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Buzz Bands

August 02, 2007

Manic's atmospheric rock, the brooding spawn of Pink Floyd and Radiohead's "OK Computer," is not music that's plug-and-play. "We have a lot of gear and sometimes it makes us crazy," says Zane Smythe, who plays guitar and keyboards for the L.A. quartet. "But we've gotten really good at it."

Unlike a lot of local outfits, however, Manic hasn't honed its sound by playing every club gig it was offered -- indeed, before the 4-year-old band released its "Floorboards" and "Another New Home" EPs this year, few in L.A. outside of ex-Geffen honcho Jordan Schurr (who signed the band to Suretone) had heard of Manic. Moreover, Smythe and bandmates Paul Gross (vocals-keyboards), Nate Perry (bass) and Ryan Green (drums) spent part of 2006 touring in England.

"It was a good way to get our live scenario down, under the radar, because nobody knew who we were," Smythe says. "I don't know if it helped that we were American, but we did get a lot of pleasant reaction."

How to create an atmosphere

Not that Manic was catering to fashion in U.K. clubs, either; sprawling numbers such as "Nickel Medication" don't exactly play into the hands (and feet) of dance-happy Brits. "We're more about the moods and the texture than we are about the hook or the dance," Smythe acknowledges.

Manic, the Monday resident this month at the Echo, is unsure when it will return to the studio to finish its full-length album. The quartet is likely to join forces again with producer Shawn Jimmerson, whose circuit-bending helped give the EPs an otherworldly feel. "I guess you could say our music is all about sadness and mystery," Smythe says. "That, and science. Sadness, mystery and science."

A songwriter reconnects

No matter that much of Sally Jaye's debut album, "Amarillo," was composed in a Hollywood apartment on a thrift-store piano. You can hear a lot of the South running through it, along with the likes of songwriting heroes such as Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith and Patty Griffin. Oh, and emotion. You can hear that too.

"I had quit playing in a band [Paper Sun], which was coupled with a divorce, and I had to go through a big transition," Jaye says. "I went back to connecting with my family and spent a lot of time with my mom."

In particular, Jaye revisited her mother's stories. "She has these spiral notebooks with stories about her life and our family," Jaye says. "You can thank my mom for a lot of those songs."

The material on "Amarillo" was recorded in 10 days at New Monkey Studios (Elliott Smith's old digs), with plenty of guest turns from musicians in L.A.'s Americana scene. This fall, Jaye will join one of them on tour when she opens for (as well as plays in) Brian Wright & the Waco Tragedies. But first she'll celebrate her album with a show Tuesday at the Hotel Cafe.

Fast forward

The Locust, the Bronx and others will play an early benefit Saturday at the Echo for 400 Blows drummer Ferdie Cuilda, who was hospitalized on the punk band's recent tour.

-- Kevin Bronson

www.latimes.com/buzzbands.

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