Interview: Moog Cookbook, Pt. 2: Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.

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Moog Cookbook week continues with the interview of Meco Eno, better known to the world as Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. Aside from the Moog Cookbook, Roger’s also the founder of Jellyfish, Imperial Drag and TV Eyes. He’s worked with Beck from 1998 to 2002 (which include the Midnite Vultures and Mutations albums – which happen to be my favorite Beck records), toured and recorded with Air along with Moog Cookbook partner Brian Kehew (on the 10,000 Hz Legend album), and does remixes and electronic music under the name of Malibu (with one album, Robo-Sapiens, out). This doesn’t even mention his solo records or any of the other stuff he’s done.

This is also the first Kittysneezes phone interview — Roger let me give him a call, and we talked for quite some time! That’s why the “Part The First” section is a bit shorter than usual, just because, well, who wants to be given a questionnaire over the telephone, huh? 

Part the First

At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: “Trouble” by the Music Machine.

What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Well, The Music Machine. I mean, unless you’re really into ’60s garage rock, most people would have not heard of them at all.

What’s the strangest thing you own?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: I have a promotional display of Donnie & Marie marionettes which were only issued to toy stores that sold the dolls and the puppets. So, it’s not something a regular consumer could buy. My girlfriend and I picked one up at a toy show; some crazy collector had a display and we have it in our house to this day, and we can plug it in and the little puppets dance around, the little marionette guys and it’s really cool.

Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: I’m very lucky to have been born into a lifestyle of affluence that has allowed me to create to begin with. There’s a lot of creative people out there, but they’re so busy trying to put a roof over their head and food and water into their mouths they don’t have time to express themselves. Well, I’m going to have to say my last solo record, because it’s still kind of a miracle to me that it saw the light of day. First, it was never my intention, and then when it finally did become my intention, I did have a reality check about just how much I was up against in the world of record labels, to actually have it come out, then have a record company that had money to do promotion and get me overseas to play shows in Japan and so forth. So the fact that that solo record came out (in Japan it’s called Solid State Warrior), that’s really one of the most proud moments in my 20 years of professional music making.

If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Well, we were just talking about this this morning! Not because my girlfriend’s pregnant, but because she teaches a lot of kids and as the generations come through you see all the different trendy names that the different generations of parents choose to name the kids and, boy, you’d be surprised at just how much nonsense gets thrown upon these kids, because naming a child, for a lot of folks is their one and only opportunity, well, it’s a very rare moment in their lives to express themselves, be creative. So they get an opportunity to be unique, make a statement, which is wonderful but they do it at the expense of their child, because it’s the child that has to live with that name, not the parent, so they get all crazy and experimental with it. Even if they call it a name we’ve all heard, they may choose to spell it so ridiculously that no one’s ever going to remember the spelling. So, if I named a child, I would try to do what I think my folks did with me whether it was intentional or not, my name is very plain, and when I was a little kid, I kinda resented that. I wished it was a bit more flamboyant or unique or a name I preferred. But I really like the fact that it’s just simple and plain to remember, it’s a stone’s throw away from “John Smith”. So I’ve always liked sort of classic Biblical, Catholic names, even though I’m not of that belief system whatsoever, but “Paul”, “David”, any kind of respectful, classy, proper, monosyllabic name like that.

What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Well, first you have to tell me the point of that question or where it came from.

A long time ago, when my friend and I were younger, like in middle school, even, we used to call each other up all the time and say all sorts of stupid stuff, and this is one that just sort of came forward, and I know it’s just a completely stupid question, but it’s sort of an odd one to think about.

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Yeah… well, you can take any silly question like that and get quite philosophical about it. I think forcing human beings to engage more with the animal kingdom would do humanity a huge service. If they come out of a giant cannon or gun that shoots the animal at the human, and they’re forced to re-connect with the animal kingdom… I think all of us naturally have an affinity for animals, but our culture has taught us to think we are separate from the animal kingdom, and it’s so out of bounds, out of control. Human beings are so out of touch with the animal kingdom that we have taken it so far as to value and determine that certain animals are worthy of living and others we perfectly have the right to take away their lives and even a step further, that they’re here only for our sustenance and amusement. And to me, that is one of humanity’s greatest pitfalls at the moment, because a lot of suffering results because of our disconnect to the animal kingdom. So let’s shoot pigs, cattle, sheep and chickens before they’ve been through the slaughterhouse out at humans so humans can realize that a beautiful sheep or calf is just as heartwarming, and humans have just as much of a connection to these animals as they do their dog or cat at home or what have you. My favorite form of insanity was a little while ago it was very fashionable in Hollywood for people to have pet pot-bellied pigs, it was very trendy, yet these were the same people who were having pork sausage the next morning and were bragging to all their friends about how loveable, and cuddly and affectionate and INTELLEGENT — because they are — these pot-bellied pigs were. But we are raised in a culture, and I don’t blame these people, where this disconnection that we are separate to such a degree and that the animal kingdom is lesser than and has nothing to offer and give back to us humans, can only lead to more pain and suffering and ultimately disease, because we have no business eating animal flesh. Even though we can if for survival it’s necessary, though consuming animal products three times a day at every meal is leading to disease like mankind has never seen. So I say take your guns and your cannons and shoot as many dogs, cats and animals of all kinds as you want, because the more humans are forced to reconnect with the animal kingdom, I think only positivity and benefit for all, human and animals, will come out of it. So, that’s my long-winded PeTA and responsible answer for that one — have fun transcribing that!

That’s probably the most serious answer to that one I’ve ever gotten!

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: I’m in a mode currently in my life where I enjoy getting quite philosophical about all kinds of things. Some people may argue that I take life too damn seriously, but I don’t. I remain light-hearted, but I see no reason not to take life seriously, whether this is the only one we get or we have thousands more to reincarnate into, I can’t tell you, but they’re all fun. Just like, why would I ever take any of the songs I’ve written not seriously? Even if it’s a song that’s supposed to make people laugh, like the Moog Cookbook, or a song supposed to make people cry, like “The Man I Used To Be” that Jellyfish did. I think all of those opportunities, life is one big opportunity to connect with other people, and to evolve and rediscover and know yourself and love yourself, and so what could be more serious? And of course, there’s great joy in that seriousness, and of course there’s great humor in that as well, part of the joy and the big picture.

What is reality?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: I’ve basically been listening to lectures and reading books on that for the past two years! Not that I can give you a succinct answer. Reality, the more and more I discover, not only from my own life, what everybody from hobbyists to serious scientific minds tell us, is that reality is exactly, no more, no less, than what we make it. And that can be on an individual perspective or collective. In other words, I can be very determined and focused on my intent for how I want to create my own life from a minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day basis, but you and I, and say, the community of music fans, we can all collectively decide through our individual actions and just communicating and interacting with each other on a deeper, non-trivial level, what we want our reality to be. There’s huge, huge science behind that that I won’t bore you or your readers with, or even attempt to articulate, since it’s quite heady and intellectual. Suffice to say, the more digging science does, the more they end up proving how much human beings are actually in control of the whole damn thing. We’ve been led to believe from birth that we’re plopped out here for no rhyme nor reason, we have no idea what to do once we’re here, and we are completely at the mercy of not only nature, but more specifically, this invisible, bearded man hanging out in the clouds, that determines our fate every second, and that we have no say in the matter and like I said, the more I personally experiment on my own and discover things and continue to read what great minds both past and present are putting forth, that nothing could be further from the truth. Every day we get closer and closer to realizing that we are one-hundred percent in control of our world, and if anything, if there is a so-called one-singular entity, creator god, force, whatever face you want to put on it, its only wish for us is that we wake up and take charge, which was its original intention for us anyway, because what we do and what we create is how it experiences itself. Human beings are not separate from each other any more than we are from the animal kingdom as I was just saying a few minutes ago. We are all connected, we are all the fingers on this one body, we are all the hairs on the head of this one body, we are all cells, we all, the six billion human beings, are the equivalent of the trillions and trillions of cells in a human body, and what one cell is doing, what the cells in the liver are doing are affecting what the cells in the lungs are doing, and the endocrine system and the reproductive system and the brain. Everybody’s affecting everybody else. Any biologist will tell you this is how the human body functions. And as soon as one part isn’t holding up its end of the deal, that’s when illness and disease sets in, because you have to have a balanced system, and that’s how mankind is. As soon as mankind realizes that we all contribute to each other’s lives, that everything we do, say and think, since thinking moves consciousness. You’re asking me what is reality; reality is built through consciousness and intention. The reality of the Moog Cookbook, the fantasy of the Moog Cookbook, was built from an idea that Brian and I had driving home from dinner one night in the car. Now it took a year and a half later for us to actually hold the CD in our hands, to say “we did it, check it out”, but it started from the genesis of a thought, a notion, an intention. So, that is what reality is. The reality is, the fantasy of a Moog Cookbook band and record, and reality came into being because we first harnessed thought and moved forward in that focus.


Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: You’re gonna have some homework! Sorry!

I like these answers, it’s really obvious that you’ve read a whole mess of stuff on this.

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Not as much as I’d like! I’ve actually been taking advantage of Internet radio, and going to people’s websites, downloading lectures, mp3s, from maybe 10 minutes long to two hours long, and loading up my iPod. Though I still love listening to music, you could probably argue I listen to way more to people talking, from everything from scientists, philosophers, hobbyists, historians — the whole gamut. And quite frankly, when you hear my latest solo record, the follow-up to Solid State Warrior, which I’ve just finished, and ideally will be released in Japan in April, a lot of the subject matter — not ’cause I try to do this — a lot of the subject matter that I’m going off at the mouth about here about, appears in a lot of these songs, it’s sort of a loose theme to the upcoming album.

Will the record be available through your site?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Yeah, but it’ll only be on import through Amazon at first, and I’m currently talking to the US label, about whether or not they’re going to release it, because my commitment with them is from an album-to-album basis, so because they released the last one, doesn’t mean this next one’s guaranteed. So although Japan’s ready to go, and they’ve already said “yes”, the US company, Cordless, is deciding whether or not it works out for them financially, and all those things.

I hope it goes through, though!

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Yes, because it will be cheaper for everybody if it does! It’ll be more affordable!

Part the Second

I got into Neil Young’s great Trans record because of you guys — so how did YOU get into Trans?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: I have always peripherally enjoyed Neil Young. I’ve never his biggest fan, but he’s certainly had moments in his huge career that have blown me away, and I’m happy he continues to make music. When the Trans album came out in the early 80s, it was a time when a lot of younger music, punk rock and new wave type music, were deliberately very intent on blowing the old rock-n-roll, classic rock, male, macho-struttin’, hippie rock, styles that we’d all grown up with. It was deliberately intent on destroying, tearing down those models, for a new liberating, more organic, less pretentious art form, and with that, a lot of classic rock styles, like Neil Young’s California country-rock if you will, the Eagles, groups like that, were faced with not knowing what to do. Suddenly, their huge audiences were leaving them for other styles of music, and their dominance of the scene was being threatened. So a lot of them decided to cut their hair, shave their beards, get a nice suit with a loose tie on and try to stake their claim and make some kind of noise in the new music genres that were happening for the younger cultures. Neil Young’s contribution to this was the Trans album — there were a couple others he had, but this is probably the most… alarming, for lack of a better word. When it first came out, it struck me as nothing more than a pathetic attempt to do this, and I felt quite sorry for Neil Young, having had respect for him in the past. For me, this was a hideous attempt at selling out and not knowing what to do, and desperately trying to hang on as the old made way for the new. So, the album was a total joke to me, and to this day, has provided more humor than actual musical satisfaction. So I’ve always viewed it as a momentary lapse of sanity for Neil, whom I have nothing but the utmost respect for, and I still think the album is still quite silly. Now, there are some wonderful technical moments on it, production moments, but, you know, that record, I view, as high comedy. And I don’t, I’m not trying to diminish it by saying that, but I don’t think that’s what he was going for. I don’t think he was trying to make people laugh with that record, but he certainly made Brian and I laugh. And in addition to that, Brian discovered, he came across, especially when the Moog Cookbook was forming, some very rare Trans video and concert footage, so we would watch it for a good laugh. The only thing funnier than that record is his frikkin’ band that he assembled; Neil performing with a wireless microphone which was very sci-fi and unique at the time, and very primitive technology, as he was pioneering it, and he’s got the vocoded vocals. Just the juxtaposition of that feeble attempt at being DEVO, which was only 10 years after him doing possibly one of his best albums ever, which was Harvest, it was just absurd that this was coming from the same person. Not that people can’t change and offer up differing musical stylings, I’ve certainly done that in my musical career, but one was really flying in the face of the other in my opinion, and I’m really awestruck by any Neil Young fans who’ve hung in there through Neil’s dark night of the soul.

With me, it’s sort of funny, because Trans was sort of the gateway to Neil Young for me!

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Well, sure! All kinds of things can happen that way!

If someone were to jump into the world of the analog synthesizer, what do you think would be a good starter?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Well, there are so many these days, especially since keyboards had a revival in the 90s for sure, after being quite looked down upon in the late ’80s, early ’90s. There are so many very simple, simply laid out, but quite well thought out keyboards that are very, very affordable, but I still say if one has access to a vintage Minimoog, that’s the best way to learn. It’s very intuitive, and all the basics and fundamentals are there; it’s not overwhelming, there’re not too many knobs, there’s not too many modules, there’s not too many components that one has to understand to grasp basic synthesis. But if they can’t find an original Minimoog, which of course are getting more and more scarce, then the Voyager would be the next best thing. That’s more of a glorified Minimoog that Bob designed a few years ago now, and it’s phenomenal, you still get all of the essentials and fundamentals to educate yourself on electronic sound construction.

Is the Voyager the new kind of reissue of the Minimoog that I’ve been seeing?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: It’s not really a reissue; it’s more of a hotrodded Minimoog. It’s laid out exactly like a Minimoog was, but with all the features, old and new, that everyone would have wished the Minimoog would have had back in the day. So it’s completely hotrodded, a Minimoog on steroids.

What do you think of the analog-modeling synths like the Nord?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: I can talk about not only the Nord, but basically all of those, including soft synths. Those worlds to me are a trade-off. They provide so many wonderful new features, things keyboard players could only fantasize about ten, twenty years ago that are endlessly fun. They open up so many worlds of possibilities for sound creation. Really it’s overwhelming, because anything you can think of you can try, and you can get completely lost in the programming of sound creation, sound design. That said, the digital sound source, as opposed to the analog sound source, simply put has never — and I don’t know if it ever will — but currently since its inception, has never fulfilled me sonically, the way analog oscillators do. So what I’m saying is that you can have a keyboard like the Nord, which is SO well thought out by its Swedish creators, and has so many features and fun stuff to do; it’s a very creative line of gear. Its raw sound source, though, the raw building blocks for tone, and how those tones feel say, in a bass line, whether they’re really hitting the listener physically, both in the ears and the chest cavity and all that, I find very cold, thin, sterile and not very gratifying. So what happens is, I find myself not going to those analog modeling synths to build my sound construction. If I have access to an old keyboard, a vintage keyboard with analog controlled circuitry, I’d much rather go there first and build my sounds that way. That being said, a ton of records by some really cool and experimental people are being made with this modern gear. I don’t deny that, I’m just saying for me, it’s not where I go first. It’s not as appealing, and natural for me to pursue those sound sources. It’s a trade-off; it’s hard to even say one’s better than the other. It’s what the composer, the sound designer’s looking for. What they want for their music, and I know what I want for my music is gonna be that gut-moving tone first before all the bells and whistles; it’s the substance versus all the acrobatics and the thrills if you will.

In the interview with Brian, he mentioned that the Bartell record was named after Bill Bartell — who is Bill Bartell?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Bill Bartell is a music enthusiast here in Los Angeles, that because he is so outgoing and is such an overt personality, that all kinds of bands of all kinds of styles know who he is, or have come into contact with him. He’s kind of this omnipresent fixture of the last thirty years on the LA kind of underground music scene. And not even just LA, people in New York and Seattle and Chicago know him as much as LA, but LA is his home, so probably more bands here. And the thing about Bill Bartell, is that his enthusiasm is fun to be around. But also, because he’s so omnipresent, some people can find him annoying. Bill is also very much a Hollywood self-made celebrity; he’s kind of a male groupie in a way. None of the bands he’s ever been in have done anything. But he has been in the company of and knows personally — I mean, he’s friends with every member of Kiss, he knew every member of Nirvana before they were even formed. He’d be the one who’d tell Sonic Youth “You gotta meet my friend Kurt Cobain in Seattle”, and he’d hook up these people. So like I said, everybody knows who Bill Bartell is, but Hollywood, the mainstream avenues of Hollywood, don’t really know who he is. So Bill has always enjoyed being a self-made celebrity, even though he isn’t one. He’s really more of a celebrity in his own mind. So these are all the reasons we wanted to — it’s a joke in that we’re furthering his fictitious celebrity status by calling the record that. If you know Bill, it’s hard for people to even hear his name without starting to laugh. But they’re laughing because he’s so fun and cool, and he can simultaneously be a pain in the ass. So when somebody hears that name they just start laughing. It’s really kind of cerebral, because it’s hard to even put words on, it’s like, well of course you would name your record “Bill Bartell”, because it’s the only thing Bill Bartell hasn’t done yet! There’s no albums out there with his name on them yet. So it’s furthering the myth, the hero myth that is Bill Bartell.

One of the other things that Brian said if there was any more Moog Cookbook projects in the works, he said a flat out “No”, so I was wondering if the Moog Cookbook is dead, or just pining for the fjords?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Well, the reality is, is that if we each had four lifetimes to lead simultaneously, there’d be a whole bunch of Moog Cookbook records. It’s all about time, and Brian and I both have other priorities in our lives, that we have both deemed more interesting to us than the Moog Cookbook stuff. We were very happy, and we would both agree we were actually surprised we got as far as two, and you could argue that Bartell is the third, records, because it was always only supposed to be just kind of one album. But we extended the theme, the joke, the comedy stylings to a second record, which I’m glad we did, because I frankly think our second record is the best — it’s awesome, I’m the most proud of that. I think everything came together in the way we ultimately fantasized about on that second record. So it’s only an issue of time; Brian just put out his fabulous Beatles book which was seven or eight years in the works, and like I said I’m on my third solo album now which I can’t even believe, and it only makes me want to do more, so there’s just no time. There’s no time for all of the logistics it’d take to get a third, exciting record off the ground, and that’s sad.

What’s your all-time favorite Moog record?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: There’re so many incredible ones, but the ones that come to mind though, are the ones that Dick Hyman put out in the 1960s, like The Age of Electronicus. But I mean, just synthesizers in general, because I guess Moogs were some of the only early ones that were out at the time, but ARP came into the picture pretty early, Buchla, there were other ones definitely floating around out there. All the Kraftwerk records I think are just such masterpieces. A lot of the Giorgio Moroder stuff, because I think he was taking a lot of this primitive technology and using it in this very, very pop, dancy contexts in the way that a lot of the more arty, Wendy Carlos, classical community had not been doing. And even the Brain Salad Surgery album by Emerson, Lake & Palmer features lots of synthesizer in ways that were very different and experimental. Same with the Stevie Wonder records, all those early Stevie Wonder albums where he’s playing bass synthesizer, lots and lots of keyboards in ways people had never even heard yet, and used in a very creative, complimentary pop setting. It’s beautiful; I love that stuff, that stuff continues to inspire me in my own record making.

Do you have a favorite synth?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Well, no, not really, since they all do their own kinda thing. I mean, I like so many of them equally, I like the Minimoog as much as the Yamaha CS-80. That’s why I have so many! That’s why I’ve always been collecting, and I couldn’t stop collecting, I mean, “this one does this, and THIS one does THIS, and I can get a deal on this one, and I found this one beat up and I’ll put money into repairing it!” and it just went on and on and on. And at this point, I’m actually selling keyboards and trying to thin out my collection, because as the bumper sticker says, “You can’t take it with you”. My collection got crazy. I don’t really have a favorite, but like I said from my earlier babbling, I prefer the vintage era, I prefer what was being built in the sixties and seventies, up through a lot of the keyboards of the early 80s, like the Jupiter 8, the Memorymoog and the CS-80 by Yamaha, and that to me is the last hurrah of the golden era.

Have you ever used any of the Buchla boxes?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: I have; I don’t own any, but we had access to them down at the studio Brian was auditing, a studio Brian was using for a while, and I’ve certainly been allowed to hear them and play them in person, but you need to sit down with a manual to operate a lot of those things and have an understanding. I’m more of the persuasion of creative synthesis by accident, with no thought, and organic just feeling your way through a keyboard. I always tell the story about when I was in high school, I was very lucky to have a piano teacher who had a small Moog that he loaned me. And I made it very clear to my younger brothers that they were not to mess around with this because it wasn’t mine. I didn’t want them to break it, so it was hands off, right? Of course, they didn’t listen to their older brother, and I came home from school one day and they both had headphones on from the synthesizer, and they were rolling on the floor, giggling hysterically. After I got done yelling at them and chasing them from my room, I put the headphones on to see what sounds they had made to make them laugh or whatever was going on. And they had come up with the most gurgly, bubbly, swamp-like sound effects I had ever heard. Sounds I would never have been able to create, because I was approaching it more from like “you have to make music on these things”, and they were approaching it more from like “we have no idea what we’re doing, but as soon as you start turning knobs, this box with a keyboard attached is the ultimate fun machine”. So, that, to me, is a real demonstration of how synthesis, although it’s based in electronics, is incredibly organic, especially when it was first brought to the world. It can be as organic as acoustic guitar, an acoustic piano or sitting behind a set of drums, because what is crucial to human beings expressing themselves through instruments is not having to think. Even when you pick up a saxophone or a trumpet, you first have to learn how to produce a tone, and that can be frustrating for people. Whereas you sit behind a piano, there’s no right or wrong, you just plop your hands on the keys and produce tones. You produce a quality tone immediately, and that holds true for synthesis. You can stand behind a keyboard synthesizer and there’s no right or wrong, you just produce tone immediately. And in that is immediate, unedited, self-expression, and that is crucial, that is CRUICAL.

How did the “Born To Be Wild” video come about?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: That was a sheer coincidence! That was a fan, up in the Seattle area, I believe, who was just screwing around, making some home movie experiments, and used our song just for the hell of it to put in the background. He didn’t make that video to suit the music, but obviously the video’s a wonderful concept and it was so much fun to see what he did with that, and we got a hold of him, and asked if we could use it, distribute it, share what he had done with the rest of our fans. That’s how that came about, very cool coincidence there.



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