Music holds indescribable powers allowing us to purge and heal. Smile or cry. Scream and meditate. Mandy Bo, overcoming various obstacles faced in her youth, was able to use her music to better understand her past and create a future. Her personal story, captured in her prolific and cathartic book-blog, and her therapeutic approach to songwriting proves that music can help anyone triumph through adversity and hardship.
OCR: When you first came to Toronto, you did modeling and acting even though your creative self yearned to make music. As a female songwriter, who dabbled in modeling, did you find it difficult to find people who took your dream seriously? Or did you meet people in the industry through your modeling and acting careers that saw your potential and helped you along the way?
MB: That is a good question because you would think that people wouldn’t take it seriously, but that wasn’t really the case entirely. Of course like any dream, there are always people who laugh and tell you you’ll never make it but those same people also told me I would never make it as a model, actress, or writer either. I have never been one to let nay-sayers stand in my way anyways. In fact, being told I can’t do something only fuels me to want to succeed even more. In the end, I actually owe some of my achievements to these devil’s advocates on my journey.
People I had met in the industry were extremely supportive. Photographers I had worked with in the past offered to help with album covers, graphic work, etc. One of my best supporters is a very talented photographer Jaylyn Todd of Jaylyn Photo who shot both my album cover and directed my Lullaby music video in partnership with LAC Productions.
I think people who truly know me can see how dedicated I am to my goals and that I take my dreams very seriously. I have had some close friends even say to me, “Wow, you have actually done it. A lot of people talk about it, but you did it!” Their support and belief in me means the world to me.
Lastly, my honours degree in English has really aided in providing credibility to my art – people can doubt the dream, they can doubt whatever they like, but I have worked very very hard to earn my credentials and respect as a writer.
OCR: As a child, you grew up in the rough projects surrounding Windsor. What did that environment teach you? What was your transition from Windsor to Toronto like?
MB: I learned from a very young age that not everyone is born with the same advantages and that we are often creatures of circumstance; if I wanted my life to mean more, I needed to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way (not to take it for granted). If the opportunities weren’t there, then I needed to make them for myself…they weren’t going to be handed to me.
Toronto to me was a city of opportunity just sitting there, waiting for me, and I needed to get myself there at any cost — I figured out what that cost was and I agreed to pay it. I had to get rid of everything I owned to afford the move; I left my family, friends, everyone and everything behind. I didn’t have much in my place for the first while, but then I started to get more and more modeling work and my apartment soon became a home. It was extremely lonely as well for the first year or so, I buried myself in my work (with projects such as Michele), but I began to make more and more contacts and build a good network of friends. Now, Toronto is home.
OCR: Your biography vaguely mentions struggles that you faced in your life and many road blocks in the way of your dreams. These struggles are expanded upon in your family autobiography “Michele.” How have these experiences shaped the way you approach music? Have they impacted your writing style and content?
MB: I suppose that my experiences have shaped the way I approach my music in that I don’t write for myself. I write from my own experiences in hopes that I can present them in a way that other people can relate to and hopefully can connect with. My experiences have definitely affected my style and content; I have a lot of material that isn’t published or produced just yet in which I try to tell a story or highlight an ideal that makes the listener look at a situation in a light that they had maybe never considered before or at themselves even in a different or more enlightened way.
OCR: The biography “Michele” is an on-going blog book. How have you discovered who you are through this narrative about your mom? How has it helped you understand your family better?
MB: That is so difficult to answer…I think we all have these ideals of who we are or who we would like to be and then you put them down on paper and they still don’t strike you until you go back and re-read them, which I frequently have had to do and each time I discover something new.
I always thought I was very emotionally detached as a child and even young adult, but I can see now that I was just extremely good at masking it. I could be torn to pieces inside and the person talking to me would never be able to read it on my face. I can see now that I was actually just the opposite: I was extremely emotional to the point that it was even overwhelming and that I knew I had to control the emotions before they surfaced or I wouldn’t be able to stop them. Now, I am the opposite: totally transparent with my heart on my sleeve…but that’s ok because I am not afraid of it anymore.
Interestingly enough, what I have discovered is that some of the people in my family are like this as well. I feel I can understand these individuals from a different view after having written this book and they too have learned to open up through this process — we are all a lot closer now and have all learned a little bit more about each other. “Michele” has also really shown me just how strong my family is individually and as a whole, we have all been through so much and I am so lucky to have a family that is so close, supportive, and that really gets along so well together.
OCR: When writing the continuing family history on your blog, do you plan what you are going to write or do ideas spontaneously evolve?
MB: HAHA oh my goodness…well it’s been a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B. I had no idea at first and I just started writing and then eventually I would go back and organize things and try to make it comprehensive to the reader. A pattern eventually started to emerge out of the writing itself, which developed into the parts I, II and III, and then it finally became what it is. Mostly the facts and interview work with my Grandfather are organized and pre-planned but all of the little personal insights and interjections of mine are spontaneous…I really didn’t over think or try to edit those moments because I wanted it to be real and honest — not contrived. It took me five years to write this book, with several long breaks in between the process as well.
OCR: Specific parts of “Michele” describe a feeling of knowing what freedom is and having it taken away from you. How would you describe freedom? Do you feel like the process of creating music allows you to experience freedom even if it is fleeting?
MB: I’ve come to discover that freedom is something you need to find within yourself from many things, sometimes even yourself. You have to free yourself from caring what others think about you, from your own worries about things such as money, or not reaching certain goals you thought you might, from fear and pain, self-limiting ideas, and the list just goes on and on. Freedom is always a fleeting thing and this ideal that we can obtain unlimited freedom is also a barrier in itself. I guess what I am trying to say is that I feel as if freedom is meant to be appreciated, not captured. As for music, just the dream itself of music is both freeing and trapping at the same time. I appreciate that I have found writing and music and it does make me feel so free sometimes (I will take that moment of freedom even if it is fleeting — I accept that I can’t hold onto it forever), but music can also be extremely stressful and it can trap you, and drag you into emotions, and back again…but that is what makes it so amazing. This spectrum of feelings that you can experience and express that let you know you are alive. Music is a relationship, it’s a lifestyle. I mean, it’s life and a part of life all at once.
OCR: What is one of your favourite childhood memories?
MB: I have left this question for last for some reason and have been staring at it now for what feels like forever…I have a ton of great memories from growing up with my grandparents, but my cousin Alicia was the world to me. Seems like a lot of the time it was just the two of us…almost every night was a sleep over haha. We just had soooo much fun goofing around, doing crafts, watching movies, playing on the four wheeler, catching frogs, and sleeping under the stars — making wishes. She was the first person I ever felt I could just absolutely be my quirky weird self around and we just adored one another (once she was old enough to stop throwing her soother at me from across the room, waking me up all night every night – GOSH!). I never laughed so hard in my life like when I was with her. So, my fave childhood memory is Alicia. Final answer — I’m sorry I know I was supposed to just choose one but it’s just not gonna happen…I tried my best though.
OCR: Your single “Lullaby” explores the emotional attachment to a significant other. How would you describe this person’s physical presence as a lullaby?
MB: Oh you are gonna make me blush! Emotional attachments can stem from physical attachments as well, you get used to a persons smell, their freckles, that odd speckle of a different colour in their eye, the texture of their hair. There is nothing like going to bed at night and waking up in the morning to all those things that you love about that person, so it can be hard to fall asleep when they aren’t there. For myself, I like falling asleep to the sound of another’s heart beat and I can find their breathing so calming.
OCR: How do you approach song writing? Do you have to be in love to write a song about love?
MB: I have many different techniques to approach song writing. Sometimes I am just given an instrumental and I just let it speak to me, pulling what I can from instinct. Sometimes I have something I want to talk about or say and I will work it out on paper and then tweak it to an instrumental later. I do not have to be in an emotion (ie love) to write about that emotion though, I have many different life experiences to work with. I find that I do have to go and put myself into a memory or a moment to really get the full spectrum of what that experience has to offer though and sometimes that can be hard or painful, and other times just the opposite.
OCR: What other artistic forms do you enjoy outside of music and lyrical prose?
MB: I used to sketch a lot when I was younger but I don’t really have time for it much anymore. I do love to dance as well. I find I mostly use my writing as an artistic outlet, such as Michele. I am also recently working on a script for Michele, which I am finding to be very challenging and exciting. It is a completely different style of writing and one of the more difficult that I have ever taken on. I think professional script writers are extremely intelligent, genius actually, and that it is a skill that very much so needs to be mastered. I have a long journey ahead of me…wish me luck!
OCR: Some people participate in odd hobbies and have strange collections. What is one little unknown fact that people would be surprised to know about you?
MB: I have a collection of boards. I love extreme board sports. Wakeboard, Wakesurf, Long board (skate), Snowboard, Surfboard, I love them all. I used to be a snowboard technician and would get paid to test boards and such. I still make as much time as I can to get out on a board — talk about feeling free.
OCR: What’s next for Mandy Bo?
MB: I am presently working with a really great company called EON Sounds and we have a team of composers around the world building instrumental material for a new album. We have chosen a new single to release shortly in the fall which we will be doing a new video for as well. So, keep your eyes and ears open.