Feature & Interview: the Manhattan Project
Since their initial detonation in Rochester, New York in June 2009 just three short years ago multi-talented duo the Manhattan Project has continued to rapidly release energy all over the Northeastern United States, moving every crowd in their path. The Manhattan Project is Shawn Drogan, commander of drums and electronics, and Charles Lindner, master of keyboards and synths. The two have been hard at work perfecting their explorative sound: a truly multi-layered fusion of everything from drum n’ bass to improvisational jazz with an emphasis on clean production and driving rhythms. The Manhattan Project succeeds at something most other artists fail at doing: taking their listeners on a deep journey through genres with their studio efforts and live performances while nailing every interpretation. Two former Rochester habitants and longtime Manhattan Project supporters, Kadley Gosselin from Sensible Reason and Johanna Fischer from VibeRight.org were honored with the opportunity to sit down with TMP before they played at the Wonder Bar in Allston, Massachusetts on November, 13 to learn a little more about the band’s history, their take on “electronic music” and how their faces feel after playing a live set.
Kadley: What is your obsession with the Manhattan Project and atomic bombs and is it in anyway a metaphor for your music?
Shawn: Definitely, I think when we came up with the name we wanted something to describe our sound, it kind of gives the people that may have not heard us an idea of explosiveness and bombs and our music hopefully has that effect. So it’s more of a metaphor than anything.
Johanna: Can you talk about how the Manhattan Project came to fruition? What was the moment in which you were like “this is what we’re doing”?
Charles: I would say December of 2009.
Shawn: It started years ago as far as like getting some of the ideas that we wanted – to go a different route. Charlie and I have been playing music together for almost 10 years in different bands and different projects and I think after our last band broke up, the two of us were left and we were looking for something different musically.
Charles: We were like maybe we can do something in this duo but take it in a different direction.
Shawn: We had played in a lot of different styles but the only thing we never had really ventured into was like electronic music and exploring a lot of new sounds. So we just kind of dove in head first and didn’t know what to expect and it’s been a fun challenge in a lot of ways and a good learning experience for sure.
Johanna: Tell me about the first gig you ever played together as the Manhattan Project.
Shawn: Actually, the first one was opening for Ozric Tentacles which was kind of cool because they’re an especially legendary group that rarely plays, especially in Rochester – they rarely play in the States even. So we just kinda got it at the last minute and it was interesting because we weren’t even really prepared to play at that point. I think I booked the show a week before and Charlie was like “What did you do man? We’re not ready!”
Charles: I think I stayed up til like 5AM the night before. I had notes strapped to my keyboard because I was so freaked out.
Shawn: It was fun because it was like, if we don’t put a deadline on it we’ll never do it, so it was like hey, we’ve got a few dates. But it was a fun crowd, people responded well to it, and so it was kind of our trial show, we didn’t play again for like 4 or 5 months after that and we were like “okay, let’s go back and polish and then really start hitting it for real.”
Kadley: What is the dynamic like between the two of you when you’re writing a track?
Charles: It’s a long process.
Shawn: Yeah it’s a long process, sometimes a very long one. We try to let it happen naturally and not force anything. We would rather take a little extra time on each track rather than rush things out just for the sake of having new material. A lot of it starts from me and Charlie just jamming, having fun, and you know, when we find something that we like and a good foundation that we can work from then we will really start picking it apart, adding layers, taking away layers, whatever needs to happen. And then when we get all that we will kind of mess with the arrangement and kind of play through it, see how it feels and then we just come to the point where we’re like “this is as good as it’s probably gonna get so let’s move on.”
Johanna: What do you like more, playing shows or writing music?
Charles: Both of them have their own benefits.
Shawn: Both! The fun part is writing a song and then performing it live, especially for the first time, it’s kind of like getting it out the door, that accomplishment feeling. They’re pretty relative as far as that goes.
Charles: I remember we opened for Lotus in 2010 and we opened up with a brand new song called Atomic and I think that was great, to be able to go out there and do that was great.
Shawn: Yeah that was one of our bigger shows and we weren’t even finished with it, we were backstage like finishing it and talking about and we weren’t gonna do it because we were nervous and then we were like “lets just do it!”
Kadley: Do your faces hurt from smiling at the end of your sets, because the entire time that you’re playing you are all smiles.
Charles: It actually takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown.
Shawn: I swear my face does hurt, thank you for asking.
Johanna: What artists or other sources do you guys draw inspiration from?
Shawn: We come from a very diverse background. We are big jam band fans, improvisation, we played in some blues bands together, jazz bands. We have really done and listened to all sorts of styles. So I think that has played a big part in our creative process. When we did start this group we started listening to more electronic music. Some of the first ones were the more obvious like Daft Punk, Deadmau5. We love the Disco Biscuits, [Sound Tribe] Sector 9 and a lot of what the live bands are doing, you know they definitely inspire us to this day. But the scene is growing so much, so it’s awesome to play some of these festivals but also to go out as a fan and to just hear and see so much music, whether it’s a DJ or a band, or a combination of the two, it’s just really inspiring. I think that just the state of where music is right now is pretty awesome.
Kadley: I’ve read on your website about your relationship with technology and its evolution, how does that change your relationship with music and instruments? Over time are you constantly trying to learn new things and adapt?
Shawn: Done learning, for sure (laughs). In some ways what makes us unique is that we don’t use any computers live on stage. We tend to have one foot in the past and one in the present and the other a little bit in the future. But we kind of stick to what we know and what gives us our sound. Sometimes you can get too caught up in technology and maybe lose a bit of originality sometimes.
Charles: Sometimes if you have too many options or you put too much stuff into a track then all of a sudden its very bumbled and cluttered. Instead of just having maybe a baseline and a drag and cool drum beat and maybe an arc going on. That sounds like a lot of stuff but it really isn’t.
Johanna: What is your favorite part about the scene and where do you think it will be in 5-10 years?
Shawn: Jeez, I think that it’s gone leaps and bounds over the last 2-3 years, so I think even 5 is a lot.
Charles: I think my favorite part about the scene is the fact that the technology is there where everybody can get ahold of it now. It’s so easy to be able to produce anything now. It’s all over the world, its global, and we’re seeing stuff coming out of all parts of the world because the technology and access is there. You used to have to spend a lot of money but now I think with the Internet…
Shawn: You’re exposed to a lot more diversity, but I think on the other hand, not only electronic music but just rock music and jam music, even pop music is taking an interesting turn. You do hear a lot of electronic elements even in pop music, rock music, whatever, so it’s nice because I think it opens up the general public, a lot of people, to the sound that I think we might be using or music in general. That’s why you go to a festival like Camp Bisco or Rootwire or something like that, you just hear so much diversity.
Charles: I think its kinda hard to determine what’s gonna happen with technology because it’s so globalized and you see more and more parts of the world getting more involved with the music and communicating with each other. I think communication and collaboration are huge; you’re not just talking to your next neighbor anymore because you can reach people that are so far away. It’s crazy what people are coming up with now.
Johanna: A lot of people say electronic music isn’t music. What would you say to that?
Shawn: I think that what it comes down to is if the music you’re creating has meaning, it has a soul, then it doesn’t matter what style it is. It really just comes down to the honesty of it and the intent, and I think people can see that – when things are forced or when they are trying too hard, people just know. You really can’t fool ‘em with it, so music is like the most honest thing out there. And it’s great because it builds community and it brings people together and it is honest and truthful and you can see that happen.
Johanna: For both of you or either of you, describe to me what it’s been like growing in popularity and scope so quickly, in just two short years? What has the journey been like for you, and how do you see your group, the Manhattan Project, in the future?
Shawn: It’s been great, the response that we’ve gotten and the support from a lot of different people that have helped us get where we are today and the people that spread the word and come out to the shows. It’s a good feeling obviously and it’s great to continue to grow, I think that’s the main thing. The more people that hear our music and come out to our shows to experience the Manhattan Project, then we’ll keep doing it.
Charles: I think we owe a lot to the fans. We put it out there to people. We create this music and we put it out there for people and I think people see that and they see the honesty in it and I think that they’re enjoying it more and more and there’s a real satisfaction in that for both of us to put it out there and get that response.
Shawn: It’s nice to put a lot of work into something and see the return. We’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work to do for sure but it’s been a blast. Especially this year we’ve been doing a lot of traveling and meeting a lot of great people and playing a lot of great shows and getting a lot of opportunities. It’s blowing our minds for sure, so yeah it’s been a lot of fun.
Johanna: No more day job? (laughs)
Shawn: Haha no, not really, but working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, that’s for sure.
The Manhattan Project is working hard and touring constantly. Check out their tour dates, find music and more information here.
Interview conducted in collaboration with our friends at VibeRight.org.