Below, you can read our interview with Jared Mancuso, and listen to music from his album, Hype! Check out our full music review of Hype! HERE.
Q: Your last project, Superdope, was wicked-awesome, so we’re stoked about this new album. But first things first… You’re originally from Bucks County, PA, but have since migrated to Philly. Now, while Philly is famous for offering much to the culture, it is not often mentioned in the same breath with your brand of punk and garage rock. This begs the question: Are you an island setting the table there, or, were/are there some local rock influences that inspired you at some point?
A: Well first, thank you for the kind words about Superdope! This is a seriously interesting question. I have migrated in a sense, yes, but I still consider myself a Bucks County Boy (which is really kinda just a suburban area outside of Philly), and I consider my live band to be more branched out than just a single location. That being said, it feels like an island almost everywhere. Over the last two years with promotion and playing shows surrounding the Superdope release, it has felt a bit like we’re the only ones out there playing this kind of riff rock music who aren’t a big name. This is, of course, a gross generalization and I’m certain there are bands out there like us (I recently met one based out of Brooklyn called, The Loud Soft Loud). We’ve definitely gained traction and I’m proud of that. But it can feel, from time to time, a bit like: who is out there playing what we play? And who is out there listening to what we play? I know they exist! Queens of the Stone Age, Royal Blood, Jack White, Wolfmother…they play to arenas. That’s been life on the island. Figuring out how to grab the attention of the people flying overhead.
Q: Take us further back… Your’re a multi-instrumentalist—and a damn good one. How did this happen? What was the impetus as a kid that made you take all of that on?
A: Thank you! Well, as a kid I was resistant to learning (ha ha). I have to credit my parents and my family who pushed me to take lessons, be it dance, voice, bass, or whatever. I took piano when I was much younger, but I was yanked out of those classes when my teacher would slam my hands on the keys when I played the wrong notes. That was the one time my mom was like, “ok, not those lessons.” Sometime after that, I just had this desire to play guitar. There’s video footage of me and my little brother in our basement where we propped up hockey sticks as mics, and used these old-school long neck tennis rackets (my dad is an antiques dealer), and we would blast Smash It Up by The Offspring and jam along. When I was about 10 years old, I finally felt ready to get a real guitar. My sister said, “You should play bass. Everyone plays guitar.” She was (is) the coolest person I know, so I begged my parents for a bass, got one, and I taught myself how to play it for about 4 years.
Somewhere in that time-frame is when I can remember hanging around after my sister’s musical rehearsals when she was in high school (which I would occasionally make an appearance in to do a cartwheel across the stage). My mom would volunteer to do costumes, so they’d all be in a deep discussion on how to dress like 50 kids as peasants in Once Upon a Mattress, and I would go down into the orchestra pit and teach myself how to play drum beats on the kit they had down there.
In middle school I made friends with some kids who played drums and guitar, so I wanted to advance as a bass player to keep up with their talent. That’s when I started with bass lessons. So I went from, maybe the age of 6 to 14 just teaching myself how to do this stuff. I took classical theory in high school, played saxophone in band, I went to national guitar workshops for the bass with some of my friends, and I went to college for acting and musical theatre, but I would say overall that my training in most instruments is very informal. I didn’t really pick up a guitar with any kind of real intent to play it until I was about 18 or 19. So I taught myself what barre chords were and went from there. I don’t think I learned what an open chord was until I was like…22. I just really really loved music. I loved listening to it and playing it. I just thought being in a band was as cool as it got. And, that always drove me to play and learn more. It was wanting to be in Weezer and Green Day, No Doubt, Pixies, Everclear, Phish, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rusted Root (and generally wanting to actually BE Michael Jackson), and all of those 80 and 90’s groups. That really fueled me to keep learning.
“That’s been life on the island. Figuring out how to grab the attention of the people flying overhead.”
Q: Can you tell us about the first moment you picked up a guitar?
A: I had doodled on the guitar from time to time. But when I was 18 or 19 I finally picked one up with the intent of doing something real with it. It started with the acoustic guitar, mainly because that’s what was available to me. My younger brother, who works in film now, played the guitar (and still does amazingly well), and he had an acoustic guitar at the house. I can remember my hands being really tired from the thickness of the neck, and having to get my arm over the wideness of the body, and the heavier gauge of the strings, and there being 6 friggin strings to play. I was a mostly grown human and it felt like this giant instrument. The bass seemed easier or softer to play somehow. I can’t recall what came out of my hands though. I can’t imagine it was very good (ha ha). But that struggle to play it has formed the player and performer I am today.
I’ve discovered in more recent years that I don’t want to not have fun playing. It seems like an obvious conclusion, but I started noticing that even with songs I had written…if I wasn’t having fun playing that song, I didn’t want it on my setlist anymore. When I’m writing, if I feel dumb saying that lyric, I don’t want that to be the lyric anymore. I’m still learning, but I’m not a beginner anymore. That struggle of learning those first barre chords—I never want to be back there. And I don’t have to be. It’s hard to explain and make sense in words. I think that it’s easy to get stuck on what you did in the beginning and the style you used to exude. So, for a long time, I would write a “new” song, but really it was old. It wasn’t me anymore and it took a while to realize it. For example, something as recent as the song The F*ck? from Superdope. I’ve already retired it from the live set-list because it’s not me anymore. It’s a song about turning 30, and now I’m 32 and I don’t feel like that anymore. So it wasn’t fun. Not even just lyrically, but how the guitar parts went. They echoed older styles I used to play. It felt old to me and not fun, like when I learned how to play the guitar for the first time. It was meaningful at the time, but not fun, and I don’t need to play like that anymore. It’s more of a feeling and this may be the first time I’ve ever tried to articulate it this way. I don’t know that I adequately explained that OR answered the question (ha ha).
Q: What was your first guitar? Do you still have/play it?
A: The first electric guitar I bought was a cream colored Fender Highway One series Telecaster. It was this cool short run Fender did of these “affordable” American made Telecasters, and I just spotted it and said, “I want that guitar.” I still have it, and it’s always amazing to play. My main guitar now is a Fender Pawn Shop Series 72′ Stratocaster in Surf Green. Again, a limited series thing, saw it, loved it, and by the time I had the money to buy it, they stopped making them. So I eventually found a used one in a guitar shop in, I wanna say in Kansas? I bought it right away. It’s interesting that I love Fender guitars so much now. When I was a kid, pre-guitar playing, I can remember being like, “YUCK! FENDER! LAAAME.” And now I’m like, “OOOO! FENDER!! LOOOOVE!” I basically buy guitars because they’re pretty, and assume that they’ll sound good enough for rock.
Q: Tell us about your first public gig… How old were you? How did it go?
A: I played in middle school and high school with a group called The Urban Funk Monkeys. We were a jam rock band, and we were juuuust the cooooolest. It’s funny how into the jam music world I was, but I, to this day, never smoked weed. Crazy right? But yeah, we made some sweet jams and released two albums together, and my first public performance as a musician was definitely with them. I honestly don’t know if I can think of the first show though. I have memories of all of our shows together, the talent shows, the benefit walks in town, we played at both The Wetlands and The Knitting Factory in NYC before I could even drive. But I don’t know if I can truly remember the FIRST gig with them. I wanna say it was a cover of Love Rollercoaster. Because how sick is that song??
Q: You’ve toured nationally… Tell us your favorite road story!
A: Hahaha wellllll. I’ve toured with a few groups and there are plenty of favorites that happened during a show, and plenty on our downtime. One of my favorites was from last year when I was playing some shows in Arizona and my buddy, Nick, was checking out his google maps and excitedly exclaimed there was a “Buffalo” nearby and we should go check it out. He was referring to the used clothing retail chain, Buffalo Exchange, which I knew was what he meant. My other friend, Austin asked, “Like, a Buffalo Exchange?” to clarify. I sarcastically said, “No, a real buffalo!” Unbeknownst to any of us, he believed me. Fast forward, we’re in the car and were about 5 minutes away from our destination when Austin said, “Holy shit! I’m so excited! I’m gonna like tackle this buffalo and give it a huge hug!” Nobody said anything. So, I finally was like, “Wait, Nick said, ‘there’s a buffalo nearby,’ you asked, ‘a buffalo exchange?’ I said, ‘no a real buffalo!’ and you—this whole time—have thought we were going to see a live buffalo?” There was this loooong pause. Then he just said, “Yes.” The laughter was uncontrollable. Here he thought there was some new feature on google maps! He was saying, “I thought you could be like, search: humpback whales near me.” That was when my friend Nick spat his water all over the dashboard. It’s this kind of stuff, the moments that you have together as a group while in a state of feeling incredible from playing to audiences around the country, exhausted from the road, and everything in between, that always stands out. It’s a bonded joy that is truly incredible.
Q: Hype! is your 3rd solo project… Are you the lone instrumentalist once again? How long did this album take to complete?
A: I am the lone instrumentalist once again. I’m also the engineer. This album took both a short amount of time to create yet longer than I anticipated. With Superdope I recorded as I wrote and toured and spent overall about 8 month putting it all together. Doing it in chunks like that, over time, made for a mixing semi-nightmare, but it made creating the music very free flowing, which was a really fun experience. I had a deadline and I met it. For Hype! I took a different approach. Some of the guitar licks and melodies are as old as a year now. I took the last year to assemble them together into coherent songs using the voice memos app on my iPhone, then starting in January of this year (2018), I started laying out demos using both Logic and sometimes Garageband on my iPhone. This would help me flesh out drum and bass parts, lock down melodies, and refine the structures of the songs. Then I got distracted by a million and one things because that’s the artist’s way?
Finally, in April I started recording the official takes for the album. I didn’t complete the album until June 19th. I know there are bands that take longer than that to record an album. And if you count the writing process, yeah, it took me almost a year. I pushed back my deadline a bunch though. When it comes to recording, for both Hype! and Superdope, I don’t spend a lot of time on a bad take. If I missed a fill on the drums coming out of the bridge, that whole take gets scrapped. So that kind of stickler attitude keeps things moving for me and will ultimately make the mixing process easier. However, it can create an unachievable expectation sometimes. With Hype! I became more of a perfectionist. But the best part about doing it right is, in the end, it’s all real. I’ve done the pop style recording where I synthesize an instrument, or punch in a lyric, or autotune a line. Every album has a level of that, including Hype! And while I am always proud of the work I do, there is something that can feel like cheating when it came to doing that over the top production style.
I think back on a story I read about Tim Burton, who fought with the studio execs when filming Big Fish.The scene when Ed Bloom fills the field with Daffodils, the studio wanted to use CGI, and Tim wanted to use real Daffodils. His argument was that the audience can feel the difference. When you see CGI, something in your brain tells you, “what you’re looking at isn’t real”, and the emotional connection is lost. He won that fight, and thank goodness because it’s arguably one of the most beautiful cinematic shots in history. I think the same thing applies to music. You can hear when something isn’t real. There is absolutely an artistry in auto-tune, and synths, and sampled drums. But I just don’t want to be a part of it. If it means it takes me longer or more takes, so be it.
Q: We’ve been doing this long enough to know that artists like you have one—or several—intentions/themes when putting together a group of songs like this. Spill it…?
A: While Hype! does vary in theme a bit, at least lyrically, the overall thing I found myself lyric journaling about was social media and the impact it is having on our world. There is so much noise, so much negativity, so much fakeness, so much anxiety, so much disconnect, from both a mass media scale all the way down to the one-to-one friend you went to high school with level; all on a platform that was built to help people keep in touch. And I’m a part of it as well. It’s hard to pull yourself away from it because we’re straight up addicted. Hell, I used Kickstarter to help fund the album being pressed to CD and Vinyl. I had to turn to the source I have so many fundamental problems with, and currently writing about/against to reach out to friends, family and fans. It’s a sickness. I find it truly amazing the lengths people go to defend social media. It absolutely has it’s pros, but the cons are outweighing it, but we still stay logged in. If that doesn’t mirror drug addiction, I don’t know what does.
I also touch on themes like lost-love (So In Love, The Jungle), and the frustrations of our (read: my) favorite bands abandoning their fans for whatever the hell genres most of them have been pumping out as of late (Play False Blues). The title track came from unpacking the word “hype” (which I wanted to call the album before writing the song). Just sit and think about hype for a bit. You’ll be amazed at what you can find in one little word. Some songs are personal, some I write from the perspective of someone experiencing something I haven’t. That’s the acting major in me (ha ha).
Q: The track, Extraordinary, is one damn mean riff. We know that artists hate to discuss their songs, but humor us and tell us exactly what this track is about…?
A: Thank you! I actually made a short video about explaining the evolution of that riff. It was a lesson in persistence. I almost scrapped the riff until I started playing drums along with it, which then forced me to make changes to the riff and get it to a place where I ended up being really satisfied. Lyrically, this one covers the social media theme I blanketed the album with. This one reflects on how it used to be, where we are now, and if we’re able to turn it off. People have always been nosy. “Oh did you hear? So-and-so said blah blah blah.” But now we’ve almost crossed the threshold into voyeurism meets encouragement of behavior, good or bad. We can just observe what’s happening in so-and-so’s life, and then give it what I call a “hate-like” and keep scrolling onto the next person we’re pretending to care about. It’s just really exhausting. Emotionally, mentally, even physically. So, Extraordinary is saying, you know, turn it off—it won’t be scary.
Q: Perhaps in some unspecified amount of time, your musical career explodes in the best of ways…what does that look like for you?
A: I want to be able to sell out 2000+ capacity venues, but only play in 500 capacity venues. I think there is a modest level of success that should be rewarded and celebrated more often. And there is a palpable difference in energy with a smaller audience that is unlike playing to 1600 people. Through my past life in theatre, I’ve been fortunate to perform to audiences of that size. And it’s exciting—no doubt. But it’s the 250 people you play to in the smaller venue that seems more special. It can be any of the 1600 people who make up the 250, and that intimacy makes it feel like a family in a way. Like, “Hey there! Let’s have a great time tonight. Just us.” It’s like the Netflix and chill of live shows.
Q: You get to collaborate with anyone of your choosing. Who is it?
A: Gaaaaah. I’d be torn between Jack White and Rivers Cuomo. They’re both just so brilliant in very different ways. That would be very hard to choose.
Q: Your favorite album of all time?
A: This is tough, but I’ve stood by it before. Everclear’s, So Much For The Afterglow. It’s truly incredible. Art Alexakis is just so complex and you can hear it in the writing of that whole album. Father of Mine, a song about being abandoned by your father, was one of THREE songs off that album that were top 5 in the modern rock track charts. I feel like a lot of people know the hits off that album, but not songs like White Men In Black Suits or Sunflowers. There is just so much honesty in an album that, on the surface, seems just like typical 90’s music. It’s so much more than that, and I think it’s incredible. It’s a close tie with Weezer’s Blue Album. Similar reasons.
Q: Your favorite song of all time?
A: SONG?! Oh jeez. Well according to my iTunes, my number one most played song is Dirty Filthy Souls by Awolnation. So let’s pretend that’s my favorite? For real though, I don’t even know. Possibly Something by The Beatles. George Harrison’s guitar solo is just out of this world, the mood of the song is unrivaled in anything I’ve probably ever heard, and it’s all just straight up beautiful. It’s like you’re sitting in the middle of someone’s mind, looking at the one they love, and taking in all of the feelings they have for that person. The Beatles did it all. I feel like it seems like the cool thing to avoid naming a Beatles song as your favorite (ha ha). But I’m going to lean into it. If you asked me my top 10, at least half would be Beatles songs.
Q: What would you like fans to know about you that they’re most likely unaware of?
A: I’ve tap danced since I was 3 years old.
Q: Any shout-outs you wanna make?
A: Chef Beff
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I say this to our audiences in one of the bands I play in, Not Fade Away. It’s a little cheesy, but I believe it: Music is a gift and that doesn’t necessarily mean you were born with it. Everyone I know who plays music grew up listening to the songs their grandparents, parents, or siblings showed them or sang to them. Everyone I know who plays music was once handed their first instrument or was encouraged to save for their own. If you have a niece or a nephew, a little sister or brother, a child or a grandchild, the best gift you can give them is the gift of music.