Local favorites ManDancing announced earlier this week that they will be rereleasing their debut album Everyone Else on Take This to Heart Records, marking a significant step forward. One of the first bands covered on N.J. Racket, it’s been a privilege to watch the band grow and develop for almost two years now and more so to see the fruits of their labor to finally pay off. In the past few days, I got to catch up with Stephen Gerard and Ben Petty to talk about everything that’s been happening with the band, where they’ve been, and where they’re going.
Everyone Else was the bands debut release over two years ago now. For anyone that hasn’t been around that long or has drank their memory to shit, give us just a brief rundown of how this band came together and how this album came to be way back when.
Stephen Gerard: ManDancing came together pretty organically. The short story is that Ben and I met at a basement, where he was performing with Subtitles and I, solo, in New Brunswick. He had invited me to play a show at the Meatlocker, shortly after. Although, the show ended up being at his place. That night, Russell Payan suggested I record my stuff with Ben, and for some reason I figured that that would be a good idea. I shared my idea with Ben for what would become Everyone Else. We started getting together weekly, planning, fleshing out material, and eventually recording. Through that time, I had met Thomas, at Tierny’s, in Montclair, where we had both played that night. Again I was solo, and Tom played with Impossible Cities. After I performed, Tom had mentioned he was aiming at playing with more singer songwriters. Ben had also suggested that we ask Tom to help play on the record. The three of us clicked during the handful of occasions that we initially worked together. Eventually we had thrown around the idea of playing live(Originally just setting up as a full band, but me just playing solo, as a goof) Our first show as MD3 came about by happenstance when one of Ben’s projects had to cancel a gig. We improvised that set. That pretty much set the tone from there on out. Towards the end of the recording sessions, I suggested that we recruit Mark Bucci to mix the project. I had known Mark for a few years at that point, and had always loved his work. I was in his band Terrible Terrible. He recorded and mixed the EP that I contributed to, and it seemed logical that I get his ear on what we were working on. Mark then came to rehearsals and MD4 started to manifest. Adrian had gotten involved after Ben had asked him if we were interested in playing bass for us while at a gig in New Bruns. Adrian’s mainstay, the Gray Company was about to head over seas to Africa to play a string of concerts for a month(funny because Mark actually played keyboard for that outfit) so it worked out timing wise. MD5 was born. We’ve been making it work ever since. So, yea that’s the short story.
Now, in the time since the release, these tracks seem to have grown and evolved more and more each time I’ve seen you perform, in addition to how many different ensembles ManDancing will perform as, whether it’s solo, duo, three-piece, five piece, etc. How has the kind of elastic development of these songs come to be?
I’ve always looked at the record we recorded and how we perform it as two heads on the same animal. The band formed slightly during, but primarily after we had recorded Everyone Else. It would be foolish to try and recreate precise album versions of the songs. Having the room to do what it is that we want within the confines of each song structure has enabled the band to grow and adapt to each room we play in. It allows us to bring new energy every time we play. The album will remain constant because that’s the nature of having recorded material. The show, however, can be whatever it needs and wants to be when and where we perform. Something that only ever happens once, every time. We like it that way.
I recall having a conversation with Steve last summer right after you guys bought the van about how that became in a way almost the motivation and enforcement to really take the band more seriously, not that it wasn’t serious before that, but to really push the band to take that next step forward. Can you elaborate on that decision, what the mindset has been and the role it has played in what ManDancing has accomplished since that point?
We had booked a tour while having no tour vehicle at the time. After discussing options, it made the most sense to make the larger investment for the long-term goal. Instead of renting for a short tour, we decided buying for the upcoming and potential future tours. A big financial undertaking acts somewhat as a binding contract, so we all had to set our sights a bit further in order to feel good about making that decision. Naturally, it led us to taking the band more seriously, but in more of a long-term commitment type of way. We haven’t really second guessed it, as we’re all in love with the van and what’s it been able to provide. It’s allowed us to get more places, so that’s tight. And it’s comfy to boot.
One of the most significant aspects of ManDancing’s music is how powerful and personal the lyrics are and their ability to connect to people. I would imagine performing these songs had to be cathartic, but after two years, do you still feel the same way about them? Is it something you’ve become desensitized to or has the bond to them grown stronger?
I tend to not think about that all too much. Each time we play, and I sing those words, the hope is that it’s new for whoever is hearing it at the moment. Continually, I’m learning new things about those songs and how they make me feel. New angles to certain lines seem to pop up now and again that get me to see things I didn’t before. It’s always changing, but the initial feelings on what they mean to me haven’t gone away, and I don’t think they will.
Outside of ManDancing, you guys have a few side projects going on. Ben recently released an EP with his long time band Subtitles, Tom also recently released a jazz album, Mark has started work on a solo project called Brewster, and I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two. How have you been able to balance these different projects and how do you keep things straight creatively?
Ben Petty: I think you nailed it, those are the side projects! I can only answer on my own behalf about how I balance it and keep things straight, and it’s simply that ManDancing is my main focus, musically.
p.s. Keep an ear out for new Subtitles and Brewster releases coming soon(ish).
And now, coming up in the next week or so, you will be rereleasing Everyone Else on Take This To Heart Records. What’s that process been like, from shopping the album all the way through to the upcoming release?
The process for this was a bit unique, seeing as how the album had been out for so long. We had never ever planned on rereleasing the album, but when it was proposed as part of a larger plan, it just made so much sense. As a matter of fact, i don’t know if I’d call it a process in the traditional sense, because a lot of serendipitous things happened to make this all possible.
Any teasers on what’s next for ManDancing following the rerelease of Everyone Else? Tours scheduled, upcoming releases, side project releases, etc?
As far as upcoming releases, all I can say now is yes, there will be new music soon. And I am currently booking some small tours for June!
Thank you again for taking the time. Looking forward to release and everything else lined up for us in the future.
Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.