t's noon in Chicago as BARBARA MANNING and her band, the Go-Luckys!, crawl out of their beds and prepare to greet a new day of sound checks, instrument maintenance, eating and -- if they're fortunate (and this interview doesn't run on forever) -- a little sightseeing.
As we begin, Manning is compelled to apologize for the sound of her voice, which is cracking and dropping out worse than an old Eagles eight-track cartridge.
She laughs, "Doesn't it sound terrible? I think I lost it sometime in maybe New Orleans. But the weird thing is, even though I sound real horrible right now, as soon as I find a microphone, I don't know how, but I manage to clear up. It's kind of like, 'Oh good, my voice is back.' " Manning and the Go-Luckys! (featuring twin brothers Fabrizio and Flavio Steinbach on bass and drums) play at the Shop Friday evening.
Barbara Manning has been an influential figure in the music underground for more than 15 years as a solo artist and as a member of various bands (28th Day, World of Pooh and the SF Seals among them). Long before Liz Phair found herself exiled in Guyville, Manning was quietly, chronicling with fire and unnerving directness, what it was like to exist as a female singer/songwriter with an electric guitar in a predominantly male-oriented rock universe. A consistently engaging and eccentric performer, Manning's unswerving commitment to her unique vision and dogged pursuit of success on her own terms have made her an inspirational indie rock icon.
Today, Manning is just thankful for the first full night's sleep she's managed since the band hit the road about three weeks ago.
"I slept 12 hours," she says. "I think that was probably a mistake. I feel like I could still go back to bed. It just feels like you never get a chance to recuperate."
For underground bands like the Go-Luckys!, touring (in this case, in a van named Hero) is a necessity. It can be fun -- a unique opportunity to travel and to connect with fans around the world -- but it can be a chore as well.
"It's really, really hard," Manning says. "Anybody who has fantasies about touring has got to know that it takes every ounce of energy out of you. You never get enough sleep. We always go on really late because we're the headliner. So they stick us on after every local band has played forever, and we get finished right as it's last call and we get pushed out as fast as possible because the staff wants to get home. It's not always that way. It depends."
So that's what being an indie pop star is all about?
"I don't think I'm a star," she politely responds to the inherently inane question. "If I was a star, things would be different. Steven Malkmus is a star, and Sonic Youth are stars. I'm just a struggling artist. I'm really confident in my own ability. And I really love playing my own songs. So in a way I am really happy, really satisfied. I love my songs. I just feel really pleased that I've been given this gift of being able to write and sing."
Manning's sweet, jagged and melodious pop jewels are immediately accessible. Her songs are lyrical yet straightforward and honest, revealing the sorts of quirks, desires, guilty pleasures and daydreams most of us would choose to keep hidden. It's all held together by Manning's expressive and immediate vocals, which serve to draw the listener in and make for a spellbinding live experience.
For all her artistic triumphs, commercial success and recording label stability have proved to be more elusive. During her time with the SF Seals, Manning began a relationship with Matador Records, a large independent with an impressive stable of underground artists. The SF Seals released two albums on the label (Nowhere and Truth Walks in Sleepy Shadows), and Manning, on her own, released another (the amazing 1212) before she was dropped from Matador's roster.
"They got rid of artists they didn't consider good sellers," she says.
Manning recently signed to the new San Francisco-based indie label, Innerstate, and she and the Go-Luckys! have a worthy new album out called You Should Know By Now. Having people in the business believe in her work is important to Manning, but she's been in the trenches on her own, playing by her own rules. She's been making it all up as she goes long enough to know that the rewards of this life are often intangible, indescribable, tenuous. And often, they don't cover the bills.
"Music isn't going to make me a living, so I'm not even thinking in those terms," she says. "What I'm trying to do is keep on recording and keep on having a band together. Those are the essential basics that I'm having struggles with.
"My story is not a new one," she concludes. "There are lots and lots of artists' stories like this -- where they weren't given any attention at the time. You know, 20 years from now, people might be covering my songs or using samples or something because it'll be like this obscure artist who never got her due, blah blah blah blah. And I know that's probably true, and that's fine. For now, I'm just trying to keep it going."
Barbara Manning and the Go-Luckys! perform
at the Shop on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7 pm.
Cover: $5. Call: 534-1647.
Hard to Handle
The band that effectively captured the vintage-rock pomp and swagger (as originally perfected by the Rolling Stones) for a whole new generation of kids comes to the Fox Theatre this Wednesday night.
Brothers Chris (lead vocals) and Rich (guitars) Robinson formed THE BLACK CROWES in the mid-'80s, fusing Southern-fried rock, drunken blues and a fair amount of convincing soul into joyous, full-on rock 'n' raunch. The Georgia-based band (rounded out originally with bassist Johnny Colt, guitarist Marc Ford and drummer Steve Gorman) first scored big in 1990 with their recording debut, Shake Your Moneymaker. The album was a Top 10 smash, riding into triple platinum on the strength of the singles "Jealous Again," "Hard to Handle" (an Otis Redding cover) and the acoustic ballad, "She Talks To Angels."
Their sixth studio album, Lions, released early this year, has been hailed as a return to form for the band that, by the end of the '90s, had been showing early signs of decline both artistically and commercially. (Releasing greatest hits albums and touring on the reunion circuit with aging rock dinosaurs -- i.e., Jimmy Page -- does little to convince fans and critics that you're still a vital, developing group.) With a batch of ass-kicking new guitar epics ("No Use Lying," "Cosmic Friend") and sensitive, plaintive ballads ("Miracle to Me," "Lay it All on Me"), Lions is proof positive that the Crowes aren't ready to declare rock 'n' roll dead just yet.