Exclusive Interview with Award-Winning Songwriter and Artist Erick Duran Manard
How did you come by your stage name?
Allow me to give some background with the answer. I’m a one-man band, literally. I’m compositional, a studio artist, and not a touring act. I don’t play my music live, since it would be impossible for me to play all instruments simultaneously, and I can’t afford to hire musicians with the requisite expenses involved. Besides, I have no desire to tour at this juncture in my life, nor satisfy the demands of some record label. I’ve been signed to a record label before, and the business side can get pretty ugly and management may not have your best interests in mind.
I play weekly live sessions in my church’s band, which consists of contemporary Christian music covers, but never my own music. For my music, I write and arrange, play all instruments, sing all vocals, record, mix and master all my own tracks, and produce my compositions without other players or engineers. Sure, I get advice and am open to new or better ideas, but I don’t have to rely on or placate others to do what I want to do. Bottom line, I call the shots regarding my music; I’m the decider, and it must be that for my music to reflect my soul authentically. Therefore, I had thought of a “band” name, like “EDM Project” or something, but that would confuse people into thinking my music is “EDM” in the genre when it’s not.
I play what I call rock, specifically ‘Eclectic Indie-Prog Rock.’ It makes sense to me that I simply employ my own name, but I do have an apropos nickname: “Shamrocker.” I can’t recall right now exactly how or when it came about, but someone had posted a comment a while back on one of my socials calling me “Shamrocker,” so it resonated with me and stuck. The name fits so appropriately. It’s known publicly that I’ve been near death 3 times in my life, most recently from Pancreatitis I suffered in June 2020, so I’m lucky to be alive to even play music let alone make a record.
I should be dead by now, yet God has seen fit to keep me upright for a purpose. I’m on my life’s journey discovering more of that purpose daily and am quite cognizant that every moment of breath I’m given should be spent redeeming the time and being authentic to myself and with others, particularly when it regards any music bearing my name and brand.
When did you discover your love for your craft and what made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in it?
That’s really a two-part question. So I answer likewise. First, My love for music has been ingrained as a kid. Attraction to music came quite naturally to me. As a kid, I had constant exposure to eclectic music, my Dad’s assorted collection of 45s and LP vinyl, artists ranging from Nazareth to Neil Diamond. So growing up in a musical family left its indelible impression, teaching me that music appreciation is a normal part of life.
Second, I discovered Kiss as a preteen and listened to an unusual variety of records by Mac Davis, Grand Funk, Missing Persons, Pablo Cruise, Joe Tex, Elvis, etc. I dug it all. At around 14, I discovered the debut “Black Sabbath” record, and I was mesmerized by the boldness and uniqueness of that cassette. Yes, I had the cassette. Geezer is why I pursued bass. However, my biggest inspiration is the simple love of creating something artistic and beautiful out of nothing but an initial idea in my head. I do music simply for the love of the creative process, not to be rich or famous.
Music always seemed natural to me, an ingrained love, the best means whereby I can express my authentic soul. It’s the ultimate form of self-expression for me, so my music represents my voice to the world.
To what or whom do you accredit your sense of style?
By sense of style, I assume you mean the style of music and hence my influences. First, my Dad was a seminal influence, being musical himself and a professional drummer backing Crystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, along with others, and collaborating with Charlie Daniels on two original studio tracks. My Dad wrote the songs, Charlie played guitar. So professional music was part of my early life.
Next, my influences depend on which period of life. In my 20s, I was influenced by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Megadeth, AC/DC, Testament, Helloween, Fates Warning, and the like. I was selfish, pretentious, and obsessed with the “crunch” and didn’t duly regard melody or nuance. I’ve found that less is usually more, but in my younger days, I played like more is more. That’s a very counterproductive and constrictive view of music. But my palette for music has expanded with age. Overall, I appreciate so many musical elements simultaneously.
The raw power and courage of Black Sabbath, the psychedelic story-telling of Pink Floyd, the master musicianship and elaborate compositions of Rush, the melancholic honesty of Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, the acoustic folk and crooning of Dave Matthews, the rich vocal harmonies and emotive lyricism of CSN and Kings X, the unconventional experimentation of Jeff Beck and Pat Metheny. All of these artists, and many others, have an influence to one extent or another the music I create. Yet I never try to sound like anybody but myself, for better or worse.
On your current project, how did you come up with the concept?
The title hit me as merely a passing idea, one-day last year, as descriptive if not emblematic of my tumultuous life: I thought what an “odd symmetry” my life has become during 2020, in that God’s purpose for me involves chaos surrounding me and yet I’ve experienced more spiritual calm than ever before. It’s a life of maintaining positive calm amidst the negative chaos. My life has never been more fractured, yet I’ve never been more blessed. It’s almost paradoxical; hence, I see this as an odd symmetry.
The word “symmetry” denotes a sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance. God’s purpose gives harmony and meaning to everything. The life lesson ironically of my personal experiences through 2020: God is always there, resolving. Even when I don’t see Him working, yet I know He’s working. The record is designed as one ‘rock opera’ to be heard in one sitting, following a timeline of tragedy vs. triumph; the worst of times, yet the best of times: calm in the chaos. It’s my personal painful story of human “brokenness” and Divine resolution told conceptually via musical art.
I have God to thank for my very life, and I can say honestly that I am truly blessed. I believe God’s providence and grace have preserved me thus far, so I play music in reciprocation for His glory. I dedicated this album to Him. But allow me to clarify: While I am openly Christian, the album is not intended as a “Christian” record. I don’t write Christian rock music; rather, I’m a Christian who plays rock music. There’s a difference. Nonetheless, “Symmetry” is a God-inspired record to me, definitely. It all came together with the way it was destined, I believe.
What are some of your greatest challenges, and what is your greatest attribute when it comes to your work ethic?
Again, I detect a twofold question. First, the stiffest obstacles for me have been my own self-imposed limitations and belief in myself. I’m highly analytical, sometimes to a fault. But in making this record, I quit overthinking everything. Too much thinking and analyzing inevitably leads to “paralysis by analysis.” So I just moved ahead more with my gut instinct, God’s direction, and my keen ear. My motto is: If it sounds good, it is good. I’ve always wanted to do a concept album but felt I didn’t have the right songs.
For “Symmetry,” it turns out I had most of the songs written and recorded as rough demos 3 or 4 years ago, but they were either in need of additional layers or of remixing/remastering and were not originally intended for a concept record. It was divine serendipity in those demos that ended up aptly telling my story of personal tragedy during 2020. It was a matter of how to arrange the compositions accordingly to accommodate the ebb and flow of a coherent album. I feel I achieved that. I arranged the album both chronologically and conceptually. “Dogs of War” took me over a year to complete, while I was busy overthinking; but the record itself, as a conceptual album, came together fairly quickly once I stopped overthinking and just started recording, editing, mixing, and remastering. I went from rough demos to radio-ready mastered tracks in about 3 weeks, all from my home studio using Reaper DAW.
If you’re in a “writer’s block,” just pick up the instrument and start plucking around and making noise, then see what falls out. You might be surprised at what you’re capable of achieving once you cease thinking so much and simply start doing what comes naturally from the heart and soul. I’ve learned this by experience. It works for me anyway. As for work ethic, I have a high standard for my music, it must say something meaningful, so I never write “B-sides” or “filler.” I feel that would cheat the audience out of my best efforts. I don’t roll that way. I allow the composition to take on a life of its own and suggest to me what it needs.
For me, in the songwriting process, there is a point at which the composition becomes an organic entity, and I have a keen ear to listen for its own voice. I have a synergistic relationship with my songs. I’m schooled in music theory from my days in college in the early 90s, but theory doesn’t necessarily translate into the authentic soul and good songwriting. My strength is, I’m disciplined in listening to my ear.
Are you the best at what you do in your opinion?
Well, while I’m a multi-instrumentalist and an award-winning songwriter, I would deny mastery on anything. I believe no matter how proficient a player might be, it’s impossible to objectively measure the “best,” since music is an inherently subjective enterprise; it’s art, and by definition appreciation of one’s art rests primarily within the “eye of the beholder”; or, with music, in the ear of the listener.
I may have my reasons why I think Jeff Beck is the greatest guitarist (and I do), but I can’t “prove” Jimmy Page isn’t the best. So debates over who’s the best at anything in this context are meaningless because it’s doomed to non-falsifiable subjectivity. Just play what you play, and do what you do, and don’t worry about who’s the best. So long as you’re being authentic, that’s what ultimately matters, and I can dig it. To me, the freedom found in personal subjectivity is the essence of authentic musical creation. My mindset is that I just need to be the best artist I can be, and let others judge who’s “best.”
What are your plans for the near future?
I have more official artist videos planned for the record. This will be in addition to the two videos I’ve produced already with “Dogs of War (Make My Day)” and “Conspiracy of Silence (See No Evil…),” and beyond the art tracks supplied by my publisher, CD Baby. I’m working on the official video for “Sometimes She Cries (Dirge for an Angel)” currently. I design and produce my own videos. I also have recorded some Country demos that need remastering. Once remastered, I can release these as possible singles.
I will be spending the next year continuing the heavy promotion of my debut record. Besides this, I’m always writing, creating, and drawing inspiration from everything in life. I do have some ideas swirling in my head for a possible sequel, Symmetry II. Beyond this, I’ve had some offers available to speak with some record labels who have expressed interest in my type of music. It’s something to think about, maybe pray about, I suppose. I’m reticent to sign with a label, because of past experiences, and I refuse to cede creative control; but I never say never. Whatever the Lord wills.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank, any shout outs?
Absolutely. I include several noteworthy folks in the liner notes, which I’ve included as a downloadable PDF accompanying all purchases of my album, whether CDs or downloads. I will publicly and gladly mention them here since you asked.
Thanks and acknowledgements go out to the following:
-God and my Lord Jesus Christ for teaching me to remain “calm in the chaos” when all hell is breaking loose and my world is crumbling around me. Space forbids listing the many lessons in humility through 2020, and how I’m learning what it means to be a man. I’m a work in progress.
-CD Baby for so enthusiastically publishing and promoting my music, and for building the highway upon which I can drive the car.
-The team at Cockos for developing and continually updating the finest DAW with Reaper, which enabled me to achieve the perfect sound, mix and master to my ears. (Who needs Pro Tools anymore?)
-The team at FabFilter for developing Pro-Q3. This single plugin was the elixir that made all the difference to the final mix and master. Pure magic.
-DR Strings for the only (and perfect) bass strings that fit Mustang Sally. Nothing but Sunbeams will do.
-EMG for the perfect “P.” Nice job, Geez.
-Seymour Duncan for daring to be unconventional with the ’59 Custom Hybrid. Now that’s the sound of rock n’ roll on a Tele.
-Stringjoy for the marvelous set of custom 8s that made the record so much better than it would’ve been otherwise. Yes, I play 8s.
-Steve at Sage Audio for the baseline. Your professionalism is second to none.
-My mom whose godly advice and counsel is always timely, if not prophetic. “God’s got this!”
-Vince for incredible patience while I was working through weeks of unprecedented illness and just fighting to stay alive in May-June 2020. It was an “Epic” year, to be sure.
-Rob for the ‘serendipitous’ meeting and facilitating my “new stage” at RBC. It was Providence, indeed.
-Elizabeth for the initial inspiration to start playing again. This helped rekindle my passion for music. This record had not been possible otherwise. Xoxo
How can fans find you?
Apparently, everywhere. I just released the record on February 7, 2021, and already my 3.1k streams and 2.5k followers on Spotify attest that I must be easy to find; fans are sharing the music; my brand is massively expanding its reach, and the record is resonating with many listeners.
It should resonate, because I’m confident that the music is quality, and it speaks in many different voices to address many different circumstances which are perennially part of the human condition: love, heartbreak, betrayal, spiritual indifference, religious deception, mind manipulation, the reality of evil, etc. Fans can go to my official artist site at www.ErickDuranManard.com to preview the tracks, check out my EPK, and then purchase by CD or download.
What suggestions do you have for other artist like yourself?
First, be authentic; be true to yourself, no matter what. You will be most fulfilled as an artist when you create music in your own image, not someone else’s. Second, resist the urge to overthink or hyper-analyze everything. Don’t practice every note of a lick before laying down a take, just pick it up and start playing and let the soul speak.
You can get so stuck in analysis, theory, structure, rules, that you get stuck in the mud regarding anything productive or truly musically meaningful. I chose the Indie route.
I’m proudly and voluntarily an Independent Artist, signed with CD Baby as my Publisher and Administrator. It’s been a synergistic relationship, and I love it that way. I enjoy the 100% creative freedom and control I have as an Indie. Whatever the scenario, I must remain authentic.