Former Jellyfish and Imperial Drag Member Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. Dishing Out the Catnip

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. may not have the name recognition of a Kanye West or Thom Yorke, but chances are you’ve listened to him for years without ever realizing it.

Along with putting in time in highly influential bands like Jellyfish, Imperial Drag and Moog Cookbook, Manning has also backed up everyone from Beck and Morrissey to Johnny Cash and Glenn Campbell. His arrangements can also be heard in movies like “Lost in Translation” and “Team America.”

Working as a musician for the past two decades, it’s a bit surprising that Manning didn’t put out his first solo record until a few years ago. He’s just released his second solo record, the eclectically brilliant Catnip Dynamite.

Innocent Words: What can you tell me about the songs on Catnip Dynamite?

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: Hopefully that a lot of my longtime fans, even my Jellyfish fans, will find the journey of this album fascinating. Other than lyrics, which were new, the tracks exist in some form from the last 20 years, going from ‘86 to ‘06. Going through and revisiting and rearranging these musical sketches was a personal journey in my musical life, and I feel this captures who I am musically.

IW: What other musicians are on the record?

Manning: Just Dave Pearlman who played peddle steel on “Tinsel Town.” For better or worse, everything else you hear on the record is all played by me, every instrument. John Paterno then mixed and mastered Catnip Dynamite.

IW: Why did you decide to wait so long before releasing your first solo album in 2006?

Manning: Because I had to get out there and earn a living primarily! Being a side man in the Air and Beck worlds was a full-time job then. I had started the Land Of Pure Imagination record before 9/11, completing three tracks then. Over the next couple of years, I was able to trickle out new material between session work and then finally powered it on through to completion.

IW: Do you feel a lot more pressure working on solo record, rather than being part of a band?

Manning: Not at all. Being in a band is a wonderful collaborative process and a whole experience in itself. With solo material, I am able take some things in stride along with my other ventures. It gives me the ability to revisit ideas at my own pace as with Catnip Dynamite where I thoroughly enjoyed excavating demos, sounds and arrangements.

IW: You had some amazing arrangements on The Format’s last record – are your working at all with their latest incarnation – Fun?

Manning: I did the same type of work with Steven (McDonald, producer for The Format and Fun) for four songs. In my opinion, Fun is a total continuation on The Format sound, and I’ve heard the whole record; you’ll love it!

IW: You’ve been involved with a number of great bands that just put out one or two amazing albums before disbanding (Jellyfish, Imperial Drag, Moog Cookbook). Do you go into these projects knowing they will just be around for a short time?

Manning: Good question – I don’t know at the time. That would be like dating a hot girl but giving the relationship only a two-year limit. I go in with my all to make great art, great music. With so many variables on any given day with the collaborative process, you just have to relax and be okay with the hurdles life tosses at you. You have to navigate the relationships with fellow creative types. I had the privilege to work with two brilliant lyricists/songwriters, and the personal reasons we began and eventually went our separate ways were similar. Working with this personality type has been an exploration of my own psyche to what drives this collaborative process, and it overall drives the challenge to stay positive, to stay in a loving frame of mind no matter who you are working with in music or in life.

IW: Have you ever thought about getting Jellyfish back together – even for just a handful of shows?

Manning: Everyone would have to clearly be at 100 percent to make it a positive experience. I’ve remained in contact with everyone throughout the years, and we have all moved on musically. It still blows our minds to this day to hear this ongoing love for Jellyfish. It was a miracle to even get signed and to make the music we loved to make during the heights of the grunge era.

IW: Are you surprised that power pop is having a bit of revival?

Manning: If it’s having a resurgence, that’s beautiful news. Perhaps, where previously power pop melodies have been so unfashionable, in these times of economic woe and strife, people want a song they can tap their foot to in the car on the way to work. Music has been so segregated, not the big fun house party. There are indie rock camps, power pop camps, etc., so gone are the days of everything goes. At the end of day, all I can do is show up and make the music I love to make.

IW: What music are you listening to nowadays?

Manning: A big fan of new things. I’ve been listening to Midnight Juggernauts for awhile. I love anything Justice puts out these days. I love the MGMT record and the new Santogold.

IW: Do you plan to tour behind the new record?

Manning: Unfortunately, no. Finances and logistics given the current U.S. market make it sadly just not viable. I have done a few Japanese tours, definitely a different scenario that works well in that market.

IW: What other music projects are you working on?

Manning: All kinds of cool stuff. Currently working with an artist from China, Joanna Wang. We are rehearsing for a series of live shows in Hong Kong. I am working on sessions for another new Glen Campbell release. Also, I do have windows of my schedule where I am open and want to explore opening up my services to work on projects that may come from fans or up-and-coming groups that thought maybe they couldn’t reach me. I’m accessible thru my website and am now on eSession as well.

IW: Any plans for more solo records?

Manning: Well, of course! I’m still in Catnip Dynamite mode, so I haven’t sketched out a timeline yet to take a breath and disappear into the writing room for awhile.