Quirky and dazzling local post-rockers Those Manic Seas spent sixty days last fall on the road as they embarked on their first national t
Quirky and dazzling local post-rockers Those Manic Seas spent sixty days last fall on the road as they embarked on their first national tour. It was an arduous journey for the band that tested their emotional and physical mettle every night, but was also vital to the band’s future and extremely rewarding as they gave the rest of the country a taste of the spacious music and frenetic energy they’ve spent years perfecting here in Richmond. After only a few months back, the atypical quartet is gearing up to hit the road again with a thirty day tour that aims to create even more buzz for their currently unnamed debut record due out this spring. On the eve of their tour kick-off this Thursday night at Balliceaux, Those Manic Seas have released a video tribute to what they’ve dubbed their 2015 “Eternal Tour. It’s full of intimate behind the scenes footage, frantic clips of the band on stages, and colorful shots of the various cities they found themselves that’s all soundtracked by a beautifully drawn out version of their signature song, “Headache / Heartache.”
In the video, the band is having the time of their lives on stage as they turned total strangers into instant fans each night, but what the video fails to show is the true struggle the band faced on the road starting well before they even left Richmond. “We gave up everything for that tour,” guitarist Drew Rollo declared. “We quit our jobs, gave up our apartments, sold most of our possessions. Literally everything was sacrificed to go out on the road for that time.” It’s sobering to hear the band talk about the reality of what went into the tour. We often hear musicians and bands discuss the sacrifices they’ve made to get to where they at, but very rarely are those sacrifices talked about in depth and laid out for the world to see. “I had a cushy job, 401(k), car, and a nice apartment downtown,” Rollo remarked. “Now, we’ve all moved into the same house splitting bills and are working 70+ work weeks at countless jobs just to get by.”
It wasn’t enough just starting at zero once they hit the road either. The band fought at times just to keep their heads above water as they barreled down the highway. Between their van breaking down countless times and the constant anxiety over sustenance, there was always something new waiting to knock the group down a peg after a successful show. “I’d love to say it was a party,” said drummer Daniel Medley. “The reality is that it was hard every night. Within a week on the road, we were already calculating the minimum we could spend to feed ourselves each day (which was $5) or trying to find a Wal-Mart where we could camp out for the night.” Rollo’s head dropped at the mention of Wal-Mart as he recalled many a night in empty parking lots huddled together. “We’d all be trying to figure out how to cook simple tacos in the parking lot because we didn’t want to get fast food and feel like shit the next day,” he remembered. “It was so many things like that that you just rarely hear people actually talk about when discussing life on the road. We weren’t going out and partying all night after a big show. We’d just walk back to the van and share some cheap wine before figuring out what’s next.”
Throughout all this though, the band remained optimistic as Richmond was only a few weeks and then days away. Unfortunately, the struggle continued coming home with the aftermath of the tour becoming almost more devastating. “We’re talking about scrounging and skipping meals here, but this tour was so hard that we ended up losing a member over it,” Rollo exclaimed. Shortly after their return, the band amicably parted ways with bassist Warren Todd and a whole new level of anxiety began to wash over the remaining members. “We just did this big tour and now we’re taking a dozen steps back,” Medley grimaced. “It was really hard to see where we were going to go from there, but luckily we had Justin.”
Justin Jones had served as the band’s tour manager and helping hand on the road a few months before. Faced with the band’s membership issue, he quickly came up with a solution to seemingly insurmountable problem as he went out filling the hole left by Todd with a new style: synthesizers and keyboards. “I just spent every free moment in a room learning all these songs by myself in a bunch of different ways,” Jones divagated. “It came pretty naturally at times and I think it even ended up making some of the songs I’ve come to love a bit better.” Still, it’s a lot for a band of multiple years to up and just substitute synthesizers and keyboards for a bass player. “The thought was so scary at first,” Rollo stated. “But the first time we played together recently, it just got this great positive reaction from everybody. It ended up working a lot better than I ever could have imagined.”
It was a much needed win for the band still struggling to continue their art and get back on the road. “We all came back with zero dollars,” Jones stressed. “I went to the record store and just told them to take all of these records so I can get groceries.” Medley nodded silently as Rollo was quickly joined in. “This didn’t happen just one time. We’re always looking to sell things for quick cash because it could go towards eating one night on the road when we desperately need to. We thought we’d be able to re-adjust to life in Richmond after coming back, but it just hasn’t happened and we’re all working our asses off just to be able to push the band forward. To be a well-adjusted adult, you cannot tour for the amount of time we did and it’s just hard.”
As much as the band was willing to discuss the obstacles they faced and are still facing today, it wasn’t all gloomy when looking back on the tour. Rollo and Jones relished in trading stories about drunk fans and awkward interviews that took place while grinning ear to ear. “That tour was so amazing for the band,” said Medley. “We met so many people, made so many new fans, got so many connections, and it was all just really encouraging and we’ve been really anxious to just get back out there.” What was even more encouraging for the band was the support they got for their unique presentation and live performance. “Kilroy was a huge hit on the road I think,” Medley recalled. “Sure, there’d be people who’d want to question everything about it, but for the most part, everyone was curious before we even went on and were just captivated after the first song.”
By all accounts, Kilroy’s stoic nature has been the biggest talking point about Those Manic Seas since their inception and unfortunately, there are always going to be people just turned off on it. “We definitely had some people on the road who had their arms crossed and frowns on their face watching it or maybe they said something to us afterwards, but we’re also talking about maybe four people in a two month tour,” Medley detailed. Sadly, there’ll always be people there to try and knock the band down a peg for doing something different. Most will be cordial enough to just think the band would benefit from something different while others take the more bitter approach of throwing out terms like “gimmick” or even “lip synching.”
“I think that’s a strange thing to be angry about and a weird thing to say,” Jones remarked. “Band’s do similar stuff all the time. Battles, an established band with thousands of fans – they have an LED TV on stage and when they have a singer on a song, it just comes on the screen and people love it. It’s the exact same thing and people love it because it’s different. Why does everything have to be the exact same?” He’s right of course and even if there are not a ton of bands like Battles in the world, there are plenty of bands employing backing tracks out on the road that most concert-goeres just overlook, something Medley was quick to elaborate on. “If you’re going to criticize us for this, then you should criticize a band that creates this wall of sound and goes on the road with only three members. I’m not saying you should, but it’s the same thing and it happens all the time. More than people think too because half the time, I don’t even think they make the connection. They hear this great song with maybe a violin part in the background, but they never stop to think that there’s not a violin player on stage.”
On the road though, the band reveled in each cities’ ability to take their music (or performance art if you’d like) at face-value and grow their fan base despite what naysayers have said about the band. “It really just boils down to it being the singer,” Rollo postulated. “If we had a robot guitar player, no one would care and they’d probably think it’s cool. But those people who also think these things? Well, the music’s probably not for them, but luckily this tour showed us that there were a ton of people open to the idea who ended up loving it.”
It’s one of many reasons the band is so eager to get back on the road, even if it means leaving Richmond which is still very hard. “It was so comforting to come back even if we had nothing,” said Jones. “It really made me appreciate Richmond more and how comfortable and great life can be here for people like us.” It’s not just the city that the band left behind and is planning to again, but the music scene and its countless rewarding opportunities. “I’ve always said Richmond has so much unbelievable talent,” beamed Rollo, “It was really obvious when we went out to these other cities. Go to a show in Richmond and there’s members from a dozen bands in attendance and that just doesn’t happen out in other towns. Even a thing like that Music Meet-Up at Don’t Look Back every Monday, that just doesn’t happen outside of Richmond and I enjoy going there anytime I can.”
Outside of spreading their own music, the band took pride in being able to spread Richmond’s musical treasures as far as possible from Virginia. “I was always telling people about Sleepwalkers,” laughed Jones. “I’m just still so in love with that record.” Medley remembered people constantly asking who else to check out from Richmond and he was often overwhelmed trying to think of who to mention. “There were so many I told people, but I think I personally kept coming back to Lightfields, Toxic Moxie, Ki:Theory, and Imaginary Suns.” To Rollo though, there was always one answer outside of his own band. “I would answer Trillions before they even finished the question,” he admitted. “I’ll always push them on people because they’re a great representation of the city.” It’s not just how great the scene is that made it hard for the band to leave, but just how quickly it can change too. “We were only gone two months, but I feel like so much changed,” said Jones. “We came back and I just remember everyone talking about Lucy Dacus and I had never even heard the name. It was just this avalanche of everyone telling me I had to go see her. It was weird for sure, but an even better reminder of how great the scene is here.”
As much as they’d like to stay put in town, their nomadic lifestyle beckons them to return to the road, this time with a bit more experience and knowledge. They’ll come back battered again for sure, but also with tangible rewards for their fans here in Richmond. Their forthcoming debut record still lurks just beyond the horizon and a music video serving as an appetizer may be out before they even come back. They’re still struggling with the transition from being well-adjusted adults to living in a van as touring musicians, yet Those Manic Seas are still marching onwards bringing their music to countless cities and opening everyone up to just what Richmond’s music scene has to offer.
Those Manic Seas kick off their month long tour Thursday night at Balliceaux with Dumb Waiter opening up. Tickets are $5 with the show starting at 9:30 PM. For more information, click here.