By: Gus Bernadicou
James Mankey, along with Johnette Napolitano, is the genius behind the band Concrete Blonde. Concrete Blonde got it start in the 80ís in Los Angeles and since then has gotten fame, notoriety, and support from the likes of Kat Von D, Gus Bernadicou, and every other person with a soul. James Mankey is my hero, a killer guitar player, and a down-to-earth person.
Punk Globe: Could you give the readers some background of yourself, please?
James Mankey: In three words: insecure, agoraphobic, and antisocial.
Punk Globe: Youíre first record that came out was on Sparks debut, correct?
James Mankey: That was my first recording, I was in the band with my brother and the Mael Brothers. Right in high school, and shortly after it high school. I would drive all over to the place, we would rehearse, and we would invite big promoters. It cute and childlike but it was fun!
Punk Globe: Then Dream6 came out, the first incarnation of Concrete BlondeÖ
James Mankey: Yeah, Johnette was working at Gold Star recording studio. They would let her come in and do some recording, my brother did the engineering duties. ITís rough and crude, but it wasnít so terrible for being our first thing.
Punk Globe: Did you like that album, or listening to it now did it inspire you to improve?
James Mankey: We just did the best record we could do, it was a surprise to me and everyone else that it came out any good at all, it was a big shock. We didnít have a track record, we took a shot and hoped something would come out of it. It was good enough to get us started, in my viewpoint, itís all a struggle and insecure and unsure about itself. Looking back, people say ĎBoy, you did a good jobÖí itís nice but itís not like it was intentionalÖbut I guess we did a good job, somewhat. We did it well enough to have a career. We are no U2, but we arenít too bad. Itís good to make the world slightly better, we all have our place in the world AND you just gotta accept where your place is. If I were hugely successful, I probably wouldíve damaged myself. Iím old now, and I guess things worked out for the best.
Punk Globe: Then Concrete Blonde hit the streets, why a three piece? In 1986 that was pretty uncommon?
James Mankey: We were recording with Chris Tsangarides he always said, ďyou guys are really old school.Ē No one really plays like that anymore, most people use a computer monitor, and we didnít! We were pretty retro; we just got in there and played! A three piece is good because with 2 guitar players, you always will have problems. Johnette was insecure about her playing for a while, but now we donít need another person/bass player. We thought we should have a keyboardist, but it wasnít practical, itís easier to support three people than 4 or more. It was more practicalÖ Too many egos.
Punk Globe: Between 1986 and 1989 what were you guys doing?
James Mankey: We went out and hooked up with IRS Records, we were just out hitting the road. We were just playing and playing, it was hard to come up with another record. The first one seemed okay, would the second one be okay? We had legal problems. Johnette called Tsangarides up and we landed in LondonÖ.he didnít realize we were going to be thereÖ We hit the road really hard. There were really intense legal problems, we were displeased with the deal we had, the case became less about Concrete Blonde and more about if the band could compete with bankruptcy. It didnít really have to do with us though, we got our feet back on earth, and we got out another album. In the end it was the best thing for us. We didnít have a quick overnight success, we felt good; it wouldnít feel good if it wasnít as hard to get.
Punk Globe: Throughout the years the band became less and less punk and more commercially suitable? Were you ever punk?
James Mankey: We were there when punk was happening, but the actual punks didnít really accept us. We were more of a pop band than a punk band. When we got more experience, we did what we wanted. It turned out more polished than punk, even though we accepted any press we could get. We were never punk. I was more into Fleetwood Mac than the Sex Pistols.
Punk Globe: Johnette has often stated that she just wanted to put an album out and you just wanted that gold record, is that correct?
James Mankey: Well I did, she looks down on material symbols. I had a dream, I wanted to play music and not be in an office. I wanted to tour and stay in a motel with an ice machine, that was my dream. I got more than I ever expected.
Punk Globe: Öand then, out of nowhere Joey climes to number one? Were you an overnight sensation or could you anticipate it?
James Mankey: It was just one more song as far as I was concerned, it was justifiably considered the single. We didnít know what is going to happen before it happens. I might have even chosen something else to be our single, it just happened. Thatís my motto (grave stone quote) ďit just happens.Ē Johnette plans very detailed and minutely, I donít.
Punk Globe: Could you explain how it was to work with Tom Petersson (Cheap Trick, inventor of the 12 string bass guitar)?
James Mankey: He was great, one of my favorite bands. I donít know why he wanted to be with us, but he brought something more with him. We didnít have to mold him, he was way bigger than we were, we knew he do something great. It was loads of fun, who knows why he did it?
Punk Globe: Punk Globeís favorite Concrete Blonde album, Mexican Moon, came out in 1993. It was the bands first hint at a Latin sound; yet, it was balanced out with other elements. Any comments about Mexican Moon?
James Mankey: I think we were saying we were getting our craft together. The first album was good, we had lots of time to work on it. ďFreeĒ had some stuff I liked, but we were in our stride on Mexican Moon. I thought it was really good, I was surprised, gratified, but like everything else you do it, you spew out the music like 2nd nature. We didnít have any motives except we didnít want to get yelled out for doing a crummy album. Every album we did took a step up in quality. You should always improve. We did tour a lot, and I think that really helped us with our recordings. We were touring like crazy, it was like a holiday for us in the studio. It helps to take a few weeks off, if you can get in the studio while your still hot off a tour, it really helps.
Punk Globe: After giving Harry (original drummers) several chances and various temporary breaks of the band, you guys have recently gotten back together? How has this last tour been? What are the responses from the crowd?
James Mankey: Harry would be the first person to tell you heís got messed up behind some drugs, itís just the guy he is. He is not very reliable, and doesnít take serious things serious. He would fail to show up to a show, we are professional in our own way and he didnít take it as serious. Sometimes, Johnette can be difficult to deal with. Harry couldnít necessarily deal with it all the time, there was more than once we would be trying to do a show and Harry was in LaLa Land, we need someone reliable. I really like Harry, I like his attitude and energy, but he wasnít willing to be a hard worker. Heís a party kind of guy. Heíd come back, and weíd break up, just the guy he is. We recently went to China and China was great, we had no idea what to expect. A lot of people were familiar with us, who knows why? It was an interesting show and an interesting trip. We did the rounds of Australia and the USA a few times, we might have a Chinese thing coming up in the future if things work out. The response has been really well, we are playing better than ever. Johnette is coming up with these new songs, we are doing these podcast things, and we are doing another. We are going to do more of those!
Punk Globe: You guys arenít on Facebook yet but do have a MySpace where you upload current demos you have been working on. ďHereĒ and ďBeds Are BurningĒ have been uploaded, whatís the scoop on those tracks?
James Mankey: We are recording some stuff, and eventually we do plan to make them into an album. Things are pretty loose at this point, but by the end of the year we will have an album ready for public consumption. We are trying to get stuff ready for the end of the year, so we can tour behind it.
Punk Globe: Is it true you guys are returning to your punk roots?
James Mankey: There are some songs so fast, we canít even play them! We are working on it, we wrote a song and itís totally punk! It just popped out, I still donít think we will be mistaken for punk but still. We are going to push back a little harder, we need to work it up a little more. Johnette is the fountain from which all songs sprung, and a punk song has sprung.
Punk Globe: Any producers you would like to work with? How about working with Todd again?
James Mankey: Seems unlikely, it would be pretty amazing! I donít think he has fond memories of me being that 17-year-old kid, but Iím interested. Todd contact me!
Punk Globe: Do you want to have another hit, or is being worshipped by fans enough?
James Mankey: We are not to be part of the music industry, what I want to do is play for an audience that shows up and likes what we do. I donít require a lot of money or hero worship, would Gandhi worship want to be worshiped? Itís never been part of my life.
Punk Globe: What would you consider being a success?...Are you one?
James Mankey: I think so, other people might disagree. Iíve been making a living for a hell of a long time that is a major success! 99.9% of rock stars have to quit, Iíve never had to. I get up in the morning and ride on my motorcycle; I hate the routine of a day job. The end can come tomorrow, there are things I wish and dream aboutÖI wish I had more money, but other than that no complaints. Iíve got everything Iíve asked for, lots of motels and ice machines!...good, cold ice!
Punk Globe: Whatís on the horizon for Concrete Blonde?
James Mankey: A few shows in Texas, we just do little short tours. We donít really want to do marathons anymore, and possibly another Chinese tripÖthatís as far as we have planned.
Punk Globe: Any advice for the readers?
James Mankey: Stay out of the music industry, and donít encourage your kids to play an instrument.
Do you have a story the world needs to hear? Email me at gus@punkglobe.com