We’d originally intended to make this video with a cast of thousands in loving tribute to Top Of The Pops and other shows like that that featured a bored (but never camera shy) audience and a band trying way too hard to appear equally as bored. The pandemic upended our plans, but didn’t stop Julia and me from concocting the video on our own! We might have neglected to post it to the Manbird site when it was released, but here it is now, as fresh as ever, almost!
Have you seen the “Manbird” video? We’s sooooo pleased, innit! And it was great fun to make. Took a long time, with us working in small stages over about a year. Julia VBH built the nest last summer, but I remember when we did the first filming with it, out on the deck here on the Farm, it was COLD! Hours freezing in a nest outdoors, with only LED lights for warmth. Months rolled, and I was back to Berlin for a while. Between the pandemic locking us down just as I returned to California and my passport being sent off for renewal in such uncertain postal times, there wasn’t much else to do but get stuck in and finish the vid. A September album launch and a suddenly-minded publicist helped knock us into Action Mode. This included several trips to Sacramento, Julia filming out the car window as I drove us around various bits of town significant to me. The only image of Berlin at all in this film is a still photo I took of Landwehr Canal. I figured there’d be as much Berlin, and maybe bits of Spain and England in the video, but Sacramento won the coin toss. Sacramento and Auburn, though the latter is represented by a basement, a green screen and a Hagstrom, mostly.
Speaking of Sacramento, funny how nice Immaculate Conception church looks – we had nothing but sunny days when we filmed. I always think of I.C. as dreary and dark. That’s probably still how it looks and feels from the inside! Weird or not, but my 4th grade teacher caught the “Manbird” video on FB and said she liked it. When Sierra School (now Sierra 2) closed, I had the choice of another nearby public school or catholic school. I’d been assured that at the public school, as an invading Sierra kid, I’d get beat up every day. Meanwhile, my dad promised I wouldn’t have to go to church on Sundays any more if I attended classes at Immaculate Conception, as there’d be weekly mass “as part of the deal.” Not sure who I’m quoting, but, stupidly, I chose Door No. 2 and was a catholic schoolboy for the next 8 years of my life. I survived and here we are now! Manbird!
Ish, anyway. Thanks to the many dear peeps who pre-ordered the album package, we’ve met — and exceeded, seems — our funding goal. The CDs are in production in Poland as I type this. The only thing not-yet-sent is the poster (above) — we’re doing a two-sided poster with lyrics and a picture collage. Want to see the priest I was named after? He’s in there! Want to see Ant dressed up for “‘50s day?” Yup. It’s going to be a lovely package overall, and I’m excited that it’s finally/actually happening. The album release is set for autumn of this year — not yet sure date/month, but all systems seem set for “go,” so hurrah! And gracias!
We walked to the coffee shop on a particularly coloUrful day. We noticed Dave, and he noticed us. He waved. We knew. Space Force. The blue/red combo was easy enough, but it was more than that. It was the vibe. The vibe of Knowing.
The album Manbird is so much about travel. It’s about racing to the airport, racing through the airport, trying to chill for ten hours on an airplane, then racing to whichever “home” is in front of me. I’ve been living between worlds for a few years now. I’ve got an epic therapist in Berlin. One idea we’ve been working with, as I burn out from a life always on the go and always in-between, is the image of me with my feet on the ground, my feet in the earth. Shedding my wings and settling down, basically. My suitcase as a symbol and as an actual thing contains stress and sorrow and resentment, as well as socks and underwear. I’ve taken to hiding the suitcase from the cat, so she doesn’t stress out at the sight. (Of course, now we’re in the age of C-19, where I’m landed/settled by default, for the moment.)
“Space Force,” written as the last song on the album, seems fly in the face of the idea of settling down. But it’s still a song that’s searching for home. It’s just that in this case, home is a cosmic, sci-fi vision of space travel. We’re gonna fly through space to save the human race. That old chestnut.
It’s a crazy, fun track with, as usual, everyone from everywhere on it, innit. Salt leader Stef sent some guitar tracks from Paris. Bryan Poole came over to the flat in Berlin and rocked a few more guitars. And, finally, a Manbird dream was realised when I gathered up a perfect bundle of peeps together at Shonk in Oxford for the big singalong ending. Su Jordan, Matt Sewell, Jules Moss, Jane Evans and Julia VBH all gathered ‘round the mic. I’d had the notion of a Greek chorus all over the album, but in most cases that chorus always turned out to be me singing to myself. Oxford is a city that I’ve felt as “home” since my first day there, and it’s curious that it’s probably the one place where putting together a singalong session is snap-of-the-fingers easy. It was a tight session, too. Two hours, total!
It started with just me and Su adding her vocals to the Oxford variation of the Manbird title track. Engineer Jimmy had asked if we could push the session start time back, but unfortunately, some of the singers were on a tight time budget, so noon meant noon. Jimmy had been mixing live sound far later than he’d expected the night before, and was begging for sleep, so I ran the first half of the session. Once Su nailed her ting, we gathered the gang and Jimmy put us safely on tape, layer upon layer. So fun to sing together, and everyone sounded fab. It was such the perfect way to wrap up this epic album. Pretty sure it comes across in them headphones!
Last time we saw Dave, by the way, he was rolling down 80 on a motorcycle. If you see him, give him a wave!
We launched this pre-order campaign, what, a week ago? We’re hovering around the 1/3 mark, so thanks to all the y’all who’ve helped us get this far so far. Very appreciated! I know it’s a time of great financial upheaval and uncertainty. There’s no profit made from this campaign, all the money in goes back out to those who helped make this record a “thing.”
The first cash slice went to pay our mastering engineer, for example. The next round will go towards the studio crews that put Michael Urbano’s drum tracks down on tape. We did two sessions with Michael. The first, in Berkeley, was with Grammy winner Michael Rosen behind the desk and his assistants. The second session was with Dana Gumbiner in his home studio in Sacramento. I had a feeling that there was a shared sense of “coming home” for both Urbano and myself and the session at Dana’s was a real moment.
There are so many other people from hometown Sacramento on Manbird. While it’s totally normal for me to work with everybody from everywhere, there were a few particular additions to the mix worth mentioning. We’ve got Jonah Matranga singing lead on “Beak Pt. 2.” Whereas “Beak Pt. 1” features a cast of thousands, it made groovy sense to isolate Jonah’s voice for the second version of the track. He’s doing things I could never do, and it works so well.
Adrian Bourgeois is on the album, singing backups on “Across The Drama Pond,” his first time on an Ant album. I’ve done a billion things with Urbano and with Larry Tagg – recordings and gigs – but having the two of them together on a handful of Manbird tracks completes a certain circuit. What a team. Vince DiFiori from Cake is back too, playing on a couple songs including one I wrote the day after my dearest friend Janet died. Vince had known Janet way back when and we’d always invite him to our Teapot parties. It felt very right to have him on this particular song.
I don’t think I’ve worked with Don Hawkins since maybe 2005? Great to have him back on board. He’s living in Spokane these days, but on tape, he’s a Sacramento boy! Of course I’ve worked with Allyson Seconds more than not, but having her sing on “Chicken” was a proper Indeed, I’d say. Cellist Allison Sharkey I’ve known since the Bag of Kittens days and it’s right that she’s on the album. My homies from Kenny, Tom Monson and Jeff Simons, are on a number of tracks, sounding excellent. I’m lucky, ain’t I. Larazaki is in the mix, with that mysterious vocal tone. There were other people I’d hoped to work with again or for the first time, but fate and email don’t always conspire at the same time! Still, there’s meaningfulness in them thar world-class hills. Sacramento, open your golden gates!
Well, here we go! Thanks to Julia VBH for conjuring up this slick website, first of all. It’s so pro that someone’s gonna have to remind me/convince me it’s NOT a Kickstarter trip! But it ain’t, thankfully. There isn’t the time pressure and there won’t be the deep anxiety that comes with crowd funding.
I’ve learned to put on a Smile Of Calm Confidence when it’s time to conjure album cash, and as I’ve said before, I’m grateful to have run a series of successful campaigns, but the behind-the-scenes aspect is actually unpleasant, no matter how many tote bags we’ve offered up!
But a pre-order campaign, tiered with extras for anyone interested, only seems sweet and fun. My initial FB post generated a lovely burst of feedback. Phew! And it’s all for the music – Manbird is a good slice of musical work. All new material, all written to fit. I think the title track was a “gift,” as some say. It helped set the standard for the rest of the mess!
I had a series of dreams informing the record-making process… the first dream had Eric Broyhill and Michael Urbano working with me – at the end of a pier, inexplicably – on a cut/paste track. I knew from the dream that those fellows, both of whom have had a major impact on my music-making over the years, had to be part of Manbird. Urbano is playing drums on a number of songs on the album. Broyhill’s input isn’t as full-figured, but his initial encouragement is balanced nicely with his re-mastering work on the title track. We’ll use his version for the single/video. Another dream I had featured a woman singing an incredibly beautiful, layered song. I woke and tried to capture it. I came nowhere close, but kept on keeping at it. The album includes a song called “Dreamscape 4,” with Larazaki on vocals. This track, the fourth in a series of attempts, is still nowhere close to what I heard in my dream, but in what I’ve been describing as my “modular” approach, I worked with what I had, rather than putting too much energy into something I couldn’t reach.
And that’s how this record got made – dreams and ambition and a modular approach that let me set certain standards and aim for certain goals. When something wasn’t happening, I’d find a different way to do it, or find a different thing to do. I didn’t hold deathly tight to anything – well, other than my insistence that Urbano had to be the drummer for the title track. I did hold tight to the idea that everything on the double album would be well-written and well-executed. It’s all turned out well and I’m excited, delighted, freaked out and thrilled to be able to have it to offer to you and the rest of the whole wild world.
Hope you’re all safe and well in this very unsettled and scary time. We’d been planning to run a Kickstarter campaign in April to raise money for the Manbird double album, but recent events have made the idea of crowd funding much more unpleasant than it already always is. So, we’ve run the numbers and read the runes and the conclusion is that we ought to be able to raise the needed money doing this pre-order campaign instead of the dreaded crowd funding. We’re still offering a tiered system of rewards, but our main focus will be on a basic pre-order price for the two CD Manbird set, plus a pair of download-only albums to accompany the disks.
One aspect of this as a pre-order campaign rather than a crowd funding deal is that there’s less need for us to offer all sorts of little incentives. While these bits and bobs can be fun, we’re doing all we can to simplify and minimize trips to the post office. The primary “physical release” we’re offering is the 2 CD Manbird set. Other music will be download only. If you wish to burn your own CD-Rs from there, that’s cool.
Another plus for us is that by bypassing Kickstarter or whomever, we’re not giving away X% out of money we’ll earn. Sure, there will possibly be some PayPal fees, but not anywhere close to what Kickstarter or other CF companies take.
The biggest thing, though, for me anyway, is that this feels sooo much lighter. We’re making it up ourselves, setting up the website and working out our own rules. I want this record out in the world, but I don’t want to have to beg for it at a time when we’re all suffering. I’m happy to make music, happy if it pleases people. I think Manbird is special and I’m excited to have landed in this pre-order airport. Please have your liquids ready for inspection!
Updated 27 May: Funded!