He’s played keyboards for Beck, Air, Sheryl Crow, Jamiroquai, Green Day, and many others. He co-founded the critically favored pop-rock bands Jellyfish and Imperial Drag. He produces music for film (Lost in Translation, Friday Night Lights, Spider-Man), television (VH-1, Comedy Central), and high-profile commercials for American Express, Nike, and Reebok. And he recently released his first solo album, Solid State Warrior, in a daring new digital format.
But to synth geeks everywhere, it’s his bubble-headed space suit that separates Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., from the rest.
Manning’s zany, loungy Moog Cookbook experiment in 1996 with Brian Kehew—which started as an inside joke—may have created his most devoted following to date. The space-suited duo’s instrumental samba ’n’ shuffle versions of glory rock songs like “More Than a Feeling,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “25 or 6 to 4,” played on walls of vintage synthesizers, were addictively cool.
More recently, Manning is excited to be one of the first artists to distribute a solo album exclusively as Weed files. He performed, recorded, and produced Solid State Warrior (’60s- and ’70s-flavored pop à la Jellyfish and Imperial Drag) all in his basement studio using TASCAM GigaStudio 3, lots of software instruments, and a collection of over 200 vintage pedals, keyboards, drum modules, recorders, and synths.
“It’s no mystery,” Manning says. “Global communication is upon us, so now you can be a rock star in Japan from a home studio in Minneapolis.”
Space is limited in his home studio, so before recording Solid State Warrior, he built his virtual drum kits inside a custom PC. He had planned to later replace those rough tracks using a real drummer, but the results were realistic enough to obviate the second step. Using equal portions of GigaStudio sound libraries and classic drum samples lifted from his extensive collection of vinyl records, even Manning was surprised with the drum sound he baked up.
“I mapped out all of my favorite drum sounds in GigaStudio and triggered those playing my DrumKAT [MIDI controller],” he says. “I’m a huge vinyl collector who loves to go back through those sounds and bring them forward into Giga. I’m quite proud of the realistic drums I was able to create just right here in my basement. ”
It was the Moog Cookbook’s two CDs that caught Beck’s attention, leading to an ongoing collaboration. Manning recorded and toured on Mutations, Midnight Vultures, and Sea Change and is on the new Guero—five years removed. Thanks to ProTools, Beck was able to carve, cut, and paste Manning’s licks from some 1999 jam sessions into the new album. “Beck just reopened those hard drives with the Dust Brothers and started chopping ’em up into new songs,” Manning reveals.
I caught up with him by phone in his L.A. home studio.
Randy Alberts: You’ve played tons of hardware instruments. What are some of your favorite software tools?
Roger Manning: I work with most all of the McDSP, IK Multimedia, Serato, and Bomb Factory plugins for signal processing. Lately, for software instruments, I’ve been using Native Instruments’ Absynth, Spectrasonics’ Atmosphere, and TimewARP 2600 from Way Out Ware, and for all my sampling, it’s TASCAM GigaStudio 3. I especially like the Sonic Implants libraries for GigaStudio. They record all their sounds in woody, natural-sounding rooms that sound warm and beautiful.
Alberts: There isn’t a Mac version of GigaStudio, so are you doing all of your sampling now on a PC?
Manning: Yes, I’ve been a Giga user since the earliest versions and now have a custom-built PC “hot rod” dedicated completely to GigaStudio. I was raised on Mac for a very long time and still use my ProTools|TDM system on a G4 to record and edit and produce, but Brent Meyers, who built the PC for me, told me, "Nah, this is what you need." He built a rackmount PC chassis from the ground up for me running a 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 processor with a pair of 200 GB, 7,200 RPM drives in a RAID array for ridiculously fast streaming of samples. I have all these antique vintage synths, including a modular E-mu and two ARP 2600s, and all of it is in one room with the Giga hot rod sitting right here in the middle.