Geography and music are often a fascinating combination.
Frontman of indie rock band Gamblers, Michael McManus, hails from the south-shore Long Island town of Massapequa, and each band member is originally from Long Island or Queens, allowing for that authentic New York grit in their vocals, hidden within their bright riffs.
When McManus wasn’t attending classes at Hunter College, he was tucked away in his dorm room, producing hip hop beats, ones that eventually led to collaborations with Meek Mill and Heems. The songwriter’s time spent crafting also scored him musical features on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and Viceland’s Gaycation.
McManus was playing drums for Yankee Longstraw when he met original band member Gary O’Keefe. The two toured the country together, and decided after the tour to start writing music together. After working for major hip hop labels, McManus gained a better understanding of the professional side of the music industry, and decided to turn his and O’Keefe’s side project into a full time gig. After recruiting various other musician friends to join, Gamblers was born. The original lineup of the band has since dissolved, and it’s been rebuilt with guys like Jimmy Usher and Bryan Carpentieri at the helm.
With influences like The Beach Boys, Gamblers’ tunes feature catchy choruses and a sunny sound. Yet, disguised in the innocuous beats, are McManus’s personal reflections on the darker side of the human experience, such as addiction and corruption.
Their two latest tracks — “Small World” and “Do I?” — are complemented with trippy, 80s-style music videos, seemingly a deeper look into what one might miss on the tracks’ lighthearted surfaces. The tracks are set to be a part of the band’s debut album Small World, dropping September 25th.
Here at Music Mecca, we got the chance to catch up with Gamblers about New York’s ever-looming influence, musical inspirations, and much more.
Can you talk a bit about the history of Gamblers, and how y’all came to be?
My friend Gary and I- the guy I started the band with, met touring in a previous band that I was the drummer of and he was the guitar player of. We really bonded as friends and musicians on that tour, and we decided when we got home that we’d start a little side project together. That ended up being Gamblers.
What made you settle on the name “Gamblers”?
I can’t recall exactly how it came to be but we ended up thinking it was a good name that didn’t get in the way of the music. I feel like a lot of the time trying to come up with a band name is just spent making sure it isn’t something stupid and distracting. I sort of formed my own meaning behind the name because my family on my dad’s side has a long history of alcoholism and gambling addiction. My grandfather spent the last few years of his life actually living in Atlantic City. The name isn’t meant to represent anything explicitly dark, but that’s my own personal little reference for it.
Being from NYC, you seem to be influenced by that gritty no-frills New York sound. How do you think growing up in New York influenced your musical direction?
I mean, I’m from Long Island, so it’s a very different upbringing than growing up in the city. However, I kind of came into my own in the city working at my family’s bar (Peter McManus Cafe) and going to school/living there. We also made the record in Manhattan and Brooklyn, so I suppose that energy had some sort of effect on our sound.
In your own words, how would you describe your music?
As everyone probably says- I hate to classify it. However, if it helps potential listeners I’d say we’re indie rock with a hip-hop production sensibility and melodic songwriting.
Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?
The Beach Boys, anything by Damon Albarn- specifically Gorillaz, Fleetwood Mac, Dr. Dre, Bob Marley, to name just a few.
Do you have any favorite stories from your time performing? Maybe a tale from the road, the early days…
Well, one of our first bonding experiences as a band was a mini-tour we did with our friends Yankee Longstraw in the summer of 2016. We spent one night camping in the woods of Virginia after playing an outdoor festival there and we all took acid. It was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ve never laughed harder in my life.
You’ve been dropping tracks back-to-back, with “Small World” last month and “Do I?” earlier this month! Can you tell us about the inspirations behind each song?
Thank you for asking- we’ve been gearing up for our album that’s coming out on September 25th, so we’re just trying to build a little momentum.
“Small World” sort of deals with my upbringing in the Catholic church and walking away from it after the sexual abuse cases started to really come out in the early 2000s. I say “sort of” because most times when I’m writing lyrics I use experiences as a jumping off point. I almost never tell a complete narrative, I use them more as flashes, if that makes sense. I probably grew up a little more religious than most people, as I was a member of a church band and my mother was a religion teacher and eucharestic minister.
“Do I?” deals with a real life odd situation that occurred during high school. I was dating someone and we were planning a trip to Puerto Rico, which ended up getting cancelled due to weather. We broke up months later, and then the very next year she was dating my best friend and going on the exact trip we had planned a year earlier. It also deals with the emptiness of showcasing one’s personal life on social media and how that lens more times than not is pretty fake, or at least heavily curated.
Who else helped these songs come to life?
Certainly everyone who played on it, my former bandmates Gary, Joe, Johnny, and Boris. I also have to thank the brilliant Ray Marte of the band Moon Tooth who helped mix and mastered the track.
Both of the music videos for “Small World” and “Do I?” are super surreal. What was it like making those videos, and what was the process like behind them?
Thank you for checking those out. We worked with a seriously brilliant pair of filmmakers named Tyler Walker and Fidel Ruiz-Healy from the American Standard Film Co. “Do I?” was a lot of fun because we didn’t really know what it was going to look like at all, we shot everything on green screen except for the rooftop scenes at the end. “Small World” was a bit odd because my partner in the band since it’s inception Gary had just left the group like a week or two before that shoot was planned, so I had to scramble to get a guitar player to fill in. I got my cousin Joey to step in and he killed it. We shot that at King’s Park on Long Island which is also home to one of the most haunted places in America, King’s Park Psychiatric Center.
What’s one thing new listeners should know about Gamblers?
If it matters at all, we genuinely give a shit and try our absolute hardest. We do not take your eardrums or eyeballs for granted.
It seems like you’re on a roll, dropping one track after another. Are there any new projects we should expect from Gamblers to close out the year?
Thank you, while we’re not ready to announce new projects yet, I can say that we spent about five years building this band, making the record, and shopping it. Now that we finally have a team around the band and we’re dropping the album through major distribution, we’re going to keep our foot on the gas in terms of releases. There won’t be any more four or five year gaps, that’s for sure. However, we will also only deliver material that we believe in and stand behind from a songwriting and recording quality standpoint.