You probably haven't heard of Indianapolis based musician Mannish Boy. The Gary, Ind. native has spent most of his life locked away in his bedroom, quietly amassing a huge library of self-produced recordings. "I like being behind the scenes; that's where I have fun. I've been writing and recording my own songs since I was 11. I'm 25 now and I'm just getting to the point where I'm comfortable sharing my music," he says.
Mannish Boy is wrapping up production on his debut music video "Crazy," but set aside a bit of time to speak with me. We discussed his life in Gary and how it shaped his musical vision - - a unique blend of streetwise hip-hop, psychedelic guitar riffs and sugary pop hooks.
NUVO: What was your life like growing up in Gary?
Mannish Boy: It was not a great time. I was very happy to leave. There were a lot of negative things going on around me. I saw a lot of bad things very early and learned a lot at a young age. I saw where I didn't want my life to go. I lost friends and family members to gang violence and drugs. My own father was very dominant in that world. Not to disrespect Gary, because there's a lot of good people there. But it made me view Gary as a place I didn't want to be.
NUVO: Was music your escape from that world?
Mannish Boy: Oh, yeah, I remember listening to doo-wop after losing my great grandmother. That's how I dealt with it. Listening to that music changed my life. I loved the harmonies and the emotion. When you hear a doo-wop song, it transports you to another time. It was like being in another world. I would sing along with it and eventually I realized I could make my own music.
NUVO: What other things were you listening to that shaped your music?
Mannish Boy: I started out listening to hip-hop, because that's what I grew up around. Later on I discovered rock and roll, doo-wop and jazz. My tastes progressed and eventually I developed an obsession with '60s psychedelic rock. Now I listen to a wide range of music. As long as it sounds good, I love it.
NUVO: How do you describe your sound?
Mannish Boy: It's a mixture. I love rock, so you'll hear guitar riffs. I listen to hip-hop and those beats show up. I love the way folk music tells stories, so a lot of my songs tell stories. I'm into experimental music in the way a solo can change the flow of a composition.
I love music so much, I go off in a lot different directions. I started out as a rapper. Then I was a singer. Then I was a rocker. Now I'm a rapper-rocker-singer. I was trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go in. Now I'm comfortable with what I am and the direction my music is going.
NUVO: I've heard you have a large catalog of music you've written and recorded.
Mannish Boy: I have so much material it's ridiculous. I set a quota of writing one new song a day. I've written close to a thousand songs and I have eight CDs full of music.
NUVO: You record everything yourself at home. What's your process and how many instruments do you play?
Mannish Boy: I can play guitar, bass and piano. Does making beats count? Because I also make beats. Usually I start with the drums. I get a beat I like and listen to it over and over. Then I add guitar, build the music and write the song around that.
NUVO: What do you want to accomplish with your music?
Mannish Boy: I want to change the music game. Sometimes you hear an artist that inspires you. Their music is alive; it's real and powerful. That's what I want to do. I want to be able to save lives with my music. All my music music is personal. It comes from all the things I've done and been through. Some of it's about obstacles I've overcome and decisions I've made that led me to where I am now.
I've overcome so much, I feel like if there's something I want bad enough I'm going to have it. My message is never give up on anything you want to do with your life. If you've got a dream, live it. That's what my life is about, that's what my game is about and that's what my music is about.