Jared Mann and friends get Willow on the map

Blanketfort social scene
By CHRIS CONTI  |  September 25, 2012

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UNHINGED The Willow crew.
Twenty-three-year-old Jared Mann would be considered the old man among his mates in Willow, a melodic (and mostly instrumental) math-rock trio from the woods of North Smithfield. He, bassist Trevor White (19), and guitarist/vocalist Seth Chapdelaine (22) released their summer 2012 EP, The Melancholy, barely one month after the band's thumping EP debut, The Roanoke (both available on the name-your-price platform at willowri.bandcamp.com). Willow return to RI for a homecoming show this Friday night at Machines With Magnets, having just wrapped a Northeast tour.

Three years ago, Mann founded Blanketfort Records (blanketfortrecords.tumblr.com), a collaborative crew of talented, inspired friends who gathered to record Mann's first band, Big Tall Buildings. BTB's impressive 2009 debut, Abandon Me Please, had jangly guitars, spirited gang vocal choruses, and super-catchy hooks (look up the excellent cuts "Natalie" and "Something with a Semicolon"). The sextet (and then some) amicably took a hiatus shortly after, though Mann said the six base members remain on good terms ("We still hang all the time and play fantasy football and all that shit") and plan on releasing more BTB material.

"At the time of the breakup, we were all in different schools doing different things, and sometimes it's hard to coordinate things with that many people in a band," Mann told me. "The original studio was literally a cornered-off section in my parent's basement, partitioned by blankets and sheets," Mann said (hence the label name). "Then we had a spot in Providence we called the Blanketfort Party Mansion, which was basically a duplex full of musicians where we recorded and had some crazy house shows."

From what I've heard thus far, Blanketfort has a damn solid foundation and continues to crank out good product. If you have a soft spot for quiet-loud-quiet and the unhinged melodies of Broken Social Scene, Modest Mouse, et al., check out The Roanoke ASAP. "Iowa," "Roanoke," and "Wyoming" are awash in stop-and-pop timing changes, distorted guitars, and Mann's maniacal bashing. As the title suggests, The Melancholy is a mellower affair, with Chapdelaine's occasional vox floating by on "Bambi" and "Trees Die"; "Avocado" is a memorable two-minute jam session that could have been believably billed as a Joan of Arc/Cap'n Jazz B-side.

A short-lived, ill-fated band called Walri provided the bittersweet foundation for Willow; a fourth member and longtime friend of Mann's went AWOL and cleaned out the Blanketfort savings, somewhere around $1200.

"It was a pretty big bummer man," Mann recalled. "He definitely had some serious issues at the time, and I don't think his having sole possession of that money helped."

Mann has been in touch with bands around the region regarding the label, but it sounds as if this Blanketfort Social Scene will remain more of an in-house effort for the time being. "We're still in the initial, building stages of this, really," Mann said. "This is more of a collaborative at the moment, but we hope to take the next step and eventually expand."

Next up from Blanketfort will be an EP from Bad Art ("a messy punk-indie band"), and solo projects from White (Horselaugh) and Mann (the Great Western States, which he dubbed "Nu-Wave Dad Rock").

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