Michael Vincze of the Mowgli's on what it means to be a Mowgli: spreading kindness and love
The Mowgli's was started by a group of friends who wanted to make music with universal appeal. The act's sound is rooted in the kind of breezy, folk-inflected, psychedelically tinged music from Southern California that dominated the '60s and '70s, and its outlook is imbued with a positive spirit that matches the summery pop confections. In advance of this weekend's Westword Music Showcase, we spoke with singer/guitarist Michael Vincze, who co-founded the band, about Mowgli as a symbol of openness and innocence, raising the resonant frequency of kindness and the "Be a Mowgli" campaign.
Westword: What is the "I'm a Mowgli" campaign?
Michael Vincze It's basically this thing where we have signs all over Los Angeles right now that say, "Are You a Mowgli?" To find out, you have to call the number, and the number gets forwarded to the Mowgli's, and one of us answers the phone and then tells the people what a Mowgli is -- which is basically someone who wants to change the world for the greater good by taking actions that spread love.
Is that going on right now?
This is happening right now, so at any moment, I could receive a phone call.
What's the number? Is it a limited-time thing?
I'm not sure how long we're going to do it, but the number is 786-7MOWGLI. Or you go to BeAMowgli.com to find out. It's a cool thing we're doing with the alignment of the record release that happened on June 18. Part of the premise of the band is that everybody is invited to be a part of it if they want to be. The band has the intention of spreading love and be a positive energy, a "life force in the world that helps encourage goodness" kind of thing.
In doing a bit of research on the band, that definitely comes across.
Oh, nice. I'm glad that happened.
That's certainly a noble message and mission. Why was that important to do at this time with your band?
I think that it's been important my entire life, as long as I can remember, but I didn't know how to act on it. So it's like a calling I feel deep in my heart or somewhere internally to just help. I was born with this ability to see potential in people and everything around me. I could see what was happening, and the more I started to understand being here, I could see that it was possible for things to be better for everybody. I think part of that gift is just being born in a blessed life and really just having nothing to worry about and wanting to share that.
A lot of people havea blessed life, and they think they're entitled to it. It sounds like you feel everyone is entitled to that, and not just a privileged few.
That's exactly how I feel. I know everybody is entitled to it, and I know it's possible with a ton of work. I don't care how long it takes. It's worth it to do the work, and I know that it can happen. It's one of those things where I'm silly enough to think it's possible, so I go for it.
When you were putting the band together -- at this point eight people -- was it a group of friends, or did you assemble people for the band?
Everyone was friends. Some of the people we met through the band, but everyone was somebody I was friends with, and that brought us all together. We started first in the summer of 2009.
What kinds of shows did you play early on?
The very first show we played was with four members, and it was acoustic, with tambourine, hand claps and guitar at a bar-like place in Eagle Rock. After that, we did a big show at the Dragonfly. That was like full rock, with nine members on stage, plus pulling people out of the audience to play percussion and going out into the crowd.
I think it culminated with having fifteen people on stage that night. That was a show we hosted. When the Mowgli's formed, in 2009, it was formed around an artist collective called the Collective CA. There was a music scenethat started to form, and I suggested we organize it. Everyone latched on to it, and started inputting their ideas, and we formed this collective, and everyone was kind of in everyone's band.
As the Mowgli's, we were performing in as many as eight bands just within us. Everybody kind of had their own project. The Mowgli's are like the all-stars of the collective. There's like upwards of forty members. Most of them are in Los Angeles; some of them are in San Francisco; some are scattered around the country, and some are traveling the world. Within that forty people or so, we have upwards of twenty bands. Sometimes that fluctuates because bands break up or go on hiatus. So it's constantly breathing.
So the spirit of the Mowgli's is like this collaboration, this spanning of all genres that we're playing in the collective. We are literally touching on as many sounds as possible, as many forms of art as possible. It stretches outside of music into visual stuff, as well, and dance. We're kind of all over the map.
The name of the band seems intentional considering the obvious literary reference.
I think it was weirdly coincidental that a few of the boys in the collective were called that by their parents when they were kids. Then I personally have had an obsession with Mowgli since I was a little kid. I think a part of me always wanted to be that character and wanted to live like that because it was so fun and free and pure. I'm still in love with that idea today.
There is an innocence that is embedded in the essence of the character Mowgli. He's kind of free from the flaws of man because he grew up in nature. There's something about that care he has for the jungle and for symbiotic relationships with other things that are present in his society -- his relationship with the plants, insects, other animals. The relationship to hunting itself and the respect you have when doing that. It's something I find very beautiful.
It wasn't terribly thought about. When it was presented, it made the most sense. My very good friend -- brother -- he had a wolf dog named Mowgli. The three of us shared a room for a long time. I would wake up and Mowgli would be next to my head -- a huge wolf. He was crazy. He was intimidating, because he's an extremely powerful animal.
One day we finished the song "The Great Divide," and my friend put it in a video for her yoga company. It got 500 hits in one day, and people asked what band it was. And my friend suggested jokingly calling the band the Mowgli's. Immediately I was like, "That's it!" Kind of like a sense of deja vu, as if it had always been the name of the band.
I feel like we put a lot more thought into it after it happened -- the same way people freestyle lyrics and something beautiful comes out. You have to look at why it makes you feel that way. When you start to analyze it, you're like, "Oh, wow!" Or what does it really mean, what does it really represent? I think it's crucial, because you need to put power behind what you're doing. So in that meaning comes the feeling about it.
Continue reading for more from Vincze.