The Drummer Behind Manic Focus: A Closer Look at Jake

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Interviewed by Helen Vivas

Photos by Sundara Studios

Manic Focus just dropped the new single “Putting All of My People On” and is soon to be releasing a new album called Mind Rising, out on 4/21!  We, at Festival Squad, were lucky enough to score an interview with the man that holds the rhythms down, Jake!

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us.  We are huge fans and love seeing your shows.  Our focus for this piece is you and how you got involved in the festival music scene and more specifically playing drums for Manic Focus.

1. I know you’ve stated that your musical influences growing up were more along the lines of punk bands such as Blink 182, but as you entered the festival scene you were exposed to giants such as Zach Velmer of STS9 and Kris Meyers of Umphrey’s McGee. Why do you think you gravitated towards them as musical influences on the festival circuit?

Woah, I feel like an episode of ‘This is Your Life’, someone definitely did their homework haha.

 I think Kris Myers was the first drummer in the festival scene to really draw my attention. The aggressive nature of Umphreys’ music mixed with his incredible style and technique was like anything I had heard out of the jam/festival scene up until then. I was actually lucky enough to take lessons with him for about two years on and off; he truly is a master of the craft.

STS9 was the first electronic music I got really into, before any DJ’s or producers even. Through them, I grew to have an appreciation for electronic music across the board, which greatly influenced the music I would come to make & projects I would become involved in. Zach is just a machine. He integrates himself perfectly with the beats & samples of Tribe’s songs and does so with an intricate yet logical style. When starting to make my own electronic geared toward playing with a band, I looked to Zach & the rest of STS9 as the gurus.

2. Along those lines, who else has helped shape who you are today as a performer- family, friends, other musicians?

I’m going to have to say that the biggest single thing to influence and shape me musically in my 20 years of playing music was being a part of my band The Coop. We spent 11 years growing up together; showing each other new music & influences, touring for the first time of our lives, seeing countless numbers of live shows together, and pushing each other to compose & produce music. Those guys are my brothers, and I’m so grateful we all got to learn how to do this thing together.

My family has always been a huge support and influence on me. When I was really young, my mom was in a rock band. I would go to her practices and shows and dance around. Her drummer even gave me my first lesson when I was 4! My dad showed me a lot of great music when I was really young; I remember him driving me to school with a Pink Floyd cassette in his car. Both my mom and dad have always been supportive with music. They bought my sister and I instruments, paid for and drove us to lessons, and countless times sat through 12 music groups in one night just to see us play 3 songs at a school performance. My sister played drums growing up – we did competitive drumline together, and also have an electronic-duo side project called Jib’n’Jab.

3. Can you tell us a little bit about your partnership with JmaC and how you got involved with Manic Focus?

I met JmaC for the first time at the Tonic Room in Chicago. We were both invited to be part of an all-improv super jam show. He was playing keytar, and I remember him busting out beats in Ableton during the jam, but we couldn’t really hear them that well. It was random and loose, but a lot of fun. I think we may have done another similar jam as well at one point.

After that, I’d see JmaC around at shows & festivals as he started gigging out and I was touring with The Coop. We’d hang and chat for a minute whenever we had the chance. Eventually, the idea came up to do a collab track, and I was really stoked on that. Our bassist Cason went to hang with JmaC, recorded some bass, and they laid out the start of a track. Then everyone in The Coop recorded and edited parts to send back. JmaC put everything together, produced the track, and we ended up with the song ‘Traveling on My Mind’, that came out on his last full album, ‘Cerebral Eclipse’.

In December of 2014, I was hanging with JmaC at a show and mentioned that I’d love to perform with him if he ever needed live or studio work. A few weeks later, he hit me up and asked if I would play drums on a handful of upcoming tour dates, including the first Manic Focus Live Band show at House of Blues in Chicago. I was thrilled to say the least, and got to work learning all of his music.

 Working with JmaC has been a dream come true. I was able to leave my day job almost a year ago and now I get to focus on music full time. Aside from drumming, I also work a lot on the business side of Manic Focus, which definitely keeps me busy. I’ve been a part of Manic Focus for just over 2 years now, and we’ve already had countless amazing experiences as a team.

4. I know you played music in high school, especially jazz band, concert band, and orchestra. Believe it or not, during the day I’m an educator facing the youth that have the same aspirations to go far.  If you had the opportunity to give them advice, what would you say? 

That’s super rad! I actually taught drum lessons to kids more or less full time for a few years. It’s quite humbling, and a good way to analyze your most basic of fundamentals.

  I would tell them that you get what you put in. Music isn’t going to be the end all, be all for everyone, and that’s ok. BUT, if you want it, don’t be afraid to go out and get it. Anything is possible, and sometimes if you just try, the craziest things can happen. If you go that route, you really need to immerse yourself in your craft. Study things that you may never really use. Listen to things that are outside of your immediate realm of enjoyment. You never know when some of that knowledge might come in handy.

 I’ll just say this. I had been playing music for 18 years or so, and was all but ready to just submit to the fact that I couldn’t make it a career…and then JmaC hit me up to be his drummer. Within a little over a year, I was able to leave my day job to do music. This can happen for anyone, just don’t be discouraged when it takes time and work.

5. Here at Festival Squad we are all about festival experiences! We love discussing our favorites, debating which venues/ stages/ fields are the best and what type of atmosphere each festival offers.  What has been the best performance and experience for you?  Also, what are some festival goals that you have in mind?

Well first off, I need to give shouts to the festival that changed my life, Summer Camp. This was the first festival I ever attended back in 2007, and it really opened my mind to the whole festival scene. This coming year will be my 10th year attending and 8th year playing. Going there just feels like home, and every year they step up their game.

 Since that first experience, I’ve attended and played at festivals of every size, and each one has something unique to offer. My favorites are ones that offer an immersive environment that goes beyond the music. Electric Forest and Hulaween both do such an incredible job of this; you feel like you are in another dimension when walking the grounds. On the other end of the spectrum, a city festival can be just as immersive. For Example, North Coast is quite bad ass, and then after the fest every night there’s a ton of after party options. Chicago becomes the immersive environment in contrast to a camping fest where that environment is catered from scratch.

As far as performing goes, it’s hard to pick favorites. One of the cool things about Manic Focus is that we can fit on a wide range of festivals; we can be one of the more electronic acts on a wide-spanning lineup or one of the funkier acts on an electronic event. In no particular order, our sets from the last two festival seasons at Electric Forest, Summer Camp, North Coast, Moonrise and Okeechobee all stand out in my mind.

   6. We can’t leave out Red Rocks!  What was it like playing that venue?  Does that venue equate to a higher level of musical success for you?

Red Rocks is the craziest place I’ve ever played. Everything about the place is epic, and the crew there is so on point. I still can’t believe I’ve gotten to perform there twice now with JmaC, opening for Griz/The Floozies and Lettuce/The Wailers. Both times I was incredibly nervous waiting to go on, but once we got on stage that was replaced with overwhelming excitement. Quite a surreal feeling and experience, and I’m just grateful to the universe for that opportunity. Hoping to get back again this season!

7. Manic Focus’s 2014 album, Cerebral Eclipse, was stacked with a ton of heavyweight collaboration from GRIZ, Micheal Menert, and Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic. If you had the opportunity to collaborate with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

Oh wow, that’s hard to nail down into just one answer…can I give my top 3? Kind of always changing, but at the moment…

  1. John Lennon

 It would be crazy cool to work with someone who had such a profound impact on modern music. The Beatles were some of the forefathers of studio experimentation, so seeing how that could transfer to current electronic music would be really interesting. Plus I think in the current political/social climate, he’d have some relevant things to say. 

  1. Flying Lotus

FlyLo is just…a wizard. I love how his brew of electronic music is totally unlike anything. The swagger of the beats, eerie soundscapes, and deep bass take you to another world. Loved how he cut up jazz breaks on ‘You’re Dead’ and would be so fun to hop into a studio full of drums/percussion and work on a track. 

  1. Travis Barker

Ok so Travis Barker was low-key the reason I wanted to play drum kit when I was a     kid. He’s obviously a shredder on the drums, but also produces for other artists and his own music. This would be kind of a full circle nostalgia thing; we could switch off behind the kit and recording console.
6. Now, let’s look to the future. What should we expect to see/ hear from you in 2017? 

Well, next up is the second leg of our spring tour, which I’m super stoked for. We’re playing some rooms that I really love, and some rooms that are milestones for Manic Focus. The new album comes out in mid-April, and we’re going to blow out all the shows around that.

 We’ve got an awesome summer of festivals ahead, hitting spots all over the country. Festival season is the most fun thing ever because we get to hang with our friends in all these different settings; it makes for some cool sit-in opportunities as well. I’m sure we’ll also be getting it in at the studio to start on more new material during the summer months.

When festival season is all said and done, we’ll hop right into a full schedule for Fall. We get a few little breaks in here and there, but really there’s no significant down time. Always something to do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you again for this interview!  We can’t wait to see what this festival season has in store for you and Manic Focus.

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Festival Squad readers- be sure to catch Jake of Manic Focus at the following festivals in 2017:  Summer at Phunkberry, Summer Camp, What the Festival?, High Sierra, Camp Bisco, and many more!

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