Mansions on the Moon are not at home.
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.”
It helps when Shae Haley and Chad Hugo of N.E.R.D. invite you to work out of their studio and call you the future of music. Illusive Media, a Virginia Beach-based company who did Mansions' “She Makes Me Feel” video, had shown Haley the guys' music. Illusive also facilitated a meeting between them and Diplo, and the result was 2010's Paradise Falls, presented by Diplo and DJ Benzi.
They didn't know it would take them two years to release their first EP, but they were bouncing all over the country and getting a last-minute call to open with Mac Miller (a fan of the group) for one of last spring's biggest events, Wiz Khalifa's Green Carpet Tour. It was the first time they'd toured as a group, and due to such late notice, there was no promo. College stoners everywhere were surprised. “We'd say, 'Hey we're Mansions on the Moon!' Crickets. 'Y'all like kush and Wiz Khalifa?!' Everybody went crazy,” Ted says, laughing.
When you listen to Light Years, you understand their confusion. Backed by Lane's agile drumming and supported by Ben's layers of skittering synths and softly blurred production, Ted's harmonies soar. They label it chillwave, and Ben jokingly says they're a Christian trance band. It's sorta poppy, sorta electro, and even a little Allman Brothers. It goes without saying it's otherworldly.
“I looked up one of moon sites yesterday and it was talking about how you could buy acres on the moon for really cheap. I think we're one of the highest shareholders,” Ben says.
Mansions on the Moon play tonight at the Mint.