Credit: Tim Manning
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If there’s one thing keyboard wizard/producer/arranger/songwriter Roger Joseph Manning Jr. knows, it’s how to make the exact right next move as an artist, regardless of the length of time it takes him to make it. To that end, the multifaceted Manning is officially returning to the forefront as a solo artist with a galvanizing new four-song EP, GLAMPING, which will be available on CD, purple vinyl, and digital download via PledgeMusic on May 18, 2018 — and he couldn’t be more excited at the prospect. “I’m doing it this way as a big experiment,” he admits. “One of the reasons I’ve been so excited about jumping back into doing more original music, and getting back in the saddle again after 10 years of various life trajectories, is due to sites like PledgeMusic, and how they help projects like mine come to fruition. These kind of Pledge campaigns do really well for a certain level of artist, and this really, really meets my needs.”
Indeed, GLAMPING deftly meets the criteria for Manning-level songcraft quite handsomely. “Operator” opens the proceedings by documenting a desperate call for any kind of connection, while “Funhouse” playfully, wistfully pines for an era of young lust gone by. “Is It All a Dream” is a surreal reflection on its narrator’s life experiences, backed with stacks of wonderful harmonies. Finally, the EP befittingly bookends with the nearly six-minute “I’m Not Your Cowboy,” a modernized Last Picture Show pastiche that chronicles the arc of a manipulative relationship.
Manning — whose storied C.V. includes co-shepherding the likes of Jellyfish, Imperial Drag, TV Eyes, and The Moog Cookbook, as well as his on-going role as Beck’s touring keyboardist for 22 years and counting — quite emphatically feels the concise EP format is the best avenue for putting his strongest material forward. “Biting off another 12 songs of original material from top to bottom was just taking forever,” Manning notes, “so I felt doing an EP was the better way to go. It was very natural and very gratifying for me once I made that decision. I really do like the architecture and assembly process of taking a song from its raw form of acoustic piano and vocal and bringing it into this whole other world, even though it can be very time-consuming for someone like me. It’s like putting together a sonic jigsaw puzzle.”
All the puzzle pieces fit together quite nicely on GLAMPING, which sports an aural template built upon the kinds of innovative sounds Manning the artist is best known for. “They’re all love songs in many ways, just like all my heroes have done,” Manning details. “But I’m not gonna sing the same ‘moon in June’ tale over and over again. I’m going to put that twist on it so I can have fun telling the same story in a 3½-minute pop tune in a somewhat different way.”
Some of those special twists are inherent in the lyrical choices Manning has made for GLAMPING — this time with a little help from his friends, including contributions from songwriter Chris Price, with whom Manning worked with on Emitt Rhodes’ magical 2016 comeback album, Rainbow Ends. “Writing lyrics is probably the longest and most challenging part of the process for me,” Manning concedes. “If I have a song I’m feeling really good about musically, the big, giant wall I have to climb is, ‘Well, what the hell is the song about?’ — and then crafting the lyric to support it. I really do try to inject as much witty wordplay, sarcasm, and sense of humor into my lyrics as I can. And I’d like to think I’ve accomplished that with all of my material here.”
The lyrical bar has been set quite high, as far as Manning is concerned. “I’ve had the privilege of working with some pretty incredible contemporary lyricists, whether it was Andy Sturmer from Jellyfish, Eric Dover from Imperial Drag, or Beck,” he observes. “These people are not only friends of mine and collaborators, but they’re huge inspirations.”
Right out of the box, “Operator” sets the overall GLAMPING tone, with an assist from guitarist Taylor Locke. “It’s about this guy who gets on the phone because he’s so desperate for any type of contact with a female that he strikes up a conversation with the telephone operator,” Manning relays. “I know there aren’t really any operators around like that anymore, but I wanted to probe his feelings of loneliness and lack of connection with members of the opposite sex.”
Meanwhile, “Funhouse” is a fond look back at the follies of teenage desire. “This is probably the most rocking tune on the EP,” Manning allows, adding that he recruited Jason Falkner to join him in supplying the track’s inherent guitar muscle. “I really enjoyed exploring what I remembered of the funhouse as a little kid. That’s where all the big kids went with their dates, and I was fascinated just to watch how their playfulness, romance, and courtship unfolded right there in front of me. My goal for this song was to capture how all that seduction at the carnival went down.”
“Is It All a Dream” not only features a fine falsetto from Manning, but also boasts supportive harmonies from Bleu McAuley and Cecilia Peruti, the latter of whom currently sings background vocals in Beck’s touring band. Says Manning, “Chris Price again took on my gibberish lyrics, and we finished it together. The vocal performance required getting into a different headspace and character, and I’m pretty happy with the result, as it definitely shows a very different side of me.”
The final track, “I’m Not Your Cowboy,” evolved from being a simple piano ballad into taking on a much more widescreen approach. “The song is about a woman who’s only fallen for this guy because she put him up on a pedestal, and it’s really unfair to him that she’s imposing her romantic fantasies on him,” Manning says. To best embellish this most manipulative tale, Manning deployed a clavinet, a highly percussive keyboard instrument best known for driving a number of classic tunes of the ’70s like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and The Band’s “The Shape I’m In.” Adds Manning, “What I liked about playing the clavinet here was how I was able to get a pseudo-pedal-steel sound out of it to give the song a bit of country flavor — but in a more cinematic way.”
The good news is, GLAMPING may only be the tip of Manning’s PledgeMusic iceberg. “My true passion is doing this,” Manning affirms, “so the goal would actually be to, say, every six or nine months or so, give my supporters another batch of material. I’ve found my fans to be the most loyal, and that’s a worldwide thing. They still value the intricacies and style of the melody-driven pop my bands and I sought after achieving — and they just keep coming back for more. There’s no end in sight, either — it’s just a matter of me keeping it coming. I hope people will continue to be excited about that. The one agenda I have is to keep being myself,” Manning concludes, “and that’s what the people are telling me: ‘More of that, please.’”
Given the breadth of audio dynamite found all across the four-track GLAMPING landscape, we have more than a feeling Manning’s fans are in for many rewarding repeat listens ahead.
May 18, 2018
March 9, 2018