An Interview with J. Niimi of Man’s Body

Image courtesy of Howling Weulf Media

It’s amazing what bands and musicians have been able to pull off these past couple of years during shutdowns, quarantines, and distancing. Man’s Body is no exception to the boom in great music that these recent uncertain times have sparked with talent and creativity. Thanks to modern technology, making music is still a viable option for bands old and new to keep working. In this interview with J., we talk about just that and their latest album, A Set of Steak Knives, the guest musicians on said album and their multi decades-old career, and everything in between!

Anthony:
Hello J., it’s great to have you here with us to talk about your new album, A Set of Steak Knives. How have you been these past couple of years?

J:
Well, COVID threw a wrench into the machinery for us and lots of other bands. We had a year of shows booked in 2020 that we had to cancel. But we stayed busy working on recordings, using the internet to send files back and forth. Modern technology.

Anthony:
Looks like you and the band have been busy with A Set of Steak Knives, so, let’s dig into that first. It’s your second full-length album, what can our readers expect?

J:
I think it’s a definite progression from our first album, Put Your Family In It. More diverse while more coherent at the same time? We worked with a lot of the same studio musicians again, our regular LA crew, so there’s a common thread there.

Anthony:
What are your live shows looking like this year?

J:
We’re playing here in Chicago next month, then probably some shows this summer. We’re hoping a plan for October/November comes through, in which case we’d be playing with a great band we know on the West Coast. Then Greg and I plan to go to New Zealand to tour in January 2023.

Image Courtesy of Spotify

Anthony:
What would you say the album is about?

J:
In a basic sense, the act of making artwork is a statement in and of itself, something that says you have notions in your mind and soul that need to be shared and that are worth sharing. Our message is a secular humanist one. The golden rule. Be a good steward of humanity. That’s it in a nutshell if I had to condense it.

Anthony:
You guys have a distinct style. With that said, how did you accomplish the tones and sounds that remind me of the late 80s to late 90s alternative/punk movements?

J:
Greg and I have been playing in bands and recording in the studio for decades, so we’re pretty well matched as far as knowing our way around a control room. We like a lot of the same records, which is the wellspring of our shared aesthetic value systems. We dig the same kinds of guitar tones and drum sounds, and we’ve become good at finding the personnel to get that sound.

Anthony:
I think it’s awesome you guys got Fredo Ortiz to perform the drums on A Set of Steak Knives, how did that come about, and what other guest musicians did you feature on this album?

J:
Fredo is an old friend of ours and has played in Greg’s other band, Rough Church, for many years. Fredo is amazing; he played with the Beastie Boys for ten years, then Gogol Bordello, and now he’s in Los Lobos. We had a slew of wonderful guest musicians on the record. Kaitlin Wolfberg on violin, Gerald Dowd on drums as well, Probyn Gregory playing four different types of horns on “Classically Mine.” Dante Pascuzzo, our right-hand man. Many others.

Anthony:
How did the three of you meet? Can you take us through the formation of Man’s Body?

J:
I met Greg in 2014 when my band Ashtray Boy played in LA. Our mutual friend Andy Creighton of the band the World Record introduced us – Greg booked the night for us at the venue he was working with at the time. A year later, Greg asks me if I want to play drums in Rough Church for a Chicago show and a Daytrotter Session, so we did that. A year after that, he asks if I want to record some songs for a day at Electrical Audio in Chicago. So I recruit Marco, who I worked with at the time, to play bass. Later he switched to guitar. I played drums instead of the guitar as I do now. Greg met Marco, and we made an EP in one day, the Found EP (Powertool, New Zealand).

Image courtesy of Howling Weulf Media

Anthony:
What were the early days of Man’s Body compared to now six years later? 

J:
Aside from the instrumentation (Greg was playing guitar initially, too, and then retired it and just sings now), a lot has changed. We have a larger catalog of songs to draw from now when we play live, and our writing methodology has evolved well, too.

Anthony:

Having only been formed in 2016, would you say it was your combined background in the music industry that had the band take off the way it has over the past 6 years?

J:
As I mentioned before, Greg and I have been in all sorts of bands for years, so we just brought all that experience to bear on this band. We were each sort of used to pulling the plow by ourselves in bands – the ones who had to make all the grown-up decisions, so it’s nice to be in a band where the two of us are both pulling the plow in the same direction.

Anthony:
Again, having formed in 2016, was it hard to network your band in a sea of countless others out there that are also trying to get noticed?

J:
Definitely. The internet changed indie music by lowering the barrier to entry, with everything from ProTools to Soundcloud to Bandcamp, but that also created a huge signal-to-noise problem we’ve never seen before. How do you sift through all of it to find the stuff you really like? How do you find your way as one band out of a crowd of thousands? We’re still learning in this regard. I think all bands are. The industry has changed so much in the past 25 years.

Anthony:
Speaking of backgrounds in the music industry, can you talk a bit about your history with Ashtray Boy?

J:
Ashtray Boy started in 1992 as the recording project of Randall Lee (the Cannanes, Nice). We were running a recording studio out of our basement on the North Side of Chicago, and Randall came in with a bunch of songs and got his housemate Liz Phair to come out to sing, too. Then we started playing out, and it became a regular band, with me and Randall traveling back and forth between Chicago and Australia. I was a jack of all trades in that band: drums, lyrics, guitar, percussion, booking, engineering, arranging, production, etc. I did everything stateside. We put out ten albums that I’m really proud of.

Image courtesy of Howling Weulf Media

Anthony:
Let’s take it to the beginning, what got you into music originally?

J:
My parents weren’t musicians, but they liked music a lot and encouraged me to listen to music. As a kid, I had a radio next to my bed and used to listen to WLS AM 89 religiously. Then I discovered my mom’s Beatles records. That really opened my little mind and planted the seed of wanting to learn guitar.

Anthony:
What ultimately led you to play guitar?

J:
I started with lessons when I was fourteen, and then picked up drums when I was in college. I was in high school bands and other bands before and during Ashtray Boy. I also engineered a bunch of friends’ bands’ records in the 90s.

Anthony:
Let’s talk about gear now! A Set of Steak Knives has some crazy tones and distortions. What equipment did you use to play and record your guitar for this album?

J:
I use mostly guitars I built myself, Telecaster style electrics. I’m a guitar tech and luthier by trade. I like Vox amps, but for this record, I used mostly small vintage tube amps from the ‘60s, an Epiphone, and a Supro, mainly, at Kingsize Sound Labs in Chicago. I mostly just plug directly into the amp without pedals. Live I use a lot of different backlines, so I always play through my Earthquaker Devices White Light overdrive.

Anthony:
J., thank you so much for taking the time with me today. What’s next for Man’s Body?

J:
Touring to promote A Set of Steak Knives (mansbodychicago.bandcamp.com), and working on recording our follow-up, which we have about twelve songs for, so far.


Image courtesy of Howling Weulf Media

Interested in learning more about Man’s Body? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
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