Mandrake Project ‘Transitions’ CD Release Show

Mandrake Project is a Pittsburgh based ‘conglomerate’ of over 30 transitional musicians that’s been playing since forming in 2002. The latest 8 piece configuration of the band are celebrating their new release next week at Club Cafe with support from my buds in The Emily Rodgers Band. Lead singer John Schisler was nice enough to take the time to participate in this edition of First/Last Friday.

The first album you ever bought?

I think the first album I ever bought was “Grace Under Pressure” by Rush on Vinyl. I was 14. My parents had a giant wooden console stereo / record player / 8 track player in our basement. I used to get off the bus from school, run home from the bus stop and head down to the basement to listen to records before my mom got home from work. I vividly remember listening to “Grace Under Pressure” over and over while reading the lyrics on the album’s insert. I also loved Hugh Syme’s artwork on the cover. Before ever having enough money to buy any records I used to listen to my older brother’s albums. He turned me on to Black Sabbath, Supertramp, Kansas, Styx, and a plethora of other stuff. Once I bought a CD player when I was in college, I purchased CD versions of all the stuff my brother turned me on to.

Your last album bought?

Man, that’s a tough one. I really don’t buy music anymore. I know that’s a sad statement coming from a musician but I truly only listen to streaming music on Pandora now. I pick different channels depending on my mood. Honestly, the last album I bought was for my 2-year-old son and it was from a children’s musician called Raffi (hey, you asked!!) But, the funny thing is, my son doesn’t like that stuff anymore. When we’re in the car traveling he requests something with a pounding beat. I never thought I’d listen to Top 40 radio but I’ve been suckered into it by my beautiful son. His favorite songs? Dance Until the World Ends by Britney Spears & Dynamite by Taio Cruz. He shouts, “Turn it up!” whenever either of those songs come on and my wife and I absolutely CANNOT talk to each other while those songs are playing. He sings along at the top of his lungs.

Getting back to your question on the last album I purchased for myself…It was probably “A Hundred Days Off” by Underworld. I love their music.

Favorite album of all time?

Man, another tough question. I have favorite albums and they’re all equal depending on my mood. I think each one has a special place in my heart for nostalgic reasons and brings me back to a time when music was fresh to my young ears and I was beginning to develop my taste and appreciation for music. Here they are:

Least favorite/most disappointing album?

Hmmmm.. probably Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief.” I really wish that Radiohead would quit experimenting and get back to writing “hookier” songs. I respect them for taking turns off the main road but every album since “Kid A” seems like a Thom Yorke, avant garde solo album. Just my opinion.

First concert attended?

Rush – “Grace Under Pressure” at the Brendan Byrne arena in New Jersey. I was 13 or 14. My parents drove my friend and I down to the concert in their brown Pontiac LeMans Safari station wagon. It was amazing. The sights and sounds of my favorite band at the time. I remember leaving the show and still hearing the music streaming through head.

Last concert?

U2 360º Tour at Heinz Field. I was photographing the show for my job.

Favorite concert ever?
It’s a toss-up.

Photographing The Verve at Lollapalooza in 1994. I got some great images from the show and the band sounded epic. Just a wall of amazing sound. I roamed the entire festival taking pictures and hearing all that great music.

Radiohead – Ok Computer at Metropol in the Strip District (August, 1997). The band was great. I had a friend who was doing PR and they let me hang out after the show and meet the band. I talked to Phil (the drummer) about their early days in Oxford and I talked to Thom about their recording process of OK Computer and fashion.

Least favorite concert?

30 Seconds to Mars – My band at the time (New Invisible Joy) opened for the band. I remember a girl taking photos of Jared Leto with her point-n-shoot camera while his band was playing. He stopped the show and asked people to stop taking pictures because it was distracting him. I thought, “What a self-absorbed douche.” This girl was possibly having the time of her life and was just trying to capture memories of the show. Instead she got chastised by an actor-turned-musician who didn’t appreciate the people who paid hard-earned money to see his band.

Favorite thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh?

I was introduced to a guitar player named Mike Gaydos soon after moving to Pittsburgh in 1994. I was poking around trying to find a band to join. Mike said his band was looking for singer and asked me to try out. We clicked immediately and started writing music. The band was called “Vent” and we played a bunch of shows at dive bars before we morphed into New Invisible Joy a couple years later. That band lasted 12 years and was chock full of good times..we recorded 4 pretty stellar albums (in my opinion) and I’m proud of the music we made. I was also introduced to a diverse group of friends (and my wife) while playing in NIJ, and for that I will always be thankful.

Thanks John. What’s funny is I vividly remember my buddies playing the snot out of Grace Under Pressure in high school and how I learned to loath that particular album after awhile. Proof positive that the power of music has no bounds.