From slinging trash to living in a VW van, musician Billy Manzik is roughing it and loving it
Back in his hometown of Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada, Billy Manzik was a local-boy-made-good, appearing at festivals and nabbing a performing spot at the reception for the Junos (Canada’s Grammy Awards). But offstage, the roots/Americana singer/songwriter/guitarist was engaging in some unglamorous pursuits. “You can’t really [play music] full time in Thunder Bay,” he explains. “So I was throwing garbage bags in minus 40 weather … Oh, man—I took some horrible work.”
While garbage bags no longer figure into Manzik’s employment, he’s still far from the lap of luxury. For the past year, he’s been living in his VW van while gigging around Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. Manzik doesn’t mind foregoing fineries and creature comforts in order to make a living doing what he loves. Part of the reward lies in helping his fans through some dark times. “I find that the songs I wrote as an aid for me to feel better might sound sad, but when I play them sometimes, people will come up to me [and say], ‘Oh, man. That’s my life right there. That’s what’s happening right now,’” he notes. “I guess it brings people a little bit of comfort if they’re going through a hard time; they feel that they’re not alone.”
As any musician knows, the experience of sharing your music with others can be addictive. Manzik is well acquainted with this feeling: After just a short hiatus, he’s jonesing to get onstage. “Even after a little break of two weeks, I feel like, ‘Oh, God! I gotta go and play!’” he says.
Which brings us to his free concert at the Backstage Lounge on Thursday, Dec. 29. Joining Manzik at the gig is his new musical and romantic “partner in crime,” standup bassist Lisa Edberg, whom he met a few months ago while playing at a La Honda haunt called Apple Jack’s Inn. Manzik notes that with Edberg in the musical mix, he has “a bed to sit in now, figuratively speaking. There’s a low end that I can play my guitar with, rather than me just being the timekeeper.” He adds that because Edberg’s bass attack is extremely percussive, the two have been able to play rural venues and still have people dance. “The first time Lisa and I actually played together, this older woman in a wheelchair got up and leaned on her friend, and she starts dancing, right? Those are the moments that keep me going,” he says.
Once the Backstage Lounge gig is a wrap, Manzik will be on the road again. This time he’s heading off to Hollywood to record his next album. Lending their talents to the project will be producer/mixer/engineer Brad Haehnel (Nelly Furtado, Moulin Rouge soundtrack) and a slew of renowned studio musicians. The songwriter says the recording sessions will be stripped-down and straightforward. “We’ll go in, and we’ll run through the song once or twice, and then he’ll just hit record,” he states. “That’s it—done.”
This approach differs strongly from the lavish production of Manzik’s last recorded effort, AllTogetherNow. “Man, there were like, 92 tracks on one of the songs!” the musician recalls with a laugh. Thanks to a grant from a radio company in Calgary, Manzik had a full $10,000 to spend on the making of that album. “I didn’t know if I’d ever have that opportunity again,” he says. “So I thought, ‘OK, well, why not make an album that’s a little bit more produced?’ But I think this time I’m gonna sort of go the other way.”
The no-frills style of Manzik’s upcoming recording sessions is in keeping with his lifestyle as a whole—and that suits him just fine. “I may not be a millionaire, but I’m doing what I love,” he states. “And I’m in California! I mean, it’s minus 30 up in Thunder Bay!” he laughs.
Billy Manzik plays at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29 at The Backstage Lounge, 1209 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. No Cover. For more information, call 469-9900.