The men in Maniac supply us with a brand of catchy punk rock with abundant retro influences. There are elements of old punk rock, power pop, mod and even some new wave sprinkled in here and there. However, the band doesn’t hide behind all of this like some second rate nostalgic cover band. They’ve got the control and persona to use their influences as a tool rather than a crutch. After all with these guys; former and current members of Cute Lepers, Clorox Girls, Rough Kids, The Girls, Images, and L.A. Drugz it’s a mathematical impossibility for this band to suck!
Interview by Jay Castro
Please introduce yourselves and how you contribute to Maniac?
ZACHE: Zache Davis, bassist and lead vocals
ANDREW: Andrew Zappin. Lead Guitar.
JUSTIN: I'm Justin Maurer, I play guitar, sing backing vocals and lead vocals on a couple of songs.
JAMES: Young James Carman- the maniacal drumming back bone to this group of wild horses.
You guys are based out of L.A. but where are you all from originally?
ZACHE: I'm originally from the East Bay but grew up in Seattle
ANDREW: I'm originally from Dayton, Ohio, but I've lived in LA for almost half my life.
JUSTIN: I was born in LA, but went to high school and started playing music in the Pacific Northwest.
JAMES: I was born and raised in LA, in a suburb called Carson in the South Bay. It's definitely a part of LA, the city is so huge it literally takes nearly two hours to reach top to bottom.
Is it tough being in a band in L.A.? I would imagine it gets pretty competitive with so much music out there.
ANDREW: I'm new to this scene. My initial assumption is that it would be full of pretentious punk pricks, but it's been the complete opposite. People are open and excited about music. I've met some fascinating people and made some great friends. I just wish there were more places to play.
JAMES: Oh fuck yes, the trouble is that there are so many bands out here, and the worst part is that 85% of them are shit. The face of LA music has changed completely in the last 10 years or so. It's even tougher to get paid. Most places don't even realize the fact of covering gas money to get to the venue. I love this city, but start treating the bands fairly!
ZACHE: I think there's a lot of talented bands in LA and not enough solid venues. The venues we do have are rad, but bands don't want to play the same place over and over. I don't feel like we compete much with other bands. We do this for the love of making music.
JUSTIN: The tough part about being in a band in LA is that old cliché, "It's so spread out…" It's true though. There's a lot of towns to play within LA County and Orange County, but you can be driving an hour or so and still be within LA City Limits or in LA County. It's pretty hard to get folks to come out to see you play unless it's near where they live or in a central location. I guess that's why Downtown LA has been a spot to play recently because it's kind of a middle ground for everyone living in surrounding areas. It is extremely competitive but the "punk" scene is still pretty small, everyone knows everyone else and the bands tend to recycle members. Just in this band alone we have The Girls, Clorox Girls, Images, LA Drugz - that's 4 more bands that members from this band play in! So imagine all of LA, it's just the same people recycled over and over again just like an incestuous music scene in any other town.
You guys are in and or were in several other well known bands (Clorox Girls, Cute Lepers, Rough Kids) but what is Maniac’s origin story? How did you all meet and start playing music together?
ANDREW: Prior to Maniac, I played guitar in my bedroom. In front of a mirror, sometimes wearing pants.
ZACHE: Maniac started as a two-day challenge in December of 2011. Andrew and I were sitting around with our original guitarist and came up with the idea to write and record an EP in two days. Andrew had never played in a band and we had been loosely tossing the idea of playing music together for a while. We had been casually jamming together already so it kind of just worked out. Ardy (original guitarist) informed us that he would be leaving town for work two days before our 1st show which would have forced us to cancel. I wasn't interested in waiting around any longer so we parted ways mutually and asked Justin to fill in for our first show. After one practice Justin said, "So you guys only practice once a week? I'll do it. I'll be in the band!"
JAMES: I met Justin a while back when my other band IMAGES played with Clorox Girls in San Pedro I remember him coming up to me after we played with wide eyes saying, "We need to collaborate together." So we started a project called LA Drugz. Zache was a mutual acquaintance. I met Andrew one night when he tagged along with the crew and came to my house and partied all night. They had a previous drummer, Richie from Clorox Girls/Rough Kids, who left and shortly after they asked me to do it. At first I was pissed that they asked me because they were one of the only local bands I enjoyed watching live and now I'm playing with them; pretty awesome. We all play tough and hard. I'm the young gun of this pack of Maniacs, but I still consider them my brothers and love 'em to death.
Did you have a particular sound or concept in mind when starting out Maniac? What did you want to do differently with this band than with the others you guys have been in or are still in?
JAMES: I'm the drummer, so my job is to play tough and keep it together, which I'm a champ at. Be careful when you're at our shows because a cymbal might fly by and slice your head into two. Just sayin'.
ZACHE: The original concept I had in mind for Maniac was to not think too much about how we want a song to be written but more to just let it happen. In the past, I've over thought song structure and sometimes the result can be dropping an otherwise radical riff. It's also new for me to write songs from the bass instead of the guitar.
JUSTIN: Zache has said he wants it to sound "minimal," I don't really know what he means by that. Ha! Andrew wants it to sound like Cheap Trick and James wants it to sound punk. Since we all come from different places musically, we end up having a pretty unique sound. We don't have 2 songs that sound alike which is quite the contrast to most bands where every song sounds the same and follows a similar structure and formula. Maniac doesn't have a formula set in stone yet which is pretty refreshing.
ANDREW: Maniac is my first band. When we started, I was a bit intimidated. Everyone else had been touring and playing for years. They knew the scene and had very particular musical reference points that sometimes I couldn't relate to. All I knew was I had certain stylistic tendencies as a player and that I should not shy away from those. So, I didn't. But, I also kept my ears open and began to incorporate new things into my playing and writing. In the end, I think what makes Maniac a unique band -- if we are in some way unique -- is that we've found a way to stew our various styles into a cohesive -- and still evolving -- whole.
What other than music has inspired a Maniac song? Think like books or film, I mean living in L.A. with so many cultures running together there must be a lot of stuff to draw motivation from.
JUSTIN: You're right about LA having a ton of cultures and influences that undoubtedly spill into any kind of creative energy. I'd say the Nathanael West book, "Day of the Locust," the film "Chinatown," Dan Fante's, "Chump Change," Jerry Stahl's "Permanent Midnight," Bukowski's "Last Night of the Earth" poems, taco trucks and Thai food. I'm also pretty certain that drugs and alcohol have inspired some of the lyrics and music although we've been good boys recently. Zache sings though and I have no idea what he's saying most of the time, but I assume he's singing about sexual frustration and/or drug use.
ZACHE: I'm inspired by real life happenings personal to me and authors like Camus, Steinbeck, Saint-Exupéry and Nabokov.
JAMES: That's more for the front court of this band. But honestly, just the city of LA is inspiring enough in many doses. If John Fante ("Ask The Dust") were in a band, he'd probably be rocking out with us.
ANDREW: I write for a living. It's obsessive and totally self-conscious, so for me playing music is about catharsis. I don't intellectualize it. I play things that make me feel good.
You have a brand new 7” out now on La Ti Da Records, Dim Sum b/w Pepe. I am curious as to what inspired the cover art of the man holding the balloons?
ZACHE: The cover art was the idea of our original drummer, Richie. We played a show with F.Y.P. once and set up a back drop of 6 balloons, each with a letter on them, that spelled MANIAC. The balloon dude was a continuation of that. Kind of makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it?
ANDREW: As Zache mentioned, we played a show at the Blue Star and dressed the stage with 'Maniac' spelled out in balloons. My favorite part of the story is that we were the opening act that night and every band that played after us had to do so with our giant silver Mylar balloons hanging over them. That pretty much says it all.
Maniac has been around a little over a year now and already you have played with some pretty great bands. What has been the most memorable show the band has played good or bad? Where was it and what made it so unforgettable?
ANDREW: Our second show was terrible. We opened up at the American Legion Hall in Highland Park. The house lights were on. Bright. And the crowd was standing 20 feet away from us. Highly uncomfortable. I wanted out from the first chord. Our third show sticks out as a great one. We were playing The Redwood with The Ballantynes from Canada. It was packed and it was the first time I saw people I didn't know gettin' down to our songs. It was also the first time I really felt present onstage. What's more, I broke a string on our second to last song. I figured that was it for the set. Then Jared, lead singer of the Ballantynes, handed me his guitar. They wanted us to keep playing. I felt validated. Also, it was sort of funny in that Jared's taller than I am and his guitar was slung so low I was playing it around my knees. Our most recent show with Brent Amaker and the Rodeo was pretty terrific, too. Amazing band. Their lead guitarist is so good I've considered switching to kazoo.
JUSTIN: Yeah, I agree with Andrew, the only great show I can think of recently was a random Monday night at the Redwood in downtown LA. Brent Amaker and the Rodeo were the headliners, they're from Seattle. I didn't really know what to expect, they were described to me as Johnny Cash meets Devo. It was a pretty accurate way of describing them actually. They had this outlaw, Cash vibe but with this amazing guitarist who played these Ennio Morricone type straight desert riffs. They put on a real show, man, like Elvis in a Vegas casino in the 70’s. They are dressed identically in white cowboy suits complete with boots and hats. The dude walks out with a gong, later in the set he busts out a bullwhip and they ended the set with the roadie placing a black cape on the singer, he walks off and the bassist does a fully nude male strip tease. It was fucking brilliant, one of the best shows I saw all year. I heard their recordings but it doesn't really do their live show justice, so I guess you just have to see 'em live.
JAMES: I agree. Brent Amaker and the Rodeo at The Redwood Bar. The show was just awesome and packed and those guys have the coolest get up I've ever seen in a band. Rock and Roll was in the air. Did I mention it was a Monday?
ZACHE: Sounds like we actually might do a west coast tour next year with Brent Amaker and the Rodeo. Personally, I feel like we'd be a great fit together. Maniac is simply put, punk rock but I'd like to think we have the potential of reaching a broader audience. Brent Amaker is like country meets the Stranglers. Their fans are a versatile mix of folks like ours. I've seen fans our Maniac become fans of The Rodeo and vice versa. They're fun to watch and extremely talented. I feel like they would challenge us night after night and they're also good dudes to have a drink with. With a combination like that, everybody wins.
If you guys could tour with any band/musician from times gone by, who would it be and why?
ANDREW: The Who. You know why. Van Halen under Roth. Cheap Trick. Guns N' Roses. Motley Crue. All bands who participated in the sort of storied excess and buffoonery that is at the heart of every genre of rock and roll except prog rock.
JAMES: Oooooooh. So many to name, so much pressure. Man this is tough. I mean who wouldn't have wanted to tour with The Stones, The Clash, etc. But I'm gonna be relevant. One modern band that always blew me away was The Hives. No one has sounded tougher than that band since they came out except us. POW!
JUSTIN: Too many to name. I would have loved to play with Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Ritchie Valens, Little Richard, Screamin' Jay Hawkin. If I were around in LA in the 60’s, I would have loved to play with Love, The Seeds, The Standells, The Doors, Neil Young. In the 70’s, Van Halen, The Runaways, The Weirdos, The Germs, Black Flag, Black Randy, VOM, Controllers, Flesh Eaters, Gun Club too many to name. Touring-wise, I'd like to tour with somebody professional and low key. I'd be down to play a few shows with Motley Crue or Guns 'N Roses in the 80’s, but don't think I'd like to do a whole tour with 'em, my liver might explode.
I don’t like using the term “guilty pleasure” because I don’t think anyone should be made to feel ashamed of anything they like. However with that being said, what to you listen to that you think a lot of fans may be surprised by?
ANDREW: I have eclectic taste in music and, like everyone; I listen to different bands for different reasons. That said, sometimes I like to put my iPod on shuffle and hope it takes me from Don Henley to Peter Gabriel to Tears for Fears to Simple Minds to Bruce Springsteen to Tom Petty to Cheap Trick to Dead Boys to 70's Van Halen to Guns n' Roses to Ratt to Motley Crue to Dio to Iron Maiden and then somehow makes it from there to Tangerine Dream to M83 to Boards of Canada. If you wanna get real specific, Phil Collins hit singles, "Billy Don't Lose My Number" and "Easy Lover" are in heavy rotation in my car right now especially 'Easy Lover'. Philip Bailey's vocals really sell the shit out of that track and Nathan East is a beastly groove-master on bass.
ZACHE: No guilt here! I listen to and am inspired by many genres of music. I usually listen to KUSC when I'm driving which is LA's classical station. I guess you could call that the most opposite genre of music from us. I to a lot of jazz, classical, and I get down with some Ranchero as well. I'm currently listening to this Latin psychedelic-esque group from Columbia called The Meridian Brothers. I generally stay away from top 40 and new hip-hop made after 1997.
JAMES: HA! Whoever knows me knows mine for sure. STYX. I love that band, ever since I was a kid. I don't care what anyone says. STYX rules hard.
JUSTIN: I love a lot of 60’s French pop, I like Ranchero music and Trio too like Los Panchos, I like some 70’s Spanish gypsy music like Los Amaya. I think "Hey Ya" was one of the best pop songs ever written. The Venga Boys first album was pretty unstoppable. I like pretty much everything by Oasis. I love the Doors and believe they captured the sound and the vibe of L.A. perfectly. If Van Halen or the Doors come on the radio I will turn it up. I'm surprised by the amount of "Dad Rock" that I like. Generally in the car, and I spend a lot of time in the car, I'll listen to the 2 classic rock stations, an old school rap station (KDAY), the USC classical music station or NPR. If "Cocaine" by Clapton comes on, I will also turn it up just like I would turn up "Low Rider." Shit, Jackson Browne, "Runnin' On Empty." How many guilty pleasures can one man have? Ha Ha.
What music have you unleashed on the world and where can people go to hear it or buy it?
JUSTIN: Maniac have one 7" out on Canadian label La Ti Da, you can get it off their website, you can also hear the tracks there. We just recorded a full-length LP and so that should be out in the near future. In the past, I played in a ton of bands that released records, Deadly Weapons, Clorox Girls, Red Dons, La Mano De Mono, Suspect Parts, Role Models, LA Drugz. You can find links to listen to those songs on my website www.justin-maurer.com/music/. Most of it's also on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes and all those other digital mediums that pay bands a fraction of a cent per play. A FRACTION of a cent. I kid you not. I should have a check for 6 dollars coming to me pretty soon.
JAMES: A few. My resume isn't as nearly as impressive as Justin's! IMAGES - Thought Patterns 7", LA Drugz - Outside Place 12" EP.
ZACHE: I've put out three LP’s and two singles with The Girls. You can find those at dirtnaprecs.com and on iTunes and Spotify.
What does the band have in store for us in the near, or not so near, future?
JAMES: Just recorded a full length, like a few days ago. Ear bleeding orgasms cumming your way. Splooge.
ANDREW: It's going to be an incendiary record.
ZACHE: We just finished recording our LP last weekend and we're very excited about it. We're hoping to have that out sometime next year. We're fortunate to be surrounded by many talented friends in Los Angeles who also like Maniac and want to work with us. Expect a video or three very soon.