30 Mar Mandi Mapes’ New Record, ‘Levees,’ Touches on Loss, Love, and Hope
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
My favorite part of early spring is possibly the moment daffodils pop up, reminding us to feel hopeful, that there is beauty after months of bone-chilling cold, sludgy days. In a similar way, indie folk/pop/Americana artist Mandi Mapes’ latest sunny-yet-introspective single, “Daffodil Floors,” is centered on the belief that there is light on the other side of difficult, interpersonal journeys.
“’Daffodil Floors’ came out of a season of grieving the reality that I had traded my first love, music for other things that I believed — and was told — were more important and of more value in life,” Mapes, who now lives in Nashville, tells Rockmommy. “’Daffodil Floors’ explores these expectations and burdens we often carry, whether they come from our career, our culture, or our church; and the toll that this pressure to measure up can take on our life.”
We recently caught up with Mapes, a mom of two young children, to talk about her new record, Levees, her global travels with her family, and more.
Rockmommy: Can you talk about your youth, and how your musical tastes and experiences shaped you?
Mandi Mapes: Growing up in New Orleans — Jefferson Parish to be exact — I believe made quite an impact on me and how I feel towards music, fashion and even architecture. Jazz played a part in my musical journey at a young age. My beloved music teacher, Eddie Monteleone, was a phenomenal jazz pianist and played in a local jazz band. Even though none of my music is considered jazz, you can hear the influences of jazz in subtle things like the breathy style of my singing voice.
If I was trying to sing country, for example, I might push my voice forward and belt out, but I think a soft, lackadaisical sound is really beautiful and I think that might just come from the influence of jazz music. Rather than using the 8 colors in the coloring box, jazz has a way of painting chords and melodies with a thousand colors. When I think of the song “Daffodil Floors” or “Home Sweet Home” (both on my upcoming album) you can hear me reaching for more color in the sounds and chords and melodies I write.
In New Orleans, I grew up right along the levee. As you know, a levee is a man-made wall that protects an area that is vulnerable to flooding from storms and hurricanes. I wanted to explore this idea and the parallels of this in our own personal lives. Often, after we experience a great loss or heartache, we also build a levee around our heart and vow to never let ourselves get hurt again. However, this self-preservation can also cause us harm. By keeping everyone and everything at arm’s length, we can forfeit love, intimacy and healing. My title track, “Levees,” along with several other songs on this record touch on this idea of loss, love and hoping again.
Rockmommy: I love the concept of navigating new challenges as a driver of art. Can you talk about how you and your husband’s life in the Middle East made you appreciate music from back home, in N.O. and Nashville in particular?
Mandi Mapes: Well, we lived for a couple of years in Saudi Arabia, and at that time music was sort of illegal. I mean, people still had radios in their cars and listened to recorded music, but I didn’t see any live performances almost the entire time I was there. I went to buy a piano at the mall and they were all unplugged or zip-tied because the store didn’t want people playing them out in public. It was a very strange concept for me as a westerner. I did attend one concert while there and it was totally underground. I was invited by word of mouth and I think on the day of the concert I got a what’s app text sharing the time and location. There was no Instagram post or anything.
I show up to this building and it’s completely dark. There are no cars parked around it. For a moment I thought I must be at the wrong place. Finally, I see someone and ask, a bit sheepishly, if there was a “musical event” happening somewhere around this area. They pointed me to some stairs that led to a basement. I walked down the stairs to find a packed house of people sitting on the floor listening to this young, local band that was playing mostly American 80’s covers. It was a fun, endearing night that I’ll always remember!
There was so much growth and goodness that came from that season of life in the Middle East, but the lack of music definitely took a toll on me. I began to doubt if I had any significance as an artist and I really missed music. I missed hearing music in the streets. I missed playing music in my community. It was a sad, lonely time for me. Now when I hear live music, I almost always get emotional.
When I see someone busking in the street I tip them every time. I live in Franklin and one time in the downtown area there were four people busking in different locations and I just walked around to each one and stood and listened to them and tipped them. I’ll never take music for granted again. Music is such a beautiful gift we’ve been given- a flicker of heaven. And it’s such an honor to get to take part in making it.
Rockmommy: You recently noted that, after giving birth to a daughter, you felt overwhelmed with the idea of making music and being a mother at the same time. When did things shift? Was there a moment when you picked up an instrument and decided to begin again?
Mandi Mapes: Great question. My determination to make music again came in two different emotional stages. The first stage was in my grief and sadness. I remember thinking, “I have nothing to even say or write about anymore.” But then for some reason I thought, “Perhaps I’ll write about the death of my dream and what that feels like right now at this very moment. This utter hopelessness. And yet, I keep hoping,” and I picked up my guitar and wrote a song called “Dream.”
It’s the last song on the album and perhaps my favorite one. I think I actually cried throughout writing it. It was literally written in my tears. The second stage came through my anger. I don’t mean rage or getting mad or upset. I just mean anger — like passion. Like the feeling Serena Williams feels when she’s on the court and something clicks in her mind like a switch. She’s not going to give up. She’s here to play with a fire in her belly. That kind of anger. For so long, I’ve let fear and apathy drive my life. But I’ve only recently discovered that anger can be a dear friend and a great driver if you actually give it a chance to sit in the driver’s seat.
Rockmommy: Your voice is so pretty and sincere, but to keep vocals in singing shape it’s a lot of work. How do you find time to sing every day?
Mandi Mapes: I definitely do not give enough time to keeping my voice in shape. I try to warm up my voice by doing some la, la, la’s and some frills with my lips right before I sing, but I would actually love to learn more about keeping my vocals in singing shape if you have any advice!
Rockmommy: I found “Daffodil Floors” immediately relatable. Can you tell us about the inspiration for that song?
Mandi Mapes: “Daffodil Floors” came out of a season of grieving the reality that I had traded my first love, music for other things that I believed (and was told) were more important and of more value in life. Daffodil Floors explores these expectations and burdens we often carry, whether they come from our career, our culture or our church; and the toll that this pressure to measure up can take on our life. A dear friend and artist told me that “Daffodil Floors” was the kindest protest song she had ever heard.
And it is a protest song. It protests the idea that we must go “to the ends of the earth” and do “something great” so that maybe our lives will matter and we will, at last, belong. “Daffodil Floors” proposes that we already matter and belong. We are already magnificent and lovely and worthy to be loved, just by being alive. There is no great work we must accomplish. We can lay down that heavy burden that has been grinding us into the ground. We can light it on fire and dance around the flames.
Rockmommy: How old are your kids? How are you balancing that with your art and creativity?
Mandi Mapes: I have a daughter who just turned six and a son who is three. I would say, balancing creativity and parenthood is hard, but it’s not impossible. For me, to be creative musically, I HAVE to be alone. My daughter is in school now and I send my three-year-old to a preschool three days a week for a half day. Sitting in the quiet of my home at the piano is where I can finally be alone with my thoughts and all my feelings and try to make something from them. When I was finishing up writing and recording my album I had the sweetest babysitter helping me. Recently, when she came over to babysit, I gave her the biggest hug. I told her that this album truly wouldn’t exist without her invaluable help and that she was just as much a part of this record as the violin player!
Rockmommy: What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had gotten before becoming a mom?
Mandi Mapes: I think for first time moms, motherhood can feel very black and white. And I think other moms tend to give advice that feels very black and white. It can make you feel like unless you do things one very specific way, you’re not doing it right. I wish someone had told me that there’s actually SO MUCH gray area! Some things may be black and white, but only a few. Almost everything else is gray. There is so much freedom to raise your kids however you want. Family can look so many different ways depending on your own personal passions, strengths and weaknesses.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.