When I'm asked to list my favourite Australian pop stars, I always mention Mandy Kane - which seems to confuse just about everyone. For those of you who missed his brief but brilliant stint as Australia's first and (most probably) last Goth teen idol, Mandy Kane pretty much turned the music industry upside down for a few glorious months in 2003 - 2004. I still remember the first time I saw Mandy on TV singing his catchy suicide anthem "Stab". He was completely unique at the time with his crazy hair and make up. I was instantly captivated by his image and fell in love with his hugely underrated debut album, which despite the alternative packaging is a treasure trove of pop gems. To this day, I still listen to tracks like "Mannequin Ball" and "Spastic Annie" on an almost weekly basis. The album has really stood the test of time but Mandy hasn't been resting on his laurels. I recently tracked him down on Myspace and was genuinely stoked when he agreed to an interview. Check it out below:
My taste is pretty fucking gay but “Tragic Daydreams” made me put away my Kylie CDs for at least a couple weeks. I had never heard or seen anyone like you. Did you feel like the odd man out on the Australian music scene?
Well, I once lived with a boy who liked to play Kylie every day, and he would not have put those CDs away in favour of mine for a couple of days let alone weeks, so that’s very flattering of you! Yes, it seems that I am somewhat of a black sheep amongst the Australian music community, but I think people are gradually accepting that I am not just one of those artists who appears on the cover of teen magazines one month and is never heard of again. I write, produce other acts and run a label amongst other things. I am Mandy Kane, and I’m here to stay.
Can you tell me a bit about the recording process? Why did you bring in Tony Espie? Was Chris Vrenna’s production too dark?
Chris Vrenna and I did some great work together. I actually don’t think it was dark enough! We are still friends and I see him whenever he comes out here or I go over to LA. He’s coming out in October with Manson, actually. I learned so much from him, because he was one of the few producers I worked with who actually took the time to teach me things that you just couldn’t ever learn anywhere else. Tony was brought in to mix the entire project, which was more about sonics than anything. He also taught me a lot in that area. I’m as interested in the architecture of sound as I am in music composition. To me, the two are intertwined.
I really connected with your image but you also received a lot of flack about it. Were you just ahead of your time, particularly now that Lady GaGa parades around in garbage bags and Empire Of The Sun look like drag queens from Nimbin?
Yes, it was just a matter of timing, really. All of these guys like Empire of the Sun were around when I was with Warner, under different guises, and we shared the same influences. I was just one of the first to come out and do it for real – particularly in this territory. Now, we’re back to wearing outlandish costumes and referencing the 80s in the commercial realm. I quite like a lot of it, but I’m certainly aware (and will not deny) of the impact I had on the scene before the reemergence of this type of culture. I’m happy to be the leader of the pack, if that’s what they want or need, but ultimately I just do what feels right at the time.
As you can probably tell, “Tragic Daydreams” really rocked my world. I loved it then and still listen to it all the time. It’s been 5 years. What do you make of the album now?
Thanks, that really means a lot. I certainly feel like it represents snapshots of my youth, rather than being a complete album. That frustrates me, because I don’t feel I’ve actually make an album yet – a collection of songs that you can listen to in sequence and feel that they contribute to creating a greater entity. I will make that record one day, and I’m not going to release anything else until I’m satisfied that I’ve fully realised my vision. I don’t want to release a whole lot of average material, but rather complete albums that have a genuine impact on people and the Universe. I believe that’s why we are on this planet – to document and to transmit thoughts, ideas and emotions. Music is the most effective and universal form of communication, and that’s why I’ve chosen this path. I’m not sure who’s listening out there, but someone or something is sure to be.
I always thought the single choices were really strange - as was the promotion. I remember seeing you in TV Hits and other teen mags, yet you released a relatively uncommercial suicide anthem as your debut single. Is it fair to say that Warner didn't really know what to do with you?
Combining the business of music with the art is always a challenge. It is fair to say Warner didn’t know what to do with me – they openly admit this, but that’s not to criticise them for the choices they made. We were all involved in discussions with regard to single choices and image, but ultimately no matter what we did at the time it wouldn’t have worked. People weren’t ready to receive that sort of information, and I still don’t think they are. It’s going to take a long time to get my message across, and to find a receptive audience. I’m fully prepared for that. But we’re growing in numbers, and these next few years are going to be crucial in building the foundations for a beautiful and bold new movement in our society. We’ll start seeing changes soon. I’m not the only one out there working at this.
My all time favourite Mandy Kane anthem - actually, one of my favourite songs in general - is "The Mannequin Ball". I think it's one of the most romantic and beautiful songs ever written. Was it ever considered as a single? I feel like there should be some twisted Tim Burton animated video clip to go along with it.
Sure, “The Mannequin Ball” is probably one of the songs I am happiest with on that record. Absolutely – it’s about nostalgia, and love, and loss. And magic. One day Tim Burton and I will do some wonderful work together, I hope.
Have you heard Audrey Lander's "Ballerina"? It's the G-rated Disney equivalent of "The Mannequin Ball" but it's still a sweet addition to the highly underrated 'love with inanimate objects' genre!
Wow, I hadn’t heard that until now! The story of the Mannequin coming to life is certainly a winner, and has been told in many different ways. Remember the 80s film, ‘Mannequin’? The story of ‘The Mannequin Ball’ takes the listener through the emotions of love and loss, and makes us question our perception of time and its relevance in our lives.
My other favourite song from the album is the amazing "Spastic Annie". I think it's lovely and uplifting but the lyrics about a disabled girl touching herself garnered a lot of controversy. Is the song's message that everyone needs/deserves some loving?
Thanks! “Spastic Annie” is definitely about everybody deserving to be treated equally, despite their circumstances. The funny thing is, the lyric is actually “She talks to herself, ‘coz there’s nobody else who listens to who crazy little words”, but so many people mistake it for “She touches herself…”. I don’t mind either way. Let Annie have a bit of a fiddle if she wants, I say – the rest of us do!
I don't know how to put this delicately, so I'll just ask. Did you ever officially come out? All of a sudden I started reading about “queer musician Mandy Kane” on gay websites and now you’re presenting on Joy FM. Did I miss something?
I don’t really understand the whole ‘coming out’ scenario. People seem to make such a big deal about publically admitting that they are gay. I was just born this way. I’ve always connected with boys and girls on an intimate level. But, I’d have to say that I definitely have a preference for the male of the species. It’s just a personal choice based upon what I feel and on my desires. One level of attraction is purely physical, which to me is like selecting your favourite cut of meat off of a menu, and the other is more an intellectual and emotional understanding. I guess we’re all searching for a partner who is a combination of the two, but that’s quite a challenge. In answer to your question, I don’t represent gay culture, but I won’t deny that my preference is for men and I totally embrace all forms of sexual expression so long as everything is fully consensual and nobody is hurt in the process.
Did you have to hide your sexuality during the “Tragic Daydreams” period? Or was it a non-issue?
No, I never hid much at all! Maybe I said too much, but fuck it. Art is art and I’d be lying to myself and everyone else if I compromised the truth.
After the album was released and failed to meet Warner's commercial expectations, you left pretty quickly for England. Is it fair to say that you were trying to escape the aftermath? It must have been liberating to start again in a country where you were relatively unknown.
The UK is where I’d like to live eventually. I’m actually in the process of doing all the paperwork. I find that the art/music scene over there is so much more vibrant and cutting edge. Australia is a beautiful country, and is home to me, but it would kill me to stay here forever. I’ve got too much British blood pumping through my veins.
I still remember seeing “Hanky Panky” on Channel V for the first time and wondering what the fuck had happened to my old Mandy! Your sound had completely changed – was it a natural progression for you? Was there ever an album recorded to go along with the EP?
Yes, indeed. There have been several albums made and scrapped since “Tragic Daydreams” was released. I will know when I’ve made the record I want to release. But, it hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I’ve been producing lots of other bands. I like the ability to hear the music and play with it from an outsider’s perspective. I can get too close to my own work.
What made you decide to return home?
Well, I never stayed overseas very long. I had to come home. When I get my VISA sorted, that will change. I’m really just building capital here until I can leave again.
You made a comeback this year with the incredibly fucking brilliant "25 Seconds". I love your new dirty electro sound. Is there an album on the way?
Thanks! Yes, Gary Numan and Ade Fenton really did a great job remixing that track. That was a one off, really. As I say, I don’t think there’ll be any more material out there until I’m ready to release a full LP.
What was it like touring with Gary Numan? You must have some stories!
I never actually toured with Numan. My communication with the boys had me secured on the bill, and we were all good to go. However, there was some internal politics on the business side of things. Being who I am, I’m always susceptible to sabotage. I know who those responsible are. There are plenty more opportunities out there, and nobody can stand in the way of talent and success. Those fuckers will sort themselves out with their own destructive tendencies, anyway. I’ll just get on with it – keep loving life and making records! And one day, they’ll be the ones lining up outside my dressing room begging to give me a blow job. And that thought, my friend, is what keeps me going. Take a walk down memory lane and watch Mandy perform "Stab" circa 2003