Roger Joseph Manning Jr., The TVD Interview

Keyboard maven, studio whiz, and go-to arranger Roger Joseph Manning Jr. has created in a number of forums since 1994 when the colorful and influential band Jellyfish that he co-founded with Andy Strummer broke up. But even after putting together bands that include Imperial Drag, Moog Cookbook, and TV Eyes, and working with artists from Beck to Air to Cheap Trick, Manning has returned to working with two other members of the final iteration of Jellyfish.

Manning had worked with Tim Smith and Eric Dover in other projects (including Umajets and Imperial Drag), but working together brought back a kind of Jellyfish sound to the group they’re calling The Lickerish Quartet (after the title of an arty 1970 Italian porn flick). Their debut EP “Threesome Vol. 1” is due in stores on May 15 via The Lickerish Quartet Label Logic, distributed by Ingrooves. We caught up with Manning over the phone from Los Angeles.

How is the pandemic lockdown affecting you?

Fortunately there’s very little strife at my end. I am mostly at home during the week anyway, working in my music room on a variety of things. So, aside from procuring supplies. I don’t mind that. My girl, who is a lot more social than me and her job requires her to be more social, she’s having a tougher time of it. But I’m just like pretty much business as usual.

What’s it like to release a project from a new band in the middle of all of it?

Mostly, I’ve come to find, it’s a blessing for the fans, who couldn’t be happier about having I guess what I call a pleasant distraction at this time. They have been demonstrating in their correspondence to us how appreciative they are that this happened when it did.

Obviously, we didn’t time it that way. And I’ve been thankful that the music has been able to take their minds off things. Of course, it’s all a double-edged sword. People are tightening their belts financially, obviously, so I don’t know who even wants to throw down for a $15 CD or whatever, vs. if we were in a regular economic climate like the oasis we were all on last year.

There are going to be three EPS, is that the plan?

Yeah, that is the plan. And we have most of the music ready to go. So barring anything unforeseen, that’s what the public should get within the next year and a half or so.

Why did you decide to release it that way, rather than on one album?

Mostly from an advised business standpoint of how things operate today, getting music to fans and that interaction, how it’s done now. Because everything is so singles-driven, because of DSPs like Spotify and Apple Music.

It’s certainly not my preference. It’s not what I grew up with. I like being lost in somebody’s 45-minute soundtrack that they would present with 10 or 12 songs. but I think an EP is a good compromise. I think it’s enough of a detour that really keeps the fans entertained for a while, and sets up an environment of—well hey, if you want some more, we’ve got something a few months away as opposed to a year or two away.

How did the three of you get together for The Lickerish Quartet? Did you have these songs for a while or were they created in a recent short period of time?

The getting together part was more about us realizing that time was just passing so damn fast. Although we’ve all been moving 100 mph in the music business, doing something that we’ve been fulfilled by and paid the bills, etc., not having had an opportunity, or created one, after Jellyfish broke up, to work together was just a missed opportunity.

So we put it out there to each other and decided to get together just for writing, for fun, to see what happened. And that went so well and so fast, it was like: OK, do you want to record this? What’s next? So we kept seeing it one piece at a time. And then we realized it was really about: we believe the material was so strong and I think we were all pleasantly surprised by what we had, that it would be a shame not to share it. Because we knew there would be an audience for it.

Our fans have just been so loyal and so committed over the years even though so much time has passed, they always seem starving for something like this. And given the current musical climate, we couldn’t be happier to fill that void for them. So over the last two and a half years, we set out, piecemeal, here and there, when we could afford to do it, both in time and financially, and somehow we made it to the first finish line at least!

Had you all three learned things from your musical forays since Jellyfish broke up?

Absolutely. You could tell that we had a lot more experience and wisdom to bring to the table than maybe we did in our mid-20s when Jellyfish disbanded. That’s really great to have that wheelhouse of knowledge at your disposal. That doesn’t necessarily make things easier, but you understand that things can get a lot more creative which is exciting; more experiments take place.

I know he hasn’t been very active in music, aside from cartoon soundtracks, but was Andy Sturmer contacted at all for this project?

No, that was never intended. He’s made it very apparent to us and the industry over the years that he’s not interested in any kind of post-Jellyfish activity, and that’s fine. Again, it was not even a thought from the inception. It was more about: me and Tim have worked together, me and Eric have worked together. We’ve paired up in a variety of ways, the three of us have never—short of Tim’s project, the Umajets, Eric and I did some playing on back in 1995-96—the three of us have never done a concerted effort or a single project like this.

Is touring part of what you want to do eventually?

Yeah. But it’s only going to happen if there’s financial infrastructure to make it happen. We’re past the age of getting in a van, sleeping in friend’s living rooms, and playing 100 seat bars across the country. So if someone can mastermind some well thought out, strategized tour of key markets and so forth, and there’s bills to pay everyone we need to pay to make it happen, I’m all for it. But that remains to be seen. It’s really a challenge to do that for any group, any group will tell you that. So I’m not making any promises there.

It’s amazing how Jellyfish was able to perform all that complex music live.

Sometimes it was a real challenge. We don’t shy away for that, but if we say yes, for example, I know the amount of work that we have cut out for us, and it’s deep. So it’s like—if I’m going to lock myself in a rehearsal studio with these guys for four weeks, and I’m not exaggerating, then there better be a paycheck coming somewhere or I can’t pay my heating bill.

It’s that simple. There’s no great mystery here. It’s like, if it’s not financially sustainable—anything I get involved with—and sometimes you don’t know, and you try, but touring we’ve all done it plenty and we know the numbers are and we know what the time investment is, so you weigh it all out, and you go, no, you know what? Our time is actually better spent going back in the studio, creating more original music, and reconnecting with our audience through social media, and maybe doing what everybody’s going now, giving them footage of us singing from our respective homes and doing that kind of live version instead of sweating it out in front of you in a club.

It seems that lately a lot of bands have found the road to be their only source of income, particularly since remuneration for recorded music has dropped so much through streaming.

There are plenty of bands out there whose careers are primarily live income, and I’ve been involved with every version of that in some way, particularly in working with other artists. But, who knows, this group may in fact be primarily be a studio entity, we’ll just have to see.

Will the EP be out on vinyl?

Yes, exactly. And it will have a special surprise on the B-side.

Is vinyl an important aspect of the music you put out?

Oh yeah, I mean ultimately I was reared on classic record making, so that means analog, capturing the music, and then the process of pressing to vinyl via the lathe, the tape mastering—everything that’s in that process. That is ultimately more gratifying sonically to me. It doesn’t make or break a song for me. There’s still shitty music that gets pressed up on vinyl and it doesn’t make it less crappy when I’m listening to it and it’s a great quality passing of vinyl and it’s mastered really well or recorded really well. A bad song is a bad song. But some my favorite music, pressed on super clean, fine vinyl, high res, on a good speaker system is one of the best things about being in a human body and having ears.

What were some of the first records you owned?

Oh, that’s easy. As soon as I had money, the first albums I bought were Kiss Alive I, which is not necessarily an audiophile record, and the Beach Boys’ compilation Endless Summer, the two-record set of greatest hits. Then I joined the Columbia House record club, and I got a bunch of records. But those 20 or so albums were all I had for several years before I discovered going to dollar vinyl stores in Berkeley in high school. Then all bets were off.

What’s the future of vinyl?

Thankfully, the DJ culture kept it going and created an audience of connoisseurs. But it’s pretty much over. Again, it’s so boutique. The mainstream doesn’t care. It’s nostalgia, it’s an antique thing. And that’s fine. I’m glad it’s still is alive. I know a whole generation that’s excited by cassettes, OK? More power to you.

The Lickerish Quartet’s debut EP, “Threesome Vol. 1” arrives in stores on May 15, 2020—on vinyl.

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