(Aug. 23, 2019) Fresh off a two-year stint in South Korea, Boardwalk troubadour Max Mandu has spent the summer honing his musical chops serenading the public with cover tunes and original compositions, while simultaneously plotting a life path embracing creativity.
Mandu landed back in the U.S. this April after spending a few years teaching English to youngsters in South Korea.
“After college I lived in South Korea for two years [where] I was teaching English,” he said. “I was interested in seeking out the wider world … and wanted to do something unconventional before I settled into any kind of long-term career.”
After graduating from William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia with a degree in linguistics, Mandu, known as “Max Mohr” offstage, headed east for instructional duties but also became inspired to pursue musical endeavors.
“I started playing music when I was a kid,” he said. “I took piano lessons from a very young age.”
After learning to tickle the ivories at the age of 7, in time Mandu’s musicianship developed further.
“That was kind of my musical introduction,” he said. “Then when I was a teenager I taught myself guitar with the knowledge I had gained from piano.”
By the age of 15, Mandu had continued evolving musically after investing years developing vocal deliveries, which culminated with an impromptu performance on the Boardwalk during a family vacation to the shore.
“I tried it out on the Boardwalk a couple times when I was a teenager [and] that really got me hooked,” he said. “I wasn’t making that much at the time, but the fact that someone would give me a dollar for playing out here, I thought that was amazing.”
The initial foray into performing as a teenager helped to further fuel Mandu.
“I ended up writing my college application essay about playing on the Boardwalk,” he said. “I kept music going throughout college.”
While attending William and Mary College Mandu played in a duo with classmate Aidan Selmer called the Fox Trap Compromise.
Uncertain of next steps after graduation, Mandu decided to follow his heart and relocate to Asia.
“That was an amazing time to feel like a local in another country and learn another language,” he said.
Much to Mandu’s amazement the instructional gig in South Korea, in addition to wider cultural aspects, uncovered a vibrant outdoor music scene.
“There’s tons of street performers there,” he said. “I spent some time hanging out with them and that kind of kept the fire going.”
Despite being located far from the U.S., Mandu quickly discovered similarities with Western pop music among the wide array of entertainers.
“On one hand they have the same kind of pop repertoire we do [such as] Maroon 5, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran,” he said. “All that stuff is very popular there, but the K-pop, Korean pop, music scene is huge.”
Mandu said a common scene on the streets of South Korea are teenage groups practicing vocals and choreography.
“They have these nine- or 10-person boy bands or girl bands,” he said. “They’re super coordinated with amazing outfits.”
Mandu said the genre is known for super-sleek, highly-produced pop music.
“That’s the big music force in Korea,” he said. “You see groups like that out on the street.”
Of more significance, while living abroad Mandu befriended a street musician, Aancod, who proved an apt inspiration.
“There was one street performer in South Korea that I spent some time with who was really inspiring,” he said. “I learned from his style, which is using this loop pedal to create a one-man band effect.”
Mandu explained the process involves “beat-boxing,” to create a guitar sound while performing a song overtop the rhythm.
Although raised in Asia, Mandu said his cohort was born in the west.
“He’s actually a Caucasian guy but he speaks fluent Korean and he’s got a huge beard and super long dreads,” he said. “He’s got a crazy story [and] was adopted by a Japanese family as a kid.”
With Japanese as his foundational language, Mandu said when Aancod came of age he caught a dose of wanderlust before eventually settling in Korea.
“He had this identity crisis when he was 20 and began traveling the world playing music,” he said. “I met him maybe five years into his journey.”
The unanticipated peer helped further spark Mandu’s creative juices.
“He was a super amazing musical figure that really made an impression … and made me want to continue that spirit,” he said.
After winding down the teaching assignment, Mandu began formulating next steps after returning stateside this spring.
“I didn’t really have any life built in the U.S. because all my friends were in Korean or off in places around the world,” he said. “I loved Ocean City when I was a kid [and] loved playing on the Boardwalk so [I thought] let’s go back there.”
Intent on pursuing a performance path, Mandu was quick to recognize that perfection is elusive without practice.
“I knew if I really wanted to improve as a musician I needed to be out there practicing all the time [and] interacting with people,” he said. “I figured the Boardwalk would be a great location to do that.”
While talk might be cheap, Mandu understood singing in tune carries a value, which did little to quell early jitters.
“I was definitely nervous at first, but I just forged through it and everyday just kept going out and got better all the time,” he said. “I learned how to use my sound system the best to attract people.”
Peer reactions was also an initial concern, which Mandu said subsided after becoming acquainted with fellow Boardwalk performers.
“I’ve met the other performers and they’re all really cool,” he said. “I didn’t know if there was some kind of underground organized street performers mafia where they had it all set up who gets what street and I’m some newbie on their turf.”
Largely concentrated on the Boardwalk by Fourth Street, Mandu said interacting with adjacent merchants has also been a pleasure.
“Shenanigan’s [Irish Pub] has been cool,” he said. “I met the owner, Greg Shockley, and he … thanked me for being out there.”
The summertime musical apprenticeship has also provided Mandu an opportunity to develop his performance catalog, which features over 120 covers along with original compositions.
“I have 30 originals, but I only play maybe five to 10 of them regularly because some … were old ones I wrote when I was an angsty teenager and they don’t quite stand the test of time,” he said. “My originals are always the ones closest to my heart [that] I’m hoping I can get out there.”
As warm weather begins to fade in the coming months, Mandu is hatching plans to continue creating music.
“I met a couple of people who work with talent agencies,” he said. “I’m thinking about moving … somewhere on the East Coast … to get hooked up with a talent agency to get some event-type gigs.”
Regardless of the next geographical locale, Mandu anticipates continuing to hone performance skills in public.
“I realized life is short and you’ve got to keep doing the things that make you feel alive,” he said. “I wanted to continue having an unconventional life and live an adventure.”
Although certainly an aberration, Mandu related an unknown recent benefactor whose generosity was noteworthy.
“This only happened one time, but I got a hundred-dollar bill as a tip last week,” he said. “That totally blew my mind and made my whole weekend.”
Max Mandu music can be found online at: