‘When my mind leaves my body,” Mandala singer Morgan Fasanelli sings, in an airy, drifting voice, during the lush, slow, dreamy introduction to “Motel Lobby,” a song that surfaces four tracks deep into “Cash For Smiles,” the Waterbury band’s second album.
All told, across 10 tracks and 37 minutes of guitar-driven pop, there’s a fair amount of body-leaving. The escape pod in “Motel Lobby” is intoxication (“I’m fading away / I’m lost in outer space / Watch me leave myself behind”).
Elsewhere, Fasanelli sings about hightailing it to another place (“David Brown”), feeling scared and optimistic about leaving (“Washed Up”) or burying one’s head in the sand; “I don’t want to know,” she repeats on the chorus of “Ask Don’t Tell,” “Where do we go?”
Distractions often interfere with clean getaways. “I’m wrapped up in the thought of you,” Fasanelli sings on “It’s Better This Time,” “I’m wrapped up in the sh*t that you do.” Most of the time, the music sides with the flight instinct; guitarist Abe Azab fills space with jangley, articulate patterns, extending chords with jazzy colors. Grooves swing, lope and gallop, while Chris Desiderio’s distorted, spacey guitar leads stab in and out.
Breaking free seems like a reasonable fantasy for five young adults — Fasanelli, Azab, Desiderio, bassist Matt Rosano and drummer Sean Connelly — juggling college classes and full-time jobs while playing more than 100 gigs a year.
“Trying to balance everything is extremely difficult, which is good, because we have a structure now,” Fasanelli says. “We plan things very well and far in advance, so that all of us together know when we have to take off of work. We know when we have to skip classes or not.”
Fasanelli and Azab met several years ago at Kennedy High School in Waterbury. The local music scene, Fasanelli says, was “really hot at the time.”
“We knew a bunch of other kids that were in bands. You just started to listen to local music more. Your iTunes would be full of Bandcamp downloads, and you started to grow friendships with those kids who played music.”
Three fellow Kennedy students soon joined: bassist Ange Colella, guitarist Pat Sampson and drummer Danny Rivera. The band released an EP, “Shallow,” in 2014, and “Valley People,” a seven-song album, in 2015. A month later, Colella, Sampson and Rivera left the group.
Red Door Recordings engineer Daniel Heetman, who recorded both “Valley People” and “Cash For Smiles,” recommended Desiderio. Rosano filled in on bass at a show in Philadelphia, and later suggested Connelly.
Before long, Mandala was playing college shows. “We all turned 21, and we could now play venues that were 21-plus,” Fasanelli says. “We could play bars and stuff like that.”
In the fall of 2016, Fasanelli moved to New York City to attend Marymount Manhattan College. Azab, Desiderio, Rosano and Connelly still live in Connecticut.
Months after her move, Fasanelli responded to a Facebook post written by an acquaintance: “Hey, we need a band for this Friday.”
“I called the guys up and said, ‘Can you all make it to New York this Friday?’ From that point on, my friends from school came [to shows], the guy that booked us really liked us, and then we just started booming up here.”
Mandala recorded “Cash For Smiles” — Fasanelli refers to it as the band’s “first official album” — in Desiderio’s living room. It’s dedicated to Jeffrey Desiderio, Chris’s father, who passed away two days after a motorcycle accident. (His mother, Susan, survived.)
“The fact that people are so positive and supportive of the stuff that the five of us are equally proud of and support each other in, it’s overwhelming, but in a good way.”
Moving to New York, she says, opened new doors for Mandala. “I don't think we would have made as many connections and met as many people as we did.”
She holds up Sorority Noise, a band that formed in Connecticut, as a positive role model.
“They’re signed [to a record label], and they’re a punk band, and they tour with other bands that aren’t local bands. When you think of Connecticut, as a local kid, you’ll think of Sorority Noise, because they broke out of Connecticut, which is apparently really hard to do.”
“I feel like certain people don't understand the growth that it takes to break out of the DIY scene, but it's definitely a lot,” Fasanelli says.
And while the band has never toured for more than five days in a row, Fasanelli wants Mandala to play as many shows as possible.
“We play shows in New York, and there’s only five people in there, and those five people in there are just some of my friends from school. But we’re still playing and we’re still getting experience. I think it’s important to always try to put yourself out there. The minute you stop tweeting or posting Instagram pictures or just keeping people updated, they start to think you don't have anything cooking. You’re not letting them know that you’re still going.”
MANDALA performs at Willimantic Records in Willimantic on Jan. 11 at 6 p.m., with Perennial, Alecks and Glitter Bug opening. Admission is free. blog.willimanticrecords.com