|Submitted by admin on Thu, 09/23/2010 - 13:31.|
If life’s journey paints the landscape of Manuel Bruce’s music, then consider Bruce’s sound a blossoming canvas full of color, life and experience – the Fairbanks, Alaska native has not only lived all over, but shared his music everywhere he’s been as well. Bruce first went to South America in 1971, where he and a friend decided the best way to make a living was to travel from town to town, plucking guitar and singing attention grabbing tunes.
From Peru to Bolivia, Manuel made a living sharing his gift… even finding some time to work a cattle ranch in Southern Bolivia (the guy sounds interesting to be sure – he even played college football here in the states for three years!). Today, Bruce releases his fifth record, titled “Manuel is Back with Friends”. Manuel says “It's hard to say why this CD came out so well, but it's probably because the musicians on this album are all my friends, and besides being very good musicians they are all really good people. I can't think of a single one of them that I wouldn't love to spend time with. I think that comes through in the music.” Continuing on, Bruce describes the sound on the album: “Jim Abbey, our sax player says that his friends have been calling it easy listening music. I don't think that's completely accurate but it may be as close as we can get. Maybe we could call it ‘really fun, and crazy easy listening music.’”
Manuel Bruce sees his sixth record on the horizon, so pick up “Manuel is Back with Friends” as soon as you can. Who knows where this guy will be next… or what he’ll be doing. There’s a whole bunch more to learn, so keep reading for the answers to the XXQ’s.
XXQs: Manuel Bruce
PensEyeView.com (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others in your genre?
Manuel Bruce (MB): It's hard to say why this CD came out so well, but it's probably because the musicians on this album are all my friends, and besides being very good musicians they are all really good people. I can't think of a single one of them that I wouldn't love to spend time with. I think that comes through in the music.
Describing the sound is also hard because there are so many types of music on the album. Jim Abbey, our sax player says that his friends have been calling it easy listening music. I don't think that's completely accurate but it may be as close as we can get. Maybe we could call it "really fun, and crazy easy listening music."
PEV: Currently dividing your time between homes in Fairbanks, Alaska and Tucson, Arizona, and performing for several years in Peru and later Bolivia, what kind of music where you into growing up? Was anyone your main influence?
MB: First of all I am no spring chicken and I was around for the 60's and Bob Dylan and the Kingston Trio were all the rage when I was in high school. Also at the same time the rock and roll scene was just starting out and I can remember when Elvis had his first real big hit "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog". I was definitely influenced by the Beattles, Dylan, Sonny Terry, The Eagles, The Beach Boys, Mose Allison, Stevie Wonder, Jose Feliciano. The list could go on forever, but I was definitely a folkie at first.
I think once I became an aspiring musician I first identified with the folk scene. When I went to South America I was drawn to the folk music like nothing else I had ever experienced. I felt that America had gone through a huge folk revival and yet I watched as it began to fade away and be replaced by the rock and roll era. While I was in Bolivia I realized that music was the central core of existence for the natives of that country. We Americans were constantly shifting our interests and focus on new types of musical expression. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans are like musical gypsies, always seeking something new and better. Unfortunately some (but not all) of the music that has evolved in the past twenty years has been less than worthy.
I think that I am probably classified as a guy who is stuck musically in the 60's, whether it be folk, rock or even jazz inspired. What has probably affected my tastes and sound the most is the Latin quotient. I am forever molded by those 2-1/2 years that I spent in Latin America. I can be happy playing Blues and rock and roll, but I am happiest when I'm playing Latin.
PEV: Having played in the business for a good time now, what was it like for you when you first started out?
MB:I guess that's one of the most interesting stories about my career. I really didn't become serious about the business until 1971 when I first went to South America with a friend who was also a guitar picker and singer. We needed to make some money so we decided to busk our way around SA. I guess it was a little like Adam plucking the apple from the tree, we suddenly realized that we could make money with music. I supported myself with music for the whole time and I loved it. I of course realized that I was an oddity in SA, that I could have been the worst musician in the world and they would have still applauded me.
But I had my foot in the door. I was determined to become a good musician. I came back to America and continued to work and learn until today I feel like I've accomplished a lot. I have not had great commercial success either as a songwriter or performer, but I can sit in with any band you want to name and play well.
I am experiencing a new growth in my songwriting talents and I hope to put out some new music that sounds old. I am stuck with the idea that a good song should have a captivating melody.
PEV: Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself – “I am really onto something!”?
MB:I think that there was a very productive time for me when I lived on a cattle ranch in Southern Bolivia. I was writing songs at a furious pace and would sometimes write one a day. That's probably an exaggeration, but I think I wrote about 50 songs in that year that I lived on the ranch and some of them I still sing today. None of them have ever reached a larger audience (it's probably best if we let them remain obscure) maybe someday if I get lucky I'll drag them out because people will be willing to listen to anything I do just because I’m Manuel Bruce. But I can clearly remember what it was like to write a song, and sing it to someone and have them dance around the room, or applaud. I said to myself, that is the best feeling in the world, writing a song and having people like it.
PEV: With that, what can fans expect from a live Manuel Bruce show?
MB: If we're living in a fantasy world where someone says "You can have as many musicians as you want, just make sure it's entertaining" I would have every single one of the 10 or 12 musicians that are on this CD. We would do three different sets of music, the first would be Latin music, the second would be Blues and the third would be original music with both the Latin and the Blues players joining forces.
PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage?
MB: I want to know what the audience is expecting me to play and I want to be entertaining. I want them to know that I'm having more fun than they are and that I love being on stage.
PEV: Any preshow rituals before going on stage or do you just wing it?
MB: I usually just have a beer.
PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do get your best ideas for songs?
MB: When I first started writing songs they often sprang from my mind fully realized. I would often spend a long time writing all the verses but the initial idea for the song would carry me at least half way into the song. Lately I have been writing a few songs by writing a melody first and then adding words later. Both ways are a lot of fun, because I get totally amped by the process. The first one is exciting because it happens so fast but, writing the melody first assures me that I will have an interesting and entertaining melody to work with. The words then become part of the tunesmith craft and are more sweat than inspiration.
The ideas come from things that happen to me or thoughts that I have in my head. I have been carrying about a dozen song ideas around in my head and I keep waiting for them to drop from the tree like ripe apples.
I think that few people are gifted with the ability to write a good song. I know that I have yet to write my best song, but I know that I've been blessed with this ability and it's mine to use or to just let it waste away. It takes work and dedication, but the feeling I get when I know that a song is done and I can sing it to someone is beyond compare. If I see the light in their eyes when I'm done singing, that's when I know that I'm on the right track.
PEV: Tell us about your latest release (fifth album overall), "Manuel Is Back With Friends". What can fans expect from this work?
MB: I had several purposes in releasing this album. The main one was to have fun and repeat the pleasure of doing an album. The other fun part was introducing my musical friends to people. It's also always a big goal of mine to try out some of my original music. It's nice to get some feedback.
As far as what to expect, I think that what people should expect is an entertaining but totally diverse range of songs. Each song is totally different from the one before it. One minute we're doing be bop, next minute Bossa Nova, the next song is Blues, the next one is classical. We didn't really go into it with that intention but that's just the way it turned out. I don't really have a game plan but I guess the song selection mirrors my diverse interests and my personality.
PEV: Do you ever find yourself getting writer’s block and if so, how do you get over that?
MB: I get very frustrated by the fact that I can't just turn out a song every day. I suppose if I was a professional song writer, I could probably do that but I'm not. I know that if I forced myself to sit down every day and try to write I would get something, maybe not much but something. However song writing is such a wonderful talent because you can do it anywhere. You don't need a typewriter, you can just hum the tune and mumble the words under your breath.
Sometimes I go with a song idea for years before it happens. I think that if I feel it’s a good idea then I don't let it go and I hang onto it like a dog with a bone. So I think that the best way to cure any kind of writers block is to have faith in your ideas and let them hang around like old friends until they come out of the closet of your mind.
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Manuel Bruce?
MB: I played football in college for three years before becoming a poet and a playwright. I spent a year pursuing a Masters degree in creative writing and later dropped out of school to travel in South America.
PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?
MB: In 1987-9 I did a series of concerts with a world famous Bolivian performer, Ernesto Cavour. I got a taste of touring and having success on a big stage. I would enjoy being there again, but I'm a little older and wiser, perhaps it would have to be different.
PEV: What one word best describes Manuel Bruce?
PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?
MB: Life on the road was traumatic, but the performing was wonderful. To tour now I would have to keep it short and sweet. I think that a long tour would be tough on me now because of my family and my business interests.
PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
MB: Europe would be the first area. I would also like to travel in Brazil, Chile and Argentina. I also would love to go back to Bolivia.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?
MB: I have two hometowns, Fairbanks, Alaska and Tucson, Arizona. The people in Fairbanks are very kind to me and give me lots of support. In Arizona I'm not well known but hopefully that will change with time.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
MB: I am an avid golfer.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
MB: Mike Stevens, extraordinary harmonica player.
PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think you would be doing as your career?
MB: I am not working full time as a musician now so my career (day job) is working as a heating technician. I keep people warm in the winter in Alaska.
PEV: So, what is next for Manuel Bruce?
MB: I'm working on another album with my friend Professor Paul. You can hear him on the last cut on the current album. We're working on the music as we speak, but not sure if it will be an entire blues album or another diverse one like Manuel is back. Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your questions. I've enjoyed it.