By Michelle Gomes
Manmade God has begun a new chapter since its creation in 1997 and subsequent evolution into Spiralarms in 2005. They’ve reconciled the past; their future is now being written. To understand the real meaning of this reunion, one must know a bit about their past. Here’s a quick synopsis — and feel free to draw a diagram if that helps keep things straight!
In 1997, the San Francisco thrash metal band Forbidden took a hiatus, leaving guitarist Craig Locicero and drummer Steve Jacobs with time on their hands. They decided to experiment for a while, and they called their experiment Manmade God. Many players would come and go over the next few years, but when bassist James Walker and vocalist Pann Reed came onboard, a synergy sparkled among them. Stone Temple Pilots drummer Eric Kretz was the producer on a three-song demo, and they went on to sign with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label. A self-titled album, released in 2003, got some radio airplay with the songs “Safe Passage” and “Swallow the Sun.” They toured like mad, but Manmade God never really reached the success they had hoped for. Eventually, they lost tour support from their label, and Pann moved on. At this point, they morphed into Spiralarms with the addition of fellow music industry grist-mill escapee Tim Narducci, after his band Systematic got chewed up and spat out by the major label machine – but that is another story (you can read some of it here).
Time passed. James left Spiralarms, as did Steve, due to a serious shoulder injury. Pann just seemed to have disappeared. Manmade God was all but forgotten, a brief yet brilliant blip on the radar. But the four guys that are Manmade God weren’t done yet. Now, in 2012, they are ready to begin anew.
In the course of creating this article, I had the opportunity to speak with each member of the band. Each had their own particular perspective, of course, but many common threads became apparent. The love between these guys and the synergy they feel playing with each other are what every musician hopes to find. The relationship between band members has often been compared to a marriage, the bringing together of complimentary people with common goals and aspirations. Every marriage has its ups and downs as time progresses. That progression is best told by those who lived it, and even though my conversations with the band were done separately over several weeks, each person added another layer. And without all the layers, the story would be incomplete, rather like hearing a song without all the instruments’ parts being played. As I listened to the individual band members, it seemed as though they were having a conversation with each other; all I had to do was mix them like tracks at a recording studio. When all the interviews are heard together, the story they told me becomes clear. What follows are those individual tracks, mixed down into one “conversation” and narrated by me: the saga of Manmade God, in the words of guitarist Craig Locicero, drummer Steve Jacobs, bassist James Walker, and vocalist Pann Reed:
Craig: When Forbidden broke up in 1997, it was an experimental era for me. Steve and I started this whole Manmade God thing, along with Matt Comacho, our old bass player from Forbidden; and Mike Sullivan, who was in Level; and Ahrue Luster, who was in Machine Head for a while after that. It was a very experimental time…
James: After playing in Scorched Earth Policy and then Fueled, I decided to start my own business. I started making more money than I ever had in my life, then I went and saw this band called Manmade God. I knew I’d never get in the band, but I loved the band so much I bought the demo, brought it home, and learned every song. I had them all down for about a week before Craig called me. [Matt had left the band], and he asked me if I wanted to come down and try out. It was cool — I already knew all the songs!
Craig: Fast forward to 2000, when we found Pann. As soon as his voice and our music came together, there was a whole different thing that happened. Immediately songs became streamlined, and we were like, “Wow, we have a sound!”
James: There is something really special when all four of us get together. It’s insane, it’s something really electric! The chemistry and magic is indescribable. Steve would just know exactly what to play to my bass line. He made me a better bass player.
Steve: That is how we’d usually write songs. Craig or somebody would come up with a riff, and I’d go right into a drum beat, and everyone just kind of falls in. And the next thing you know, we have a song. It’s weird, we have this uncanny ability to read each other’s minds — it’s really cool! That’s one of the reasons we are so close, because we have that ability, and we have a tremendous respect for that and feel extremely grateful to have that kind of a blessing.
James: We don’t try to do that scary word “pretentious.” We take chances, and we write from the heart…leave it to anybody else to judge if it’s cool or not. If it feels great to us, then we go for it! I know Craig obviously has a metal background — he has a lot of metal fans — but when it comes to this band, he takes any chance that he can, and lets the music be what it’s gonna be. Pann and I got really into Buddhism back then when we were on tour…we were crazy about it. Like, “This is the way to having a peaceful life!” It’s always been a kind of strange dichotomy, you know. Here we are, playing this heavy music that we love, but actually a lot of the meanings are about self-discovery and understanding your world, becoming more aware. That’s not always the cool “rock & roll thing” to be.
Unfortunately, some things just don’t survive in the real world – outside forces and internal struggles take their toll…
Craig: That record experience was a grinding nightmare! It really frustrated us when we went out on tour for a year before the album came out. We should have been making fans everywhere, but it was all a little disconnected. We didn’t quite understand where we fit into the scheme of things — record labels changing, all this shit. And we were caught right in the middle of it. It did us in. We ended up breaking up before the album even had a chance to take off. That’s when I formed Spiralarms with Tim Narducci. That marriage made me better, you know, working with Tim. We both had just had bitter endings to our bands! We both had the “major label hangover” and collapse. That kind of shit will either break you, or give you the motivation to do it right the next time.
Pann: Everybody still has their own perspective about what happened back then, and I don’t think that’s ever gonna change. But everyone had their issues. I was on a spiritual path; I was into Buddhism very deeply. At that time, I wasn’t happy in the band — none of us were really happy. We were really stressed out about the lack of recognition and support that we had at that time, considering that just a few months before, we were “gonna be the next big thing.” We were kind of imploding on ourselves, so I just dove head first into my spiritual path, and I let go of everything! I broke up with my girlfriend, I left the band, I just completely cleaned out my whole life, went on a spiritual journey and dealt with a lot of stuff. I’ve written tons of songs in the process, but I didn’t find the right people to work with. So I just focused on other aspects of my life.
They go their separate ways for a time, only to inevitably come together again – the being between them being too powerful to ignore…
Craig: Leading into now, everyone came back with a clear head. Pann reached out to me with a beautiful letter. I figured, “Wow, he’s ready to talk to me like that…We should just talk.” I was already talking to James and Steve, who had moved back to Cincinnati. Then that conversation between all of us started happening. It took a while before we were comfortable enough to start talking about playing music again. It’s all been baby steps. Even this show was talked about for months before we booked it and started to practice together. When we did start practicing, the magic started coming back…and it really is there! There really is a lot of chemistry between us. I think we are better now than we were in those days.
Steve: I Never really lost contact with Jimmy and Craig. I still stayed in some contact with them after I moved back to Cincinnati. They went through their trials and tribulations with Spiralarms, and eventually James left and did his thing. We all still stayed in touch, and, over time, we started getting a little closer, and a little closer. The one factor that still hadn’t come into play was: Where the hell was Pann? Nobody knew where the guy was! We’d hear rumors, but we had no clue where he was, what he was doing, what he was going through. MMG had an extremely strong brotherhood, a really, really strong bond. Even though the band had broken up, having Pann not accessible at all…it really felt like there was a great emptiness. I think we all felt that — we are still like family. Then about a year ago, I got a message from James, telling me that he’d found Pann! That sent me soaring, you know. “OK, he’s alive, he’s OK and he’s still around!” It took a little while, but finally Pann sent me a Friend Request on Facebook, and we started chatting.
Long story short, I kinda put a bug in his ear about the possibly — some time down the road — why don’t we think about maybe doing a reunion show for fun? He was in tune with the idea, so the next person I put it across to was Craig. His response was, literally, “Hmmm…” Pann is really starting to push for this reunion, he’s the one that really started to push for it. I told him that I’d asked Craig about it and was waiting for a response from him besides “Hmmm…” Finally, it just came out of the woodwork — they sent me a picture of all three of them together. They had all met somewhere in Oakland or Berkeley or somewhere. Next thing I know, they all want to do this reunion. I couldn’t believe it! It had been seven, almost eight years. I never thought this was going to happen, never! I’d kind of given up, and just out of nowhere, here it comes!
Having had time to cool off, to grow and experience other things, they are ready to take another stab at it…
Pann: It’s been pretty incredible! We had a lot of unresolved things that we’ve cleared up. I think we’re all completely different people now; we like who we are. It’s been an incredible experience so far. It’s more about the music this time, and our friendships, than it is about “making it” and being successful. It was one of the hardest things for us to get over. We were so stressed out about trying to make it. I think we had a lot of personal issues that we brought to the table that we don’t have now, so it’s a lot easier to get along.
Craig: My last memory of these guys all together was disdainful and angry and pissed off! It’s nice when everyone comes back cooler, myself included.
Steve: So we started putting it together. We wanted to do a “preliminary” get-together, which we did last April, just to see how things felt. Was the magic still there? Are we still going to get along like we used to? We needed to get a feel for things before we put the word out that there was going to be a reunion.
There is a video of the reunion, of us seeing each other for the first time in seven or eight years (see it <here>) — it was really emotional and cool. We hit the studio, set up, and started jamming. It was just incredible! The magic was like we never stopped. It was kind of funny, Craig made a comment on how he was a little leery because he had responsibilities to both Forbidden and Spiralarms. But we knew that when the four of us get in the same room, we’re gonna start writing something eventually, and that’s what’s really gonna draw Craig in! Sure enough, the first day we jammed through some songs, and Craig just pulled out this riff, I started into a drum beat, James followed in right behind me. Luckily, we had the recorder going! So that kind of solidified it, once we started writing this new song — and it was turning out to be really, really cool! We jammed for the rest of the week, had a big party at the end, then it was, “Let’s do it!” We didn’t really say it out loud, but we all didn’t really want this to be a one-off show. We wanted to try to finish what we had started back in the day.
…The story continues as they begin making tentative plans for the future of Manmade God. Life is never smooth, there are always other aspects to work through; but with patience and dedication, who knows where it may lead when the time is right?!
Craig: We’re just gonna take it slow. I think it’s smart for us to do that. These guys would love to go running, and I can’t. I’ve got this Spiralarms thing, with an album coming out. I’ve spent years with Tim, building that up. We are finally at that point where we feel great about that, and it’s ready to go! I can’t trip that up with Manmade God. This is just the right thing to do right now for us guys in this band. Talk to me six months from now, or a year from now, and we may have something planned. Right now, we have nothing booked…there’s nothing but four guys that love each other. And the chemistry, that’s nice to have back, I was missing that! But we wrote a shit-ton of new songs, just being in a room together. They just happened!
James: I’m excited about where the music is gonna go. Craig has to fulfill his prior obligations, and I’m down with that, I’m glad that so many things are going well for him. Craig is a different player in MMG. He’s one of two, sometimes three, guitarists with Spiralarms. In this band, he’s totally naked, there’s just bass, guitar, and drums. I think that’s something people don’t understand…Craig f—-n’ Locicero is a serious talent! I mean, he can go from playing extremely heavy music and ripping guitars, to the sweetest, prettiest sounding guitar, to some crazy blues lead stuff!
Steve: If this was going to work right, I have to get my ass back to the Bay Area! That was a bit of a challenge. I had to drop my whole life back in Cincinnati, drive my truck all the way out the 2,600 miles or whatever it is. Luckily, I have a really good network of friends out here that are helping me out in the meantime, until I can get on my feet out here, with a decent job and all that. So I came back out, and we started rehearsals right away. It just kept getting better and better!
James: We are all better players now. Everybody’s had a chance to go and try different things. I hate to say that word “mature,” but I think it’s just what happens when years go by and you are still interested in music. The new stuff is incredibly exciting and more involved…there’s more going on, and less, at the same time. It sounds simple, but it’s intricate. “The Breath of the Gods” is our newest song, and it’s just amazing! Where Pann is coming from is such a culmination of what we were trying to achieve back then. Except now, he writes with much more ease, and is more clear on what he wants to say.
Pann: We have to let Craig have his time with Spiralarms before we jump into Manmade God full on. They’ve got some stuff coming up, they’re releasing an album in the near future and playing some shows. So we’re spending less time than we [normally] would, writing and getting ready for an album right now. I don’t know exactly when that’s gonna happen, but the intention is there, for sure!
Craig: More people know about us now than then — we were obscure. I don’t think the Bay Area was ready for us at that time. We were way too lofty for what people were into back then. It was the dark ages of music, the “nu metal” era! I think people’s minds are more open now; their hearts are more open now. The thing we want to convey is that we wear it on our sleeves, it’s from the heart. How we feel is how we play!
James: I’m proud of what we’ve done in the past, and I’m proud of the work that we did with Spiralarms, and I’m really proud of the stuff we’ve got coming out right now. I think people will be pleasantly surprised! We are going to see where things go right now…let some of those things play out.
Steve: The best way I can describe our mentality is that we are just trying to continue what we started. It seems to be at quite a higher level than before, as well, because we’ve all grown quite a bit emotionally, mentally, everything. I think so far we’ve got six new songs, two of them completed. This machine just has a life of its own — it takes us on the ride, really! It’s not so much us riding it, it takes us and we just let it do its thing. It’s an absolute blast!
And now, at the time of this writing, Manmade God is getting ready to play their second show since the reunion at The New Parrish in Oakland on Saturday, Sept. 15, along with M.I.R.V. (who is on their second show since their recent reunion, as well)! Unfortunately, Steve had to return to Cincinnati for a bit, and he cannot be behind the drums for the show. However, the Bay Area’s rock & roll community has come to Manmade God’s rescue, and metal drumming legend Paul Bostaph (Slayer, Forbidden, Exodus, Systematic, Testament) has happily agreed to cover the gig! Here is what the band had to say about it:
Steve: I am going back to Cincinnati to take care of some family issues. It was just too good of a show to pass up, so we got Paul to step in.
Pann: Paul is awesome! He’s got the metal inside of him, you know? So he was trying to hold back, but he’s really fallen into the right groove now. He’s got the rock & roll soul…
James: Playing with Paul is cool — he is a precise, amazing drummer!
Craig: We are supporting Steve Jacobs while he’s dealing with his personal business, and hope everything turns out OK for him and his family. We love our brother. In the meantime, Manmade God rocks with Paul!
Paul Bostaph: I’m really looking forward to playing live with Manmade God . The songs are really deep and the musicianship is inspiring. I think they were ahead of their time when the first record came out. This will be a blast!
It may be a little while before we get a new MMG album, but the fact that the band is back and raring to go is good news, indeed! In the meantime, you can check out Spiralarms at a venue near you soon.