Monday, April 21, 2014

Andrea Manges Interview

My fondness for Italian punk rock started as it does for many others living outside of it's scene, and that is by hearing the  Manges. After more than a decade of finding and maintaining my love for this band, I had the chance of a lifetime last May to go out to Italy. For the first time, I got see and finally talk to some friends in person that I've admired for such a long time. Andrea Manges was one of them... It was a wild night in La Spezia at Skaletta with the Queers playing, featuring none other than Mass Mosrite appearing as their guest bass player so the place was PACKED!! I did however get a chance to spend some time with Andrea, talking about music and life. Aside from the fact that he holds a great role in the shaping of European pop punk, this man has such a beautiful passion for music that shows through the way he lives and gives back with such a humble attitude to the world around him. Due to the many cool things he has going on at the moment, I decided to ask this friend of mine for an interview and I'm pleased to report he agreed. So with no further delay, here he is! Andrea Manges.
Sara: Ciao Andrea! How are things in Modena, Italy? Is there any calm before the storm for you in these days with so much going on?

Andrea Manges: Ciao Sara and thank you for all these cool questions! I am definetely very busy. The new album release, the upcoming shows, and the mail order.. These next months are going to be crazy and I could use some rest already!

S: Talk to me about yourself in the beginning before a thought even occurred that there would be an Andrea Manges. What was your youth like growing up in relation to music? At what point did you find the inspiration that captured and eventually led you to becoming a punk rocker, then songwriter?

AM:  I was a sensitive, nerdy kid and I was kinda depressed for a few years around puberty. Coming out of that, I was into anything dangerous and rebellious, and I did many stupid things. Music was no exception so I listened to a lot of hard rock and heavy metal. I had the extreme look and everything. In the late 80's, I saw a Ramones video on tv (Pet Sematary ) and bought Brain Drain. A friend told me the Ramones were punks. I just thought it was weird catchy rock music (I was right in the end). So from that moment on I kept an eye on punk music too and realized I enjoyed the most melodic punk bands, but I really didn't know people with similar taste in music before Mass and Manuel asked me to start a band. They didn 't know me personally but they saw me around town wearing Ramones t-shirts and totally wanted me in the band cause of the same problem I had, they couldn't find people who were into punk rock. We couldn't play our own instruments and honestly were a terrible band for a few years, but felt like we had something special from the very beginning.

S: I know you've got a big sense of pride for remembering where you come from having developed a big reputation for your home at Skaletta who many know as the CBGB of Italy. You've however managed to make yourself very present internationally through touring and other efforts, like your distro. What started as a smaller project in 2012 seems to have grown quite a bit into a great brand and personally, my most favorite European punk rock connection. Tell me what's going on with Striped these days, and are there any new plans for further expansion with it?

AM: I would like to say that in both the Skaletta Club and the Manges history, I'm just an active part in a group of creative people and not a leader in any way. I'm just one of the most popular faces because I'm the lead singer in the band, but really all this history and productions are due to Mass, Manuel, and other people's achievements as well as mine. So I'm just proud to be lucky enough to work with all these wonderful people.
Anyway, of course I like to keep myself busy in the scene. Since the 90's, I booked tours for foreign bands, wrote for fanzines and magazines, had records and merchandise of all kinds printed, designed posters and flyers for shows, produced other bands etc, and of course ran the Skaletta Club for a few years. I've never managed to make any of these activities become my primary job though. I still have a daytime job that pays my rent. Now the band's mail order, Striped is really doing good, it has lasted for more than 2 years and keeps growing. I have fun helping many bands and artists I like, so it's all good karma and keeps me connected to the music I love. I'll keep expanding it.

S: 12/21/13. This is the day that for the first time ever, all members of the Manges from past and present got together for a very special rehearsal in preparation for celebrating 20 years of being a band. It had to have been a pretty surreal moment for all parties involved! Talk to me about that night and the emotions in the room as you were working on getting ready for the show. Did you ever imagine a moment like this?

AM: Of course I didn't imagine anything like that 20 years ago and those rehearsals were really exciting. I was looking at all these guys that had played with me, Mass, and Manuel over the years.. all brought together in the same room and enjoying each other's company. There never has been big fights in our history, or at least nothing that lasted. It was a special couple of days.

S: The Manges are in a wonderful period of creativity right now with the new record "All Is Well" and a single 7" for "Lone Commando" both coming out on April 24th. Fans also got a taste of what's to come with a single 7" for "Plan Honolulu" that was released March 7th. With the past two studio albums recorded in the US, the Manges shifted gears this time, staying on your home turf in Italy and going to TUP Studio in Brescia. Another notable change in the process is with your last two full length LP producers being American punk rock greats Phil Hill and Joe King, you looked locally to the creative force of Hervé Peroncini of the Peawees and brought him in as producer. There is already quite a buzz going and many fans all over the world are excited for it! Please talk about the making of this record.

AM: We asked Hervé to produce our fourth album not only cause he's a big friend, very talented, and always striving for perfection, but also cause he's not into modern punk rock. We have the feeling that all the bands in our scene are going for the same sound, and now many recording studios everywhere can provide a good level of pop punk recordings, but we wanted our new album to sound a bit "out of time". Hervé is passionate about the 60's and 70's rock music, so we knew he could bring us back to our roots and not be influenced by today's bands. Then this time we had the chance to work at TUP, where they record in a "vintage style" as much as they can. They definitely kick ass on garage and rock n' roll productions, and were very happy to prove how good they could be with punk rock. The record was produced in Italy this time because the clock was not ticking fast and we had the chance to spend all the time we needed on it, until we were 100% satisfied. Well we love how the three previous records turned out, but I wanted to work slowly for once and see what could happen.

S: There's also going to be an official video for one of the tracks! Tell us about that too.

AM: Ahah we still didn't announce anything about the video so I can't spoil the surprise for all of our two fans! I can say we had a weird idea and decided to go for it... don't expect any mtv stuff, it's your average punk rock straight-to-youtube video and hope it's gonna make our friends smile. We just had a lot of fun shooting it.

S: Aside from the new record and singles, the 24th of this month kicks off a whirlwind of shows starting at home and then leading the Manges into America for some dates with old friends of yours, the Queers and Screeching Weasel! What are you guys most looking forward to with this period of shows, any places you're playing that you haven't yet?

AM: Apart from the two Screeching Weasel shows we'll open, we still have yet to be told what the route will be for us and the Queers. We're supposed to play Boston, haven't been there in a long time and it would be sweet. I hope we'll play NYC. We played there in 2000! I'm also personally excited to meet all the band's friends across Italy and especially go back to Rome after a while. I love Rome.

S: We all have our big heroes but inspiration can certainly be found in a peer, paralleling beside you as you make your way in life. Give me the name of at least one person that falls within that category for you. 

AM: My wife Linda is the first person that cross my mind. And my best friends, who also happen to be the members of my band.

S: John Jughead Pierson.. This man is by far one of the most incredibly creative and kind-hearted people I've encountered in my own life, and I know he's had a big impact on yours as well. Talk to me about your history with this guy as both a friend and band mate. Give us some memories from your history with him. 

AM: I met Jughead in 2001 while he was travelling across Europe and posted on the weasel message board that he was looking for places to stay.
I just told him I had space and lived in a nice town by the sea... next thing I remember I was picking him up at my hometown's train station. He spent months in Italy. I was the bartender at the Skaletta Rock Club and all the punk rockers and other regulars were used to meeting up with this weird American guy at the bar every night.
Everyone remembers about what he did on 9/11, I was in Pisa with Jughead and the rest of the gang. Living that day with an American friend made it even more intense. That night at the club, everyone was shakin' John's hand and trying to make him feel better, speaking in their best possible English. He listened to everyone's effort and smiled politely to all those Italian weirdos. I realized he couldn't know how and when he could fly back to the States. It must have been scary.

S: What's the most common misconception about the Italian punk rock scene for someone viewing it from the outside?

AM: People know we're big Ramones fans, and it's true. What they don't know, we have a lot of other awesome stuff.

    Photo credit: Daniela Antonucci

S: You have two decades of experience as a recording artist under your belt as well as having filled the role as producer for two bands' recording sessions. Tell me, what in your opinion is the biggest mistake a band can make in the studio?

AM: There are many, and over the years the Manges made every single one of them! In the end, the band, the songs and the sound can be good or bad. The biggest mistake is to record stuff that doesn't really mean anything to you. If a bad song has a meaning or a story, that song will have value anyway. If it's just a product or something you do for your ego to shine, it will always be a piece of crap.

S: It's always wonderful to watch a hero return, but it is the ones who never leave that keep my faith alive. You are most certainly a person that many, myself included, see in this way as both a punk rocker and songwriter. Fads come and go. As time passes, some people seem to completely turn away or almost gain a bit of animosity towards what once was reverent conviction for punk rock. I'd like to know, what makes you stand your ground? What is the driving force that makes you say, "This is why I'm still here."?

AM: I still like the music and the creative process. I like many different kinds of music and keep discovering new stuff I like (mostly from last century) but I have never stopped enjoying good, simple, honest punk rock. This doesn't really make me a hero though! Just a boring man.

S: We should also discuss another one of your projects that I'm really fond of! Last May, the Veterans had two cool single 7" releases with "2" and "3", presenting four new songs with some great evolving in style from the first album. I love the openness of this band in the way that it contains you and Alex Bounty as the foundation and then whoever you decide to bring in to participate on the songs. Are you planning on doing more material for this project in the near future?

AM: Yes we'd like to record some new songs! But the Veterans are a very laid-back project so who knows when we'll do it.

S: Ok, now we're in the homestretch of these questions so let's switch to some just for fun topics in these last four before the close! I always like to take a peek into a person's personal music taste. What are you listening to a lot lately? Also excluding the Ramones, who do you own the most records by?

AM: This may surprise you, but I'm not a very big record collector. I own many records of course, but I don't really feel the need to buy different versions of the same record. I have sold many of the albums I bought when I was a teenager with no regrets. I also tried to empty my house from toys, posters and other shit that had created my silent, lost battle with consumerism.  I just enjoy music. I think the band I own most records, Lps and 7", is the Hard-Ons. They always have been one of my favourites and I really like all those crazy drawings by Ray Ahn.

S: There have been many great moments for the Manges and certainly will be many more to follow but in thinking back, which one is your personal favorite?

AM: So many things happened in 20 years, my favourite moment has to be the days of our first rehearsals when we started having fun together.

S: The Queers, the Hard-OnsHead, the Apers and McRackins. That's a pretty kick ass and internationally diverse list of bands for the Manges to have done splits with so far! Who would you like to add to that list next?

AM: Yes I feel very lucky, they're some of my all time favourite bands! That's more than enough, but we'll see what happens next.

S: Any kind of "fest" show. Good fun still, or outdated/exhausted idea?

AM: I like smaller shows and I have nothing against big festivals. If they're too big though, it's possible I won't enjoy the bands I like, so I probably won't go at all.

S: Here we are, arriving at our close and I want to thank you greatly for both taking the time to answer all these questions and being the first of my interview subjects for Ramona Confidential. Ever since i began doing interviews they've always ended them by my asking a Ramones related question, and the tradition will not break!! For each of us who find ourselves through hearing that first "Hey Ho! Let's Go!", we are forever affected by this institution. Please give me a top five list in relation to the Ramones as a part of your life. This can be as simple as a list of favorite songs, records, or lyrics. Also it can be as complex as retelling a memory from seeing or meeting them, or a combination of all these things! What are your five, Andrea?

AM: Memories! That's what I like to collect!
1) The morning after seeing the Ramones live for the first time, I got Joey and Johnny's autographs after waiting for them all morning in the hotel lobby. Too bad I was young, couldn't speak much English, and I'm a bit shy. I just watched Johnny sitting in a chair for a very long time. But they were all very kind to me.
2) Smoked marijuana with Dee Dee Ramone.
3) Went to a Dee Dee show in Germany with Manuel, travelling by train. Another time we went to 4 of his shows in 4 days, sleeping in the car.
4) CJ Ramone spent a couple nights at the Skaletta Rock Club after his concerts. Hanging out and dancing like he was one of the locals. Talk about watching your teenage dreams becoming true. A real Ramone (yes he's a real Ramone and whoever thinks differently is wrong), in our little town's little place.
5) Playing a good number of shows across Italy with a Manges/Peawees mixed line up performing the "It's Alive" whole album, in 2005. Just enjoying the best music ever written with my best friends. 

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