Photo: Dylan Johnson
Johnny Manchild and The Poor Bastards release their new single/video for “Oh, Songbird,” a track lifted from their forthcoming new album, Rapture Waltz, slated to drop in the spring of 2024 via Creative Entertainment Network/The Orchard, a division of Sony Music.
Made up of Johnny Manchild (composition, production, vocals, keyboards), Ethan Neel (drums), and Ben Wood (trumpet), Johnny Manchild and The Poor Bastards has grown into a musical collective with collaborators in regular rotation, and Johnny at the helm.
With a global following and more than 20 million streams, Johnny Manchild and The Poor Bastards are a tour de force of musical talent.
Tattoo.com spoke with Johnny Manchild to find out more about the inspiration for “Oh, Songbird,” how he got started in music, and his writing process.
What inspired your new single/music video, “Oh, Songbird?”
‘Oh, Songbird’ is about living through isolation, institutionalized racism, poverty, familial loss, and all the things that come with living right now. I wrote it in the middle of the pandemic, and it was a reminder to me and everyone that things will end, and life will be okay again soon enough. The music video was filmed in this decaying old theater, which was a perfect setting for this song in my mind.
“Oh, Songbird” is from your forthcoming album, ‘Rapture Waltz,’ slated for release in the spring of 2024. What can you share about the album?
This album is really special to me for a lot of reasons. It was a massive catharsis for me just writing and recording these, but the recording process was particularly special. We went to Cotati, California to work at Prairie Sun Studios. I brought our engineer, and now a good friend of mine, Wes Sharon, to work on the record. He had spent his formative years as an engineer working there, and I had heard it was closing down for good. I brought him out, along with my drummer Ethan Neel, and we cut the majority of the record with just Ethan and myself. We were one of the last bands to record there before its closing, and it’s a week that I’ll remember probably forever.
Walk us through your mindset as you entered the studio to record the album.
My drummer, Ethan, and I had both agreed that we needed to set aside egos and do what was best for the songs. We took a simplified approach with the arrangement when it needed to be simple and allowed for the complexities to stand out. In the past, I’ve worked with every band member in the studio all at once, and I think we sometimes suffered from the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ problem. This record is all killer, no filler in my mind, and I’m very proud of it.
Who is in Johnny Manchild and the Poor Bastards and which instrument do they play?
The Bastards have become an alternating cast lately. The original members that are left with us are Ben Wood on trumpet and Ethan Neel on drums. We’ve brought in string players, additional brass, backup singers, and woodwinds on occasion. Lately, I’ve been playing keys as usual, but I’ve also been playing guitar on the record and live. The Bastards fit whatever the songs call for.
How did you get started in music?
I’ve been appreciating music since I was a toddler, but I didn’t start playing drums until about 5 or 6 years old. I started drum lessons around 8 and played in cover bands. When I was ten, I joined a band called Refuje out of Norman, Oklahoma. I’ve been playing and recording ever since then. I joined the army band in 2014 and then majored in Jazz Performance in college. Sometime during college, I formed this band.
We heard a story about fans getting tattoos at a show. Can you tell us about what happened there?
This has actually happened a few times now. It’s two things really. I have our band logo tattooed on my right forearm, and fans have begun getting it tattooed on themselves, which is amazing to see. The story you’re probably referring to in particular is the signature tattoos. I’ve had fans coming up to me at shows lately asking for me to sign their arm or shoulder or something, and then they’ll go and get it tattooed. It’s insane, and I love it.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, TV, or other media?
It’s just life. I read a lot, and I definitely enjoy poetry. Sometimes visual media will spark something, and I try to absorb art in other forms outside of music for sure. For this record, it was largely just life events. There was certainly a visual component to this record in my mind; I had a vibe that was absolutely inspired by art and film for the titular track, ‘Rapture Waltz.’ I had been inspired by a lot of Stanley Donwood’s work, the artist for Radiohead. There’s not much better than that when it comes to post-apocalyptic doom and gloom.
What can you share about your writing process?
It happens quickly when it’s good. I’ve spent plenty of time putting effort into ultimately shitty songs, but it’s usually the lightning-in-a-bottle thing when the good songs come out. I don’t have as much control over it as I’d like. My gauge for a good song, by the way, is simply one that actually relieves me and brings catharsis. I don’t know if anyone else will like it, but that’s never the point during that stage. If I like it first, then I can maybe sit down and arrange it to be more palatable. If I feel like it.
In your opinion, which music artists are killing it right now?
Sammy Rae and the Friends are smashing right now. The live show is incredible, and the music is beautiful. Such a good vibe with the audience at shows. I remember leaving her show in San Diego feeling like I needed to go back to the drawing board and rethink my entire musical life. I also really dig The Dirty Nil. They’ve become one of my favorite smaller bands to listen to, though I’ve yet to see them live.
What is your definition of success?
Success to me is doing what I’m doing now but being able to build my camp around me and support the people working with me. I wanna give my guys health insurance and benefits. I want to build something sustainable, where we can do what we love, and everyone gets a fair wage doing it. I try not to focus too much on that aspect, but it’s important. I know already that success is impossible without putting the music first, but the livable wage is a close second.
What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Live gigs? New music? Music videos?
Oh, so much. We have our first single, ‘Oh, Songbird,’ coming December 8th, followed by our second single, ‘Fake Me Out,’ on January 26th, and our third and final single, ‘So Much Better,’ coming March 8th. We have music videos accompanying the first two singles as well.
Late February through mid-May, we’ll be touring all over: the Midwest, East Coast, West Coast, etc. We’ve got tour dates being announced very soon, and I’m extremely excited to get out again.