Most musicians would dream and/or kill for the chance to work for a record label head honcho, waiting for the right moment to slip their aspiring band's demo on the boss's desk, get his feedback, and hopefully, get him to sign the band to a record deal. Manic guitarist/keyboardist Zane Smythe found himself in this very enviable position. And what did he do?
In fact, Manic didn't want to get signed to Suretone, the new label of ex-Geffen president Jordan Schur. That's because the band, who craft lush, layered pop rock, wanted to do things on their terms and to be the masters of their own destiny.
"We're believers in the idea that the only way you can grow as a band is to play shows and work your ass off, as opposed to trying to write a hit single. We want to make a good record that we like, not radio singles. And if things don't work out, we can at least have made a record we are proud of." Spoken like a true artisan that isn't interested in the politics and culture of the music business machine. Smythe finishes his thought, saying, "What we try to do is make a quality album, as opposed to a product that will appeal to a bunch of people. We know that the people we do appeal to will be into it on a deep level." Clearly, Manic know what they want, in terms of their business and their art, and they've found a way to balance the two.
"We had no inclination to sign with a major label," says Smythe. "We recorded a demo that was essentially the Floorboards EP." The EP in question was on Smythe's desk at work, and was quickly discovered by his boss, who took it home to listen to it. A few weeks later, Schur started talking to Smythe about Manic, because he couldn't stop listening to Floorboards. "We wanted a deal where we could do what we wanted to do. He said yes to everything we asked for, so we couldn't turn him down," Smythe says.
Rare is the case where a band dictates its own terms to a label courting it for a record deal, but Manic, featuring drummer Ryan Green and vocalist/keyboardist Paul Gross, is a rare band in many facets. Manic are actually native to Los Angeles. They didn't come from somewhere else to LA in order to find success like so many bands these days; rather, they're from LA, and formed there five years ago. "There is so much going on," Smythe says about the LA scene. "It's over-ridden with bands, and inherently, it makes people care less and more fickle. With Manic, we are striving to not be an LA band. We're just trying to set ourselves apart with our songs and with how we present the songs live."
Manic's music has a throbbing pulse, and a sharp current of energy runs through it. But the music is as hooky as it is angular and smart. Their songs are expansive, with lots of textures and layers.
On the album, Sparta drummer Tony Hajar, who lives two blocks away from Smythe, performed the drum tracks, since Green was sidelined with a brief stint in jail. Manic decided to go ahead and record with Hajar in order to keep active and stave off stagnancy while Green served his time. "We didn't want to do nothing," Smythe reveals about the band's decision to move forward while their drummer took care of his business. "We recorded with Tony, because we were ready, and we're friends with him, so it's not a stretch."
Musically, Manic admit they are not here to cater or to kowtow to radio. They just want to write songs with plenty of depth, breadth and scope, songs that they can replicate live. "We are a fairly tech-heavy band," says Smythe, shedding light on his band's sound. "We use a lot of gear. Our bassist has a keyboard. Our drummer has a keyboard next to him. I have a keyboard. We have a laptop, guitar, and vocal effects, etc, so the music is on the technical side. We're big fans of stuff that's sparse but not thin. When we record, we throw everything into the pot and start reducing, and what's left is what we play live. We're fans of music that is thick. We're not pretentious, but we think we do a really good job at representing ourselves and our songs when we play them live."
Indeed, Manic aren't your average LA band. They are doing things their way, remaining true to their independent music ethos.