Mannhattan released their new EP Seasons today. I was able to sit down with the guys in their studio before the release.
When I went to interview the Mannhattan guys, it took me an extra half hour to find the building they were in. (Apologies and half the blame to my co-pilot). All four of the guys were attending Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI at the time and for some reason that campus was a maze to me.
Once I finally arrived, I stepped into the school’s recording studio Mannhattan used to record the EP. Immediately, I knew this interview would be different than most. These guys were working hard, recording takes and critiquing. But the Mannhattan guys are more than just bandmates. They’re friends that get distracted and joke and yell and know how to rock. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much during an interview. Watching them record a single was like having a front-row seat to a musical bro-out moment.
Between laughs and screaming matches I got the answers to these questions:
HEM: Introduce yourselves and tell us what role you play in the band.
SM: Hi I am Sam Mann. I’m the lead vocalist for Mannhattan, and I sometimes play rhythm guitar and things like keyboard and tambourine as well.
RL: I am Royce Lloyd. I am the drummer in Mannhattan. I also … drum. And I drum.
CG: Hi, I’m Cory Greeno, also of Mannhattan. I am the lead guitar player. Sometimes I play a 12-string guitar.
JJ: I’m Joe Joel, bassist for Mannhattan. I know nothing about strings. Sometimes I play with my computer and annoy the sh*t out of everyone.
HEM: How did you all meet and decide to form a band?
SM: A really quick overview — In high school, another gentleman and I started a band. There was a number of us and when we transitioned to college, our lead guitarist left. When I moved to Calvin I went with a random roommate choice, who happened to be Cory, who happened to be a great lead guitarist out of Muskegon, MI looking for a band. He just kind of fell into that spot.
Pretty soon after Cory joined, Joe walked over and said, “We need to be in a band.”
And we’re all like, “Joe, we’re already in a band and we already have a bass player.”
But Joe played a 6-string bass and he was like, “I’m going to join anyway.”
And he did.
That was the first couple years. And as we learned what was and wasn’t going to work and switched our lineup around, we realized we really needed a drummer that was really capable and energetic. That’s when Royce came along!
RL: They wanted good and energetic. They got mediocre and hyper.
SM: We’ve been like this for about two years now. We had a fifth member until last summer and we downsized then to the four of us here.
HEM: So what’s with the name “Mannhattan?” And why does it have two “N’s?”
RL: So originally the band was called “The Manhattan Project” because that’s where Sam and the other member of the band lived on Manhattan Street. But we came together and wanted to change it up to be unique to ourselves but keep it memorable. We wanted to keep “Manhattan” in it. So we thought we could just be named after the city, like “Chicago” or “Boston.” But it worked out since Sam’s last name is Mann. Now everybody misspells our name on everything. But they did that to Metallica too.
HEM: What are you working on today?
JJ: This is the first single off our new EP. We had our first release cycle about a year ago with Think Twice. That was pretty good for what it was. This time around is more about refining and really polishing our work in the studio, taking our time and getting everything really well done. It’s going to be slower, so we’re starting with an EP and move to a double EP, extending it afterwards or move to another album after that. It depends on what sort of inspiration strikes.
RL: The whole point of this one, like Joe said is to have fewer songs, but spend a lot more time on them compared to Think Twice where we went out to Pennsylvania for a week, recorded tracks for all the parts for 12 songs in that week along with two music videos.
HEM: What artists inspire you as a band, and specifically inspired ”PEACE AND RIOT?”
JJ: I listen to a lot of Daft Punk and a lot of electronic punk and metal. So a lot of my bass line through this song in particular is very disco. It’s pretty ‘funky’ I guess. I hate using that word, but I think that’s a pretty clear influence on this song.
RL: I come from a very hard rock / punk rock background. This song was a really fun stretch out of that. I wanted to do something that wasn’t as repetitive or blocky, and was way more linear, so avoiding hitting multiple components at the same time. Spreading out with more dance beats and disco-era stuff to complement what Joe was doing. I wanted to figure out this time around how to incorporate all the parts into one while still providing a nice steady back beat that people can groove to. It’s been a fun challenge, definitely.
CG: This song was born out of us doing some jam sessions. I like a lot of classic rock, like Led Zeppelin. The tone I’m getting at in this song reminds me of 38 Special. So in the chorus section I try to mimic that tone. A whole lotta classic rock goes into that with chunking chords with lead line riffs.
SM: Yeah, take all that and throw a synth-pop filter over top it all. There’s that disco undertone combined with the rock element. That’s the balance you get with the synth tone and distorted guitar. The lyrics are much more along the structure of a Bob Dylan tale song juxtaposed to the synth pop-rock feel of the song.
HEM: How does the sound of this new EP differ from Think Twice? How have you grown musically since then?
JJ: Expect polish, more focus. Think Twice was all over the place. That was intentional. The energy in this one is more consistent. It’s very high-energy throughout. Even the songs that are slow aren’t slow and soft. They’re loud.
HEM: What is your favorite part of the recording process?
RL: Playing the songs live, especially for the first time. You deal with a song for long and then you realize, ‘Oh! There are people who haven’t heard this before!’
SM: I think a song really takes flight when you play it live. You don’t really know what it’s going to turn into until you play it in front of an audience and interact with them.
HEM: How has being on a college campus affected the process of recording and promoting yourself?
RL: It’s a double-edged sword because in one way, we’re here in a studio on-campus right now, which is a rare opportunity that few bands get. The fact that we’re on a campus, in school, makes balancing our time a little tricky sometimes. We have very diverse backgrounds and our futures could go in a lot of different directions.
JJ: Being on a smaller Christian campus, we have a smaller, tighter-knit circle with very supportive people. But we can’t play at a campus event and play in front of as many people as we could if we were at a public university or a city music festival. But I think the fact that it is smaller and so tight-knit has helped us come together as a band. We got really quick access to the resources we needed – shockingly fast.
SM: Calvin has had some downsizing in the last few years so we’ve lost some of our staff contacts. One of the programs called The Pop Music Guild that first got us involved with the resources the campus had has disintegrated in the last couple years. The opportunities that we had are no longer available. We were just very fortunate.
HEM: You guys have experienced some pretty great success, especially considering the opportunities available. What are your dreams and plans for the future?
JJ: The schedule is just recording and playing as many different places as possible*. It’s nothing crazy. We just want to play music.
*That week they played The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI — a stage that once boasted greats like Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
HEM: My classic last question.. What’s your favorite dipping sauce?
JJ: Anyone who doesn’t say blue cheese is wrong.
*Literally everyone yells in disagreement.
CG: Honey mustard.
RL: Is the right answer Buffalo Wild Wings’ Parmesan Garlic?
HEM: I will accept that, but the correct answer was Ranch. I’m a Midwest girl at heart.
SM: This is incredibly difficult. CAMPFIRE SAUCE AT RED ROBIN! That’s good stuff!
RL: Moral of the story — Buffalo Wild Wings and Red Robin, please sponsor us!
After this, the room erupted into an argument and a history of ketchup. Everything got weird. Long story short, these guys are so fun.
Keep up with them on Instagram @mannhattanofficial and listen to their new EP Seasons out today! You can watch their newest music video “PEACE AND RIOT” here. Tell them Heart Eyes sent you.