Roger Joseph Manning Jr. Talks Synth Love and Completing The Lickerish Quartet’s ‘Threesome’ Project with Vol. 3 (INTERVIEW)

Photo credit: St. Eris Media

The Lickerish Quartet brings together former Jellyfish members Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Eric Dover and Tim Smith, and the Quartet is a creative outlet for their continued collaboration in new directions. Before the pandemic period, they had decided to create a collection of songs together and laid substantial groundwork for what evolved into three EP releases, titled Threesome Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3.

 As each four-song EP has been released, the group has supported the release with vinyl and other merch while engaging directly with fans via their website and social media. In late May 2022, Threesome Vol. 3 arrived, completing the project and giving fans a full overview of their creative achievement. Threesome Vol. 3 continues to offer new and fresh sonic developments as well as some interesting lyric directions and does bring with it a sense of completeness for the project. I spoke with Roger Joseph Manning Jr. about how The Lickerish Quartet has cultivated such active involvement with fans, the origin of his synth-love sharing series of videos about his excellent collection, the unifying vision for the Threesome series, and how some of the spacey imagery and positive ideas found in these new songs came about. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: There are a lot of reasons to celebrate Threesome Vol. 3. It’s not just that The Lickerish Quartet are releasing new music, but also this has been a long road through three EPs to complete a very personal project. 

Roger Joseph Manning Jr.: Yes, absolutely. We’ve been doing this piecemeal, and one of the reasons for that is that Tim [Smith] lives in Atlanta, and I live in LA, but then lockdowns slowed things down in the work process. It all worked out in the end because it’s given our fans some time to digest our EPs and hopefully, just when they are getting their fill of one, we’ve had another ready to go. But this is the last one! 

HMS: I think it’s really cool the way in which you’ve supported each of the EP releases with physical merch, like vinyl releases. It’s made it feel more like a whole world has been built around these three releases in a special way.

RJMJR: We’ve done our best with that, not just with social media, but with our website where we have a more direct relationship with the fans. We’ve done a lot of gifting customized songs and phone messages. 

HMS: Do you think that kind of engagement with fans has always been part of your ethos, or is it something you’ve learned more over time?

RJMJR: It’s definitely something we’ve learned over time. We grew up with different ways of interacting with the public, like radio, MTV, and concerts. Social media introduced these other ways, like fan-funding and crowdsourcing. I enjoy all of it but it can be quite time consuming. I’m generally a private person and when I consciously decide to reveal myself, that usually comes through my art. Once I’ve created a piece of art, by myself or with my bandmates, when I’m sure it’s what I want to say, I have very little problem sharing that with strangers, no matter how real and vulnerable it may be. 

But creating an environment where people have access to you, that crosses boundaries and you just have to know what you’re getting yourself into. I’ve been tentative about it and I’m still not someone who post every day, like young TikTokers. They wake up every day and their phone, and the world, is their mirror. I feel my time is better spent getting better at my artwork that can then be shared.

HMS: One of the reasons I asked is because you seem very natural about all this and good at fan engagement. 

RJMJR: I was highly self-conscious even before all of this stuff! Back when I was in Jellyfish when we had record company funding and we could make videos with a budget, the part that I would bring to it was high premeditated and strategized. Whether we were doing music or public relations, it was as thought-out as possible. 

HMS: One thing I thought was fun and really works is how much you post about synths, bringing people into the musical side of things. It’s a great middle-ground as opposed to sharing a lot of personal views.

RJMJR: The whole synth snippet thing was not my idea, but a young engineer and Producer we were working with had made videos for bands before. In between Lickerish Quartet albums, I like to keep some presence out there because I have some solo albums in the works, so he suggested this idea. While I am a synth enthusiast and have one of the larger collections in Los Angeles, and people do associate me with these vintage instruments, I am by no means an expert, nor do I claim to be. They are tools of the trade, but I’m the first to admit my lack of comprehensive knowledge. There are guys all over the internet who I watch and learn from. 

So I was apprehensive about doing it, but my friend said that people would like to know how I use them, how they are personal for me, and what pleasures I derive from them. My friend just started rolling film and asking me questions so that I would babble, which was very smart of him. He would get me going. Then he’d take parts that he felt would make nice segments. I often felt like things were a total trainwreck, but he’d edit it. Thank god for him! If I was in charge, I wouldn’t have posted them at all, because I was focused on my mistakes. 

HMS: This is a lot like people working on solo albums, who sometimes really need an outside perspective to convince them to release anything. Otherwise they might never release the work because they are so self-critical.

RJMJR: You’re absolutely right, because the dance between artist and Producer is super-delicate and every situation is different. What a Producer can provide for one artist, and do similarly to what I just described, may end up stifling another artist. There’s also something to be said for making sure an artist is super-clear about their vision. If they don’t have that vision, they are just going to be stumbling until someone nudges them. 

The big question is: are you clear about what you want to say to the world? I’ve been all kinds of situations, and as a session-player, I often get hired by the Producer. I watch all these dynamics and sometimes I see artists who know exactly who they are and what their sound is. Then some other people are just lost in the desert, even if they have talent and ability. Sometimes they really do need a Producer to solidify the artistic vision. It all just reminds me that there’s no one way to get to the finish line.

HMS: How did the planning and recording work for these three related EPs in terms of timeline?

RJMJR: What we chose to do was that we started all these songs, from the ground up, together. We put the bass and drums, and rhythm instruments, at the beginning. Then we said, “This is overwhelming. Why don’t we take four songs, finish them up, release them to the public, and see what that’s like? Then we’ll know what it’s like to do the other eight.” Also, we felt that EPs were good in terms of holding the public’s attention, neither too much nor too little. We also felt that they could make a musical statement. So we divided the 12 songs into three sets of four, then finished everything off piecemeal. By some miracle, we finally arrived here at number three, after all this time.

HMS: I think it’s cool that the songs call hail from the same inception point, rather than being more diary-like reflecting the intervening time. These all have a specific creative reason and relationship. But did the experience of completing the first four songs impact the sound and direction of the next two sets of songs?

RJMJR: Absolutely. It did allow for some flexibility. We had to allow ourselves that because while we believed at the songs at their core, arranging them can be a whole jigsaw puzzle of its own with great challenges and great rewards. I, personally, do not like having a ticking clock or gun against my head while doing that. I’ve got to be free of that timeline pressure, otherwise the ideas get choked. 

HMS: Did you have any trepidation about introducing religious ideas and thoughts in “Fortunately”? A lot of these ideas, of course, have a long history in popular music.

RJMJR: I, personally, had lots of reservations around that, but those ideas came mostly from Adam [W. James] and Tim Smith and I let them run with it. At the end of the day, this isn’t a solo record. I was fine with this being presented as part of our collective. I would have been useless coming up with that lyric or editing it.

HMS: It’s still pretty general and approachable, with ideas like “don’t waste your time in life.” There’s also some humor to it, depending on how you look at it. For “New Days” and the video that’s been made for it, is there some past history with astronaut imagery that I don’t know about? Fans seem to really be responding to that.

RJMJR: Not really, but there has been some with this group only in that, when we were looking for a name, one of the names that we entertained very seriously for quite a while was, “The Last Astronauts”. During that time, we were collecting a lot of imagery. I don’t tend to be very literal, but we started amassing a lot of that energy. Obviously, we changed our name, but on the first EP we still had a song called “Lighthouse Spaceship”. People had fun extending the imagery to that song, which made sense. It’s just kind of hung in there. I’m not opposed to it, and I think that works. It’s continued to just show up. It wasn’t a grand plan that we had. 

The person who did the video for “New Days”, Todd [Stanton], had some fun with it. A lot of his jobs are very corporate, and not very artistic, but he’s a fan of ours and he offered to help us. He wanted to get creative and have fun, which he doesn’t get to do as much through his day job. He was really inspired, and I was excited to see what he had to share. He got a pretty amazing result, so we’re lucky. On “New Days”, even though that song has nothing to do with space travel, he made that a big part of the video.

HMS: It’s really fun to watch and is actually kind of subtle the way it moves through different phases. Maybe people associate space and moon imagery with psychedelic music, generally. 

RJMJR: This is true.

HMS: Actually, then you have a big moon on the cover for this EP, too.

RJMJR: Yes, that was some more fan art that we received. It came from a friend of a friend of Eric [Dover’s], I believe. We were kind of at a crossroads about what to do with the cover of the third EP, and this showed up. We really thought it worked. There’s a company in Japan who will be putting together all three EPs onto a CD, as more of a traditional record, so we sent it to them.

HMS: I meant to ask you about plans for that release, and what format it would take.

RJMJR: There are 12 songs, but they don’t all fit onto one vinyl, unfortunately, so they are going to be all on one CD, with two bonus tracks for the Japanese release. Obviously, we’ll make that available in the states, but it will be limited. All of that is in the works right now, but I don’t know when the release will be yet.

HMS: Regarding “New Days”, when it comes to the lyrics and movement in the songs, there’s a fair amount of hopefulness there. I also noticed that “In the Meantime” was fairly positive song in many ways, though it takes on difficulties. Was that something you were thinking about when making them?

RJMJR: “Meantime” is mostly from Tim. “New Days” is mostly from me, musically, but Eric wrote that lyric. But yes, I do think the three of us share that, in general. There’s a process of healing through the lyric writing, particularly if we’re talking about intense subject matter. The lyric can twist things around toward the positive. I think we all enjoy doing that, when we write lyrics together, or separately. I would say that’s conscious. 

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