Chicago has come over the last five years or so due in large part by the willingness of many from across the city to play their part, handle a lane and add to the greater equation. In the process, many have evolved beyond their dreams and a perfect example of that is St. Louis transplant Drew Mantia who re-concepted his work into a live offering, The Belief Cycle, which debuts it's first project here.
Having worked on the backing production for the likes of Saba, The Rapper Chicks and ProbCause, Mantia has built a respectable resume that speaks for itself. Being behind the scenes has its down though and in a push to get his face out front a bit more, he has been working diligently on a live show that can complement his in-studio production. Teasing the project were a pair of videos from the actual sessions that put the full realization of the beats he's created over the years to life. Along with shows in both Chicago and his hometown, Drew's certainly taking the necessary steps to make sure he's noticed from behind the curtain. We caught up with Drew to talk about The Belief Cycle, the path forward and what inspired this project. Check that out below, the music above and keep it locked for much more soon.
How did this project come about?
I've been in bands since I was 14 but I nearly completely put it down when my career engineering and producing other artists started taking off. My bandmate in The Belief Cycle, keyboardist Ryan Marquez, is a longtime friend and has been in bands with me in the past. Ryan would tell me a few times a year since I stepped back "you should be writing your songs, you should be singing again." His late-2016 version included "if you do it I'll do it with you." That intrigued me so I said "OK, let's record some demos and see how it sounds." A week later we had our first four songs and decided to call ourselves The Belief Cycle.
What has it been like adjusting your music for the stage?
The Belief Cycle songs are written for the stage and I have a longer history with performance than as a producer, despite being more known for the latter. There is adjustment though, especially due to incorporating new skills into the process. We sometimes play with a bigger band but right now we're mostly doing a duo that consists of myself on vocals and finger drums and Ryan Marquez on keyboards and pedal bass, which he plays with his feet like an organist. Drum pad is an instrument I've only been doing a few years and combining it with singing was a difficult place to start this from. Ryan has been playing keys since he was five but just started incorporating the foot pedal bass within the last year and this is the first project he's taken it to the stage with. We're consistently adjusting to new challenges but those choices give us a one-of-a-kind band format. I also had to adjust emotionally to performing my own songs on stage again. Spending several years backing up other artists made it easy to hide in the background. I had to adjust to the fact that returning to the stage singing my songs was one of the scariest things I could think of.
Did you have any examples or influences you were looking at while creating this?
Jeremy Ellis inspired my choice to sing and finger drum. He's the best finger drummer in the world, easy. Look him up on YouTube playing solo or with The Roots. Discovering his videos made me realize finger drumming was as viable and exciting a performing instrument as guitar or any of the other instruments I've played much longer. While I certainly don't finger drum anywhere near as well as Jeremy Ellis, I've yet to find anyone else out there singing while finger drumming, so I've been calling myself "world's first singing finger drummer." The music dork in me is pretty satisfied by that. Some of my songwriting influences include Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, D'Angelo and John Mayer.
What's 2017 have in store for us?
The "Gaslight Session" is a little appetizer for our first "official" studio release which will drop later this year along with music video singles and more shows nationwide. We're trying to get aggressive with touring early and new songs are getting written everyday. Now that we've gotten out the gate we'll be staying consistent in delivering new content and getting better and better as we progress.
How would you characterize the kind of music you're making now versus before?
I used to be more on a shallower level of "I like this, this sounds dope." My criteria now is deeper. "Does this feel authentic? Am I expressing myself so vulnerably that it actually scares me and pushes my boundaries? How much emotion is this conveying?" I'm on a mission with my music to connect with people and ease some of the pain that we all feel in this life. Focusing on authenticity is the best method I've found to inject that mission into the music and have it received on the listener's end. I had this mission and this approach before but it didn't have clearly defined parameters and therefore wasn't always executed. Now I practice keeping the mission on my mind in everything I do.
What's on the horizon for Drew Mantia?
The Belief Cycle is where most of my time is being spent currently and will remain that way. It's already been the most rewarding project of my life and it's still in its infancy. I'm also continuing to produce and engineer for other artists, focusing on work with singer/songwriters and bands more so than the rap work I've become known for in Chicago. I'm still working with rappers but mostly the ones I've got longstanding relationships with.