This city is filled with musicians. The level of talent here, the creativity and passion these people put into music that they so often play for free (or at most for free drinks) continually impresses me as a music lover and a writer. The one thing the music scene here is missing, in my opinion, is diversity. At least in the expat-heavy venues of Kyungsung and PNU, open mic night features a parade of talented acoustic singer/songwriters, rock, jazz, and blues bands, and mediocre cover bands.
Enter Sheizer Manelli.
A newcomer to creating and recording music, Sheizer Manelli (whose sole creative member is American expat Joshua Weaver) has taken something old and made it new again. While bands like Erasure, Berlin, and Alphaville have gone from the top of the charts to the where are they now? files, the debut of Sheizer Manelli reaches back to the Reagan era to give us, The Macrame Murders, ten catchy and blissfully soulful tracks.
I had a chance to sit down with Josh for an insightful talk about his life before Korea, songs about Busan, and what inspired him to create Sheizer Manelli.
Can we talk about music, and how you got into music?
I don’t even know if I would say that I got into music. I don’t actually play any instruments, I don’t actually have a band or anything. I got a computer that happened to have Garage Band on it and I just started playing with that and a friend stumbled upon something and was like that’s really nice you know? And I was like, âOK cool,’ and it sort of became a hobby. And somebody else who was actually into music heard something again and said, âYou’re really doing well, so try to learn some more, try to pursue this.’ So I did. I had never really studied music or composition or the details of what needs to be brought together to make something sound complete. Rather than when I got into music I would say that now I’m getting into music. I basically typed that whole album on the computer keyboard, and someone would hear part of something and ask, What arpeggiator did you use for that? and I’m like What’s an arpeggiator? I just slowed the track way down, typed out a pattern, and sped it up again. But now I’ve actually invested in a synthesizer. I’m ready to start the next project.
The closest thing I’ve heard musically to what you’ve done here is a group of Koreans doing a fusion of synth and rock, you know there’s a guy definitely banging on the synth but then he’s got a bass player and a drummer with him as well. In the Busan music scene, you’ve got your reggae band, your rock bands and you’ve got your cover bands, but you don’t have your 80s synthpop. Which was something I was a curious about – this style of music hasn’t really been popular for the last 25 years. Why this? Why now?
Well, the second track on the album is called 80s, in the first part of that song I just straight up say âI was born a decade too late’. It’s not that synthpop or that 80s sound is something I’m trying to do now as much as that is what I’ve always identified with. When we were in middle school mowing lawns, when every other kid had Color Me Badd in his Walkman, I still had Berlin, I still had Blondie. And yes, as we went through middle school, high school and university, I liked other bits of music, but I always just had a really strong connection to that âvibe’ so to speak.
The way the album goes through the highs and lows and upbeat and happier sounding songs like Advantage It’s just the happiest… The lyrics are obviously dark, but it’s just the happiest sounding song in the world.
Good, good, I’m really glad that you recognized those worlds colliding – that was really the point of that song.
But then the next song, Bliss is a little bit somber and a little bit sad. It reminded me a bit of the way the Scissor Sisters organized their albums. What made you organize the tracks that way?
That was purposeful because that’s the way life goes. Regardless of the actual meaning of the individual songs, I put them on there to kind of go from epic high to fun to down and back up and down to give it more of a life-flow so to speak. Every song directly reflects a life event for me, and so, yeah, I put them in order to reflect the ups and downs of life.
This struck me as something that had to be either very personal or just totally goofy. How personal would you say this album is?
It’s ridiculously personal. I stress a lot about lyrics, and especially with the way music is going these days it seems like people will write a song about anything and I get really frustrated with that. Even my partner he just says, Oh the lyrics aren’t important as long as people like the way it sounds. And it just kills me to hear someone say that. That’s OK if that’s what you’re into, but lyrics are really important to me. It was really hard to find a balance of expressing these really personal things, without necessarily divulging these personal things so directly with everyone, but still be able to share those moments anyway.
The oppression of small town USA and then religion and a lot of other things really held me under their thumb. It basically took me running away to the other side of the world to realize that I was a lot more of a person than anyone there was ever going to recognize.
There’s the very 80s synthpop like Erasure and Berlin, and then there’s extensions into more modern music, the one that really jumped out at me was the Scissor Sisters. But what were the other influences you recognize on the album?
I would say that the first Scissor Sisters album was really – I don’t know if i would say influential to my music as much as influential to me. It was a time when suddenly there was this music that had an element of campness or theatrics thrown back in it and I was really attracted to that, especially having a musical theater background. Or perhaps the Scissor Sisters didn’t influence the album directly as much as musical theater or high school choir. That kind of thing was very moving to me – more than the average kid that was involved in it, especially the vocal harmonies, so I tried to incorporate those things.
I think I’ve been trying to pick at this the whole time, but the real question is, where did this come from? When people create music like this, something is inside that needs to come out.
I definitely had something to say, and the whole album is something I had to say to very specific people or comments on life events. And it’s a lot of responses to those. I grew up in a very conservative environment – my father is a baptist minister. The oppression of small town USA and then religion and a lot of other things really held me under their thumb. It basically took me running away to the other side of the world to realize that I was a lot more of a person than anyone there was ever going to recognize. So it started out as a couple of projects that I didn’t even realize were so angry and had no intention of sharing. The first songs I wrote aren’t even on the album, but they were very angry. But it was actually very therapeutic, because I hadn’t realized I had these demons on my back. I had a lot to say.
So with having so many emotions bundled to this, your first effort, what do you think might be in store for your next work?
I recorded the album in the corner of my bedroom, typing away, singing at all hours of the night, and it became something I had to complete for myself. I honestly didn’t think when my friends heard it and shared it that people would actually like it. But people did. And local expat Dan Horne contacted me. He liked my sound and said, ‘You got something here. We gotta take this live.’ And like that, a band was born. Dan is much more experienced than me and his understanding of synthesizing and MIDI sound is still Greek to me. But he’s taking the songs from the album and putting his edge on them. It was disconcerting at first, giving someone liberty to etch their mark into something so personal. But every song on this album was written at least 4-5 years ago and deals with very old skeletons in the closet. None of those situations are things that I’m dealing with now or even recently. So he’s brought The Macrame Murders to a whole new level. If you like the album, then you’ll like our live show even more. We’ll be in the music scene by summer. I like Dan’s updates so much more that we’ve agreed to re-record the album as a duo project.
As far as new stuff, I’m trying to get away from a laptop and actually learn how to use some instruments and trying to educate myself some more. Right now it’s more important for me to see the Macrame Murders come to life than focus on a new project. But I never stop writing, so, intended or not, I do have something. As bizarre as it might sound, I’m working on some music with Dan that will parallel the the two kinds of alien experiences – one being extraterrestrial and the other being the original pioneer or expat. But this is a long way down the road. It’s easier to write songs about being an alien than about direct experiences in Korea.
I’ve been struggling with this obstacle for like two years – don’t laugh – but I’ve been trying to write a song about Korea, and it’s impossible. You know, someone can sit down and write a song about New York City in an afternoon and no one bats an eye. Why is that cool? Why is trying to write a song about Korea so uncool? You wanna write a song about Korea and suddenly you’re the weird waygook-in or you’re the guy who’s trying too hard to be a part of Korea, and man, this is a really difficult situation. I’ve been trying to write this song for a couple years and it’sâ¦ it always just comes off corny. You know?
I think that would be really interesting to see your music live.
Josh Weaver: I don’t know why I was always so scared of itâ¦ Friends have given me a lot of encouragement thus far, so I’m happy to have found a way to make this come to life. Like I said, I know so little about the actual process, I wouldn’t even know looking at my own music, what minimal instruments I would need to bring it to life. A lot of the instruments in the album I didn’t necessarily write as they were. It wasn’t until I met producer Mike Laveck, and he would offer the advice that certain sounds would be much better as a simpler instrument. So I wouldn’t even know where to begin to strip my music down to create a band. All this weight is going to be on Dan’s shoulders.
With a background in theater, would you – not necessarily turn it into a musical, but make something more of a production?
Well, easily. Because when I’m writing, it is usually based on an entire event, so it would be very easy to take these songs and turn them into entire scenes. The characters and everything else involved is already there, for a theatrical production because the music is a bit 80s and I can hear that, and there is definitely a theatrical element to it, I can hear that as well, I just think that’s why [it would be so easy].
OK, last question: The cover of Goodbye Horses, – my memory of that song is from the Silence of the Lambsâ¦ the one very specific sceneâ¦ Why did you choose to cover that song?
OK, this is either going to be really intriguing or just make me look really fucked up. So like everyone else, when we were like 12 or 13 watching the Silence of the Lambs, most people were completely terrified – as I explained I led a very sheltered life – when it comes to that part of Buffalo Bill in the cellar with the girl down in the hole and he’s putting on the lipstick and getting ready and that Q Lazarus track is playing Goodbye Horses, that was a very eye-opening, connecting type ofâ¦ what? Awareness or awakening kind of experience for me. That was something that instantly I knew, Holy shit!, that’s me! And it sounds terribleâ¦
Putting on a skin suit?
Right! OK, I wasn’t so much connecting to, you know, this terrible serial killer, as I was to this individual who had these very feminine characteristics and he liked an element of drag and womens’ clothing but he was still very masculine when he was out of it. It was the first time I’d seen that. It just struck something in me and it drove me nuts that I could never find a recording of that song, so for years the only time I could hear that song was to watch that scene. The song is beautiful, it’s still one of my favorite songs, but that song represents a very important time for me. Just to have confidence in the fact that I can be a man, and I can still like these theatrical things, and I can like both of them equally and that’s ok.
Photos by Lizane Lowe