The ROGER JOSEPH MANNING JR. Variety Show! (Part One of Three)

Posted: May 4, 2016 by Soda in Interview, Jellyfish, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., The Lickerish Quartet

I was once a little kid obsessed with music and now I’m an adult…and well, obsessed with music. I’ve had and have the opportunities to live out many musical and artistic fantasies. Touring the Country, playing in awesome DIY bands, making/slinging merch, working with incredible artists that I love…the list goes on. And here with MUSIC-SURVIVAL-GUIDE I have been able to expand on my universe and mash two things I love into one, Music and Writing. I’m so giddy over this installment that I literally can’t contain my excitement. You see; Roger Joseph Manning Jr. was a big part of my all time fave band, Jellyfish. I’ve never been so enamored with a band in my life. I also never thought I’d be writing a piece like this, ever. I’ve truly been charmed and lucky enough to have all of these great experiences, aaaaand just recently I got to do a phone interview with this Jelly hero of mine. I’ve actually known Roger for many years and we’ve been distantly in touch. Some time back I had a day gig in which I insured musical gear for a number of musicians. Roger being one of them; at that point we reconnected once more and were in touch on occasion. He was always a blast to talk to, humble and excited to be held in high regard and always grateful for his past projects. But even now, today, he grows more successful. His recent work with Beck garnered him a part of a Grammy Award winning album with fellow Jellyfish alumni Jason Falkner. Manning has lent his talents to many records over the past 25 plus years, but within the last few he’s grown quite mega, and I was able to talk with him about it, and we covered A LOT. I wanted to do a really solid interview with him and get it out there. I think everyone will be pleased with the following content. It was such an honor to do this. So, get ready for a treat. Let’s go!

Roger J. Manning Jr.

Roger J. Manning Jr.

MSG – Really hard to find a starting point for this one. First, 1000 thank yous Roger for doing this! I wanted to have a bit of a theme here as I’ve decided to call the finished piece “The Roger Joseph Manning Jr. Variety Show”. Let’s start from the now and take a bit of a trip through the past; you’ve got another solo album on the way. That’s super exciting. Can you tell us about it?

RJMJ – Well, if people are familiar with the first two, it’s kinda keeping with that. I explore my favorite styles, 60’s/70’s. Some songs are very guitar heavy and others keyboard heavy. Lots of different feels and grooves and I’m liking getting it out of my system. Some of the songs/ideas are generated from the Jellyfish days or Imperial Drag days, so they are unfinished ideas that were around that I have a lot of faith in. Lyrics take me a while; I’ve had the privilege of working with two great lyricists in the past. I have fun doing them but am not particularly fast at it. The record has been in the works for over two years now and that’s only because I’ve been busy traveling with Beck and doing session work.

MSG – Now, this is your third Solo Record. Can you compare it to its predecessors Catnip Dynamite and Solid State Warrior aka The Land Of Pure Imagination?

RJMJ – Yeah, you can actually think of it as the third in that series. There’s not anything that is going to surprise the listener as to what I’m going for, just more songs within the standards of which I look for in quality songwriting. The only thing different is that there are more guest players and a lot of guitar on this record. Victor Indrizzo plays drums, Steve McDonald plays some bass. My brother Chris has been helping me record vocals. He’s been a godsend and a great set of ears to help produce the vocals. I’ve tried to do this in the past by myself and I wanted to get some fresh ears into the process.

MSG – The first two records have both had a few different types of releases domestically and overseas. What are the plans for release on this one?

RJMJ – For this one the plans are different in that I want to do a fan funding record. When the time is right and nearing completion I’ll launch a campaign on Pledge Music. I’ve had great conversations with the people over there. I’ve had friends who’ve had great success with that forum and I’ll be exploring it myself, and offering incentives from unearthed Jellyfish paraphernalia and other rarities and one of a kind items.

MSG – You also cut a mostly electronic type record a few years back under the name Malibu. Was that a one-time thing?

RJMJ – Yea, it was a one time thing…I’d love to do another one but just don’t really have the time. It’s always a dance; working on the projects I enjoy that pay my bills and then those I enjoy that don’t have an income attached to them. And so, it’s a juggling act like anyone has to do.Malibu Robo-Sapiens cover

MSG – What was it like recently to be a part of Beck’s Grammy Winning record Morning Phase?

RJMJ – Absolutely incredible. It’s the first album I’m aware of that I’ve had a big hand in that received that kind of recognition. It’s a culmination of my history and involvement with Beck and that group of musicians. We all kinda started together in ’97, that’s when I joined up with him and that group of people and played, recorded and toured with them off and on since that time. Then early 2000’s I wasn’t involved with him simply because I wanted to do original stuff, remixes, session work…and when your away from home so much like that you’re not in recording studios. So for most of the 2000’s I didn’t have any direct involvement with him even though we stayed in touch. And in 2011 he surprised all of us and invited us back into the fold and all jumped at the idea to work on his new record. But, it was such an ultimate surprise and honor to get those awards and it felt really good to be a part of something that caliber.

MSG – Your good friend and former/current band mate Jason Falkner also played a part in this. Let’s touch on him for a bit. It started back in Jellyfish and after that many years would go by before you and Jason would work together again. I know it’s a lot of history but tell us a bit about Jason. A bit of the beginning, middle and end perhaps…

RJMJ – I met Jason when he was barley 18. I answered an ad he had down here in the paper in L.A., I was still in college and we didn’t decide to work together at that time but we felt a deep connection instantly and as everybody knows we invited him to participate in Jellyfish and that was a fantastic experience that only ended because Andy and I weren’t interested in sharing the writing scenario, we had so many songs and Jason wanted to continue to branch out, it was very clear he needed to pursue solo stuff which he did, and it made sense for him to go his own way and pursue his amazing solo career that he’s had. And along the way we not only teamed up on Beck but we had a short-lived project, TV Eyes that was both of us and our drummer friend, Brian Reitzell. That was a wonderful experience because we said let’s try to do all the things we couldn’t make work in Jellyfish work in this group. Which we did because it was very much an equal writing partnership, it was very much a trio effort with how it was all put together, so it was a lot of fun for us. Unfortunately we couldn’t manage to get any record company interested at the time and that was before what a lot of bands are doing now, TV Eyes definitely had an 80’s influence and in 2000, 2001 again…nobody was really doing that stuff, so record companies were confused and didn’t know what to make of us, so we did that for a good three years and gave it the old college try so to speak. We continue to play on recording sessions but really through our involvement with Beck we reconnected and had some really great quality hang out time as much more mature, easy going music makers than we were as the desperate, young, hungry Jellyfish guys and it’s been great to connect with him now.

MSG – A few years ago you and him teamed up as an opening act for Cheap Trick as well as being additional members of the band after your opening set. Together you guys performed a few of each other’s solo songs and a few Jellyfish favorites. For us Jellynuts, this was major. When did you guys decide to do that and how did you feel putting it together and revisiting that material?

RJMJ – Well, we were just at the right place at the right time in that we were working with a producer named Julian Raymond and Howard Willing who is an engineer who had a big hand in making that Cheap Trick record. They had both worked with Jason and thought it would be great for us to contribute to the album. That went very smoothly and the success with that lead the producer to reach out to them and have us help flesh out the band and just kinda make it extra fancy in them debuting that new record. Fortunately they agreed, lucky for us. And so, it was already amazing enough to play shows with them but then have them say, hey, for a handful of special engagements would you guys like to open up the show and perform some Jellyfish songs and some solo songs. It was just incredible. I look back on that in awe and am just amazed that it all came to fruition.

MSG – So I know we touched a bit on TV Eyes and rebuilding your relationship with Jason and working with Brian from AIR. Anything else for TV Eyes or is that kind of on the back burner for now too?

RJMJ – You know, it’s no different than Malibu, there’s no time. I’ve wanted to do another Moog Cookbook record too. You wake up in the morning and you’ve got to prioritize, as we all do…I simply have not found a way to be that prolific with my projects, I don’t know how Todd Rundgren does it! So, that’s the deal there. Brian is very busy as a very successful film scorer, Jason does more and more production these days, everybody’s busy and happily so, doing stuff they want to do, you know, keeping up a standard of living…it’s just none of us have the extra time, people start families, the old story.TV Eyes

MSG – Now let’s hop back a bit to the mid nineties when you put out a phenomenal record with a band called Imperial Drag. Some people think that’s some of your greatest work. It even included Mr. Eric Dover on lead vocals and guitar. Eric also being a former member of Jellyfish coming on board to help you guys support Spilt Milk. When did you know that you wanted Eric to front the band you were in after he was a touring member of your previous band?

RJMJ – A few months after Jellyfish disbanded Eric and I and Tim Smith continued to stay in touch and swap demo tapes of music we were all working on, and Tim and Eric and I were all talking about working on a project, but Tim was at a place in his life where it was very difficult for him to drop his family responsibilities and come out to California to work with us. Eric had no family responsibility, he was much more free in that respect and moved out and literally stayed on a friends couch in a guest bedroom in Los Angeles so we could try to work together to see what it might yield. Imperial Drag promoSo it naturally evolved that way, Eric and I tried a lot of different approaches. Ya know, I caught Eric at a time where he was just blossoming as a songwriter so it was easy to pick up my collaborative process I had with Andy with Eric Dover, here was a guy who sang fantastic, enjoyed writing lyrics and had plenty of good song ideas. We jumped in and found some other guys and fortunately kept the record company interest along the way.

MSG – Eric is an absolute animal, such a huge personality and voice. Was there ever a time after all these years where you thought there might be another go round with Imperial Drag?

RJMJ – We do have a four CD package we’re trying to get off the ground with a local record company called Omnivore who reissued the Jellyfish albums on vinyl and they want to do it but apparently there are some challenges with licensing the Imperial Drag songs contractually, so because of that it hasn’t been put as a priority but we still talk about it I actually owe them a phone call to see if they want to pursue it. It’d be a pretty neat package, there are so many demos that we did.

MSG – And, even in between and after Jellyfish and Imperial Drag you concocted a few records with your keyboardcentric experimental duo, The Moog Cookbook. You guys did mostly covers with that. It’s really fun stuff and you also took on another bit of an alter ego, Meco Eno, how did that ever come to be?

RJMJ – That was a very therapeutic project for me in that, Jellyfish had broken up and I was pretty worn out and saddened by that and Imperial Drag had not started yet but even when it did start that was a big challenge from the get go so Moog Cookbook became an outlet for me. I had met my partner Brian Kehew as we were buying and swapping old gear together and had similar tastes for the old synthesizer world and Brian and I became instant friends, he had become one of my best friends in L.A. because I had only been there about a year and we were frustrated that at the height of grunge no one was really interested in any keyboards because most popular music was guitar driven, which we had no problem with, we liked playing that music. Imperial Drag was guitar based even though I added a lot of keyboards to it. We would talk to people about these instruments and no one wanted to know anything about them, they thought they were silly, they didn’t belong on records, they just weren’t interested. Which on one hand was great cause they were very affordable to collect and on the other hand our rooms were filled with dusty keyboards that weren’t getting used. Brian and I had decided to do our own music for fun and amusement, literally comedy records to make ourselves and our friends laugh, a lot of inside musical jokes and decided to model them after the switched on records of the 60’s, and that’s why The Moog Cookbook records are all covers. We did very few original pieces. We derived so much pleasure out of doing those songs we decided to do an albums worth and see if we could get it released, which we did on an indie label (Restless) that had been around for a while so they had some reach so the CD got around the U.S., England, France…Japan and much to our surprise got way more of a response then we had ever thought including the biggest and most important being the band AIR who reached out to us to do a remix of one of their songs and they were just starting to get lots of attention in England and the U.S. – The timing couldn’t have been better. And that’s how we got introduced to AIR, they reached out to us and then they were in L.A. on business and actually visiting Beck who had also just done a remix for them and I had just joined Beck. So all of this was happening within months. And we said, how come you guys don’t tour? They said, well…we don’t have a band. Well, why not? They said they couldn’t find anybody in Paris. And I said, wait…you are in one of the most major cities in the world, clearly there are musicians you can find to play with. The reply was, “no, we hate them all!” So I said what if we went out as four crazy keyboard players and Brian and I were your backup band? They thought it was a great idea but wanted drums and bass and so, almost within the next 24 hours we invited Justin from Becks band to play bass and reached out to Brian Reitzell who was with Redd Kross at the time to be our drummer. And there is how Brian got introduced to AIR. Everyone was excited, they had never played their music live so they came to L.A., and we rehearsed and toured their record in 1998 then recorded the next one with them in ’99. Lots of really fun, eventful things happening during that time.


AND…That’s it for Part One. Stop by next Wednesday (05/11) for what I assume will be the much-anticipated Part Two in which we talk about Jellyfish, Andy, Gear, favorite albums and much more!

  1. Tom says:

    Great write up! Thanks a bunch,

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