Mantra of the Cosmos. Exclusive Interview
Mantra of The Cosmos, the Brit indie supernova supergroup you never knew you needed are here comprising some of the most influential British artists of the last 30 years.
Their second musical offering is here ‘X (Wot You Sayin?)’ is here and it’s a banger.
Watch the trippy video below:
Made up of Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays, Black Grape), Zak Starkey (The Who, Oasis), Andy Bell (Oasis, Ride), Bez (Happy Mondays, Black Grape) and latest members Brix Smith of The Fall and Sharna Starkey of SSHH, who joined the band for their Glastonbury show, Mantra Of The Cosmos is more supernova than supergroup, but it’s a musical marriage that works. Their first single, ‘Gorilla Guerilla,’ was unveiled in June to much fanfare from fans and tastemakers across the world.
Inspired by Shaun’s schoolboy nickname “X”, ‘X (Wot You Sayin?)’ was co-written by Shaun and Andy with Zak bringing it all together on production. It builds steadily through spaced-out sonics, a wonky drum beat and Shaun’s trademark enigmatic lyrics, bursting out into a chorus complete with triumphant horns and psychedelic guitar.
Describing the track, Zak says: “it’s a brilliant allegorical lyric by Britain’s Bob Dylan & velvety underground drone from Andy Bell.”
Speaking on the project, Andy says: “It’s a pleasure to be part of Mantra of the Cosmos. Four like-minded souls who get off on the same music,” whilst Shaun adds: “It’s a fucking blast mate!! It’s great when we’re not all irate.”
Mantra of The Cosmos is the brainchild of Zak Starkey; a rare case of a musical youth transcending his fabled father to carve out his own space. Not content to be the hotshot drummer providing the rhythmic pulse for Oasis and The Who, he’s also deeply immersed in reggae through his Trojan Jamaica label, which saw him and his wife Sharna “Sshh” Starkey (who also co-wrote and co-produced the new music alongside Zak) scoop a Grammy for their production work on Toots and The Maytals’ final album Got To Be Tough. This newly assembled group are here to shake up the foundations of modern pop music; a dubby, electronic, 21st-century Hawkwind of a band destined to be experienced through epic live performances.
Stay tuned, there’s more cosmic magic to come.
This record is so fun and different and really joyful and I think we’ve kind of been missing that in music, how did this project come about? How did you end up getting together and start working on this?
Zak: Well, okay to make a long story, very long, a couple of years ago someone suggested to me to put together a supergroup of Britpop people and I said that people like Andy Bell are too cool to do something like that basically. I just didn’t think anyone would be interested in something like that. So I suggested doing a euro, anti-Brexit group like Brit rock kind of thing and the main guy I wanted to be the backbone of the band was Karl Bartos who I know a little bit from Kraftwerk and Carl loved the idea, but he said you should have phoned me 10 years ago when I was younger and also there’s a pandemic. He didn’t want to leave his studio. He also said my catalog is very full at the moment, but he was really into it, but he didn’t want to do it but mainly because of the pandemic because he’s got a studio where anyone, we could have all gone and worked. He’s got a great little studio. I can’t remember exactly where it is, I think it might be near Munich.
I dunno if you’ve heard his solo stuff, but his lyrics are mad. They’re really fantastic and have great production. I wanted him to be the producer.
Zak: When Carl wouldn’t do it. I shelved it for two years and didn’t really think about it. Then about a year ago, I suddenly thought, Oh Sean, that would be good. I never wanted to be a supergroup, I wanted to be a fantastic group, but a fantastic four super group made you think of Cream and what You can say Cream that is, I mean they’ve admitted that it was a very dishonest group, it wasn’t coming from the right place.
Let’s talk about the name, music used to be much more hedonistic, and now we’re seeing this kind of more spiritual side come in from every angle. Is that intentional on your part? Is it intentional to be spiritual? Is it slightly piss take? What’s the angle on that? What’s the philosophy behind it?
Andy Bell: There is a great story behind the name and it actually, it is a really good question. I’ll pass over to my esteemed colleague to tell you the story.
Zak: I was going to bat it back to you actually. When me and Andy had known each other for about six months or something. I think I got with Oasis in, I think it was like February 2004 and we recorded the album once and you guys had already done it twice I think. Then the producer came over, didn’t he? He said If you come to America and do it, it’ll be 30% better. And everyone went, oh, can’t really argue that. How can you argue with that sort of statement?! So we went to America and Noel couldn’t make it at first could he? Because of a visa problem. So we were on our own and we had a little bit of spare time. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to go to meditation lessons and me, Andy and Gem went and we shared a mantra that no one else can ever know.
How did you find your meditation guide?
Zak: Well we asked our producer who to teach us to meditate and he asked his mate Rick Rubin and Rick Rubin recommended this lady called Nancy. Rick Rubin said Nancy was the one to teach us. So we went into the Hollywood Hills and got taught to meditate by one of the ladies who actually coincidentally taught the Beatles. It was brilliant and one day she said what you don’t want to do is to come out of meditation too fast or you’ll always be in a bad mood like John Lennon was. I remember her saying that.
Andy Bell: So that is the origin of the mantra, part of the name
Zak: Also, Sean’s got a TV show about the cosmos and beings from other worlds and stuff. So Sean and Bez are the Cosmos and me and Andy, The Mantra. I love that. That’s how it works, isn’t it?
In terms of how you write and collaborate, are you quite intuitive? Do you just jam, is that how stuff’s evolving or is it you are kind of going away working on parts and bringing it in? What’s been the process?
Zak: A bit of everything, A bit of all the things you just said basically.
Andy: Yes. So far all the work is being done at Zak’s place. He’s got a great studio so we work there and so if we are there we can work on it and then Zak will work when we’re not there as well. So he’s produced it and given it all a real sonic stamp.
Zak: I’m the tired one
Andy: This is true. Zach’s put in a lot of work. But the thing is you’ve made it its own thing. You’ve defined it somehow with the pieces that we’ve given you.
Zak: Yeah, thanks. And it was a joy to do it. Lack of sleep didn’t come into it. I didn’t care. It was so much fun.
How much material do you have so far?
We’ve done two finished songs and about what, five or six or more unfinished ones or nearly finished ones about 11 altogether I think. We had some songs but at rehearsals, it became something altogether different. We were all able to stretch out with it and it took on a kind of dubby post-punk dimension that wasn’t quite there initially. It was hinted at, but it’s taken a little bit more of a haze around it that wasn’t quite there to start with but came out more.
Bobby Gillespie described it as Mungo Jerry on acid. How do you guys feel about that description?
That’s a particular song he’s referring to but it’s bang on.
How do you guys work together, is it all born of jamming or more structured?
Zak: Well, Sean does his vocals, he sort of sits in the control room and we sit next to each other and after about three hours we go, look, I’m going to go make a cup of tea because if I don’t leave the room we’re never going to stop talking. There’s a lot, there’s really a lot of talking going on, but Sean sits on the couch with a microphone and he’s freestyling, freestyling, freestyling.Then we sort of take that and put it into an order. The amazing thing about it is it all always fits together even though he is just doing it off the top of his head and it feels very personal and real.
Andy: I’m a huge Sean fan anyway, but his lyrics managed to be so colorful but yet so personal and I don’t know, he’s got a very good way with words about him and this is the best stuff. He’s up there with the best lyrics he’s done for a lot of this stuff.
Let’s talk about Bez and what he brings to it all
Zak: He’s brilliant. He really energized everybody when we played at The Box, not just the room, us, everything crew, everyone was energized. It’s fantastic.
Andy: Well that’s his presence in rehearsal too. You sort of like if you do something good, he’ll look over and give you a little nod or something and you’re like, if he’s grooving, it’s good. It’s great to get the nod from Bez, cos if he’s grooving, we’re on the right thing.
So he’s like your sort of barometer and cheerleader at the same time?
Andy: Definitely. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And percussionist.
So you all get along pretty well then?
Zak: Yeah I’ve never been in a band where it’s so easy to sit in a dressing room and hang out ever. I don’t think it’s just very the vibe isn’t it? It’s very easy.
Andy: Yeah, we do like natters.
Zak: Yeah, it’s just easy. Yeah, there’s no little fucker whinging in the corner.
In terms of releasing this record at this time, what is it about it that feels prescient and timely for you? What is it that feels off the moment for you with this sound that you’ve created at this moment?
Zak: I don’t really know. I’ve been in the studio for five years, almost solidly. Me and my wife had a record label called Trojan Jamaica and we were just in the studio there for three years. Then we got home and worked on those records. So I’ve got no idea what’s going on outside here.
The reason we ask is that all of you are so pivotal in pillars of great scenes and incredible bands and it’s just like, this is quite a left field and it feels like it really stands on its own at the moment. We wondered if that is coming from an attitude of we want to make what we want to make or if there were other things that were leading you to that.
Andy: Well firstly, thank you so much for saying those very kind words, but it is kind of a coincidence that it’s ended up coming out at this moment. I suppose it’s just, it’s a product of all of us being brought together by Mr. Starkey and this is the sound we make. It’s kind of pretty organic and natural.
Zak: It just is what it is. It’s quite minimalist. Yeah. That’s on purpose to make more room for Sean. Is it his voice really? It just is what it is. Quite honestly. I dunno. I open a newspaper these days. I haven’t got a fucking clue in it. Who is that? Who are these people? It’s like strictly fucking X-factor things. I just dunno who they’re, I suppose it’s healthy in a way.
With the cosmic roots of this album, we’re curious if you’re both still practicing meditation or anything else like that.
Zak: I dunno,I never really got it. I only got it once for a second and then it went and it never came back and I tried so hard I couldn’t do it.
Andy: Yeah, I carried on for a little while. I think we all tried. I remember for a while Zak would ring me and say, Andy, Andy, I’ve forgotten the mantra. But you’re not allowed to say it. I’d be like, how can I explain it without saying it to you? I. How can I describe it to you? Rhyme with whatever, then he got it. It’s also slipped away from me a little bit, but it comes in useful as a way of calming yourself down sometimes when you, I don’t know, on the long haul flight or something and you just want to just zone out a little bit.
Out of the songs that you’ve recorded so far, what are your personal favorites?
Zak: I dunno, I like them all really? There’s one called The Beast from the East that I really like. I think the words are great. I dunno, it’s all new isn’t it? They’re all great to us because they’re all new.
Are you planning on an album like a full-length this year?
Zak: We’ve got enough material, but it’s kind of a track-by-track world these days, isn’t it? I’d probably, I’d rather put out a series of EPs. For something longer, the way we’ve got the running order on the SoundCloud sort runs pretty well. If you’re going to make an album you have to think of it like a painting.
In terms of how you’re structuring it, is there, when the record’s coming through, is it building and then going up and down? What’s the kind of mood and tone throughout how it’s being arranged at the moment?
It’s all about tempo and key and everything isn’t it? How it sets it up. That’s how you sort of do a running order. And the little gaps can mean so much, How long the gap is between the songs and there’s sort of a weird timing between the songs, even though they’re different tempos, aren’t they? But if you get the gap wrong, it sounds terrible.
Lastly, what’s the best thing about being in this group?
The dynamic, The thing about Sean and Bex is you just dunno what’s going on. It’s completely unpredictable. Me and Andy hold it down and those guys do their thing.
Would you say there’s a balance in the group of your personalities? Like you two are the kind of level ones and then they’re the kind of freer for it.
Zak: Yeah, but I love the counterbalance. It’s like these, the two dedicated people being like that and then you just get this mad energy coming in and that’s a beautiful blend together. Sean is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in the music business. He’s a really cool guy. Really easy to hang out with. It’s a special bunch.