Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., formerly of 90’s power pop band Jellyfish has been busy since the band broke up in 1994. He’s toured with Beck, Cheap Trick and, along with ex-Jellyfish band mate Eric Dover, Imperial Drag. His new band, The Lickerish Quartet reunites Dover (vocals, guitar) and another ex-Jellyfish band mate, Tim Smith (vocals, bass, guitar) as they resume collaboration on a new release Threesome Vol. 1, out May 15.
Currently Manning is quarantined, like the rest of the world, and doing okay with very little adjustment to a routine he’s mostly accustomed to when not out touring with Beck. Says Manning, “Normal pre-Covid day I’m mostly sequestering in my music room working on a number of things, unless somebody called me into town for a session or was actually on tour, otherwise I’m home. I’m in the cave.” Although this isn’t the lifestyle he’d accept 24/7 — he’s more than happy to take on the occasional business dinner — there was no 180 degree shift like some people. “I’ve less complaints, let’s put it that way. A lot of gratitude”
With the new EP Threesome Vol 1 set for a mid-May release via The Lickerish Quartet/Label Logic distributed by Ingrooves, Manning has a lot to be grateful for including early rave reviews from fans of both Jellyfish and Imperial Drag. After two decades of a collaborative labor of love coming to fruition however, the path took on a few twists and turns as the three managed their hectic touring and performing schedules to get together to write and record the songs.
In 2017, just as the New Year was rolling in, Manning was listening to a short-lived project he had done in 1995 with Dover. “The music was such a fond memory . . . I was like, this is crazy, 20 years just went by and other than very brief instances we haven’t had the opportunity to write original music together. We were going to do that in Jellyfish and then the band broke up.” Manning decided to reach out to Smith, who resides in Atlanta about the notion of getting together for old time’s sake. Smith told Manning, “If I come to LA maybe we can invite Eric and the three of us could do this because it was so much fun that we had way back then.” Manning agreed and with no immediate agenda other than just a good excuse to get together, have some dinner and throw some ideas around, the three did get together.
Manning hadn’t worked with Dover since Imperial Drag and Smith since Jellyfish but he knew there was undeniable chemistry between them musically; it all made sense to him. The three got together for a week at Dover’s place exchanging ideas and it didn’t surprise him that it went well. So well in fact that they arranged a second meeting. After the second writing session the group had nearly 20 solid ideas they felt good about. “It was very rewarding, very fun ideas that were being exchanged very immediately.” Manning then asked the group, “What do you want to do now?”
Social media has been a long time coming for Manning. From day one he had no desire checking into a virtual world. “If I have any leisure time at all I’m not gonna spend it here.” Manning had songs to write. Suffice it to say, through the years he learned the value social media brought to musical artists and bands in getting the word out and connecting with fans. If not for social media, Manning would never have known the impact of his music or how new generations of fans were emerging worldwide. He was relatively confident there was a small faction of people interested in Jellyfish, Imperial Drag and his solo work that wanted to hear new music like this again, however, he wasn’t prepared for what was coming next.
“I started getting a lot of emails, correspondence from people who weren’t even born during the Jellyfish record,” tells Manning. “This 17-year old girl in Argentina, whose big sister was dating a guy who played her a Jellyfish album, and she’s like ‘what is this, because me and all my friends are listening to hip-hop. I have no idea what this is and I love it.’” The girl contacted Manning through Facebook to tell him she’s turning all her friends on to it. Manning was amazed, he didn’t even know this girl, and she’s talking to him like a “seasoned music critic.” Manning tells the girl, “You might like to know I’ve got this new project.” For him, it’s been a lot of that.
The Lickerish Quartet has been a labor of love, with the three getting together in-between their regular gigs as much as possible. “It’s been as challenging as any artistic journey but it’s great fun to do this again with the guys and we learned a lot”, confessed Manning. In the realm of songwriting, Manning said they took on the Crosby, Stills and Nash approach where each member shares in the lyrics and there is no lead singer per se. As far as Manning was concerned there was no agenda or roadmap; all of the guys wrote, arranged, and had their own set of strengths with what instrument they played. Says Manning, “What was very much something we were aware of was that we all really enjoyed singing background vocals and arranging them.” He continues, “We were excited by the fact that one guy might sing the verse, the other guy might sing the chorus and then we’d all sing the bridge and would all have this harmony.”
Of the four songs on the EP one of the most intriguing is the 6 ½ minute Lighthouse Spaceship, a cosmic-inspired and engaging melodic journey through time and space. Of the 6 plus minute piece, Manning confessed it was a challenge aside from the length alone. Developed out of an idea he brought which contained just a verse, later changed to the bridge, the song had no lyrics. “I played it for the guys and it’s an odd kind of groove. They seemed inspired by it. So we spent the next two days trying to throw chorus ideas at it.” They eventually came up with the bulk of the song but still no lyrics.
With the solid bed of music and a melody, they were at odds as to what the song should convey. Manning looked to Dover: “And something that Eric’s always been good at in my collaboration with him, certainly in Imperial Drag, was he was really good at getting a vibe from the music and what imagery does to create for him in his mind and in his heart and then create poetry around that.” When Dover came back with the idea of space, ambient lighthouse beacon in fog, both Smith and Manning were in awe. “For me, that would have been the further from my imagination and yet now that the music bed was in place it all started to make sense.”
By the fall of 2019, Manning, Smith and Dover had piecemealed 12 songs with the idea of releasing three separate EPs over the course of the next few years, and with the increased interest in the music it seemed like the best course of action. Recording the EP happened with the help of some favors and Manning, Smith and Dover’s commitment to working on the songs even while in-between gigs. “And then you’d have to remember and try to get back in that headspace of all that excitement that you knew was there for the song and reacquaint yourself with that.” It was very challenging but the group could finally see the finish line.
Of the four songs, Magic Number mostly coming from an unfinished idea is an “extension of Tim’s personality”, says Manning. “Very proud of that song because Tim had the bulk of it . . . I love what happens when Eric and my faces appear in that song and really move it into an area . . . the classic case of we’re greater than the sum of our independent parts.” Once again the inspiration of Crosby, Stills and Nash is an example of three talented guys together and in their solo work coming together to make great albums.
On touring, Manning says he’s completely open to it but it’s got to make sense; individually they’re all so busy so it’s really something only time will tell. And for the loyal fans of Jellyfish and Imperial Drag who have been buzzing with anticipation for months as they’ve pondered on social media about the expected new music coming from the trio, the May 15 release could not come soon enough.
Threesome Vol. 1 includes the tracks Fadoodle, Bluebird Blues, Magic Number and Lighthouse Spaceship, with lyric videos for Lighthouse Spaceship and Fadoodle on You Tube, both as glorious and whimsical as you would expect.
The Lickerish Quartet are:
Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. (vocals, keyboards)[Beck, Air, Cheap Trick, Imperial Drag]
Tim Smith (vocals, bass, guitar) [Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, The Finn Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Umajets]
Eric Dover (vocals, guitar)[Imperial Drag, Slash’s Snakepit, Alice Cooper, Sextus]
Debut EP “Threesome Vol. 1”
First single “Lighthouse Spaceship”