Monday, May 28, 2018

An Interview with MANIAC

You've probably deduced after seven years that this blog doesn't do band interviews. Well apparently there's a first time for everything. MANIAC is one of my favorite bands, and when they came a calling I wasn't about to say no. So I dusted off my long-dormant interview chops in anticipation of MANIAC's new album Dead Dance Club, which releases later this week. On to it!

Zache Davis (ZD): vocals, bass 
Justin Maurer (JM): vocals, guitar 
Andrew Zappin (AZ): lead guitar 
James Carman: (JC): drums 

F & L: Hi MANIAC! Your new album Dead Dance Club strikes me as being very socially and culturally relevant to our present moment. Was that intentional?

AZ: All great art is a carefully constructed reflection of the times in which it is made. So, to answer to your

F & L: Musically, how is this album different from the last one? Were there any particular influences or ideas that shaped the sound of Dead Dance Club?

JM: This record was recorded after 2 west coast tours, a European tour, and a gazillion local shows, so this record sounds like how we sound live: tight, loud, and combustible. We were also real comfortable after recording 2 previous times with Mark Rains at Stationhouse Studio. Mark had his dog Darkness roaming around the studio, we ordered Thai food, it felt like home. The 3rd time with Mark was definitely the charm. As far as influences or ideas, we all work off of each other, it's a collaborative effort and we enhance each others' songs with our own individual parts. Team MANIAC has been through the ringer, so a lot of that toughness comes out in the music.

ZD: Thematically speaking, this record is a therapy piece for me. The first record was all about fun and academic experiences. The songs I sing on Dead Dance Club are much more personal and I confronted a lot of issues that I had been dealing with for a long time. It's cliché to say that your second record is more mature than your first, but it is.

F & L: Those last two singles were rippers! I was glad to discover that most of those tracks were re-recorded for Dead Dance Club. Was there any hesitation about having those songs on the album?

JM: Thanks! I like the single versions of these tunes, but like I said before, playing these songs out live on tour really gives them some dimension. The album re-recording of these tunes really gives them a lot of volume, if that makes sense. Ya know, like hair. Thicker hair, more volume, more personality. No hesitation from the MANIAC camp on putting these tunes on the LP.

ZD: Not at all. I think we knew we were going to include the three songs on the record after we recorded them the first time. Especially with "Precision Accuracy". That was one I really liked but wasn't 100% confident in until I heard it played back the first time.

F & L: When I'm listening to MANIAC, I can feel the band's environment in the music. It's like Los Angeles and the West Coast inhabit these songs. How do you do that? Beyond just the subject matter of the songs, what would you say is distinctively Californian about MANIAC?

JM: This city can really get a grip on you in a good way and a bad way. I think we all love this city, and we all have a different perspective on the 4 corners we live in and our own personal stories that come from this place. Me and Zache also both have history in the Pacific Northwest, so that Pacific Northwest sound is definitely present, but to me we sound like MANIAC. If we were in the Midwest or the east coast, we would definitely sound differently. It's interesting how regional influences actually affect the sound of a band. I mean, there's crappy punk bands everywhere and we are most certainly superior. We think, therefore we am. What makes MANIAC distinctly Californian? Zache surfs, Andrew is a filmmaker, James reminds me of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, and my dad was a disco dance instructor and Catholic seminarian who also sang in a new wave band called The Defenders in 1980. I'm pretty sure that couldn't happen in any other state.

F & L: You've got four people in this band, and everyone is contributing to the songwriting. Yet it's not easy for me to go through a record and pick out who wrote what. How do four guys all write songs and manage to maintain such a cohesive musical identity?

AZ: In many cases, we write songs live. Someone comes up with a riff or a beat, and we all add a piece until there's a fleshed-out whole; like Frankenstein (the monster not the song). Even when a member brings in a complete song, the band gets its hands on the thing and shapes and molds it and eventually that song becomes a full-fledged MANIAC tune.

ZD: Every song on that record, whether written in solitude or in the space with three additional contributors, ultimately still takes on the "MANIAC" sound. We all differ from mild to extreme with individual playing styles and influences. I think that's what keeps our music interesting for me––it's that we often don't agree on a base for a song, but we work through every idea anyways. And sometimes after everyone adds their particular style, well that's just MANIAC.

JM: A hint is that the person who is singing the song probably wrote it. Andrew writes a lot of songs too. He is just shredding too hard to sing. James's drum parts and vocals also really tie the room together. Sometimes musical partnerships just work out well. We are blessed to have each other. Thank fuck no one in our band likes Nickelback, Creed, or Smashing Pumpkins. Oh wait, I take that last one back.

F & L: MANIAC has such great energy on record. How does this translate to your live shows? Do you generally find that crowds respond enthusiastically?

AZ: Actually, I think it's the other way around. We translate our live energy to the album in the studio. We play live in the studio, and we have a great engineer in Mark Rains at Station House; so it happens pretty naturally.

ZD: Crowds are a mixed bag, it really depends on the city, show, venue, audience. We make it a point to deliver high-energy performances for every gig. Sometimes crowds respond to that and sweat with you. Other times they stand and stare.

JM: I personally try and play every live show as if it was the last show I will ever play. If I'm not out of breath and nauseous and sweating and holding onto the wall for dear life after we're done playing, then I haven't done my job correctly. Our best audiences to date have probably been in Germany, Spain, and Vancouver BC. This town tends to take its bands for granted. When MANIAC are on, we're like a well-oiled machine, high kicking dangerously close to faces, singing mostly in-key, and sometimes losing control and falling into the drums (sorry James).

F & L: Underground music in the digital age is this immense, almost infinite universe. Almost anyone can create and release music. Getting that music heard is a different story. As artists, how do you view the world of 2018? Is it ever a frustration to put so much into a record and then wonder how many people will actually hear it?

ZD: When we record something, of course we want as many listeners possible to hear it. And of course, it can be frustrating. However, I'd rather put that energy towards writing more songs than worrying about how many people will hear them.

JM: Yeah, agreed, there's a lot of over saturation, over stimulation, sensory overload. It's pretty hard to get people to listen or pay any attention as people have such a short attention span these days. It's cool that people around the world can listen to your music on their smartphone for "free", but it's an uphill struggle. I find it insane that bands (sometimes us included) pay to advertise on Facebook, a multinational corporation that earned almost 5 billion in the 1st quarter of this year. Small independent bands who hardly earn any money actually pay Facebook to advertise so that they can try and get noticed in an extremely overcrowded room. It's a wiggly world we live in, but we don't have a choice, we live in 2018 and we're playing in a rock and roll band. Sometimes it feels like we're the last of the Jedis, playing in a band the old way, but trying our best to adapt to the present. I do kinda miss the old days of making copies of flyers at Kinko's with a stolen copy key and hitting the city with posters and flyers. It was a more innocent time. The song "Post Post World" on our new record is kind of about this. In these times, we are beyond postmodern, we're actually post, post, postmodern. We're part of a subculture of a subculture of a subculture. We're a little insignificant bacteria, but hopefully we'll get a lot of people sick with our infection. The good sick.

AZ: I've spent my entire life tossing lovingly created, personal work into the abyss of public consumption. So, not really, I'm pretty used to it by now. Personally, I have no expectation that anyone will hear MANIAC's music or be affected by it, so that, if and when they do, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

F & L: What are your hopes for how this album will be perceived?

AZ: If it is perceived at all, I hope it makes people jump around and jiggle their butts and titties and dongs and whatever other body parts they have that move when bitchin' tunes play.

JM: I think people will like it. I just want Steve Jones to play us on Jonesy's Jukebox and Henry Rollins to play us on KCRW. And I wanna play Japan and Australia! Thanks for the interview, man, really appreciate it! And thanks to the dozens of MANIAC fans out there reading this now.

MANIAC's new album Dead Dance Club will be out June 1st on Dirt Cult and Hovercraft Records. 



MG Kimmel said...

Nice interview, good tune, and amusing video!

MANIAC said...

Thank you very much @MichaelKimmel! - MANIAC