INTERVIEW: Brian Manley Loves Louisville Music, MASH, And Tim Burton’s Batman!

Pictured above: Brian Manley prior to being shot out of a cannon.

Brian Manley spins a lot of plates. As a musician, he plays guitar and bass for the garage punk orchestra Juanita, although not at the same time. And he’s been in a lot of bands, which we’ll get into below, the sort that flew beneath the radar, or at least my radar, and I know that feeling. Manley has worked with Art+FM for at least a year and half as the DJ on his show Club El Rancho, where he explores the shit out of the Louisville music scene, both past and present. On top of that, he created and writes for the blog American Gloam, which is both a wonderful read, and a good reason to look up the word Gloam. I mean, I looked it up for Manley, and not even after that Radiohead song, so that has to tell you something. We swapped interviews this week, and I’m happy to present my half, which I would’ve wanted to do regardless of any trade. You can read my half here.

Never Nervous: Tell us about your history as a musician? What bands have you been in? What bands do you wish you had been in? What bands are you going to be in? Basically just make your own Louisville Hardcore page.

Brian Manley:  My first band was with my brother, Derrick, when we were kids: The Manley Death Squad; a kind of Weird Al-inspired duo that made recordings of Prince songs with lyrics a ten-year-old would find funny. I started playing guitar when I was 13. I was in bands in high school, but none of that ever made it out of the basement. I minored in classical guitar at UK, but dropped that after my third year because studying guitar was killing my enjoyment of it, and I realized I couldn’t play in a setting that structured. This partially means I wasn’t good enough, but also partially means I realized I don’t like playing the same thing over and over, like practicing the same Bach piece six hours a day. I quit playing guitar for a couple of years, started back up after college in 1995 playing mostly ugly, trebly, warbly semi-country songs with titles like “I Like Bread” and “I’m Nervous” at open mics and art openings. People hated it, but I loved it. I taught myself how to play mandolin sometime around then, too.

I started really playing out with other people around 1996 in Lexington, and eventually met and performed with my favorite and longest-running collaborator, vocalist/drummer/indie comic artist J. T. Dockery. We played in various unscrupulous spots around Kentucky in 1997 as a weird crooner/poetry/distorted mandolin duo called Eggroll and Fries before morphing into a two-piece guitar/drum psycho-billy duo called The Smacks, which has lasted on and off in various guises since 1998.We also played together in Mickey and the Wild Bunch, The Pink Slips, Kittytwister and the Hot Dogs, The Spud Imperials, and probably some I’ve forgotten. I played in a lot of other Lexington bands at that time. JT and I played and recorded a record as the back-up band for Hasil Adkins at one point, which is something I’m proud of.

I moved back to L’ville in 2005 and have played with several bands since, including The Health and Happiness Gospel Band, The Childish, Luxor, Juanita, and a few others. I’ve done a lot of collaborations with folks, including Cynthia Norton, Kirk Kiefer, Justin Eslinger, Douglas Lucas, William Ragland, J Glenn and The Bottom Sop.

I’m working on new music to start a new thing. Let me know if you know any drummers that are available.

I feel like I’ve said too much. That seemed more like a review on Amazon.com than an entry for someone cool on Louisville Hardcore.

NN: Speaking of, how long have you played with Juanita? How did that happen? What’s it like?

BM: There was a show that Heather Fox could not make last year. They needed a stand-in guitarist. They called me. I keep getting called, so I keep showing up, which is awesome. I have insane respect and love for that band, it’s history, it’s style, and the folks in it. Their sound is a sleazy, sloppy harmonized garage-punk-rock that’s about to careen off the tracks and crash into a train sometimes, which is what makes me love it. Everybody in that band is talented and fun to play with. Being onstage with them feels more like you’re at a party than playing a show.

NN: Do you normally play bass or guitar? I saw you channel your inner Tracy Pew with Juanita back in July, and it was righteous on every level.

BM: Well, thanks. I’m normally a guitarist. Despite loving bass guitar, I know very little about how to really play it. I play it pretty simple. I didn’t tell them that before the show. Nor did I tell them I was going to dress like Tracy Pew, so that might have been weird. I’m starting to wonder now if they’re going to ask me back. But that shows was a marvelous chaos, and I was in my own world back there, being Tracy Pew.

NN: As someone who has their hands in a lot of different media, how do you think technology has changed musical culture, both locally and nationally?

BM: Damn, that’s a serious question. I’ll try and be brief on this one, but it’s tempting to dig here.
On one hand, music blogs are akin to ‘zines: free publications writing up independent bands, shows and records, and having freedom to express yourself without advertisers or editors controlling your words. Sites like bandcamp and soundcloud allow us interested listeners to hear what these people are doing, much like, say folks used to drop off their recordings at coffee shops in the 90s and you’d grab some unknown band, take it home and hear some weird stuff. Digital recordings allow bands to record cheaper, which can be seen as allowing for more music out there, more diversity. Online radio is like unhinged community radio, allowing for freedom of expression. Social media allows for digital flyering, event pages, and a new slew of promotional tools.

BUT: All this great shit can go awry through misuse, abuse and the bottom line. The first criticism is – how the hell do bands, musicians, or any creators of content make any money. Everyone expects everything for free now. The other argument can be made that since we’ve gone digital as a culture, we are inundated with so much stuff that it’s hard to weed through the shit and find the quality. We are swimming in quantity. For me this isn’t as big of a problem. It’s a giant ‘zine/DIY mindset for me. But there is a need to do some heavy weeding, and also, what seems like real stuff gets bogged with commercialism finding its way into DIY/independent culture and copying it and co-opting it, or straight infiltrating it. And then there is the classic digital vs analog recording argument.

The worst is how social media is developing. At first, it seemed like some awesome international bulletin board. Now, it’s turning into all ads and just gets harder and harder to use unless you have money to pay to promote your band or radio show or blog. I mean, I’m sure you see this with Never Nervous when it says, “9 people reached…click here to BOOST!” And because of Facebook event pages, people don’t make as many physical flyers, so if you’re not on facebook, you don’t see or hear about it. And I can’t wait for ART-FM to hit the real airwaves.

Just because social media online exists, doesn’t mean we need to only live there and only exist there. In college, I recognized my obsession with television, and fought to get away from it (which was a great existence for a person majoring in Broadcasting/Journalism/Media Studies), and ended up reading Jerry Mander’s book “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.” A lot of the points that he makes about TV’s misuse and fall are very applicable to the Internet, including his idea that people have developed this new “muddiness of mind,” confusing what they see on TV (or online) and what reality actually is. I feel like sometimes social media and our reliance on all the new technologies can be detrimental to a good, live, loud show at a dark club.

NN: How did you come to work with Art+FM? What has your experience been like working there? What is your ultimate goal for the show and the station?

BM: I heard about it through the grapevine. I worked at WRFL in Lexington on and off from 1992 to 2004, and have always been obsessed with community and college radio. I had been involved in Brick House Radio, but that didn’t work out for me. I saw what Sharon Scott was doing with ART-FM sometime in 2012 and immediately contacted her. This is before it was streaming 24/7. I proposed an idea for a local music show, as well as a revival of an old show I used to do on WRFL, which basically amounts to an obscure oldies program. She gave me both.

Community radio is a challenge, so there is actual work and stress involved, but to me it’s one of the most rewarding and important media and ideas that exist. Providing a direct voice for the community and providing diversity, whether in viewpoints or musical tastes, is something high on my list of good things on this planet. Starting a station is basically an insane endeavor; there are an unbelievable amount of bumps that can happen, both technical, legal, financial, keeping organization amongst a staff of 100 or more volunteers, etc. However, Sharon has her shit together and keeps the machine running. We inch closer to being on the air every day, and when that happens, we’ll reach even more people who aren’t even aware of us, yet.

My goal is to be playing a Lee Van Cleef song at 6:30pm and broadcast it over the airwaves and people stuck in the infinitesimal road construction this town seems to dwell will be forced to listen to it. To just expose the music that exists here. WRFL made people aware of so many other things out there in the world and did wonders for Lexington’s creative side; I think ART-FM can do the same here. It’s nothing but a good thing for the city.

NN: What sets Club El Rancho apart from any other show on Art+FM? What about on FCC radio?

BM: ART-FM plays a lot of local music in general, plus there are two dedicated shows for Louisville and Kentucky-related on the station. Club El Rancho (Mondays at 6pm) is one; the other is The Deep End (Wednesdays at 8pm), hosted by local musician Joey Mudd. Both shows take completely different approaches.

The Deep End is hosted by someone that has been playing in L’ville since the late 80s and has a gigantic library and knowledge of music from throughout the history of this scene. Joey’s show amazingly skips through L’ville music from the 1950s until now.

Club El Rancho is basically a barely filtered archive of what the Louisville music scene is right now, this week. It transfers my obsession with finding, meeting, hearing and playing local music in all corners of the scene into a broadcasted format. I attend a lot of shows and grab a lot of tapes and records while out. While Club El Rancho plays older material, the majority of the show concentrates on the newest releases and bands, whether they be demos, fully-produced releases, or live tracks. L’ville has a deep enough well to mine from; new music is being released daily. I’ve had some shows filled with music only released in the two weeks prior. It plays the new flavor-of-the-month bands that people flock to see, but also sticks them next to other awesome local music that has less exposure and deserves more attention. Sometimes I think playing mostly just new music can work against you, popularity-wise, but I feel like it’s my job to document some of this stuff. I look at it almost more from an archivist perspective than a promotional or popular one.

My show has led me into arguments with people stuck in that unfortunate, lazy bubble of thinking that there only three good bands here, or that all the good music happened “back in the day.” I think between my show and Joey’s you can see that L’ville’s music history is unbelievable, and its current state is, as well. And with bands and performers like The New Shitbirds, Weird Girl and Cher Von, it’s future is looking pretty great.

As far Club El Rancho vs other radio that is currently on the air (not counting the local music representation that also happens with our friends at Crescent Hill Radio), WFPK is the only game in town. I think it’s good that WFPK plays some local music. I think they play about a tenth of what exists here though. They skim across the surface and give some airplay to mostly the buzz bands; bands that are starting to get a lot of talk. But they ignore the rest of what’s happening locally, here, until it gets popular enough. That’s how a station like that works. They expose a larger audience to some L’ville music, and I applaud that. Sometimes I get frustrated, because there is so much more here that will never get airplay on WFPK that is as good or better than the popular draws . But I have a raw freedom on my show to do anything, which is what separates a public station from a community LPFM. I feel like sometimes my show is more for people who go to shows every week, or play in bands. I mean, a good example is White Reaper. Their first recordings were featured on Club El Rancho in April 2013 and I talked and talked about them; a year and half later, people are finally starting to check them out.

NN: How did American Gloam come to be? How long have you been doing that? What do you think you could do better? What do you think we (us or any other Louisville blog) could do better, and why?

BM: American Gloam started out of pure and complete frustration that comes from being a rarely published writer. It began in July 2011 and was to focus on a variety of aspects of the arts, swinging mostly between film, music and literature, international and local. It was an online extension of the chapbook/’zine culture I was immersed in the 1990s. Basically, a way to write and publish myself, with the idea to publish others, too. At some point, it morphed into a L’ville music blog, because that’s what I found myself doing most of the time: seeing shows, checking out bands. I think it was Sam from Bosco that was the first person to walk up, ask if I ever did local reviews on the site, and handed me his tape. At that point, AG was mostly essays about film, travelogues, and my thoughts on particular subjects; reviews quickly become my focus.

The thing I could do better is be more consistent. I had dreams of creating what Never Nervous has become; a site that conveys info on the local scene with reviews, previews and interviews, as well as links to featured recordings and lists some of the shows happening. I just lost the time to maintain it and focus most of my energy on the radio show now. American Gloam is still there, and has become a forum for me to review albums or do interviews with people/musicians that really strike me. It’s less content, but still a labor of love. I’m glad Never Nervous got it right; we were needing something that could keep up with all the stuff happening in town right now, and enjoy what you all do here. Are you hiring?

As far as what we could all do better? I don’t know: stay diverse. Don’t be a slave to covering just one clique of music in town or only follow what a press release says. Don’t get lazy. Floss.

NN: That series of articles you did with Matt Dodds was hella fun, and super inspired. What have you most enjoyed writing?

BM: Thanks. Matt jokingly posted the idea to have some drinks and preview every band playing at Forecastle this year and took him up on it. The tangents and cross-references and weirdness was pretty insane. Matt’s awesome and his brain goes in creative places when presented with 70+ bands to listen to in a row for six hours.

Not sure what I’ve most enjoyed writing; I love writing, it’s not something I can separate from myself. As much as I like and want to play music, I’m as obsessed with spending time on words at my desk at home. I consider myself mostly a fiction writer, despite probably writing more non-fictive content. When I get my first collection of short stories published, that will be what I have most enjoyed writing. Ha.

NN: What is the biggest animal you think you could take in a fight? How would you do it?

BM: I think I could pretty much handle a blue whale if it came down to brass tacks; I’m small, but sprightly. However, I think we would not fight, but rather become good friends. I have been waging a war against insects for some time now because they are perfect creatures sent here to kill us all. Be on guard, Syd.

NN: If you could either have a speeder bike from Star Wars or the Batmobile, which would it be and why?

BM: I’d prefer the speeder bike, but I would assume they would have a shitty stereo on them, like a lot of motorcycles do. So, in the interest of listening to my tapes, I’d probably take the Batmobile, but not the Nolan ones, more the Burton ones. I’m assuming the Batmobile has a tape player, right?

NN: What non-musical things get you motivated and why? Books, films, television, art.. what’s got you wound up?

BM: Like most people, I’m an addict in this category and it changes frequently. So, right now:

Books: My favorite author is Larry Brown. There’s a Southern Gothic bone in me, mixed with a love for Victorian era  stuff. Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Barry Hannah, Nabokov, Lovecraft, Dickens, Poe, HG Wells…these are my favorites.

Stuff I’m reading right now:
An American Dream by Norman Mailer
The Lucky Body by Kyle Coma-Thompson (local)
The Wreck of the Medusa by Jonathan Miles
History of Music Machines from the Smithsonian
They Wrote the Book, edited by Helen Windrath
Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin.

The Carson book goes along with my love of television, despite not having time to ever really watch too much anymore. Some reruns of MASH and Star Trek. Deadwood and Freaks and Geeks are my favorites since the 2000s.

I’m a huge fan of film of all sorts and have written a couple of essays on the medium’s history. Some recent ones that I’ve viewed:

Blue Ruin…probably my favorite new movie I’ve seen this year.
Nymphomaniac…people can criticize Von Trier all they want, he’s still makes interesting shit that doesn’t back down and looks amazing.
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia…because everyone should watch this, and because that’s the night they murdered an innocent man.

Visual art: Check out JT Dockery’s Despair comics series, drawings by Matt Dodds, whatever Ben Durham does, and the photography experiments of Shawn Price.

NN: What have you been listening to, and why should we?

BM: That’s super tough. Changes so often. I can talk about stuff from this week.

Some regional:
J Marinelli – The War on Pleasure…one of my favorite songwriters of all time. One-man-band that sounds like a full rock n roll garage band immersed in 1978 melody.
The Endtables 1979 record…checked it out from the library. Listening to it non-stop.
Mimi Von Schnitzl’s debut…these guys are making some awfully nice psych rock.
The Parade Schedule – Friday Night…great, moody return from singer-songwriter Matt Kinder.
Harpy – Bad Bird….out of control lo-fi unpredictable insanity.
Sapat – A Posthuman Guide to the Advent Calendar Origins of the Peep Show…the new Sapat record is coming out this Fall, and is riveting.

Other:
Willie DixonI Am the Blues…I don’t listen to post 60s blues often, but this has me hooked.
James Plotkin and Paul Nilssen-LoveDeath Rattle…guitar/drums duo…free jazzish? I don’t know…a struggle within your soul laid out on vinyl.
John CaleParis 1919…I’m starting to think this is the greatest pop album ever made.
Windhand – Soma…a wall of doom/stoner metal noise.
MC5Back in the USA…just to reacquaint myself with their style.
The MicrowavesRegurgitant Phenomena…whacked out destructo-prog
The Girls! – Let’s Not Be Friends…perfect power pop from Columbus
Turn Me Loose comp…from Tompkins Square Records…comp of “outsider” hillbilly music from the 20s and 30s.

Stop me now.