Although he left Denver as a mere mortal eight years ago, Mitch Pond has returned as Man Mantis, a human-insect-hybrid alter ego that produces glitchy, futuristic, hip-hop-centric beats. If the end of the Mayan calendar does in fact bring about the end of the world, it will be a bummer because 2012 was a good year for him creatively. He has a handful of beats on Sole's new album, A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing, as well as a handful of solo productions on compilations such as Potholes Music's Distant Arcade. In advance of his show at the hi-dive tomorrow night supporting Sole, we caught up with Pond for a quick chat about how his mom helped him craft his first mask, how he connected with Sole and his Hear the Noise project.
See also: - Sole on what the Occupy Denver movement represents and the solidarity it has fostered - Sole on A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing and why he feels better than ever - Sole on the perils of pushing boundaries: "If I go to jail on some bullshit, I'll do a correspondence course and come out a professor."
Westword: Have you always been Man Mantis? Or is that a more recent creation?
Man Mantis: It's been a long time. I wasn't always Man Mantis, but when I was maybe a sophomore in college, so '05 or '06, was when I made the change. The name popped up in a class I was taking, and I thought it sounded great. I used to be The Intercooler. I had a Volvo station wagon, and there was a plaque on the back that said Intercooler, which I guess referred to some kind of part. It fell off, and I was like, "I can put that on a chain and wear it around my neck." I got rid of that.
Is the human-insect hybrid significant to the persona?
It came out of the name. I was taking an art class, and a colloquium or artist would come in and talk about their work. There was this guy from South Africa who brought in a bunch of paintings and one of them said Man Mantis with a silhouette of a person. I really liked it. It was explained that the Man Mantis is the native folk lore muse in South Africa. It's the spirit of creativity, and I really like that, too. So I thought "I'll dress up like a mantis and have that gimmick going on."
How hard was it to find a mantis head that fit?
I built my first mantis mask. It was a Jason mask, a cheap Halloween hockey mask, and my mom was visiting me at school, so we went to the fabric store and got some of that gauze dipped in plaster of Paris. I built the first mask out of that and painted it up. I performed in that for a long time, and then I found a Transformers helmet at a thrift store, so I painted that up. It's about time for a new one now. I've been carrying the old one around the country in a backpack, and it's kind of falling apart.
Has 2012 been going well for you?
Yeah, it's been a challenge, psychologically, trying to break into a new media market and leaving the people I was really good friends with behind. I can still get shows in Madison way easier than I can here, which is a little bit weird. I really like getting into the Denver scene. Sole has been a really good person to be connected to. He's into a lot of different stuff. The place where I've been playing most of my shows so far is over at Unit E, the gallery spot. I first went there to see Sole play, that's how I was introduced to it. But it turns out Greg, who's in Rubedo, him and I were friends when we were infants. So I got plugged into that community, and they were the first ones to book me in town.
How did you and Sole first connect?
In 2011, I put out an instrumental album called Cities Without Houses, and it was the album where I decided I was going to break off and do my own thing on an instrumental album that stands by itself and isn't just beats. I worked really hard on it. I learned how to promote myself by doing that album.
I was sending it all over, and it got posted the Bomarr Blog, which is one of the producers from Restiform Bodies, one of the real old anticon acts from back when I was in high school. I got really psyched about it and got in touch with him to say thanks. We talked, and when I told him I was moving to Denver, he told me to get in touch with Sole. When we finally did connect and started sending music back and forth, we realized we knew some of the same people. We started working on songs, and it just clicked from there.
How did the "Hear the Noise" project come about?
I was trying to get away from sampling, but I still knew that sampling was what I was best at. So I knew if I was going to keep sampling, I'd need to find some unusual source material that's not just vinyl. I had the idea: What if I got people to send noises and did whatever I could with them. One day I was sitting at work and it was a slow day. I was bored and I decided to try to it out and see if I got any response from anybody.
I put it out there and started getting a lot of noises back. It worked out. The people who submitted them were into it and thought it was cool. It was one of the better received tracks I did. I figured if people had a part in the song then they would be invested in showing other people and saying they had a role in it. I thought it was a solid idea, and then one day I had the balls to go through with it. It worked out.
What was the nature of the sounds you were getting from people? Did they require a lot of work on your end to get them sounding like they do in the song?
I actually got lucky because some of the sounds, people would send something with a nice kick in it, so I wouldn't have to manufacture a kick in some weird way. Some guy sent me a sound that was supposedly a recording of the aurora borealis; it's a loud clapping sound. People sent in them jamming on a guitar. It became a challenge because I told myself, "You are gonna use at least part of everything everyone sends you." People would send a file of some guy saying, "I'm hungry. Let's go get some tacos." I took the 'T' from tacos and made it into a hi-hat. That guy isn't going to be able to listen to the song and be like, "that's my contribution," but I used a piece of everything.
What are you working on now?
I'm trying to wrestle with a follow up to Cities Without Houses. I was really proud of that. I worked really hard on it, and it took me a long time to finish. As soon as I got it out, I realized, "Shit, I have to do something else," because now people are starting to pay attention. Now I have to get inspired again. For that one, I found a sound that I knew I could run with album length. Right now, it's been a period of trying to step up the game and learn some new tricks, not do the same thing over again.
I'm waiting for that sound to click, where I know I can ride it out for twelve or fourteen songs. I'm trying to do as many remixes as I can, work with as many artists as I can. I'm trying to say "yes" as much as possible, so I can challenge myself; but the result is I've got a lot of material I've made, and none of it really fits together. My goal is to make a follow up full length, but it hasn't really happened that way yet. I'm not gonna force it, as much I'd like to.
Is the show on the seventh a DJ set for you, or are you performing live?
It's a live performance. I really don't DJ other people's music very much because I had so many bad experiences with people being like, "You're a DJ, play [unintelligible whining sound]." I'll be playing all my own original material. I played with a live hip-hop band in Madison, and that's how I sort of got into it. The Man Mantis persona was born during that time...
When I decided I'm gonna do my own stuff, I told myself I'd make it as performance-based as possible. I didn't want to be just up there pressing a button and dancing around. That has to be part of it because no one wants to watch somebody check their email on stage. I'm performing. I could fuck up. But at the same time I'm trying to give people a good time.
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