Manuok- Confronting Loss, Devastation and Recovery On New Record TRAPS


Manuok’s newest full length record, TRAPS, is set for release September 15th, following a record release show September 14th at Tin Can Alehouse. We have a full album review, which includes an interview with the band. Come get to know one of the strongest bands in America’s Finest City.

Manuok (said like: man, you okay?) was created in 2004 by musician and songwriter Scott Mercado. Mercado, who has played and written with some of the finest bands to come out of San Diego, has historically been the sole songwriter for Manuok. Writing and recording the music in his bedroom, and then sharing his creations with the other members in the band to rearrange the songs for live performance. Manuok is Scott Mercado, Erik Berg, Geoff Hill, Andrew Trecha and Jeff Grasmick. To long time San Diego music fans, this list reads like the starting lineup of an All-Star team in the Fall Classic, full of heavy hitters in their own right. The members of Manuok have all performed in some of the most popular bands to come out of San Diego. Mercado has shared his time between bands including Black Heart Procession, The Album Leaf, Via Satellite, Tristeza, Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects as well as Ilya with Manuok member, Geoff Hill. Erik Berg and Jeff Grasmick were members of the band Rochelle, Rochelle. Also, Andrew Trecha played in Goodbye Blue Monday. They have joined forces to create the sounds of Manuok, and are set to release their fourth record, TRAPS, on September 15th. It will be available in the United States through 500 Records, and is currently available in Japan on Kilk Records. Manuok will grace the Tin Can Alehouse on September 14th, as part of San Diego Music Thing, to celebrate the release. Doors open at 9:00pm, and tickets are only $7. TRAPS can be purchased through the bands official webpage.

is the first record by Manuok where the band chose to perform the material as a full band, before recording the album. “The big difference between this record and the other records, is that we played live or practiced the songs before recording them, as opposed to me recording them in my bedroom by myself,” says Mercado. He continues, “Without question, every one’s particular taste or styling on their instruments really came through in the recording. Their songwriting also came through.” TRAPS is much more of a collaboration between all of the members of Manuok, much different than the previous records, which were solely written and recorded by Mercado. TRAPS is a brilliantly crafted record. A collection of beautifully written songs, filled with enchanting melody and a captivating, driving force that is performed to perfection. The overall feel of the record breathes a mix of indie/emo perfection, reminiscent of late 90′s era Jade Tree Records releases. TRAPS starts with the track, “Count On Us”, which kicks the record off with classic finger picked guitar riffing, accompanied by a stiff rhythmic backbone through the verse, lifting the spirits into a rock driven chorus. Mercado’s voice ranges from a hush whisper through the verses, and transforms into a crisp snarl as the song comes to a strong, emotional close. “The songs ‘Count On Us’ and ‘Buried In The Sand’ are both really good examples of (the band) working together and shaping the songs into something that I don’t think would have come to fruition unless we all did it together. They would have been different songs,” says Mercado. The track “NC” is what could arguably be considered a masterpiece of songwriting. Hands down the most low key song on the record, but is power packed with pure emotion. From the tremendous sadness coming through the piano, to the perfectly mended rhythm backing, and of course the ever haunting vocals of Mercado, every element on “NC” will wash over the listener, and when it’s over, you will be moved. About “NC”, Mercado says, “I like it because, the song sounds like what I imagined when I wrote it. I always feel like, painters are able to really capture what they have in mind. They have all the tools necessary to do that.” He continues, “That is sadly rare. Any musician will tell you about their album ‘Oh yeah, it sounds pretty good. Wish the bass was louder in this song,’ or something like that. I really like the way ‘NC’ came out. It feels right.” The track, “One For Your Country” plays like a powerful folk style ballad. Opening up with a soft, twangy acoustic riff, which soon builds into a thumping, with slightly dark, yet comforting eerie sound. Bass player Erik Berg says, “‘One For Your Country’ has always been one of my favorites. There is just something really beautiful about the melodies in that song.” He continues, “There is a very familiar feeling to that song. I’ve always liked that from the beginning.”

At the end of the day, Manuok’s latest record could be considered one of the strongest releases to come out of San Diego thus far in 2012. An iron-solid offering from some of San Diego’s finest musicians and songwriters.

Check out the video for the song, “Our Nation”. Video created by Erik Berg.

Enjoy our interview with Scott Mercado, Erik Berg and Andrew Trecha.

Typical start off question – Since the beginning, what are some musicians and artists who have inspired Manuok?
Scott – Led Zeppelin. Coctaeu Twins. The Cure.
Erik – I would say the majority of the bands that influenced Manuok, would be bands that specifically Scott has listened to. Because Manuok has historically been, Scott. I mean as far as the direction of it (the band) I would say its those bands he mentioned, plus a lot more.
Scott – I would say we have a few bands in common.
Erik – Thats very true. Like Helmet was a big one between us, especially the two of us.
Scott – Yeah and Jeff, too.
Erik – Failure.
Scott – All of us have a bunch of bands, well we all came from different bands who also have some taste in common. And some of those bands are Helmet, and Failure. Quicksand. A lot of harder bands that Manuok sounded like. In the beginning, we sounded much quieter, more mellow. But as time passed, our influences kind of rose to the surface and we became a much louder band.

How did Manuok come to be what it is today? How did all of the members come to be in the group?
Scott – Wow. Thats a tough one. The member of the band who has pretty much been here the whole time, his name is Jeff. Hes played every instrument in the band at one point on tour. He played bass, hes played guitar, hes played trumpet. Piano, drums he sang.
Erik – Bass (collective laughter)
Scott – Yeah you name it. Hes played every instrument. Even instruments we haven’t invented yet, hes played them. He then brought in Erik. The current drummer Geoff Hill and I played in a band together. Andrew replaced a guy named Matt who played in a band called Goodbye Blue Monday. Andrew and I had always been friends and basically had an opening and I always liked his guitar playing. That was that.

What was your approach in writing, Traps compared to your past releases?
Scott – The big difference between this record and the other records, is that we played live or practiced the songs before recording them. As opposed to me recording them in my bedroom by myself. So, without question, every ones particular taste or styling on their instruments really came through the recording. Also their songwriting came through. Deciding to do this part or that part, the length of this part or that part. Where before, I just made my own decisions and just went with it. This time ideas were bounced back and forth about practices, shows, and tours. It was really a big difference. Then on top of that, the actual recording where I played the majority of the instruments on previous albums, these guys all played their parts, and then some. You guys have anything to add to that?
Erik – Yeah this was certainly, I would say, a pretty collaborative record compared to previous Manuok records that were mostly just Scott, you know? But it was really, it was fun. It was fun to write together and record together.

What were some of the feelings and emotions that you were trying to display on this new record?
Scott – Lyrically I would say the album had a lot to do with loss, and has a lot to do with the change that comes from loss. I kind of cover that subject in a lot of different, I dont know if metaphors is the right word, but, I use politics as a vehicle to talk about that. Or I use a relationship to talk about it. Ghosts and ghost stories, or even tropical storms to try and cover the topic of devastation and recovery.

Traps was released in Japan before the official US date. How did the relationship with Japanese label, Kilk, come to be?
Scott – (laughter) That relationship started so long ago, it came through Myspace. (collective laughter) They requested a new record from me years ago. When the actual album was finished, I was over a year and a half passed deadline. I was touring a whole lot, and just couldn’t make it work. Then we did record it and it was kind of a misfire. Then went on tour for two months. We kind of started all over again. So there was a long process, and you know with artwork and other things you have to do it took a long time. They came through Myspace, and at first I didn’t believe it. You get emails from people all the time saying, “Hey, we want you to come out to Russia! Just give us 5000$” So, I just didn’t believe it. But they became more and more serious. They sent me a contract right away, and they have been great ever since. They pretty much followed through with everything they said they would.

What would you say are your favorite tracks off of Traps and why?
Scott – Probably have to answer that individually. So I will let Erik go…
Erik – I would say, One For Your Country has always been one of my favorites. There is just something really beautiful about the melodies in that song. I would say that sometimes Scott is a bit hesitant to make things too pretty. I remember the first time I heard that song from the demo Scott recorded, it was one of those songs where I felt like I had already known it, or I had heard it a million times before. Not to say that it was ripped off from something else or anything like that, but its one of those very familiar sounding songs. That is one of the reasons I like it. There is a very familiar feeling to that song. I always liked that from the beginning. And Our Nation is a great, driving song. Sinking In is a great rock song. Sons And Daughters has always been my favorite which is probably the most mellow compared to the others.
Andrew – As far as playing, I really enjoy playing Our Nation. Its a really driving song. It has a really good guitar part that I get to play that I enjoy. There is something really satisfying about it. Its a real toe tapper.
Erik – It is!
Scott – My favorite song, I would say, depends on my mood. But often my mood is somewhere around track 5, which is N.C., which stands for North Carolina. I like it because, the song sounds like what I imagined when I wrote it. I always feel like, painters are able to really capture what they have in mind. They have all the tools necessary to do that. They think of something they want to paint they have all the reds, the blues and the yellows. They can make whatever color they want. They have the canvas they have the ability to really do it and they have the skills. Not necessarily true with musicians. Because they are so many things involved. I may not have the instruments, you know? I cant hire a 12 piece orchestra, I don’t have the recording studio, or an engineer or a producer to make it sound like it sounds in my head. That song, for me, is a song that sounds like what I wanted it to sound like. That is sadly rare. Any musician will tell you about their album “Oh yeah, it sounds pretty good. Wish the bass was louder in this song,” or something like that. I really like the way N.C. came out. It feels right. As far as the band goes, The songs Count On Us and Buried In The Sand are both really good examples of (the band) working together and shaping the song into something that I don’t think would have come to fruition unless we all did it together. They would have been different songs.
Erik – That’s one of the things that is exciting about this album to me as a member of Manuok. That I think, if this record would have been recorded like the other Manuok records have been recorded, it would not have sounded anything like this. Its been really exciting and fun to see how these songs developed as a band. Because like we said, they would have sounded completely different if it would have been recorded with just Scott. We all kind of honed the sound. Not just the songs but then the overall record itself. It has a very specific feeling to it, which can be directly attributed to how we pulled all the songs together.

Give us some insight on the song writing process for Manuok. From music to lyrics, and everything in between.
Erik – I would say this time it was mostly arranging the songs together. I think the majority of the time Scott would bring in a fairly complete song. As far as this is the verse, this is the chorus, this is pretty much a bridge, or probably the bridge. Then we would kind of flesh it out from there. Where before it was here is this guitar part, here is how this bass part goes. We would kind of just learn the record as Scott had already recorded it. It was more like Scott would come in with him singing and playing guitar then Andrew would come up with his parts, I would come up with mine.
Scott – I actually kind of disagree.
Erik – Really?
Scott – Well, in the sense that we always rearrange my songs.
Erik – That is very true.
Scott – When I recorded at home, I did whatever I did. But it almost never worked out live. And, hes a better bass player than me anyways and hes a better guitar player. Stuff doesn’t always translate live, even if you do have the same players. So we always translated my old albums into whatever we did live. So we just kind of skipped that step. When I write songs though, I write them in a bunch of different ways. One way is that it just comes out in one fell swoop. Lyrics and all the parts come together. I will record everything at once in my bedroom with a guitar and whatever drums I can get a hold of. More often is that I will write something, and three years later I will finish it. Lyrics always hold me back. The third way is Frankenstein. I will write a song 5 years ago, and it will sit there, I will feel like its missing a bridge. Then I will write another song 5 years later, and I will decide I don’t like anything but the bridge. Then I will remember this other song, and they get smashed together. That is the least romantic version of songwriting.

What are Manuok’s favorite places to play? San Diego, or otherwise and why?
Andrew – Casbah obviously is always fun. Always sounds good. Tin Can Alehouse. I have a really soft spot in my heart for Scolari’s Office, at least back when it was Scolari’s Office. The Tin Can kind of reminds me of that. It has that vibe, and is really intimate. It typically sounds really good in there when you think that it probably shouldn’t. They are really thoughtful about the sound there. There is no stage, so its incredibly intimate.
Erik – I would say those two, and Soda Bar is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to play. Just got a cool vibe to it, and from a musicians stand point, everything always sounds really good on the stage. It always sounds pleasant to my ears when we are playing. We may not sound good to everyone out there, but I always feel like we sound good on stage and that makes me feel good about it. (Collective laughter)
Scott – I am with them. Casbah has been a home for all of us for ages. Soda Bar treats us really well. They are all really good guys and shows usually go well. Tin Can I have an affection for. Like them, Scolari’s Office, but also all the way back to the Live Wire. I got my start playing at the Live Wire back when it was just a small tube of people and they had music. I always liked that.

What are some of the records that you have been jamming lately?
Erik – Oh man. I am a bad person to answer this question. I don’t listen to anything “new”. I listen to a lot of the Beatles, The Police and other records I have had since I was 17 years old.
Scott – The new Skeleton Key record. They are an old band from New York City, and they haven’t put out a record in what I think is about 10 years. They put out a new one and its just as good as the records were 10 years ago. Which is, often not true when a band goes away and then comes back, it will just sound watered down, or by no fault of their own they have just changed styles. If you wanted the next album from Skeleton Key ten years ago, they put out a new one and it sounds exactly the same. Its f***in awesome.
Andrew – I am all over the place. I don’t know. We were talking about Micachu and the Shapes earlier, I have been listening to them.
Scott – Its hard to think of when you’re put on the spot. I like Fiest “Metals”. I don’t have any of her other records. I wouldn’t say I listen to a lot of her contemporaries. Some how I stumbled upon this record and I think its beautiful.
Andrew – We were talking about listening to Spotify, and there is just so much available. Recently I tuned into Squarepusher, Micachu and the Shapes, Brian Eno’s new stuff. Just kind of like, really all over the place. Kind of chaotic, I haven’t really focused on anything.

Now that Traps is about to be released, what can we expect next from Manuok?
Scott – Another record. I am already pushing the guys to record again. We already have a half an albums worth of songs. I certainly have a bunch of songs I would like us to try out, and learn and reconfigure and rearrange. Its just about getting the time to do it.
Erik – Whats great about playing with Scott, is he never has a shortage of songs. So there is never any of this “So, what are we gonna play next… Oh no I need to write something!” He always has material. As a band member, its really nice to be able to rely on that. Because as a song writer myself who works extremely slowly, and I write very few songs, its nice. And I can appreciate the volume that Scott produces. I know that even the songs we haven’t heard yet, I know they are going to be good, because they always are. Its nice. Its like a luxury to have a songwriter who writes a ton, and writes a ton of really good material.
Scott – Too many songs. (Laughter)
Erik – (Laughter) Sometimes!

But is there such a thing as too many songs?
Scott – If we didn’t have jobs. We try to squeeze in as many hours as we can. Probably frustrating at times.

Are you looking into any tours for the record?
Erik – I don’t know.
Scott – Certainly not out of the question. We have been invited to do a tour in Europe. We spent most of our last tours in Europe, and we have been invited back. Haven’t decided if I want to. I am going on a tour with a different band in a couple weeks to China. That has kind of messed up my schedule for doing other tours. And the Japanese label Kilk has also invited us out. The details of that will need to be worked out before, in fact I usually don’t even say that stuff out loud. Because usually until I am on the airplane, I don’t announce anything. But they are both on the table. Just a matter of if we can all pull it together and make it happen.

Finish this sentence… Without music we would be…
Scott – Camping. (Collective Laughter)
Erik – It would be very different. I think everybody would be very different. I don’t mean every one in the band, or every one in this room. I mean people would be a lot different. Music affects and influences everything. Without it people would look different, they would act different, they would sound different.
3B – Well, without Manuok what would you be doing?
Erik – Camping. (Collective Laughter.)
Andrew – Without music, I guess I wouldn’t be building guitar pedals. I would probably be geeking out on electronics.
Erik – He is the gear head in the band. We always need that gear head.
Scott – Why isn’t my pedal working, Andrew? “Oh I will fix it!” I would be making something, I don’t know. One way or another. Andrew would be painting. He painted the cover of the album. Every one of us is creative in multiple ways. If it wasn’t for music, I am sure they would be doing something else along those lines.


Special thanks to everyone in Manuok. Please visit their website to purchase their new record, and to keep up on news and events. Also, follow them on Facebook and Twitter. All photos by Sheri Tennison Berg from Tangerine Tree Photography.

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