It's an unusually warm Wednesday afternoon, and I'm camped out on the front porch of their Hollywood home thirty minutes after our scheduled meeting time. Suddenly, my phone rings and Ted Wendler, the band's lead singer and guitarist, breathlessly and profusely apologizes for forgetting the interview. "We're running down from Runyon Canyon right now!" he says.
That they're a little spacey is only fitting for a band whose name and sound are inspired by such. Also, the band, rounded out by drummer Lane Shaw and keyboardist Ben Hazlegrove, have just released a 5-song EP called Light Years, completely written and produced by them and executive produced by Pharrell Williams. They're about to set off on tour. Mac Miller is a big fan. In other words, they've got a lot going on.
I meet Lane and Ted at the base of Runyon, where they continue to apologize. When we arrive at Ben's house a couple blocks away, he pulls out a chair and offers drinks. He's just bathed his bulldog Muffin. "So if you see white powder everywhere, it's baby powder, not cocaine," he says as he hunts for a candle to light. All three smile the entire interview; they radiate an almost unearthly calm. Either they're perma-stoned, or their name is having an effect on them.
Though Mansions became a full-fledged project only two years ago, the guys' history together has deep roots. Lane and Ben, both 26, had been performing and touring extensively in the electronic band Pnuma Trio since 2004. Ben and Ted grew up together, seeing each other every year at the spot in Northern Michigan where their families summered. After Ted, 27, graduated from the University of Montana with a wildlife biology degree ("He's the only one who finished. We all tried it out but it didn't really work," Ben quips), he and Ben began working together in Atlanta.
Ted was focused on his acoustic solo album, and Ben was producing for pop and hip-hop acts like J. Holiday and The Clipse. They decided to combine their sounds and perform as "Ben and Ted," or, unbeknownst to James Cameron, "Avatar."
Fortunately, someone told them to change their name. One night on the porch of their beach house in Virginia Beach (where Ben was reared), Ted was staring at the moon. "You know how sometimes the moon has a halo? These cirrus clouds had taken that halo and made it have three rings and like, rainbows. You could see the man in the moon 'cause it was a full moon, and I thought mansions on the moon was a cool visual," he says. The name now has morphed into a metaphor. "So many people are trying [to make it in music] it does seem impossible, like building a mansion on the moon."