Interview: Exploring The Manimals' Game Of Thrones Themed Album

The Manimals love glam. And fantasy. And punk. And pop. 

And their newest release, “Seven,” is the perfect embodiment of their aesthetic—with Haley Bowery's sometimes-growling-sometimes-crystal-clear vocals and a penchant for storytelling, the album is a series of thematically-linked songs, each told from the perspective of a different Game of Thrones character. 

But, if you've never read one of the books or even glimpsed one of the episodes, don't let that stop you from checking out their music—these songs, like any well-written song, take a specific perspective and use it to explore universal themes. Plus, the songs are laden with catchy guitar riffs.

Check out our exclusive interview with Haley below:

When did you decide to write a Game of Thrones themed album? Were you worried that focusing on Game of Thrones would limit your appeal? Or did you think it would increase it?

I started to write SEVEN in the summer of 2015—I had been on a hiatus from playing and writing music, and the idea of a concept album was very appealing to me as a long-term project. The only thing I wanted to write about at the time was Game of Thrones! I had become a rabidly obsessed fan, and after consuming all of the show, all of the books, and basically all of Reddit, I wanted to create my own material to inhabit that world. Part of the idea was to make something that could work both in and out of context; I always hoped that it could stand alone as a rock record, even for non-fans. It was very important to me to make sure it still sounded like The Manimals, which is a bit different from what I think most people might expect from a fantasy concept album. It's a sort of niche, odd thing that we ended up making, but most of the songs still fit easily into our normal glam/punk rock set lists. And while it was never my main intent, I definitely hoped that I could reach some new people, with the Game of Thrones fan base being as massive as it is.

Do you have a favorite character in Game of Thrones? If so, which, and why? Is one of the songs on the album told from her or his perspective?

My favorites are probably Arya and Brienne, two unconventional badasses who don't fit into traditional gender roles. I think I like them the most because they're so nuanced—we appreciate and root for their surface-level toughness, but they each carry a lot of vulnerability and pain. One of the main themes of the album ended up being the search for one's identity, and how the characters are weighed down by all of these concepts that are meant to inform it: family name, sigils, nobility or lack thereof, gender, being Northern or “southron,” being trueborn or a bastard, and so on. Arya's song is called "Teeth,” and it's about embracing all her wolfy Stark-ness in order to get the revenge she needs. Brienne's is called "Good,” which is about the three suitors she was intended to marry, and how she chose a different path. Her identity hinges now on a desire to come through on the oaths she's made, and fulfilling a knightly idea of honor.

How would you describe a typical Manimals show?

We're hell-bent on creating an experience at our shows. I think that if you forsake your TV and internet (and all of the other things that keep us safe and antisocial) in favor of leaving the house for a night to hear real live music with real live people, you should get a SHOW. Costumes, boys in makeup, dancing, free whiskey (sometimes delivered via supersoaker), shout-a-longs, shocks and thrills, the band stripping off their clothes, fake blood everywhere. I'll put my head inside the kick drum for you. I'll cover my entire body in bruises for you. I'll summon the awesome powers of rock n roll for you. Sometimes it's an exorcism, sometimes it's just the very best party. It's cathartic, uplifting, and sweaty.

Are you going to continue to write songs that are thematically linked? Or will the next Manimals release be a more standard album?

Our next release is coming in the new year, and it's an EP that is pretty standard—three songs that we've been playing forever, and finally got the chance to record. Beyond that, our next group of songs do have a thematic link, but it's based in a personal story as opposed to a fictional property. I'm a big believer in the album as a storytelling medium. Even if it isn't a true "concept album,” I still want it to have a clear narrative arc.

If you could choose one artist to cover one of your songs, which artist would it be, which song, and why that artist and song?

I tapped the other Manimals for this one, and they had a ton of great suggestions! But you asked for just one. We all agree that we want a male voice to sing "Lone" (Jon Snow's song), someone really deep and gravelly to suit the mood. It's a dark, tortured love song. If we could pick anyone living or dead, it would be Leonard Cohen or Johnny Cash. They have two of my favorite voices of all time- mournful, harsh, and simple. But we would also be very happy with (the even more gravelly) Tom Waits!

How long did it take to write the album? Tell us a bit about the process, how you decided which characters to write about, and whether you found any perspectives particularly difficult to embody in your songs.

It took about six months to write. I became pretty fanatical about details, and making sure I was honoring these characters that are so beloved, while still being true to my writing style and tastes. The process went something like: re-read sections of the books, take copious notes to map out the character, watch specific episodes in some cases (like if I needed the emotional gut-punch of Arya talking to her dad), make an inspiration playlist of songs that I felt fit the character in some way... then finally I'd start to write the song itself. Every musical choice was very deliberate, from Jon's reverby Velvet Underground-inspired song that takes place in the cave with Ygritte, to the different vocal registers I employ throughout Cersei's song based on how manipulative she's being. The seven characters I chose were initially the favorites—Daenerys, Arya, Jon, Tyrion—and expanded to include Brienne and Cersei, who I just find really interesting. I also included Bran, because I felt he was important to the story, even if he wasn't my favorite. He was definitely the hardest to write for, because he's a child, and so much of his perspective is dreams and visions. The song ended up working as a big "moral of the story,” more than just an exploration of his individual journey.

Did you write the lyrics alone, or was the entire band involved? Did you find your own personal life slipping into the lyrics, even though you were writing about fictional characters?

I wrote it alone, but the band did contribute a lot musically once I presented this geeky labor of love to them. It did become incredibly personal. In order to write with any kind of resonance, I needed to tap into the universal emotions and motivations behind the characters, and weave myself into it. But I think I also secretly wanted to say certain things, and needed these characters to be my mouthpiece. The end result is very blurred between fiction and reality, which I hope makes it relatable beyond just a piece of fan art about dragons.

If our readers only had time to check out one track from, “Seven,” which would you suggest? Why?

"Teeth,” Arya's song. It has a lot of literal references that could be fun for a fan of the show or books, but's also a glam rock banger in the style of the New York Dolls. The guitar riff is awesome, the drums are thunderous. It's my personal favorite because it has all of these kickass, posturing lines and rock n roll screaming, but the bridge is so incredibly raw and sad. I feel like it hits all of the beats we were going for with this record.

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