Manafest – “Fearless”
Perhaps the chief catalyst in the ambitious leap forward comes from the decision to once again oversee his affairs, which after six albums within the major label system, has inspired a full circle season that mirrors the hunger and predominant hip-hop flavors accompanying this versatile artist’s self-released debut a dozen years ago. “The idea of going independent is a big deal, going back to my hip-hop roots is a big deal, returning to skating a lot more is such an important outlet for me, and then of course the whole concept of my faith is always all about being Reborn and starting anew,” muses Manafest of the factors that helped formulate the title. “I’ve done this for a long time, but at times I feel Reborn because I’m basically starting over. And I say that as someone who’s not jaded or broke, but as someone who’s happy and stoked. I still have lots to say and lots to create.”
Follower feedback has always been a priority for Manafest (frequently the very last person to leave one of his concerts) and the Reborn sessions have brought him even closer to core listeners than ever before thanks to a PledgeMusic campaign. “It’s allowed me to have direct communication with my number one supporters,” he verifies. “Just being able to have access to that is huge and I try to go the extra mile every way I can for them. We talk, they get access to as much behind the scenes stuff as they are interested in, I give them a ton of bonus content and we’re building a relationship in the process.”
The same could be said about the decision to team with super producers Seth Mosley (Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Sanctus Real) and Joel Bruyere (Thousand Foot Krutch), both of whom encouraged Manafest to bring in additional musicians to contribute additional layers and atmosphere. “Seth and I met when he was in Me In Motion and he did the majority of The Fighter record as well,” the singer explains. “He’s phenomenal, man, and just nails it. Believe it or not, I’ve never gotten to watch a live drummer track before, so that was surreal, plus he brought in live string players- people who worked with Red- which was another first for me. He also hired guitar players just to lay down some vibes and they just so happened to be Jerry McPherson [Jewel, The Neville Brothers] and Miles McPherson, who used to play live for Paramore. And this is also my second time working with Joel and he’s grown so much on this record as far as mixing and producing and stretching. He even suggested we bring in somebody to do a harmonica solo, which I probably would’ve never done before, but because it had worked so well when Seth hired musicians, I was like ‘this is cool. Let’s do it!'”
As unexpected as it may sound on paper for a hip-hop centric collection, the harmonica fits right in throughout the eclectic title track, which could very well be considered Manafest meets Johnny Cash and Mumford & Sons. It’s certainly an engaging way to start a record, though additional highlights abound, including the lead single “Let You Drive,” which seems tailor made for a rolling down the car windows on a perfect day, especially as Miles goes to town with his signature pop/punk beat keeping.
“The whole concept is to take your hands off the wheel and know that God’s got everything under control, which means you don’t have to freak out,” he assures, before giving additional insight into the second single “Pray.” “I feel like that’s even deeper, and I didn’t even realize it at first, but it’s almost like part two of my old tune ‘Everytime You Run.’ It continues where that song left off as I’m pretending I’m talking to a guy who’s really screwing up his life and I’m trying to share something positive with him, but since I don’t know what to say and can’t come up with the words, I just start to pray. The whole idea is that even when it gets dark and messed up, we don’t have to fight the battle on our own and we can win it with prayer.”
Yet another aspect of engaging listeners individually comes with Manafest’s subsequent call for all to submit their Reborn stories online, which is basically their opportunity to blog or upload a video about their own stories of redemption. For the campaign creator, it naturally ties into his faith, but like any typical 13-year-old guy, it actually started with a coming of age curiosity. “I was bribed by my mother to go to Bible camp and I only went because there was going to be girls there,” he lets out with a laugh. “I ended up having a huge transformation because it was a week- long camp and that’s when I really turned my life around. I made some big decisions about drugs, alcohol and what I watched as far as movies and TV, which really pointed my life in a different direction. I also happened to meet my wife there, so I guess the ‘meeting girls’ part worked out too!”
Fast forward to today, and Manafest’s focus includes leaving behind a legacy for his young daughter, who is just getting to the age where she can join the family on tour from time to time. This transitional period’s also given the artist and his photographer/graphic designer wife the chance to reunite creatively, which after working with outside sources during his last few label years, is a fun return to form. Add it all up, and Reborn is destined to be a landmark season all across the board for a man who’s just as committed to his family as hitting his ultimate artistic stride on what’s truly shaping up to be the culmination of his entire calling.