The Mandala Effect: Cash For Smiles and Notating Nostalgia
BY CLAIRE HUBBLE
“Does it make you feel nostalgic? But about nothing?” Morgan Fasanelli, the 19-year-old vocalist of Mandala, poses this question about their second album, Cash For Smiles. The 36-minute, sophomore album contains ten tracks ranging in style and sound -- from the funky “Ask Don’t Tell” to the bouncy and light “When It’s Easy” -- but all relate through this idea of nostalgia.
The album dropped almost a week ago, and the waves it has made so far have been big. Uproxx.com recently said Mandala had “quality songwriting [and] solid grooves.” The Nerdist named Cash For Smiles the number one underground album of November 2017. The Mandala Twitter account is flooded with people from across the country simply gushing about the music.
Mandala is made up of five people: vocalist Morgan Fasanelli, rhythm guitarist Abe Azab, lead guitarist Chris Desiderio, bassist Matt Rosano, and drummer Sean Connelly. Originally from Waterbury, Connecticut, the band has played at least 100 shows this year alone between Connecticut, New York, and Philadelphia. The drive this band has is not only seen in each member individually, but can also be heard through the music they create together.
“My sophomore year of high school, Abe, our guitarist, was like, ‘Let’s start a band.’ And I was like, ‘Okay.’” Fasanelli elaborates on how Mandala got started: “He originally asked me to sing in the band, and then he met this hot girl at a Zumiez and was like, ‘Yeah, Morgan, this hot girl is gonna sing in the band,’” she laughs. After four years filled with the sound of shuffling band members, the five-piece act was solidified around a year ago. They’ve been working on Cash For Smiles since then.
Between having part-time jobs and being college students, the band is stretched for time but somehow make it work perfectly. “[The album] probably would’ve taken less time to make if we lived in the same place,” Fasanelli adds. She resides in New York City, while the four other members live in Connecticut, most likely straining their relationship with the Metro-North railroad. To add even more miles, Alex Fumo (who mastered the album) lives in Chicago. Fasanelli describes rising above geographical barriers: “He was here [in New York] for some of the summer, but everything after that was just all over the phone. He’d have to tweak the song, save it, send it, we’d call him, then he’d do it again.”
Everything heard on the album was recorded either in a dorm room or in Chris Desiderio’s living room. “We would just stand up a mattress and make a sort of box - essentially a recording booth,” the vocalist admits. You would never guess this, though, because the production of Cash For Smiles is pretty exquisite for being completely DIY’d. The instruments are bright and sharp - especially the Desiderio guitar solos - and the vocals pop as if they had been recorded in a professional studio.
As though it reflects the band itself, the album art is so much more than it seems at first glance. Michael Lonchar -- originally from Connecticut as well -- designed the album cover, album back, CD print, and the twelve-page booklet that accompanies the CDs. Contrary to popular belief, the image is a still-life photo of exactly what Lonchar sees in his studio, opposed to a picture with digital graphics on top of it. Fasanelli explains, “He sets up plywood in the corner of a room and then he paints that. So it’s all a real set.”
After you take in all the Mandala-pink that is on the album cover, your eyes go directly to the girl with a monster head posing in the middle of the portrait. She is not conventionally scary, but almost resembles what a monster under the bed may look like. You see yourself in her as she poses for her camera with an opened laptop sitting behind her. Much like the music on Cash For Smiles, the album art softly hits you with flakes of nostalgia.
The most exciting part about Mandala and their new album, though, is that they are just getting started. They are expecting to drop an EP in January - only about a month away - filled with all new songs. The fact that this indie band is dropping music at lightning speed says a lot about their work ethic, their motivation, and the heart of the band.
Mandala is on the rise now more than ever and their momentum is not slowing down anytime soon. Listen to Cash For Smiles now on any streaming service.