Mangoose is an unconventional band with an experimental, diverse sound within the UNC music community. Inspired by a variety of different influences, they use their musical improvisation skills to excite crowds in a range of different venues, from big fraternity parties to professional settings, such as the Cat’s Cradle back room.
The band was formed in the spring of 2017 through mutual connections and shared musical interests. Bassist Patrick Lydon went to high school with guitarist Brad Walter, and he met drummerBen McEntire at a Grateful Dead cover band concert. McEntire then introduced the others to keyboardist Ian Payne, and they soon after got together just to jam and play music together.
“I’d say what brought us together was our mutual love for the band Phish,” Lydon said. “That is a lot of how a lot of our sound formed because Phish is based mainly on improvisation. So, we did a lot of jamming and let the music take us where it thought it would go rather than thinking about it too hard.”
Although Mangoose formed their style in the vein of legendary jam bands such as Phish and the Grateful Dead, the band simply uses these artists as a jumping point for their musical adventuring. When asked about their biggest musical influences outside of the jam band category, each band member gave distinct answers.
Lydon said he is inspired heavily by Paul Simon, particularly the South African musical style of the album Graceland. McEntire, who is a student in the jazz program at UNC with Payne and Walter, said he is inspired by experimental funk artists such as Herbie Hancock, and that a lot of Walter’s guitar playing is inspired by classic rock legends like Jimi Hendrix. Payne said he draws inspiration for his piano and keyboard playing from Kyle Hollingsworth and local legend Ben Folds.
Mangoose began playing together in a cold, dark basement, where they began to blend their unique influences. Though not the most comfortable place to practice, it gave them free reign to play loudly and explore their sound as a band.
Soon after getting together to practice, they started trying to gain exposure in the UNC music community.
“Our first show was on someone’s porch with like three people in the audience, which was kind of funny,” McEntire said. “At first, we had to start reaching out ourselves. I mean, when it came to parties, I would let friends know that we could play. That established those connections.”
When buzz about the band started spreading, Mangoose began to take advantage of the vast resources in Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s music scene, including its many music venues and artists.
“A lot of these local bars like Local 506, Second Wind, the Carrboro music bars, you kind of have to go to them yourselves and say, ‘We’d like to book something,' so we did Cat’s Cradle backroom and stuff like that,” McEntire said. “A lot of it comes with the other bands in the area. You kind of link with them and the next time they want to do a show, you can open for them.”
After playing a good amount of local shows, word started spreading to other college campuses about Mangoose’s playing style, and they were soon being booked for shows in other states. They played for a big crowd in Athens, Georgia, the home of the University of Georgia and bands such as Widespread Panic, Drive By Truckers, and R.E.M.
“My favorite show we’ve done was the UGA show we did in Athens," Walter said. "That one had the most professional setup. We were the second band on, and toward the end of the set there were a couple of hundred people in the audience, probably around 500 or something, which was really cool.”
Payne agreed that this was his favorite moment playing with the band.
“I just felt that we were really locked in,” Payne said about the Athens show. “I felt like it was the best show we’ve ever played, and people after were like, ‘Y’all seem so tight, it sounds like y’all have been playing together for a while.’”
Being in an improvisational band and creating music with friends has had a positive impact for each member.
“I’ve been waiting my entire musical career to be in a band that kind of has the same goals as I do," Lydon said. "It’s easy to find people that play music, but it’s hard to find people that want to improvise and play in the moment because that’s really what brings me the most joy."
For Lydon, playing in Mangoose has been therapeutic and a good way to reorient himself in the bewildering college environment.
“Getting out of all the stuff that’s going on around me like stress from school, and just being in the moment, listening," Lydon said. "You can’t play music if you’re thinking about the past or if you’re thinking about the future. You have to be in the now.”
Right now, the band is enjoying their journey through UNC’s music community and seeing where their sound can take them.
“It’s fun to create a spectacle and see people’s reactions to it,” Walter said. “We’re a group of friends who create stuff together, and there’s a goal in sight. We all play an integral role in achieving it.”
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