Big Ass Manatee: A band or just really good dancers?
Morgantown band Big Ass Manatee, commonly abbreviated as B.A. Man or BAM, has developed one of the fastest growing cult followings in 123 Pleasant Street’s rich history. The overnight success of the band stems largely from the minds of Ryan Hizer and Trey Curtis. Both share an incessant love for ’90s pop and hip-hop. Their other brain child, the rock outfit Librarians, which has toured the east coast and put out an album on DC-based Postfact Records, was in need of a cool down. There’s no better way of alleviating the rigors of “making it” than assembling a gang of friends and performing other people’s songs. Essentially, that’s what BAM is all about, but there’s a little more to it than that.
Graffiti: Do you consider Big Ass Manatee to be Librarian’s less serious alter ego?
Trey Curtis: I think it’s just a completely different entity. I guess you could argue that it is, but really it’s just another outlet to be creative and not take ourselves so seriously. The sole purpose is to have fun. There’s no overarching ambition or goal in mind. It’s really about having fun at the moment.
Ryan Hizer: I think, in a sense, it’s an extension of [that band]. It took a lot of pressure off of Librarians to be the thing Librarians was for a while, which was like this Indie/electronic/party band. We kind of wanted to get away from that.
Graffiti: Are your songs remixes or creative interpretations?
Curtis: I think sometimes it goes either way. Sometimes we come up with something that really does change the emotional quality of a song — the whole feel is redone. But other times, it’s nothing more than a fun, poppy, passively constructed rendition of the original song.
Hizer: A lot of times remixes are just an excuse for a producer to get his name out there, or to get his name on a hit rapper’s single. But this is kind of different. The whole idea of it is silly and we kind of play off that silliness to an extent. There are also these weird moments, like with the “Return of the Mack” remix or with “Smile,” where it almost makes an absurd and silly song poignant somehow. It changes the meaning of it slightly.
Graffiti: Have you anticipated any legal trouble since you rely mainly on samples?
Hizer: We don’t know yet and we honestly don’t know what the legal ramifications are. It’s a performance; we’re not selling something you can put in your hand.
Graffiti: Is your fascination with re-contextualizing pop and hip-hop songs for a different audience based on nostalgia?
Hizer: To an extent. None of these songs would have any appeal if people didn’t feel some sort of connection to them already. If we remixed songs for whatever marginally popular band is out right now no one would really care.
Graffiti: Have you ever thought about remixing songs for bands you know?
Hizer: I’ve tried to get a cappella tracks from so many hip-hop guys I know. I’d love to do something with somebody local. When Meuwl was in town, we were talking about being his backing band, but that never came together because we’re all procrastinators.
Graffiti: Is there any reason you decided to call the album “1994Ever?” Personally, I feel like I have a strong connection with that year.
Curtis: A lot of our hanging out is based on coming up with ridiculous one-phrase quips or potential album titles. And it makes sense, seeing as a lot of the material comes from that era. I guess it more or less made sense to go with it.
Hizer: All of us were born in the ’80s. People typically call us ’80s babies, but really everyone came of age in the ’90s. The ’90s mean a lot to everyone in the band and to all the people who listen to us. It seemed like it might strike a chord with some people, but really it was just a goofy thing when it comes down to it.
Graffiti: Did you always want to play the material live?
Hizer: No. It took a lot of convincing. I think it was Claire Boudreau who tried to get us to play a show back in 2005. And I thought, “No way. I have no idea how this would even work live.” Then I can’t remember why we agreed to [a show]. I think it might have been a Girl Talk show.
Graffiti: Was there always the intention you wanted it to be a different beast, with focus on live instrumentation as opposed to full-on electronics?
Ryan: Actually, no. I would find a cappella tracks online and just play around with them in my spare time. It was more of a hobby. I don’t think any of us expected anything from it.
Graffiti: How many local musicians are officially or unofficially a part of BAM?
Hizer: There are seven of us [Ryan Hizer, Trey Curtis, Sean Gibat, Pat Manzi, Aaron Crothers, Billy Parsons, Kyle Vass].
Graffiti: It seems like the roster is pretty inflated.
Hizer: It’s about to deflate a little. Aaron Crothers is leaving and I don’t think we’re going to add anyone else. It gets pretty hectic onstage. During some songs a couple people don’t really have anything else to do besides dance around or hold a shaker. People have told me Pat Manzi steals the show. There are some songs where he doesn’t do anything, but he knows how to work the crowd.
Curtis: There’s always a minimum of one party facilitator per song [laughs].
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