About Eleni Mandell
Singing and writing in a style that fuses vintage outsider cool with contemporary settings and ironic wit, Los Angeles' Eleni Mandell introduced her smoky, punk- and jazz-detailed noir sketches on Wishbone in 1998. She later paid tribute to country classics on her fourth album, 2003's Country for True Lovers, before re-embracing to her trademark sound on the next year's Afternoon. Also a member of indie rock group the Grabs and the Andrews Sisters-influenced Living Sisters, her solo output in the 2010s included albums such as her Yep Roc debut, 2012's I Can See the Future, and 2019's Wake Up Again, which was informed by her time teaching songwriting in a women's prison.
A native of Los Angeles, Mandell was raised in the Sherman Oaks region of the San Fernando Valley. A huge fan of L.A. punkers X and beatnik revivalist Tom Waits in her teens, she was inspired to learn the guitar and start writing songs, eventually performing them publicly during her years as a student at Berkeley. Soon after, she fell under the mentorship of Chuck E. Weiss, an associate of Waits and subject of Rickie Lee Jones' "Chuck E's in Love." In 1998, she self-financed her first release, Wishbone. With production by Jon Brion, the album spurred comparisons to Waits for its gritty atmosphere and to PJ Harvey for its dramatic vocal style. Her next two albums, 2000's Thrill and 2001's Snakebite, continued in a torchy vein before 2003's Country for True Lovers took inspiration from traditional country acts like Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, and Hank Cochran. To record the mix of covers and originals, Mandell enlisted the help of producer and former X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, whom she had met through Weiss, as well as a host of L.A.'s top country-rock session players, including Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, former Lone Justice drummer Don Heffington, and X 's D.J. Bonebrake. It marked her debut on Toronto-based label Zedtone Records. Mandell's fifth album, 2004's Afternoon, returned her to late-night city settings. A year later, she debuted as lead singer of the Grabs on their debut LP, Sex, Fashion, and Money, alongside Blondie's Nigel Harrison, Lavender Diamond's Steve Gregoropoulos, and percussionist Elvira Gonzales.
She worked with producer Andy Kaulkin on her next solo album, 2007's Miracle of Five, which also featured Cline. Her 2009 album, Artificial Fire, was a more collaborative effort with producers including Dave Trumfio and Jeremy Drake, and the following year, Mandell joined with singers Alex Lilly, Inara George, and Becky Stark to form the alternative harmony-vocal group Living Sisters. They put out their first album, Love to Live, via Vanguard in 2010. Another Grabs record, Political Disco, followed in 2011 and featured appearances by Bonebrake and Blondie's Clem Burke, among others. Back on her own, Mandell's eighth solo album, 2012's I Can See the Future, was her first for Yep Roc.
A second Living Sisters album, Run for Cover, appeared in 2013, and the following year, solo Mandell returned with Let's Fly a Kite. It was produced by Nick Lowe's longtime collaborator Neil Brockbank and featured Lowe's backing band. The year 2015 brought the release of Dark Lights Up, which Mandell produced with engineer and mixer Sheldon Gomberg.
During a four-year gap between Dark Lights Up and her 11th studio album, Mandell taught songwriting at two colleges and at a women's prison. The latter was in association with Jail Guitar Doors, an initiative led by MC5's Wayne Kramer and Billy Bragg to provide music tools to inmates. In the meantime, Inara George organized the concert Unsung Heroes: Songs of Eleni Mandell. Contributors included Jackson Browne, Van Dyke Parks, and Lera Lynn, and the show and accompanying Yep Roc album both materialized in January 2017. The following year, France's Bonsound Records reissued the limited-run 2007 Mandell single "Dis-Moi au Revoir Encore" b/w "Francais 1."
Partly inspired by the stories and personalities of her inmate students, the Gomberg-produced Wake Up Again saw release in 2019. She was joined on the album by the trio of Milo Jones (guitar) and longtime touring bandmembers Ryan Feves (bass) and Kevin Fitzgerald (drums). ~ Marcy Donelson & Erik Hage
HOMETOWNLos Angeles, CA