Saturday, June 16, 2018

Maniac Interview

(photo by Mandy-Lin)

The Gentlemen punks are back with their new LP, Dead Dance Club, and it’s available for all the bored and thirsty ears. If you’ve read this blog, you’ll realize the Maniac is no stranger to its digital pages for good reason. These CA natives/Pacific Northwest transplants have taken their brand of Briefs meets Dickies meets Weirdos into the sordid LA back alleys and made something entirely catchy and memorable. Listen up, turn on your ears and you shall not be disappointed.

Interview by Ed Stuart

Who is answering the questions?
This is Justin Maurer, guitar and vocals

Who is in the band and what instrument do they play?
Zache Davis - bass, vocals
Andrew Zappin - lead guitar
James Carman - drums, vocals
Justin Maurer - guitar, vocals

Give us the band’s origin story, some other bands the members have played in and currently do play in?   
Me and Zache played in bands in the Pacific Northwest in the early ‘00’s. Zache played in The Girls and Cute Lepers from Seattle. I played in Clorox Girls and Red Dons in Portland. Maniac was born in L.A. in 2012. Zache and Andrew worked in West Hollywood at a fetish shop, which is how they met one another. Ardavon Fatehi was the store manager.

Ardy played in Portland, Oregon’s Goons of Destruction and went to high school with the Exploding Hearts guys. He’s currently working on a documentary about them. Ardy was extremely busy working as a gaffer on some adult movies in the Valley, and I ended up replacing him as the rhythm guitarist.

Maniac’s original drummer Richie Cardenas played in Plastic Letters, Clorox Girls, Rough Kids, and Neighborhood Brats. James Carman from Images and LA Drugz replaced him. We’ve had this current lineup since about 2013. Fortunately, Ardavon stuck to filmmaking and DJing underground fetish parties. He’s also DJing our record release party this Saturday. Richie now works as a mechanic at the Post Office and is a rabid LAFC fan. Final note, Andrew officiated Richie's wedding as the padre, and I interpreted the ceremony in Spanish. Padre Zappin and I were a pretty damn good 1-2 punch so if anyone wants a wedding in English and Spanish, I still have the script in the trunk of my Honda Civic. Maniac is also available for weddings, bat mitzvahs, and quinceaneras.

(photo by Zach Mcaffree)

Describe the band’s sound in 20 words or less.
Cheap Trick and Wire meet all of our previous bands in a bar. David Lee Roth shows up with his entourage. We all have a wild night on the town spearheaded by Diamond Dave.  The night becomes a 3 day bender that is part feminist snuff film, part homoerotic fever dream set in the industrial wastelands of Los Angeles. We purgatory our torsos night after night with dreams, drugs, alcohol, cock, and endless balls. Sorry, I think that was over 20 words.

Some bands have a musical game plan when starting. For example, we want to sound like Buzzcocks meets The Jam. Did Maniac have any plan ahead of the time or did you just starting writing songs?
We all bring our own individual influences as ingredients into the Maniac kitchen and then prepare an exquisite hearty meal.

A lot of interviews, I have read have made note of the band having four songwriters. Sure, the band will never run out of song ideas, but how do you decide which writer’s songs get on the LP?
The best songs make the cut!

(photo by Kasey Elliot)

To piggyback of the last question, I think one of the secret weapons of Maniac is that the band has the three vocalists. It’s kind of like The Boys or a punk rock Beatles. On “City Lights” this multi-vocal attack works great. How do you figure who sings which songs? Or is it “I wrote it, I’ll sing lead and everyone joins in during the chorus.”
The second thing you said! Although it’s important to note that Andrew comes up with a lot of the original riffs too, and he only sings in the shower.

Why the decision to re-record some of the previously released songs like “Midnight Kino,” “Calamine” and “Precision Accuracy?”
Because after we played those songs on tour in the US, Canada, and Europe they sounded a lot tighter and tougher.

Maniac has been described as quintessentially a Los Angeles band. How do you feel about this considering LA is the adopted home of half of the members?  Before moving to California, did you have any preconceived ideas about the people or the state?  
¾ of Maniac were born in California. Andrew was born in Ohio but has lived in CA for about 20 years. I think people perceive Zache and I as being “from” the Pacific Northwest because we both lived there and started our music “careers” up there, but Zache was born in Oakland, me in LA, James in Carson. I moved to the northwest when I was 11. Moving back to LA 9 years ago was a trip, it was interesting to get a completely fresh perspective on the place as well as connect the dots on this massive sprawling map and how they related to the ghosts of my childhood.

Maniac is a friend to many labels. The band has worked with La-Ti-Da, Modern Action and No Front Teeth. At this point, do labels come to you with offers or does the band still send out new songs to labels?  How did you get together with Dirt Cult and Hovercraft?
We had to shop our stuff around. It’s real hard as most independent labels have their next 1-2 years of releases already committed. “Dead Dance Club” is a split release with Dirt Cult and Hovercraft. Our friends who play in the Portland band Piss Test had some really positive things to say about Chris at Dirt Cult and they were right. Clorox Girls and LA Drugz both worked with Tim and Mark at Hovercraft in the past, hopefully we have a winning combo! It’s fantastic to have both Chris and Tim in our court.

With a zillion digital avenues presented to musicians nowadays (Bandcamp, blogs, Spotify, YouTube, etc.) what do you feel are the best parts and worst parts of these digital avenues?
The best part is that people from around the world can hear your music. The worst part is over saturation. People don’t have much of an attention span these days and it’s very hard to get people to check out your music or get excited about your message. It's ironic because new music is easier to listen to than ever, but it's much harder to get people to take the time to listen.

There is a little trend going on with bands opting to hire a PR agency and self-release their songs through Bandcamp instead of sending songs to labels in hopes of a release. Some bands have had some success using this method, which have led to proper re-releases by labels. Maniac seems to operate in a more traditional method of label release, play live, tour. Can you talk about the reasons to stick to the more traditional method?
Hiring a PR is usually prohibitively expensive, so more power to the bands that can afford to hire one. It’s generally a solid investment, but like I said in the last question, the over saturation of underwhelming Internet bands these days is completely overwhelming. Every online music publication receives a gazillion emails per day from not only PR’s, but the bands themselves, labels, etc.. A lot of press coverage seems like it’s done as a favor, mutual back scratching. That’s how the world works!

More power to any band who has any success using any method! I think 95% of bands lose money, about 4% break even, and 1% or less actually make any money. The poverty line in the US is about $12K per year. For a band of 4 to break even and pay each member in their band a poverty line wage, they'd have to make $48K as a band per year after expenses. That is a pipe dream by far for most people. I personally lived under the poverty line as a touring musician for many years.

As far as the traditional approach: write a song, rehearse, play live locally, record in a studio, label release, then tour, We’re following in the tradition of our grandfathers. From Black Flag, Minutemen, and X touring in a Ford Econoline, to Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs touring in a hearse, to Van Halen playing backyard house parties in Pasadena. I know I’m getting long-winded here, but a band is like a political campaign, in order to get people excited about your message, you have to go to their town. Some politicians put millions of their own dollars into their campaigns and unfortunately substantially more impoverished musicians do the same. That’s why a lot of touring bands coincidentally happen to be trust fund kids. Maniac pays for our touring by working like 10 jobs between 4 guys. This band could be your life, but be glad that it’s not!

How has touring shaped the band’s view?  
This is a pretty vague question! :-) Touring is hard on the body and mind and expensive, but it’s usually fun, especially international touring! It'll knock a few years off of your life, but at least you'll have some stories to tell.

What are some of the best places/best shows the band has played?
Germany, Spain, and Canada I’d say are the highlights of Maniac’s tours so far.

(photo by Niffer Calderwood) 
When not playing music, what does the band like to do?
Eat, Drink, and be merry! Wine, women, and song! Andrew is a photographer, filmmaker and writer. Zache has studied lots of languages and is a fan of the Dodgers and Raiders. James and I both like playing pick-up basketball. A bunch of us are going to go see LAFC on Wednesday. LAFC games are a bunch of inmates running the asylum. I think it’s fair to say that we all are fascinated with women and their mysterious ways. James digs the ganja and recently has been engineering some bands in his home studio called IMG HQ AKA Carson Drift Studios. I’m a sign language interpreter, dig Latin languages, classic film, and all of the fucking amazing food you can find in LA… just watch the Jonathan Gold documentary “City Of Gold” and it will make you want to try every hole-in the wall restaurant in LA.

Where can people hear the band?
In a shitty bar, in your car, at home, on your phone, on your laptop, on Spotify, Bandcamp, on Jonesey’s Jukebox, Henry Rollins’ radio show, in a Carl’s Jr. Superbowl commercial, on endless loop in Urban Outfitters, and on your analog record player.

What’s next for Maniac?
We’re going on a west coast tour later this month, maybe an east coast tour in the fall. Probably Europe next year, hopefully Japan and Australia sometime in the near future! Also, our brand new tunes are sounding pretty bitchin’!  We’ll probably record ‘em at some point. Our demos at Carson Drift Studios sound killer so far.

Thank you very much Ed and Audio Ammunition, and thank you for reading! Be excellent to each other!

Friday, June 1, 2018

May Reviews 2018

Amyl and The Sniffers – Big Attraction/Giddy Up LP (Homeless)
Amyl and The Sniffers are the hot shit, mullet wearing, mullet cutting, garage punks from Melbourne, Australia. Big Attraction/Giddy Up is a combination of the band’s first two EP’s. Amyl and Sniffers play a rudimentary ’77 influenced punk that leans more towards the Lurkers than the Saints. According to the many written stories, the first EP was written and uploaded to Bandcamp in a four to twelve hour session after work. Big Attraction shows off the Sniffers style sound, “’70 Street Munchies,” while Giddy Up tries to grow it up, “Mandalay,” slightly. In the last two years, the band has garnered a lot of attention and 2018 should be a big year for the band.  – Ed Stuart

Archie and The Bunkers – Songs From The Lodge LP (Dirty Water)
Is organ punk a thing? In this endless sub genre world of underground music, I’m not really sure, but I’ve seen it used to describe Archie and The Bunkers. The Bunkers, actually two brothers from Ohio, are a two-piece band that only features organ and drums. Songs From The Lodge mixes ‘60’s garage, psych, and blues with Stranglers, Screamers and Cramps influences throughout. Archie and The Bunkers even cover “122 Hours of Fear” on their second release. There are parts of me that misses a guitar and bass especially on a song like “Laura”, but on other songs like “Bill’s Bad Day” the other instruments aren’t that missed at all. – Ed Stuart

Broadway Lafayette – Subway Zydeco LP (Hound Gawd)
This is a bit of a left turn for Hound Gawd. Usually, Hound Gawd deals with bands like Lovesores, No Tomorrow Boys and Born Loose. Broadway Lafayette features Mick Collins of Dirtbombs with members of Heavy Trash and Mama Resin. Subway Zydeco goes straight into the Creole heart to bring back true zydeco music back. If you’re a fan of Gogol Bordello or want to step outside punk, but not leave it’s periphery, Broadway Lafayette could be for you. The band sings in several languages and features traditional zydeco influences along with early ska/reggae as well. – Ed Stuart

The Cavemen – Nuke Earth LP (Slovenly)
No one should really be surprised that a band named The Cavemen is primitive garage. Nuke Earth, the band’s third LP, mixes 50’s rock n’ roll, Stooges, Cramps, Back From The Grave punk and ‘90’s era Rip Off Records in one raw scuzz filled bag. Most of the time the songs are fast, wild and loose with the notable exceptions being “Thug” and “Jenny.” It sounds like this record was recorded direct to cassette 4-track. The Cavemen are all about energy and rock n’ roll abandon and the boys from New Zealand capture that on Nuke Earth. – Ed Stuart

CROM/DAM – Black Nylons EP (Screen Test)
Art damaged synth punk from Victoria, Canada. CROM/DAM are a two-piece band from former Line Traps members. Black Nylons is a lo-fi homage to Screamers, Los Microwaves and Normal run through scuzz, grime and other non hi-fidelity means. The EP is three songs of unrelenting synth punk from this boy/girl duo.   – Ed Stuart

Dusk – The Pain of Loneliness 7” (Dirtnap)
While Dusk may be lead by Amos from Tenement, Dusk is not in the musical background as them. Yes, both bands hail from Appleton, Wisconsin and contain members of the expanded version of Tenement, but that is where the similarities stop. This 7-inch features the band’s mix of early Stones, honky-tonk, alt-country, blues and ‘70’s singer/songwriter influences. “Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) encapsulates this musical concoction from its sweet slide guitar to Badfinger vocal harmonies. The B-side “Go Easy” is steeped in the same musical stew, but showcases the more breezy side of ‘70’s singer/songwriter duties with Tyler taking over vocals instead of Amos. Dusk is part of the new Wisconsin focus of Dirtnap since the label moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest. Dusk has an LP coming out later this year, which hopefully will be as good as the single.  – Ed Stuart

Favorite Things Band – Coming Clean LP (Self-Release)

The Twin Cities seems to be carving out a sound all their own. Minneapolis scene musicians decided to form back in 2014 and create The Favorite Things. Coming Clean, the band’s debut, is full of later Replacements meets later Husker Du with a heaping of alt-country, Americana and bits of old R.E.M. Favorite Things have put the melody at the forefront of Coming Clean and have created songs that would have challenged for the charts in the ‘90’s indie, guitar pop world.  – Ed Stuart

Faz Waltz – Double Decker LP (Spaghetty Town)
Now, I’ve reviewed Faz Waltz a few times over the years and the band definitely has stuck to its guns. Double Decker, the band’s sixth LP, is what Faz has been doing best for the last decade. Faz has taken the sounds of ‘70’s glam and Bovver rock and brought them to the modern era. Now, one thing I’ve noticed with Double Decker is the slower songs like “Is this The Way” and “Sleepy Head” definitely have a real “Cosmic Dancer” feel. What about the rest of the LP? Faz is strutting their glam rock riffs as if punk never happened and the show Marc was never went off the air.  – Ed Stuart

The Fritz – S/T LP (Drunken Sailor)
Short songs for short attention spans? The Fritz hails from Indiana and feature members of The Liquids, CCTV, Pentas and Punkoid. This S/T debut is the ballpark of early ‘80’s punk hardcore played by a minimalist no frills band. It’s like Killed By Death meets parts of Circle Jerks, 7 Seconds and sped up Posh Boy punk recorded lo-fi.  – Ed Stuart

Kensington Hillbillys – Belly of The Beast LP (Boppa Do Down)
Punk meets country might be the best way to describe Kensington Hillbillys. The Hillbillys have been kicking around Toronto for fifteen years and building a following in that time. Hillbillys do like their punk as evidenced by their Clash covers LP, The Crooked Beat. Belly Of The Beast is not the wild abandon of the first Gun Club. The guitar distortion is geared to the twangy sound of country, but infused with punk spirit. “Down In the Dirt” is a good example of this. I wonder if the band switched out their Telecaster sound for a Les Paul sound what would happen?  – Ed Stuart

King Kong Blues – Make Rock N’ Roll Again LP (Le Passage)
King Kong Blues or KKB is a three-piece rock n’ roll blues driven band out of France. If you’re thinking class power trio, you will have to make a modification. KKB has two guitar players, no bass and drums. Make Rock N’ Roll is guitar driven rock heavy on big riffs and big chorus that are yelled a little more than sung. KKB sings in three languages on this LP, French, Spanish and English. The majority of the vocals is sung in French, which will make it difficult to join in the sing along or shouts unless you speak French. KKB is probably closer to a better playing White Stripes mixed with ‘70’s rock. – Ed Stuart

Knifey – Beached LP (Self-Release)
California influenced beach punk pop by way of Toronto. What? That’s right, you read that correctly. Knifey fuses early Weezer, surf leads, Pixies, ‘80’s alternative and punk-pop into one glorious package. Beached really is a surprise, mainly that’s it’s self-release and has got so much press. Your first thoughts about a band named Knifey are not melodic surf-pop, but in this case it is. The band reminds of the Chinchees a lot and eventually a label gave Chinchees a proper release. Its not like Canada is short of good bands, but here is another to add to the list. – Ed Stuart

Impotente – Demonstrative Opnamens 7” (Drunken Sailor)
Impotente is a two-piece lo-fi band from Montreal that sings in Dutch. The members have been in the Nodes and Omegas. Demonstrative Opnamens is rudimentary lo-punk that has been described by others as ugly. If you were looking for melody, I would search elsewhere. This 7-inch is a re-release of the Swollen City cassette.  – Ed Stuart

Lawrence Arms – We Are The Champions Of The World LP (Fat Wreck)
Twenty years and these Chicago mainstays are still kicking around. We Are Champions Of The World serves as introduction, compilation and testament to the band. We Are Champions pulls from all their releases, six LP’s and five EP’s, on Asian Man, Fat and Epitaph that range from 1999 - 2014. Lawrence Arms play a Midwestern pop-punk that features dual singing styles of clean and throaty/raspy. Lawrence Arms sound has always blended more traditional rugged straight-ahead pop punk “The Devil’s Taking Names,” with Jawbreaker/Get Up Kids melodic influence “Alert The Audience” to their advantage.  – Ed Stuart

Maniac – Dead Dance Club LP (Dirt Cult)
Round two for the oft-described Gentleman Punks. Now, you probably have read in the past, in the abandoned halls of this blog, that Maniac has been on many of the top year-end lists and if you listened to the band, you’ll understand why. Dead Dance Club, LP two, is a transition record, but the transition is slight at best. It’s like growing up from 21 to 27.  This time around is less “Hello, alcohol. Keg handstands are a great idea because beer is my new water” to “Sure, I can sit at the bar to order drinks with my friends and get to work tomorrow.” Maniac still has the elements of what makes them Maniac. The frantic high energy, wild abandon, Briefs/Dickies/Weirdos ’77 LA sound with group vocals is still there on “Midnight Kino” and “City Lights,” but ‘80’s influenced songs like “Modern Love” and “Neutral Libido” find a home on Dead Dance Club too.  – Ed Stuart

Neighborhood Brats – Night Shift 7” (Taken By Surprise)
The Brats are back after a hiatus, so enjoy it because it might be for a limited time. Neighborhood Brats had called it quits after their LP, but have decided to get back together to bring the world Night Shift. I don’t think there was really any danger that this wouldn’t be any good. I think the surprise may of how good this is. It reminds me more of the earlier Brats material. They seem light and carefree and less influenced by ‘80’s hardcore and more by ’77 LA punk instead. Maybe it’s a guitar switch or the attention to the melodic riffs. It sound like riffs are played on Telecaster or just more favoritism given to the treble then I remember in previous releases. Night Shift is classic Brats. Brats are notorious for delivering amazing singles that required repeated listening because the songs are so good.  – Ed Stuart

The Scaners – S/T LP (Dirty Water/Adrenalin Fix/Casbah Records/Dangerhouse Skylab/ Strychnine Recordz/Teenage Hate Records/Trokson Records)
It would be easy to dismiss Scaners as a synth punk band and leave it at that, but there is a lot more going under the hood. Yes, this a global release and a stellar effort of collaboration if you read the label list. Scaners, from France and with one n, mix Spits, Dickies, Screamers, Devo and Epoxies mayhem in a ’77-’79 blast of camp and punk with all phasers set to fun. There is a definite B-movie sci-fi aesthetic running through the LP, but it doesn’t get in the way of the songs. Scaners may “Want To Talk To Your Leader” on a “Checkpoint Planet,” but what they really want to do is have fun. – Ed Stuart