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Phil Manansala
& Alan Ashby

Of Mice & Men

"Guitar playing is kind of like therapy... you can go and not think about things for a while, and just feel. It’s pretty cool." In this episode Ernie Ball artists, Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby from Of Mice & Men discuss their beginnings with guitar, their love of playing, and their relationship with Ernie Ball. 

Transcript

Phil Manansala:
Guitar playing to me is everything, ever since I had picked up a guitar when I was a kid. I didn't know it would take me where I've got to go or where I've been able to play or even get to do as many albums as I've got to do. But I knew when I was a kid picking up a guitar was what I wanted to do the rest of my life. Music, and it's always inspired me, and having the guitar to be able to get my artistic ideas out has been the best thing for me. Yeah, it's everything to me.

Alan Ashby:
Guitar playing, it's like a therapy. You can go and not think about things for a while and just feel. It's pretty cool. It's also like you got to pick it up, and then you move this hand like this, and this hand like this a little bit, and it makes some noise. It could be some bad noise, it could be some good noise, but technically, that's guitar playing.

Phil Manansala:
Guitar playing.

Alan Ashby:
It is, yeah.

Phil Manansala:
That is what it is to you.

Alan Ashby:
Yeah. Well, technically, that is what it is just to everybody.

Phil Manansala:
Yeah, in general.

Alan Ashby:
My parents were really into music. My dad was super into ZZ Top and Eric Clapton, and he would always play live concerts on the TV. And I was always really into them. And then as I grew up and got a little bit older, I had a lot of energy and I think my parents decided that I needed some extracurricular activities in my life, besides just going to school. So I think my mom suggested that I play saxophone, or take some saxophone lessons. And I had been watching all these ACDC videos and what that was playing. And I told her, "No, I want to play a guitar."

Phil Manansala:
When I first started playing guitar, I never had lessons, so I was just, even if it sounded bad, to me it still sounded good. I was like, "Whatever." But then people around me, they're like, "You suck." And I was like, "Holy crap. Maybe playing Enter Sandman for the first six months of my learning guitar wasn't good." Because it wasn't Enter Sandman. It was kind of like it, but to me it sounded like it.

Alan Ashby:
Your own version of it.

Phil Manansala:
Yeah, yeah. It wasn't Enter Sandman, for sure. Exit sandman.

Alan Ashby:
I took guitar lessons and played in the school band. I played in jazz band when I was in middle school. And then by the time I was in high school I started smoking weed and playing rock music with my friends.

Phil Manansala:
Wow, that's beautiful. No, I didn't even know half that stuff.

Alan Ashby:
And that's my musical journey. Yeah.

Phil Manansala:
That's good, yeah.

Phil Manansala:
I didn't really start writing my own music till I became in a band in high school. And then that's when you get together with your friends and just bounce back ideas. You have to suck, I feel like, at first. If you don't suck up music, and you're just Michael Jordan right away, that's not how-

Alan Ashby:
That's weird.

Phil Manansala:
Yeah. That doesn't work. So, to look back and think about how the progression has came now to how we read songs, it's crazy to me. It's beautiful because it's the growth. You have to have that sort of growth.

Phil Manansala:
I believe I started playing Ernie Ball strings when I first started playing guitar. That's what everyone played on the back of the packs were all my favorite artists. I wanted to be like them.

Alan Ashby:
We'd play 11 through 56.

Phil Manansala:
Yes. Yeah, I believe it sounds better with heavier music. Just having longer, thicker strings. Sounds like a chainsaw cutting through. Yeah. And we played pretty hard too, so it's better to have thicker gauges because they take a beating every night.

Alan Ashby:
People my age started writing more heavy music with screaming, and that scene of music where I lived in the Bay area got really popular. And all my friends were writing breakdowns and screaming, and that's just what everyone was doing at that time. And I came from a more classic rock, kind of metal background. But I was totally down for it. My first show I ever went to was one of those shows. I think it was... Who was it? Job for a Cowboy or something like that. Elijah.

Phil Manansala:
I started with pop punk, went to a lot of Blink shows, MxPx, and going to a lot of concerts at Showcase and The Glass House. Whatever was playing there, I would just go. And then the screamo, emo movement happened in the early 2000s. And going to concerts is what really forced me to want to write music like that, because the energy of the crowds. I was in the crowd going crazy for that stuff. Definitely being in the scene and going to those concerts affected me to want to write music like that.

Alan Ashby:
That kind of music where people were screaming and playing breakdowns, you and basically anybody in your garage could go and play open note breakdowns and someone could scream. So that style of music was like all my friends were doing it, because anyone could do it. You just play the open notes and the drummer's playing the breakdown, and then some guy's screaming some stuff. That's what everyone's sounded like for a while. You know what I'm saying?

Phil Manansala:
When you're first in that upbringing of the band, the first couple tours and you're playing, like you said, the VFWs, those chains, the little small rooms here and there, you're hitting Bakersfield up more than you want to. There's an appreciation aspect of going through all that for three, four years and then getting on the Warped Tours and doing the small stages and getting your first bus and doing all those things and playing your first arena, whatever it is, first big festival. There is definitely an appreciation pound back value.

Alan Ashby:
Everyone's got a difference story. Everyone's band is going to do different things. And if you're already worried about, "Oh, we got to play these size shows, or we got to play those size shows," or this or that, you're already missing the point already. You got to love playing music. And if you're not in that situation where you love playing music with whoever's in your band, no matter where you are, no matter what the fuck you're doing, whether you're on tour with Linkin Park or whether you're Foo Fighters playing a bar somewhere up in Sherman Oaks, because they still fucking do that. They have a blast. They're having fun. They pour drinks on people and stuff. It's more about the love and the appreciation for playing the music. The stage can be wherever. The stage can be your fucking living room.

Alan Ashby:
This happens with us with every record. I feel like we're in a little bit different state of mind with what we are doing musically or what we are thinking, our objectives are in the touring world, or stuff like that. So I think it changes time to time. I think that we're just learning to be ourselves more than ever. And that might sound super cliche, but I will 100% say that, yeah, you think about things like record label and radio play and can this song do this or can that song do this? And there's all these people that are concerned about it that you work with, that you definitely think about stuff like that. And in the past we have made a conscious effort to be like, "Hey, let's write some songs that are maybe more radio friendly."

Phil Manansala:
More soft, yeah.

Alan Ashby:
Or, "Hey, let's write some songs that are this or that are like that." So there's always stuff like that. But I feel like we've definitely done enough records now to where we're like we know what we want to play, and play live. And we already know everything that anyone else can tell us about whatever, the radio world or the songs need to be that way, and you need to sound heavier like this. And I think we're just to the point where we're just like, "Whatever. We're just going to do- "

Phil Manansala:
We had our experiments [crosstalk 00:09:57] I feel like.

Alan Ashby:
We're going to do us.

Phil Manansala:
Where we felt like we had to write songs dedicated for a certain thing. And that was an album where I feel where we kind of got lost in that situation of trying to mess with the world that we wanted to try to see if we could fit in. But then once we tried on that world and we saw how that album turned out, our last album we had to be ourselves. We had to try to write music that inspired us to want to write music.

Phil Manansala:
We wrote music for whatever radio stuff and did that kind of stuff. And we found out that that's not our identity. If our songs do work for that, that's cool. But if not, we know that we're writing these songs because it makes us feel like us, which is, I think, the best part of writing music is writing the songs for yourselves and praying that people like it. I hope they like it as much as we do, because we're about it. So, hopefully, we meet halfway. That's just how I always feel whenever we release an album.

Alan Ashby:
I also think we're at the point now where we each know how to bring our own ideas to light more than we have in the past. Whereas, in the past, we might have scatters of ideas of songs, and it would take a producer to be like, "Okay, I think it should be like this." And I think now we're at a point where we're like, "Here's a song. Here's a song, this is how it goes. We know this. Let's go. Let's record it." It definitely makes you feel a little bit more confident about your music.

Phil Manansala:
Writing skills.

Alan Ashby:
And it translates when you play it live, too.

Alan Ashby:
I do not think I am good at guitar. We've toured and have friends. And you know what I'm saying? And it's like we've met all these crazy guitar dudes.

Phil Manansala:
I back that. I definitely back that.

Alan Ashby:
And it just makes me feel like I fucking suck. But I know I don't suck, I'm decent.

Phil Manansala:
I've learned, knowing the people in the realm of guitars, the shredder dudes, and it's not how many notes you play, it's how you play them.

Alan Ashby:
Totally.

Phil Manansala:
I would love to play a 200 note run. I would love that. But I'm a chill dude, so I'd rather play five that sound dope. I try not to focus on the stats or the realm.

Alan Ashby:
I love all of that stuff. I love listening to it.

Phil Manansala:
I love hearing the shredding stuff, because it's beautiful when it's done correctly. But it's not beautiful when I do it.

Alan Ashby:
No.

Phil Manansala:
As such a big fan of music, I always just want more. From whatever artists I'm listened to, whenever I hear an album that I really love, I'm like, "I always want more." Why doesn't this artist always release more songs? Our band is lucky enough to have some fans that always want music from us or would like to hear music from us, which is the blessing because you'd never ever think that would ever happen. Well, me, it's really nice that we have some fans, maybe one or two. But getting up on stage and getting to be able to come to a studio for our five, six albums, I guess I would never expected that, that that would keep happening. But music is a wild ride. It's such a beautiful thing, and we're so lucky to be able to express ourselves via music, especially in today's age where there's just this overwhelming amount of music, of mainstream stuff coming out, and getting to be yourself on your own albums is such a freedom.

Alan Ashby:
It's just what I do since I figured out how to write and record music, this is what I do. I wake up and I get bored and then I do that. I did it before I was in the band, and I love doing it with... It's just what I do. And I still do it. I feel like I would still do it even if there wasn't a career, even if I wasn't in the band, even if no one gave a shit, I feel like I still would be trying to do that or doing that every day. So, for me, it's just something that I just do. It doesn't really stop.

Phil Manansala:
It's just what he does every day, all day.

Alan Ashby:
Yeah. Well, sometimes I play just video games all day.

Phil Manansala:
Yeah. But then it stops halfway.

Alan Ashby:
I don't know. I just love writing music. It's fun.

Phil Manansala:
Yeah.

Alan Ashby:
Check.

Alan Ashby:
Let's see. It all started when I was about five and I just realized I was destined for greatness. I thought to myself, "One day- "

Phil Manansala:
I'll be Alan.

Alan Ashby:
"I'll be me."

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