Photo: Luke Shadrick

Introducing: The Manatees

For a band whose music makes you feel like you can scream your deepest insecurities in a crowd with hundreds of people, The Manatees are back with more music for you to do exactly that with. Hailing from a sleepy town on the south coast of England, now residing in London like many bands who have made their way before them, the southern trio – consisting of hyperactive school friends Jay Harris, Tyler Bloor, and Jay Miller – have drawn knowing comparisons with everyone from MGMT to Klaxons via Jungle, Wolf Alice and The Strokes with their shiny-but-questioning blend of alt-rock that touches on hip hop samples, funk-driven bass lines, and sparkling guitars; as they gear up to hit the road again this April, making stops in Glasgow, Manchester, and London, the band caught up with EUPHORIA. to discuss their latest EP, Different State Of Mind, which finds them openly tackling the anxieties of finding your feet in an ever-changing world, emphasising the desperateness and loneliness of growing up, and everything in between. 

Let’s go back to the beginning — you guys hailed from what’s described as a sleepy town in the south coast of England. Growing up, did you ever think you’d be living in London and making a career out of music?

Bloor: In my town, there was no one around that you could aspire to be. There were no music venues or anything like that so we couldn’t aspire to be musicians as we weren’t really surrounded by it. It was only ever something we saw on TV.

Harris: I think it’s what we always hoped to do but until we started the band, we didn’t think we actually would. I suppose when we started getting a bit more successful with it, it kind of became what we wanted to do quickly as it all started to work out.

I find the likes of not having any music venues so hard to believe because I grew up in Liverpool which is known for being notoriously engraved in music and its culture so I can’t picture growing up without it.

Harris: It was tricky to be fair! It was a rare thing to want to do music in the small towns we’re from and we always had to trek to Bournemouth or Southampton for a little bit of a music scene; as much as we love it down here, you know this will always be our hometown, it still made wanting to be musicians a little bit harder. 

You’re all childhood friends too! What would you say each of you brings to the band other than the typical who plays which instrument and who sings what?

Harris: Tyler’s definitely the reliable one. If something’s broke, he’ll be able to fix it and that’s great for us because Miller and I break a lot of things.

Miller: I’d say Jay is very much like a creative director but we all have our influence on things. We all have our heads screwed on but they’re all quite different and that’s where Jay steps in.

With being friends for so long, is that something that makes it easier when working together? You sort of know each other’s limits etc.

Miller: We take the mick out of each other quite a lot. We kind of just go at it but it’s all in good fun!

Harris: We know when each other are about to tick and we push each other right to the very edge of that tick. I think, being friends for so long, it’s made what we do more enjoyable. It’s one of our biggest assets as a band. It makes everything become a lot more comfortable, more homely in a way, which is what we all need with being so far from home at times.

Moving on to your music, you guys have been releasing music since 2018! How would you say you have evolved since then?

Bloor: At the start, it was very much just people in a room doing what they could with their instruments. Like, we could only sing and play guitars. Now, we’ve got excited by other gear and stuff, we’ve got extra layers and sonics within our sound. I think the songs themselves still have the same structures in a way, it’s just where we’ve brought in synths that have added new layers to what we do. It’s all about picking up little bits on the way. You know, we’re constantly learning and developing that way.

Your second EP Different State Of Mind comes out soon, how far back does this project go? When did you start working on it?

Harris: I want to say Different State Of Mind goes back about a year. We recorded it in Liverpool with a guy named Tarek Musa, who’s worked with many great bands such as The Big Moon, Crawlers, and many others, and he produced the whole EP with us. We haven’t been sitting on it for too long which is actually quite nice because we’re the type of band that are eager to get things out as soon as they’re finished so it’s nice not having to sit on this for a lengthy period of time.

And what was your approach from writing to recording etc? From what fans have heard so far, this material feels the tiniest bit rockier compared to your previous releases.

Harris: I want to say heading in a rockier direction happened naturally. I guess, as we’re progressing and growing as a band, we’ve started to lean into more darker soundscapes. I’d also say a massive influence on this EP was Tarek! He was in a band himself called Spring King and the energy he brings to every project he works on is incredible. He helped us take our sound a bit further down that fuzzy rock path and we were lucky to have his help on this. 

Speaking of the upcoming EP, you guys started teasing this project back in September and kicked it off with Call You A Criminal. What made you pick this track as the first single?

Miller: “Call You A Criminal” is a bit different to the other songs on the EP. The chorus is so poppy that it’s quite catchy and we liked that it can really get stuck in your head. It felt a little bit like a statement, something a little different to what we’ve done before, and we wanted to start the campaign off like that.

You can really hear the use of synths and funkier guitar riffs in “Get What You Want” and “Buttercup”. “Get What You Want” has some ’80s-sounding synths at the start and “Buttercup” is just too funky for its own good – It’s as if “Mess Around” by Cage The Elephant and “Pop The Balloon” by Nothing But Thieves had a baby. Is this mix something that you’ve sprinkled into the rest of the EP?

Harris: It’s nice that you’ve picked up on the rhythmic element and groove of the songs, especially with those comparisons, because that’s definitely a direction in terms of sound that we love as a band and want to keep including going forward. I want to say, for the last year and a half, we’ve become obsessed with synthesizers and how different they can sound. We weren’t using them too much before this EP and this time, we spent a whole day in a studio filled top to bottom, side to side, with synths and just fiddled with loads of different sounds across the new material.

Miller: It was such a playground. We had way too much fun and were all just running around with headphones on making the strangest noises because none of us knew the technical terms.

Bloor: The synths are interesting because we’re not native to them and only really began navigating them when creating this EP. There are a lot of really drawn-out notes, which we use for tension just before the chorus, that you couldn’t really do on a guitar unless you used a sustain pedal and it’s been fun to learn about them.

I also read that “Buttercup” is about how exhausting love can be. Could you elaborate on that in the sense of the song?

Harris: In terms of the lyrics, we really wanted to stress the facts of how physically and mentally draining love can be. We wanted to get across that vulnerable nature of it. Take lyrics like “cut me and I bleed it” and “bite until you break skin” to show the severity of the situation. We wanted to hammer home that idea that you’ve given up a lot of yourself for love and in terms of the music, it was a light versus the dark thing. We used minor chords to keep it light and airy and then used the chorus as the release of all the pent-up tension found in those situations and filled it with massive guitars and huge drums.

Do you touch on more vulnerable topics like that across the rest of the project?

Harris: I want to say our topics just revolve around what we’re feeling at that moment in time and what we experience in life. You know, it’s a lot of the typical emotions felt whilst growing up and learning how to navigate the world type of stuff but there’s a lot of vulnerability and frustration within those kind of things, a sense of insecurity as well, and that’s what we find best to tap into for our creativity. 

And to wrap up, other than Different State Of Mind which is out in a few weeks time, what does the rest of 2024 have in store for The Manatees?

Bloor: We’re going to South by Southwest in America soon so that should be good fun and then we’re going on a headline tour in April. That was announced just before Christmas so we’re really excited for that. Everything else at the moment is geared towards both of those, you know, we’ve got a lot of rehearsals going on to figure out the newer material and we can’t wait. Hopefully we’ll have a few festivals too this summer but you can never be too sure!