Melbourne’s favourite hip hop artist Mantra has just released his exceptional third album Telling Scenes to rave reviews. As he said to our resident hip hop fan, Jordon Buckens, ‘everything has been go go go!’ so we were amazed and humbled that he took the time to answer our questions about everything from the latest record to the zombie apocalypse to the possibility of an Illzilla reunion.

So, describe the last few weeks for us. Has it been crazy or what? The reaction to your album is great! Even Rolling Stone gave you a juicy 4 stars!

Yeah it’s been pretty crazy! I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the response to the album. People really seem to be connecting with it, which is great. I’ve been on tour most of the week doing a bunch of shows in Tassie and WA, so everything has been go go go!

How did you find it the third time around, does it get easier with experience?

I think some things get easier, for sure. The technical things like the recording, production and mixing get easier, or at least more efficient and consistent. The creative side of things is different every time but I always pour a lot of my heart and soul into a record and get very attached and involved. That happened with this one in particular. So it can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster sometimes.

Your first two albums Power of the Spoken and Speaking Volumes were released with Obese Records, what made you switch to Ten to Two Records?

I was only signed to Obese for the first two albums, so when it came time to start looking at labels for the third one I spoke to a lot of different people. There were a few good options but Ten To Two were really excited about the record and were able to work with the timeline I was looking at so signing with them felt like the perfect option.

Seth Sentry, Grey Ghost and yourself have just wrapped up a pretty big regional tour, what were the highlights?

We’ve still got the WA leg to go so I can’t speak too soon! But there have been heaps of high points. A personal highlight for me was the Ballarat show. It was my birthday as of midnight that night so some friends came to the show to celebrate. Me and the boys did a freestyle during Seth’s set and afterwards Seth brought out a birthday cake with “Mantra” written on it in icing and had the whole crowd sing me happy birthday. That was a lovely moment.

How are the regional crowds compared to the city ones I’m sure you are used to?

They can be very different that’s for sure. In many of the places we’ve been going to they don’t get all that many artists coming through so they’re really hungry for live music. So a lot of the time the crowds are really grateful for the chance to see you perform and meet you after the show. It’s been really cool taking my music to these places, many of which I’ve never been to before, and to see people get so into what we’re doing is really awesome.

What is the craziest thing to happen to you whilst on tour?

Lots of crazy things happen on tour, but no way could I pick one as the craziest. And some just don’t bear repeating. One funny thing was in Cairns, the first show of the tour. We were staying in a hotel behind the venue and after the show I saw Grey Ghost up on his balcony talking on the phone, presumably to his wife. It was pretty dark and quiet so I decided I would moon him to be a jerk.  He laughed but then pointed to his right and there was a woman sitting on a chair next to him watching the whole time. I hadn’t seen her in the dark.

You have hooked up with some major hip hop acts in your time, who did you have the most fun working with?

Working with Promoe was a lot of fun. He came out and spent some time in Melbourne a couple years back, which is when we recorded ‘Self-Destruct’ off my last album. We hung out a lot and he got to know a bunch of the crew so while he was here he kinda became part of the fam. It was during that time that we wrote and recorded ‘Energy’ which is on the new album and also features Grey Ghost.

Who else would you like to work with, if you could choose anyone, alive, dead or imaginary?

I think if it could be absolutely anyone it would be Otis Redding. He’s undoubtedly my favourite singer of all time.

If you were an ice cream, what flavour would you be?

Hahaha! Is that a pick-up line? Um, I guess I would be green tea flavoured ice cream. Because it’s subtle and delicious but will never be as popular as a Magnum.

What would you be doing if you never started rapping?

Begging for change.

What brought upon the radical change of sound for your track ‘Quicksilver’, no drums or bass? Were you nervous putting it out?

I came up with ‘Quicksilver’ when I was walking home one night. I was humming the melody all the way home so when I got there I sat down at the piano and worked out the chords and recorded a rough demo, which I took to my friend Dan West. He laid down the guitar parts and I took them away and wrote the lyrics. It wasn’t something I was planning to include on the album initially but it turned out so well that it was clear we had to put it on. I wasn’t really nervous about it, I was really happy with how it sounded.

You do a bit of work with education as well, how does that fit in with the hip hop thing?

The educational projects I’m involved are all hip hop related. I run songwriting workshops and mentor programs in schools, juvenile justice centres and through various arts organisations. So the two co-exist very well … in fact the teaching only started once I’d already established myself as a Hip Hop artist. I love it so I don’t imagine I’ll stop any time soon.

Oh shit, zombie apocalypse time! Name your hideout!

Hope Street Studios, Melbourne.

Weapon of choice?

Neck of a bass guitar.

Food to live off?

Smashed avocado on toast with lemon and chilli. I won’t ever get sick of that shit.

You and Grey Ghost have made some bangers in the past, is this going to be a continuing trend? Ever considered releasing more with the Ghost?

Absolutely. I think me and the Ghost will always work together. We’ve been close friends for about 10 years now and we work together really well. So there’ll be plenty more collabs in the future, definitely.

How about Illzilla? I’m sure you’ll never hear the end of it, will you and the gang ever get back together for another project?

Haha, yeah I do hear it a bit. I think a lot of people would love Illzilla to release another record, or do some more shows. It’s definitely not on the cards in the near future, but I still work with all of the guys and we’re all still close, so it’s not a complete impossibility. We’ll keep making music together for years to come I think.

Lastly, what’s next on the agenda for you? Keen for the album launch tour?

Yeah I’m amped for the tour. It will be the first time I’ve performed a lot of these new tracks so I’m looking forward to getting them on the road. I’ve been touring like crazy lately so it will be dope to switch up the show a bit and take this new material to the peeps.

Mantra is touring his latest album Telling Scenes around the country right now. You can catch him playing a hometown show at The Evelyn on Friday the 11th of October. You can get tickets and more info here.

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