Mark Mangold is one of the great modern-era keyboard players. He previously appeared on this site with his band American Tears, now he is back with his band Keys featuring Jake E. on vocals on a record called When Shadows Fall. In addition to Keys, Mark also co-wrote and plays on the new House of Lords record Saints & Sinners. Recently, I sat with Mark and we talked about all of it.
Please press the PLAY icon for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Mark Mangold –
On how he hooked up with Jake E – I’m in Sweden a lot. I lived in Sweden for two years. So, Jake is Swedish and we have a mutual friend, his part manager who gave me a call one day when I was in New York and said, “I have this band in New Jersey. They came over to record some vocals and some stuff and they hate the studio they’re in. Can they come over?” “Okay, sure, when will they be here?” “They’ll be there in 45 minutes”. So Jake and Jacob Hansen, who’s the amazing mixer, mastering engineer, Alex Landenburg, who’s the phenomenal drummer and the guitar player came over and I gave them the key and I was off to Sweden. So I met them. We ended up becoming very good friends. Actually co-wrote a song with Jake for that record, the Cyhra record called “Lost in Time”. We just kind of thought we should work together and when are we going to do it and how are we going to do it. I started coming up with some songs with this vision I had of three keyboard players running around the stage like maniacs. No guitars, just all keys, stacks of keys generating all of the sounds. He dug the songs and we were in lockdown. I was in Stockholm and he was in Gothenburg, which is about five hours south of Stockholm in Sweden. So we proceeded to do the album long distance, we zoomed a lot. Facebook Messenger is incredible. So we did a lot of sessions like that and we worked our way through the vocals of the album and co-wrote a couple of songs as well, long distance again. :47
On the style of record he envisioned when Keys started – Well, it grew. There were a couple of songs, but it was kind of song-by-song. But the main thought, because it’s all eclectic and I, and I think Jake, comes from a mentality, maybe it’s more 70s, where you’re not locked into the sound that people or these labels that didn’t exist at the time. So we just were creating what we wanted to create. I think just doing it with keyboards, some things like “Good Times”, for instance, which was our next single. people are kind of thinking it’s prog, but it’s just kind of an AOR pop song that, done with a guitar, it might even be generic or something. Some people have said it’s one of the best AOR songs I’ve written. But we did it with all keys, so it has another flavor. There are sounds there that you haven’t heard before. A lot of it was just creating tapestries of sounds that end up to be a new animal, greater than the sum of his parts in a way. The goal is to make your hair on your arms, or my arms, stand up so you get that, “Oh, what’s happening?” So that was the thought. A lot of it, like “Feast of Lies” is a very ugly song. One of the things in my mind starting out was scathing. , I love guitar, the guitars are scathing now. Sometimes you can’t tell who’s playing because it’s just become almost like generic scathing, the scales a lot. But I love that stuff and I wanted to do it on keyboards. So there’s a lot of scathing on the Keys record. It just has a different flavor because it’s done on keys, it’s done on synths. There’s some great plugins now where a keyboard player can emulate a guitar, and get pretty darn close. But you do sense something’s different here. It’s like “Tear It Down” is basically a bluesy guitar riff, but it’s played on keys. But it’s either a new cool guitar sound, or it’s something else. It just happens to be a sound that we created on keyboards using these new plugins and various distortions and things like that. So yeah, to me, what I put on has a different, immediately, a different flavor, no matter, even if the songs might be accessible, or even catchy. 3:42
On if he and Jake share similar influences – Well, I don’t know if this stuff necessarily is retro. But yeah, I love what he does. He’s got that dark goth minor thing nailed and the melodies that he goes to. Amaranthe was a very successful, I don’t know if they were pop, but they kind of made themselves, they almost created a new kind of a pop in a way. Very, very heavy pop. So you can do these songs that almost could be a Bon Jovi song, but these new bands are doing them in such heavy ways that they’re unrecognizable. They’re putting Slayer kind of guitars in them and just going completely overboard with them. But yeah, we very much think alike. There’s a lot of mutual respect. It’s nice that you like that song (“Angel Fire”). That song is very bluesy. I actually, for a lot of the songs, I would sing a rough vocal, but, Jake has a four-octave range. So I had great difficulty even attempting to do things, I would have to kind of explain, “Can you do that thing you do here?” Which is, you know, like a high F sharp or something, I can’t even get close to. But it was funny because “Angel Fire”, I was out in the archipelago for a couple of days with my laptop and I came up with that chorus, “Mama, Mama” and I just sang it into the computer without a microphone, sitting at the kitchen table. It had this great distortion from it coming off the Mac. Then it was like, “I don’t want to lose that. How are we going to keep that great distortion?” So Jake was able to do it. We had a little distortion in the mix, but he was able to get that rasp. One thing I could also say is he being Swedish, really wanted me to, I guess, assist him so he sounded American so he sounded like he was in Creedence Clearwater or something like that. So we did a lot of sending back and forth of records and check out how Stevie Ray Vaughan says “tightrope”, because it’s not necessarily in the Swedish mouth or sound. There’s sometimes a T-H is pronounced as a D or something like that. So we dealt with all that stuff. So he really enjoyed kind of bluse-ing up his linguistic kind of thing. I think he nailed it on “Angel Fire”. 7:15
On writing with Jake – We wrote “RIP” together and we wrote “Scathe” together. We wrote a couple of them together. It was like, “Jake, just come up with a verse, that thing you do”. He just came up with these great haunting melodies. It’s like that just were not in my, what’s the word, language, which now have kind of become. We also wrote the song “Saints and Sinners”, which is the song on the new House of Lords record. So yeah, we kind of collaborated on that. I wrote all the lyrics and most of the melodies, but he sent me the track. We’re definitely thinking in the same world. It’s kind of ironic that we both wrote that song and now it’s on the House of Lords. 10:48
On hooking up with House of Lords – I think (James Christian) said he was in LA. He was getting all that stuff together. He had kind of moved to LA maybe during those really very busy periods. But thank you, Fiona (Flanagan), for introducing us. She was like, “You know this guy, Mark Mangold, and you should talk to him”. I sent James a song and I sent another and we started working and it just snowballed. He is, I got to say, he’s such a hard worker and such a pleasure to work with. He was so dedicated to making those songs sound great. He’s kind of a workaholic like I am. It wasn’t like working with somebody who was slacking or lazy or just didn’t get back to you. He was back to me the next day if I got him something and or if he got me something. I was in Florida. I still am actually. But I mean, I would send him back the lyric the next day with a vocal on it, he said, “What the fuck?” I really kind of really was working hard to impress him and make him happy. He allowed me to really do my thing. He allowed me to play, kept saying, “More keyboards, we need more keyboards”…I hate to say it. I mean, I’m ashamed to say it and maybe it’s not cool to say it, but I just don’t think I had heard a House of Lords song (prior to working with them). I said and I think it was better that way. I got to say it…I had never heard those records, but it was we come from the same school and it’s a cross between, I love grinding organ. It’s like what should they be doing and it’s dark and yes, kind of Deep Purple influenced maybe with some riff, but it’s melodic choruses. So that I kind of assumed. I just kind of went to town and had a lot of fun. I have a feeling it is (a great record), because when I want to just chill and listen to music I’ll put on Deep Purple or put on Led Zeppelin, but I found myself going to this record. I had to hear “Mistress of the Dark” at least every two days. Now I can listen to it every week or so, but it’s just got so many little treats in there from this cool, maybe Deep Purple-ish kind of riff to this, maybe to me the best chorus on the record kind of sneaks up on you more. James just sang the shit out of it and just the tapestries of vocals. I just get pleasure out of listening to this record, which is, can be rare. But I guess when I listen to it like it’s somebody else’s record, I guess is what I’m saying12:47
On his band Touch – We released the record last year. Because we’re not able to get out and play, we’ve been doing videos. I think we’re in the eighth or ninth video now. We just did a video of “Frozen Ground”, which might be in terms of the process because we really learned how to do the green screen now. We’re all shooting ourselves in our various locations and we have this amazing editor, Will Murray, who’s able to put our stuff together and put us in these environments that are really incredible. So I think this one really turned out well. The song “Frozen Ground” is a pretty bleak song. Now with the advent of Ukraine, it’s just in a way is coming to fruition. Things we couldn’t imagine a year or two ago are just fricking happening. So yeah, lying on Frozen Ground is kind of what it’s about. Unfortunately, I think some people are living the experience now. So yeah, there’s us and it’s all snow and bleak kind of scenes. But it also, because Touch does a lot of trade-off vocals. We all sing lead, except for Glenn (Kithcart), who sings a great background. So there’s a lot of vocal trading off that we were able to do a lot of in the song. So it’s interesting and the editor just nailed it in terms of who’s singing what and the video is actually accurate. So yeah, it was fun to trade off parts and kind of, because again, we all come from that 70s, even 60s mentality, the Beatles, they all sang. Doobies, Eagles, you know, they all sang lead. There’s just a lot of those bands, Young Rascals, one of my favorite bands, Deep Purple, of course, who had many different singers eventually. So that’s what we’re thinking. So we love to trade off vocals and “Frozen Ground” kind of got that in there a lot. 16:10