Interview with Erick Duran Manard

ArtistRack catches up with ‘Erick Duran Manard’ for this exclusive interview and insight into his latest project ‘Symmetry’:

About the Album:

Symmetry: A sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance. The life lesson ironically of my personal experiences through 2020: God is always there, resolving. “Odd Symmetry” is one ‘rock opera,’ a cerebral concept album, an eclectic collection of musical pieces reflecting the unpredictable, transitory nature and events of life. Each composition, from Scene 1 to Epilogue, tells a part of the bigger story, and follows a timeline of tragedy vs. triumph; the worst of times, yet the best of times: calm in the chaos. It’s my painful personal story of human “brokenness” and Divine resolution, told conceptually via musical art. Based on true events. Published by CD Baby.

About the Artist:

Born in 1968, I grew up around live music via tube amps, reel-to-reel analog recording, scratchy vinyl records, and a father who played drums professionally and recorded songs in collaboration with Wayne Carson and Charlie Daniels, and also played behind Crystal Gayle, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and others. I’ve been exposed to an appreciation for all kinds of music: country, folk, rock, gospel, jazz. My music is a product of those influences.

I discovered long ago that I’m an eclectic. Since I’m an Independent Artist, we could call my music “Eclectic Indie Rock,” with sprinklings of “Eclectic Prog” thrown in for good measure, such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, The Pineapple Thief, Riverside, Rush, Yes, Zeppelin, etc. I’m an award-winning songwriter, session musician, multi-instrumentalist, and have been writing, playing, and recording music since I was 11.

Despite some helpful formal musical training, I am predominantly self-taught on playing the instruments. I’m schooled in music theory, but my ear is my guide and final arbiter. If it sounds good, it is good. I have played in and gigged with various local bands over the years, but now I am content with performing session work, writing compositional art, and recording my solo efforts. My goal is to write and/or play compositions that listeners would find appealing, inspirational, or relatable.

Whatever you do, just be authentic, and I can dig it! I’m no rock star, simply a lover of music.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Oklahoma, lived in Dallas for 18 months, currently residing in Glenpool.

How long have you been making music?

I started writing original compositions at 11 on acoustic guitar. I picked up bass guitar at 14, because it only had 4 fat strings, and seemed it would be easier to play than 6 skinny strings, and the local band needed a bass player. I played/recorded with bands for 10 years, then at around 24 I quit playing anything for 20 years or so, due to family commitments. I resumed playing in Summer 2015.

How many songs /albums have you released to date?

Besides the original songs I’ve released with previous demos or bands through the years, I have one album to date, “Odd Symmetry.” I’ve written other songs which I plan to remaster and eventually release as singles, depending on how the Spirit moves.

Can you tell us about your latest release and the background and inspirations behind it?

The title hit me one day in 2020 as descriptive of my life, odd symmetry. the word “symmetry” denotes a sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance. The life lesson ironically of my personal experiences through 2020: God is always there, resolving; and in Jesus is truth, life, light, love, joy, peace, authentic sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption for the brokenhearted. The record is one ‘rock opera,’ following a timeline of tragedy vs. triumph; the worst of times, yet the best of times: calm in the chaos. It’s my painful story of human “brokenness” and Divine resolution, told conceptually. I’m the “Shamrocker,” because I’ve come close to death 3 times (that I’m aware)–via car accident at 16, stroke at 47, Pancreatitis in 2020–and I’m lucky to be alive to even play music. I have God the Father to thank for my life, and I am truly blessed because of the love, blood, cross, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ my Lord. In Christ, I find purpose and calm in this otherwise seemingly chaotic world. I say “seemingly,” because with God there is order and a divine plan behind everything that happens in this world, and so it is in my life, so that His glory and wisdom might be displayed in bringing order out of chaos. I believe God’s providence and grace has preserved me thus far, so I play music in reciprocation for His glory and as His living testimony of divine grace. I am openly Christian, but the album is not intended as a “Christian” record. I don’t write Christian rock music, but I’m a Christian who plays rock music. There’s a difference. Nonetheless, “Odd Symmetry” is a God-inspired record, definitely. Yes, 2020 gave me a new lease on life, but I’ve not talked much openly about many details of my 2020, since everybody’s got their problems, some worse than mine. But I am a survivor by God’s grace through adversities that I’m certain nobody would envy to endure, and that many would not have had the will, courage, or faith to survive. After what I’ve lived through and survived to tell, it’s easy for me to testify of God’s work in my life through my music, which He extended my life to play. I’ve begun to publicly emphasize the spiritual side of my music more, because it’s not all about me, and I want people to know that I’m alive and playing music at all because of Him. That’s where my praise goes, and where the credit rightly belongs. He increases, while I decrease. I’m simply the tool, music is the means, God’s testimony is the goal of all.

How have you ended up in the music industry?

It seems I was always destined to be involved somehow in music. I was born into a family where music occupied a central place in life. Music mattered. I played in bands as a teen into early adulthood. I’ve always possessed a natural, God-given aptitude for things musical, so this facilitates the creative process into something meaningful. I initially went to college for a year in Dallas in the early 90s to pursue a career in studio production & engineering, but that didn’t pan out. Once I resumed my playing career in 2015, I had different goals than before. Life, time, and experience changes one’s priorities and perspectives. I got older, and wiser. In 2016, I signed up with TAXI and had visions of writing compositions for other artists and being a paid songwriter behind the scenes. I’m fine with being background, away from the limelight. That’s a tough business, because it’s so highly competitive. I got my song “It Had to Be You” forwarded to a publishing company in Nashville a couple years ago via TAXI, but received no word to date. Too late now, since I decided I will publish it as myself, for my own album, and be confident in my own ability and talent as a published Independent Artist. Nothing really happened of musical significance until 2020, when the Lord, through a mysterious set of unprecedented and painful circumstances, gave me “Odd Symmetry” as a concept album. Going with CD Baby as my publisher and partner was the best career move for me. I retain creative autonomy. That’s a non-negotiable.

What do you think of the music industry in 2021?

I like much of what I’m seeing in the Indie world. So much undiscovered talent, enthusiasm, inspiration, and songs and musicians which are better than what I hear from typical FM radio. I rarely listen to FM radio beyond local Christian contemporary station KXOJ licensed in Glenpool. Spotify is my go-to, since it offers everything (and more) that I would care to hear, commercial free. The industry’s landscape has dramatically shifted from back in the day, where I still recall the way to get heard was via cassette tapes mailed to record labels or local stations, and email was not existent yet. Not so anymore. Reality now is that any artist can be heard with the advent of internet, social media, and digital distribution. I think that’s a good thing. This shifts power from label to artist, where it rightly belongs. After all, WE are the music creators, and labels wouldn’t have a product without the Artist, let alone fans to buy that product. Independent artists have chosen to stand for creative control and manage their own careers, because they are not in music for money, fame, or anything but the love of artistic expression through the medium which music beautifully provides. The key for the Indie is promotion. We have to do the things that a record label would normally be expected to do for the artist. So, many of us indies work “real” jobs to fund our endeavor. That’s okay, I’m living the dream already. I consider myself successful, because I’m getting to do what I love, playing the style of music I want, and getting paid royalties for it. Plus, the Lord is opening more opportunities to publish my testimony of His grace through the music. For example, this interview. My music is my ministry. This was simply not possible in previous decades to be so independent and to be widely heard or taken seriously. I believe in my music regardless of other opinions, because I know it represents quality and meaningful songwriting, and I’ve learned the craft not through books but through extensive personal experience, listening to great players/writers, and trial and error. It sounds good to my ears; therefore, it is good. Whether or not anybody likes my music is secondary. Belief in your own ability is crucial to survive the naysayers or envious. Some people’s jealousy won’t allow them to speak complimentary, but find any reason to be critical. At the end of the day, it comes down to quality of the music and being authentic. I don’t worry, fans of Indie have a keen sense on how to detect quality and authenticity. So I just be myself, play what I feel, let the chips falls wherever.

Who do you think the most influential artist?

I’m influenced by everything. I have a wide musical palette, but my soul gravitates towards songs rooted in Blues. I like melody, harmonies, storytelling, meaningful lyrics, songs with depth, nuance, attention to detail, creative imagination, which is why frankly much modern music doesn’t appeal to me. It’s cookie-cutter, playing to a certain format or audience, not authentically soulful. I’m interested in the raw power and courage of Black Sabbath; the psychedelic story-telling of Pink Floyd; the master musicianship and elaborate compositions of Rush; the melancholic honesty of Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson; the acoustic folk of Dave Matthews; the rich vocal harmonies of CSN and Kings X; the unconventional experimentation of Jeff Beck and Pat Metheny. It all filters through to the music I create.

Who have you collaborated with so far in your career?

Nobody so far, but my Dad and I have recently talked on collaborating for the first time. He has many unpublished lyrics, and I can create the music appropriate for the subject matter, vibe, tempo, mood, etc. I have this suitcase of his songs in my studio, which he entrusted to my care, since my Dad retired from music a while back. I have many songs to sift through, no shortage of material for ideas to compose.

How do you think you differ from other artists?

Many artists that I see may be great players, good people, whatever, but they tend to be into music for their own ego, own glory, fame, fortune, recognition, or for some other motivation as the end in itself. But what about a higher aspiration than worldly pleasures, self-gratification, or peer recognition? I’m deeply spiritual, and I realize most people in the world have never heard about my encounters with God and Christ, so that becomes my goal: Can my story give somebody confidence that something similar can happen with them? Analytics shows that I’ve had my music and press published to the world, many different countries, so I’ve been given a public platform as a stewardship. I think about my role in God’s kingdom as well. I’m called to be a disciple of the risen Christ, and God has a ministry for me to fulfill that nobody else can fulfill, because nobody else is me. That’s where my music comes in, and where I feel I’m somewhat different from the crowd. My music is my ministry, because music affords me opportunities to serve God uniquely which I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Plus, music is what I do best. I realize my music is NOT all about me, but God who gave me the talent to use for good. If I fail to play and promote my music with the proper spiritual focus, He could always strip my talent. So for me, playing music professionally is also a sobering responsibility, not just a career option, nor an exercise in personal exploration, nor personal hobby. 2020 gave me a new lease on life, but I’ve not talked much openly about many details of my 2020, since everybody’s got their problems, some worse than mine. But my experiences are no less valid. Fact is, I came close to death last year, literally on my deathbed, and that’s as real as things get. Life and death, you know? When you’re staring into the face of the Reaper, a man gets renewed perspective in a hurry. Another fact is, I am a survivor by God’s grace through adversities that I’m certain nobody would envy to endure. After what I’ve lived through and survived to tell, it’s easy for me to testify of God’s work in my life through my music, which He extended my life to play. I’ve begun to publicly emphasize the spiritual side of my music more, because it’s not all about me, and I want people to know that I’m alive and playing music at all because of Him. That’s where my praise goes, and where the credit rightly belongs. He increases, while I decrease. I find that many musicians are about increasing themselves and ignoring God while living as practical atheists regarding their music. Where do they think their talent came from? I’m not judging, just stating my observation. But I am saying that for me anything less than consciously serving and testifying of God in my music is superficial and insufficient as my motive.

Dead or alive, who would be your dream collaboration?

There are so many artists. Steven Wilson, Ty Tabor, Bruce Soord. I wouldn’t want to sing, just contribute musically.

What was the first album you bought?

When you say “album,” I envision vinyl records, considering my age at 52. I lived back when 8-Track tapes could be played in my car, or a cassette in an 8-Track adapter for car or home! I’m not sure, but the very first “album” I bought and/or collected might have been “Elvis in Concert” from the televised 1977 special that ran on CBS, which we saw live on TV, October 3, 1977! I was 9, and I used to get weekly allowance of $5 for chores, and I would save enough to buy a record, usually $7.99. That was a stout two weeks’ pay for a 9-year old laborer! Always a fan of Elvis. Huge influence, believe it or not. But then what true musician has not been influenced by Elvis to one degree or another? I don’t know anyone.

What’s your favourite song at the moment?

I love “One Life” by Shimmer Johnson, a wonderful female artist/singer from Canada. I met her via Instagram, bought an autographed copy of her CD, and she’s one of the best female singers I’ve heard, reminding me of Ninet Tayeb. I would jump at the chance to collaborate with her someday.

If you had to sell your music collection tomorrow, what album would you leave in your draw?

I would likely choose “Blow By Blow,” Jeff Beck. The song “Diamond Dust” is the standout track for me. Or “The Way Up” by Pat Metheny, a modern masterpiece.

What is your favourite saying?

I have many. but the one I say most often goes, “You gotta go through to get through.” Simple but profound to remember, especially when you’re going through the adversities. This attitude builds faith and character. Adversity enables faith to replicate itself stronger every time I “get through” another challenge; it only makes me stronger in faith. You can’t always stop troubles from coming, but you can control how you react to it, whether one holds up or folds up. For me, it’s a settled state of mind–rooted in God, Christ, the Bible, and firsthand experience–which recalls past victories over significant challenges before, and thus reminds me that God is with me for present or future challenges wherein I can be victorious. That’s a fundamental building block of victorious Christian living, and I’m about living for Christ. I’m not guaranteed an easy life on this earth, as I survived and thrived during my ordeal in 2020; but, looking back now at my 2020, my experience informs me how I am guaranteed victory over all height, depth, and width of troubles that come my way, based on my faith in Christ and His authentic love for me. Things that used to intimidate me before no longer have a foothold in me. I faced it, and conquered it. I live fearless anymore, Psalm 23:4: I fear no evil, no enemy, no shadow. I’ve learned also that victory may appear very different than I anticipated, but God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than mine, or yours, or anyone’s. Further, my experience in life informs me how God’s ways and thoughts, even if opposed to mine, always manifest as best, by the event. Faith may not always know where I’m headed, but I can trust the God who is leading my way. He’s never failed me yet. I’m a living testimony of that objective reality, for God is the ultimate objective reality with Whom we all have to do someday, sooner or later. I choose to recognize His reality sooner, before I die, instead of afterward. I figure that’s a pretty safe “wager,” as Pascal suggested.

What other hobbies or interests do you have?

I like Sports, Chiefs football, Cooking, Reading, History, Health & Wellness, Birdwatching, biblical archaeology, research on medical cannabis, collecting vinyl records.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

I’ve had double piercings in the left ear since I was 17. I’ve never had a tattoo, but recently I’ve wanted to get a tattoo of a shamrock with “Shamrocker” on the outside, and 3XL inside. That’s rich in meaning for me, worthy of permanence as body art. Why that nickname and 3XL? That’s not my shirt size! I’ve inherited the name “Shamrocker,” because I’ve come close to death 3 times (that I’m aware)–-via car accident at 16, stroke at 47, Pancreatitis in 2020–-and thus I’m “3 times lucky” or “3XL” to be alive to even play music. I speak of “luck” colloquially, because most folks understand the concept as it relates to the “apparent” chaotic arbitrariness of life, not that I believe in luck. Instead, I believe in Divine Providence, which carries serendipity and fortuitous circumstances that may resemble what the world affectionately but erroneously calls “random luck.” Reality is, NOTHING in this universe is random or lucky, but everything in life has a purpose; it is a cog in a wider order behind this universe; and is going exactly according to God’s plan, whether good or evil. What evil persons intend for bad, God turns for good to demonstrate His love, goodness, faithfulness, and glory, and overcomes evil by doing good. So actually, the argument of “evil” to disprove God is logically untenable. Evil proves God’s existence, else how would you know what evil is, as opposed to what? The good. Where does good come from? God. So the reason anybody even knows evil is because they have seen the goodness of God by default; yet many don’t recognize it as such. Ever notice how so many kindhearted and good people come out of the woodwork during tragedy or crises, feeding the hungry, volunteering time and money, clothing the poor, etc.? That’s God in action during evil times, showing His love and goodness through and to people, Christian or not. He planned it that way. Therefore, a tattoo honoring God in this way would be a privilege. It’s a bucket list item.

Tell us more about your upcoming project or this new project?

I’ve started writing new music for the next record, and just mastered the opening track, called “Bricks on a Thread,” a rocker instrumental along the lines of “Dogs of War” from last record. Think Black Sabbath meets Led Zeppelin. With the studio in my home, and in the age of digital recording, I’m always recording, playing, or writing something. Quite a luxury, so I take advantage of 24/7 access to studio time. I’m picking up on this record where Symmetry left off with “Epilogue” and “Sentient Reverberations.” I left Odd Symmetry open-ended to accommodate a continuing story of my life in the aftermath of 2020. So with the next record, I continue the story with reiterated themes from last record, but I will elaborate on how those themes have developed and how “reverberations” have played out in my life, for better or worse. For example, “Bricks” is about feeling overwhelmed by weight of the world on my shoulders, like I’m hanging by a thread, and the choices I have to respond. Each brick represents a daily challenge or responsibility. I have a full life, so I’m looking at a daily stack of bricks to carry. Choices: collapse under its weight (bad option #1); carry it in my own strength and hope for the best (bad option #2); or obey God who says that during times of suffering, adversity, increased responsibilities, we will have anxiety and cares, but that I can lay them at His feet and find sufficient grace to help in time of need. I don’t have to carry my burdens alone. That’s great comfort. The proper thing to do in life is not to become fatalistic or bitter and resigned to trouble, but to “cast our cares on God, because He does care for us,” 1 Peter 5:7.

What’s in the pipeline after this project?

I have more videos planned for the debut record. I recently finished production and released the official video for “Sometimes She Cries (Dirge for an Angel).” I’m in production on the official video for the title track “Odd Symmetry” currently. I envision producing a movie version of the album at some point. Think “Heavy Metal” meets “The Wall.” I also have recorded some Country demos that need remastering. I would like to collab with a female singer for a song I’ve written as a duet, called “The Long Road.” The search for the right singer has been slow. I can potentially release these as singles. Besides this, I’m always writing, creating, and drawing inspiration from everything in life. Currently, I’m writing music in studio for my next album. My music will always have depth, meaning, and a message. It’s up to the intelligent listener to interpret that message. Otherwise, I leave my music obscure enough to fill in your own blank. It is the subjectivity of art, after all.

Thank you for your time and may you carry on making great, fresh music.

The pleasure is mine, as I look at these interviews as opportunities to publish my testimony through music. Second, I would like to mention significant shoutouts, if I may. I issue my thank-you message to several noteworthy folks in the liner notes, which I’ve included as a downloadable PDF accompanying all purchases of my album, whether CDs or downloads. I will publicly and gladly mention them here since you allow for additional Q&A.

Thanks and acknowledgements go out to the following:

-God and my Lord Jesus Christ for teaching me to remain “calm in the chaos” when all hell is breaking loose and my world is crumbling around me. Space forbids listing the many lessons in humility through 2020, and how I’m learning what it means to be a man. I’m a work in progress.

-CD Baby for so enthusiastically publishing and promoting my music, and for building the highway upon which I can drive the car.

-The team at Cockos for developing and continually updating the finest DAW with Reaper, which enabled me to achieve the perfect sound, mix and master to my ears. (Who needs Pro Tools anymore?)

-The team at FabFilter for developing Pro-Q3, along with the whole Suite. This single plugin was the elixir that made all the difference to the final mix and master. Pure magic.

-DR Strings for the only (and perfect) bass strings that fit Mustang Sally. Nothing but Sunbeams will do.

-EMG for the perfect “P.” Nice design, Geezer.

-Seymour Duncan for daring to be unconventional with the ’59 Custom Hybrid. Now that’s the sound of rock n’ roll on a Tele.

-Stringjoy for the marvelous set of custom 8s that made the record so much better than it would’ve been otherwise. Yes, I play 8s.

-Dunlop for the perfect “Flow” pick, 2.5mm. I cannot play with another pick.

-Steve at Sage Audio for the baseline. Your professionalism is second to none.

-My mom whose godly advice and counsel is always timely, if not prophetic. “God’s got this!”

-Vince for incredible patience while I was working through weeks of unprecedented illness and just fighting to stay alive in May-June 2020. It was an “Epic” year, to be sure.

-Rob for the ‘serendipitous’ meeting and facilitating my “new stage” at RBC. It was Providence, indeed.

-Elizabeth for the initial inspiration to start playing again in 2015. This helped rekindle my passion for music. This record had not been possible otherwise.

I would leave my audience with this final thought: What can we learn from my tragic experiences of 2020? That there is a mighty force out there, bigger than all of us, watching over us, directing our lives. This is God. And when we step out in faith, we can receive the desires of our heart. We can turn uncertainty into certainty. I’ve lived it, and I am living proof of it. I’m not debating theology, yet nobody can gainsay what I know from experience. I’m not religious, but I have a meaningful relationship with the Lord Jesus, and prayer is the most powerful asset to move the hands of God. I was near death 11 months ago, whereas today I’m stronger than ever, more blessed than ever, and more creative than ever. So much so, I’m working on my second record, hopefully to be released by end of 2021–Lord willing.