Michael Vincze of the Mowgli's on what it means to be a Mowgli: spreading kindness and love
The Mowgli's was started by a group of friends who wanted to make music with universal appeal. The act's sound is rooted in the kind of breezy, folk-inflected, psychedelically tinged music from Southern California that dominated the '60s and '70s, and its outlook is imbued with a positive spirit that matches the summery pop confections. In advance of this weekend's Westword Music Showcase, we spoke with singer/guitarist Michael Vincze, who co-founded the band, about Mowgli as a symbol of openness and innocence, raising the resonant frequency of kindness and the "Be a Mowgli" campaign.
Westword: What is the "I'm a Mowgli" campaign?
Michael Vincze It's basically this thing where we have signs all over Los Angeles right now that say, "Are You a Mowgli?" To find out, you have to call the number, and the number gets forwarded to the Mowgli's, and one of us answers the phone and then tells the people what a Mowgli is -- which is basically someone who wants to change the world for the greater good by taking actions that spread love.
Is that going on right now?
This is happening right now, so at any moment, I could receive a phone call.
What's the number? Is it a limited-time thing?
I'm not sure how long we're going to do it, but the number is 786-7MOWGLI. Or you go to BeAMowgli.com to find out. It's a cool thing we're doing with the alignment of the record release that happened on June 18. Part of the premise of the band is that everybody is invited to be a part of it if they want to be. The band has the intention of spreading love and be a positive energy, a "life force in the world that helps encourage goodness" kind of thing.
In doing a bit of research on the band, that definitely comes across.
Oh, nice. I'm glad that happened.
That's certainly a noble message and mission. Why was that important to do at this time with your band?
I think that it's been important my entire life, as long as I can remember, but I didn't know how to act on it. So it's like a calling I feel deep in my heart or somewhere internally to just help. I was born with this ability to see potential in people and everything around me. I could see what was happening, and the more I started to understand being here, I could see that it was possible for things to be better for everybody. I think part of that gift is just being born in a blessed life and really just having nothing to worry about and wanting to share that.
A lot of people havea blessed life, and they think they're entitled to it. It sounds like you feel everyone is entitled to that, and not just a privileged few.
That's exactly how I feel. I know everybody is entitled to it, and I know it's possible with a ton of work. I don't care how long it takes. It's worth it to do the work, and I know that it can happen. It's one of those things where I'm silly enough to think it's possible, so I go for it.
When you were putting the band together -- at this point eight people -- was it a group of friends, or did you assemble people for the band?
Everyone was friends. Some of the people we met through the band, but everyone was somebody I was friends with, and that brought us all together. We started first in the summer of 2009.
What kinds of shows did you play early on?
The very first show we played was with four members, and it was acoustic, with tambourine, hand claps and guitar at a bar-like place in Eagle Rock. After that, we did a big show at the Dragonfly. That was like full rock, with nine members on stage, plus pulling people out of the audience to play percussion and going out into the crowd.
I think it culminated with having fifteen people on stage that night. That was a show we hosted. When the Mowgli's formed, in 2009, it was formed around an artist collective called the Collective CA. There was a music scenethat started to form, and I suggested we organize it. Everyone latched on to it, and started inputting their ideas, and we formed this collective, and everyone was kind of in everyone's band.
As the Mowgli's, we were performing in as many as eight bands just within us. Everybody kind of had their own project. The Mowgli's are like the all-stars of the collective. There's like upwards of forty members. Most of them are in Los Angeles; some of them are in San Francisco; some are scattered around the country, and some are traveling the world. Within that forty people or so, we have upwards of twenty bands. Sometimes that fluctuates because bands break up or go on hiatus. So it's constantly breathing.
So the spirit of the Mowgli's is like this collaboration, this spanning of all genres that we're playing in the collective. We are literally touching on as many sounds as possible, as many forms of art as possible. It stretches outside of music into visual stuff, as well, and dance. We're kind of all over the map.
The name of the band seems intentional considering the obvious literary reference.
I think it was weirdly coincidental that a few of the boys in the collective were called that by their parents when they were kids. Then I personally have had an obsession with Mowgli since I was a little kid. I think a part of me always wanted to be that character and wanted to live like that because it was so fun and free and pure. I'm still in love with that idea today.
There is an innocence that is embedded in the essence of the character Mowgli. He's kind of free from the flaws of man because he grew up in nature. There's something about that care he has for the jungle and for symbiotic relationships with other things that are present in his society -- his relationship with the plants, insects, other animals. The relationship to hunting itself and the respect you have when doing that. It's something I find very beautiful.
It wasn't terribly thought about. When it was presented, it made the most sense. My very good friend -- brother -- he had a wolf dog named Mowgli. The three of us shared a room for a long time. I would wake up and Mowgli would be next to my head -- a huge wolf. He was crazy. He was intimidating, because he's an extremely powerful animal.
One day we finished the song "The Great Divide," and my friend put it in a video for her yoga company. It got 500 hits in one day, and people asked what band it was. And my friend suggested jokingly calling the band the Mowgli's. Immediately I was like, "That's it!" Kind of like a sense of deja vu, as if it had always been the name of the band.
I feel like we put a lot more thought into it after it happened -- the same way people freestyle lyrics and something beautiful comes out. You have to look at why it makes you feel that way. When you start to analyze it, you're like, "Oh, wow!" Or what does it really mean, what does it really represent? I think it's crucial, because you need to put power behind what you're doing. So in that meaning comes the feeling about it.
Is the name a contraction or a possessive form?
It's a possessive form. The idea was that we are all Mowgli's people. And Mowgli, extending from the character, is the spirit, that innocence I was talking about. We're in service to that in the same way we're in service to society in the world. The apostrophe makes it possessive -- we are all Mowgli's. It fits our personality perfectly because it's weird and quirky. I love the fact that it causes a question. Or sometimes anger in people. Real grammar sticklers are furious about it, and I love that. It's fun. It's such an indication of our quirkiness.
Obviously, your music is not just one genre. But many comparisons have been made between your music and the '60s and '70s Laurel Canyon, psychedelic country-rock sort of thing or what came out of Haight-Ashbury in the '60s. Do you feel like your own music comes out of that -- not strictly sonically, but in spirit in some fashion?
I love that. And absolutely the spirit of it. And sonically, we definitely pull from that. Also the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Hendrix -- things of that nature. But definitely the spirit of that, which is kind of what happened when "San Francisco" occurred. We went up there, and we have kind of an obsession with that city, and part of that is rooted in the movement for consciousness-expanding and peace and love and just a better life for everyone. So embracing that spirit, and the fact that that city was a huge part of that movement, is why that song happened the way it did -- somehow tapping into that energy.
Yeah, like how the Berkeley SDS and free-speech movement was happening, and the hippies, who were not one and the same with SDS and the like, were not just Utopian; it was idealism put into practice on the best end of that.
We're trying to take it to a new level. We're sort of attempting to stand on the shoulders of those who paved the road for us. I think a lot of that movement was lost in the irresponsibility and the party. Rather than do that, we're attempting to live it in practice. We're all extremely flawed human beings; our band is no exception. But at the same time, we have to take a step forward and be kind to everybody and better ourselves as much as possible. That's the best way to start, I feel.
How do you break through to people who aren't necessarily in line with that? What do you do to break down resistance to that sort of thing?
I think it's just being ourselves and inviting everybody. If somebody chooses to look the other way or something, that's their thing. I think if you try to force somebody to be good or to acknowledge what's going around them, it's really tough. We have to arrive at this on our own. All we can do is continually encourage. It's almost like this thing where I compare it to the sun itself. It's beaming light and life at us regardless of what we're doing.
We can turn our back on it any time, and we can ignore it. It doesn't matter. It's still going to be there to provide us with energy. That's sort of the underlying philosophy here. We're just going to be good for the sake of being good, as much as we can. We're going to slip and fall along the way. But at the end of the day, we're going maintain our core integrity and let that guide us.
Some of my lessons from my best teachers didn't kick in until years later. I'll be walking down the street and something will occur, and I'll think, "Oh, that's what Mr. Smith was talking about in eleventh grade!" Here I am, seven years later, finally understanding what the guy meant. So it's like this whole thing of constantly seeding.
We're having these good thoughts, and we're playing this music. Maybe the song will stick in someone's head, and sometime down the line, it's going to do something. It's going to provoke some thought that has a positive outcome. It's that same thing of constantly attempting to be good; good will come of that later. The positive stuff we put out, it will return and hopefully multiply exponentially. It's rippling out.
That video you did for "San Francisco" -- is it true you did it in one shot?
Yes, that is one continuous take. No editing at all, except we color-corrected, and we added the hearts and chalk writing and stuff like that. We got there the day before the shoot and walked the grounds and had the idea of what we wanted to accomplish. We got there really early the next morning and started rehearsal immediately. It's a massive cast that's in that video. The crew was massive, as well. We ran it as many times as we could, probably over eleven. Then we started doing takes.
That video is the final take of the day. We were out of time. The street was getting crowded, there was a show happening in the building upstairs, so all these people were arriving, and it was just complete madness. We said, "We gotta go one more time," and we nailed it.
What was the concept behind the video?
I think the premise was spreading love, and each time, there was kind of like a cartoony, random act of kindness. The Mowgli's are like these weird, background guardian angels. We show up and we help it along. It's like replacing the cop's pen with a daisy. He's not writing this ticket; he's giving a hug. And David running to the businessman who's about to get into the cab to show him there's a pregnant woman who needs the cab.
It really harkens to the "Be a Mowgli" campaign. Like these little things we take, these first steps, and really make an emphasis on being good to one another. We can actually start to cause something serious to happen. We can raise the resonant frequency of kindness and pleasure. Like that whole theory that energy builds more energy. The more everyone is participating in it, theoretically the better things can get.
A lot like Gandhi's principle of "Become the change you want to see in the world."
Precisely. It's like manifestation, but you don't have to have the willingness to participate. Who knows what's going to happen, but it can't hurt to try.
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