wrote the shell for Scream For Me. It was heavily inspired by some of David Lynch’s work with Twin Peaks. I related the indigenous firewalk ceremony and the tale of multiple realities to the common western God complex. This song isn’t just about existentialism but also about contempt for modern suffering that is so often ignored by societal hierarchies. It’s one of my favourite pieces of work and surprisingly simple and fluid. We’ve all met a Laura Palmer type character who’s circumstances could have been prevented and were ignored. The story is universal and multi-layered. Whiskey and a lonely night produced that song.

Justin: As for the recording process, we worked with Scott Burniston on that track at his home studio, and we hammered out as much of it as we could in a studio live format. The effects are minimal. The integrity of the song is intact. And it definitely revisits the grunge era.

Leigh: That one was approached the same way many of our favourite songs have been. Create and deliver. Produce and combine. Perform until it sounds right.

How does an acoustic performance from Project Mantra differ from the traditional band’s sound?

Justin: to be honest, they’ve often been one and the same. Right now for our next record, we are focusing on going back to the drawing board and reinventing ourselves a little. Going back to our roots.

Leigh: While we can often get loud and be eccentric and energetic and punky and artsy, at our core we were a folk punk band that loved the Pixies and wrote basic songs and lyrical monologues on acoustic guitars.

How supportive is the Ottawa music scene in furthering your career (e.g. radio stations, magazine, venues)?

Leigh: Ottawa is basically our home base. So much love for the city and its music. We have so many friends that we enjoy sharing the stage with, and we are lucky enough to do so with inspiring artists from all types of styles backgrounds. Brandon Bird and the Diamond Mine Agency have been great to us. As has Project Mantra alumni Alex Hodges and Pandamonium Promotions.

Justin: But we shouldn’t stop there. There are so many people to thank along the way. From Danika Villeneuve doing Leigh’s make up, to Art and Landmark, to our loyal fans and followers, and Jon MacDougall and Brandon Mead who sport Project Mantra themed tattoos. All members past and present. Ottawa is definitely our home.

Politics is a big part of your music. What sort of issues are of greatest importance to you? What is your ultimate political goal that you would like to achieve with your music?

Leigh: Everything is political. We might draw our music comparisons to the Pixies Smashing Pumpkins, and we might share the stage with the Rural Alberta Advantage, but at our core we are Clash and Against Me! fans. I’m a two term Brockville city councillor. I’m a social justice activist and have dragged the band into many political discussions over the years. From mental health to Lgbtq issues. Standing up against oppression, advocating for affordable housing investment, and absolutely no shortage of fundraisers, socio political conversation is an immense part of our band’s fabric. I don’t apologize for that for a second.

What does your recording set up look like (what do you use to record, what are your favorite tools)?

Justin: As minimalistic as possible. If we can’t duplicate it live then we aren’t doing ourselves or our audience any favours.

Leigh: At one point whiskey was my favourite tool. Now a great producer. That simple.

Which artists are the greatest influences for you and your music? Is there a dream lineup of performers that you would like to perform with if given the chance?

Justin: Pixies, July Talk, Rural Alberta Advantage and Against Me!

Leigh: and the White Stripes. We could probably go all day long on this one.

Which sort of social media website have you had the best successes with? What about these online services are different from the traditional face to face meeting and performances that musicians utilize?

Leigh: We are still developing our online product and presence. But so far the universal approach has been Facebook. We love interacting with people directly. That said, I still buy CDs. You should too. At the very least, they make attractive coasters.

Thank you so much for your time. Finally, do you have any additional thoughts about life and the universe for our readers?

Justin: Bands will fight and visions will change, but remember that in the end you’re family. If you’re not a family, you’re not a band.

Leigh: Never apologize for who you are. Give em Hell kids. Sometimes the best songs come after the breakdowns. 

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Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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