Mainland isn’t a band that you can easily categorize (nor would you want to). The only thing that matters is how good the music is. The Brooklyn-based four-piece band is comprised of Jordan Topf (vocals, guitar), Corey Mullee (guitar, synth), Alex Pitta (bass), and Joey Sulkowski (drums). After signing to 300 Entertainment, the band released their third project, the Outcast EP. With a tour run already set for 2016, an album on the way, and plenty of inspiration brewing, we knew we had to talk to these guys. We caught up with Jordan and talked about everything including recording in the same studio as Kurt Cobain, how being on a primarily hip-hop label gives them an advantage, and how being vulnerable in music is a great thing.
So how did Mainland form?
I met our guitarist Corey at a house party in Harlem. I was playing in a different band at the time. After I met him, I went back to California for a bit and the band I was in ended up dissolving. I called Corey and we decided to join forces. I met our bass player Alex working late nights at a restaurant in downtown Manhattan. He joined the band and then we eventually met our drummer Joey. Once we had the team together, we started rehearsing.
When did 300 come into the picture?
They saw that us play on a booze cruise that sailed around Manhattan and they signed us that night. We recorded a cover of Coconut Records’ “West Coast” that made it to the top 10 on Hype Machine. They heard it and then came to see us that night.
That’s crazy. It must have been a lot of work to get up to that point.
Absolutely. We played almost every small and medium venue in New York. We still have a long way to go though. One of our dreams is to sell out Madison Square Garden. If we sell out MSG, we have a pact that we’re all going to get matching tattoos.
What attracted you to an Indie label like 300?
We love hip-hop and we loved that we were a unique band for them to sign. It’s a really diverse label. Lyor, Todd, and Kevin are really experienced and they just want to break new ground and find new ways to break bands. We also love that they’re in NYC and we love going into the office. It’s very cool to be an Indie rock band on a hip-hop label. They support us by giving us freedom and letting us do what we want.
Kinda like how you guys developed your own treatment for the “Not As Cool As Me” Video?
Yeah we just put that video out recently. I wrote the treatment for the video and they let us do it. They love working with artists that have their own vision. 300 is the best label in the world!
Speaking of the video, where did the image for the child painting the dove come from?
We wanted to create some really provocative imagery. We’ve also never had a kid in our video. It was our opportunity to really make something stand out. It was a crazy idea we had that translated into a really cool visual. Fashion magazines and filmmakers influenced us so that’s something that came to mind when we were looking at the mood boards for the video.
Sounds like a Wes Anderson homage.
Yeah he is so particular about colors and I think its so interesting. It’s hard to do a narrative video all the time so we wanted to make something visually stimulating. It was an opportunity for us to do something a little more creative. Telling stories with videos is cool but it’s also cool to take risks and do things that are edgier.
We’ve had the Outcast EP on repeat. What went into making that project?
We made our upcoming album and the Outcast EP in LA. We recorded at Sound City Studios where Fleetwod Mac recorded Rumors and Nirvana recorded Nevermind. It was an interesting time. We were living in a converted garage house and splitting beds for 6 weeks.
What was it like recording in such a legendary studio?
I felt like I was in a time warp. Our producer really got into it too. He was wearing these retro suits with all kinds of colors and crazy patterns. It’s a really retro studio so the floors are checkered, striped, etc. You walk in there and feel the spirit of all the people who’ve recorded there. Kurt Cobain, Neil Young, and Fleetwood Mac have all recorded there. It was a dream come true to record our album there.
And just so I could get into a good mental space, I would wear a suit or a leather jacket every day. I would put on a piece of clothing that helped me feel good. Our producer was wearing suits every day so it made him even more comfortable to see the singer of the band taking his job seriously. It was like going to work every day even though I don’t want to call it work.
With constant inspiration, how did you approach the creation of the Outcast EP?
A lot happened in the year between Outcast and our last EP. We wanted to make the music relatable and honest. This is our most honest, vulnerable, and passionate piece of music to date. It wasn’t harder to make. It was just a fully realized version of what we really were. We wanted to be transparent and sing from the heart. The song “Outcast”, in particular, was the culmination of my life experiences. My experiences moving to NYC and not fitting into the surf culture in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California played a big role in my writing. It all worked out in the end though. At some point I learned it was okay to be an outcast.
I read somewhere that Big British Rock bands influenced you guys.
I love how Robert Smith of The Cure sings about love. He’s so passionate and vulnerable and he says what he feels in such a poetic and matter-of-fact way. We were inspired by a bunch of 80s bands (The Cars, The Cure, Lou Reed, etc). Lou Reed is one of my biggest inspirations.
Do you guys write songs as a group or is one person responsible for the majority of the writing?
We write as a group in a sense. I have a recording background so I start with ideas and record them to send to the band. They’ll send me feedback and we either decide to scrap it or make changes until it’s something we can start rehearsing. I’m always writing though. I feel unsettled and stagnant if I’m not writing. It’s my life force.
What place is more inspiring to write in? Los Angeles or New York?
New York is more inspiring to write in because there are so many stories about hope. The cool thing about New York is that everyone takes the train. You could be standing next to the richest man in the neighborhood and not even know it. We have a song on our album that I wrote on the subway called “Beggars.” It pretty much talks about all the people in New York and how we’re all in the journey together.
How do you feel about the pole dancers on the NYC subway?
I have a theory that there is a subway pole dancer academy. It’s interesting to see the dancers come on the train at different times and it’s always a new group. Sadly the subway is cracking down on it cause they don’t want people getting hustled as much. New York is so hardcore, I assume you have to audition to play on the subway. There’s way too much competition (Laughs).
Lastly, when can we expect the album?
Look for it in springtime. The album is called Night Trials. Check back with me in the spring for details. We should have some more stories for you.
Make sure to catch Mainland on tour with Marianas Trench this spring. Get tickets here.