Interview: Jason Manns Dives Into His Writing Process, The Station Breaks, ‘Star Wars’ and More

Courtesy of Co-Director Lindsey DeLuca

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There’s a lot to be said about Jason Manns. While he was introduced into the Supernatural fandom via conventions and his song “Vision” on Season 4, Episode 1, he’s quickly made his way into our hearts and stayed there. He’s given confidence and guidance to so many actors and musicians around the Supernatural world and elsewhere, producing albums for artists such as Briana Buckmaster, Richard Speight, Jr., Gil McKinney, Abe Drennan, and Michael Rosenbaum’s Left on Laurel. He’s also an accomplished solo musician, having his own albums out as well as performing with Rob Benedict and Billy Moran as part of The Station Breaks.

Aside from that, he’s a genuine person who loves helping people, including working with Random Acts on a variety of projects, including collaborating on a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” with Justin Guarini to support operational costs of the Jacmel Children’s Center.

We caught up with Jason to dive deeper into his music, Star Wars (sorry!) and more.

Nerds and Beyond: The interview questions were inspired by an interview I did with N&B favorite, Robbie Thompson. We did a deep dive into the episodes he wrote on Supernatural, and I want to do the same with your songs. 

We asked some of our readers to name their favorite songs of yours. I’ll name a song, and you can tell me what the writing process was like, a memory you have about the song, what you like about performing it, what it means to you in general, or really anything you want.

First, “Perfect Spot.”

Jason Manns: I wrote this early after moving to California. I remember playing it for Steve Carlson (Of Radio Company fame!) and he said, it’s great, but what if you played this chord instead of that one? It was a great call. And to this day it’s always the chord I mess up, but it’s the right chord!

Nerds and Beyond: “Journey.”

Jason: Sitting in LAX airport heading back to Virginia after living in Los Angeles for just long enough to know things would never be the same, I wrote a poem. I felt like this little island in the midst of the hustle and bustle, slightly apprehensive but ready for the journey. Wherever it lead.

That song also has one of my favorite lyrics I’ve written about knowing yourself and being comfortable in your own skin… “I’m alone but I’m not lonely: I’m with the only person that knows me.”

Nerds and Beyond: “When Did I Stop Believing.

Jason: Such a fun and rewarding experience. My friend Chris Dowling wrote and directed a movie called Where Hope Grows and he asked me to write a song for it. I’d had dozens of placements but they were all songs I’d already written [and] repurposed for a scene. This was my first time watching an early cut of a scene, getting notes on what kind of song he wanted and then making it happen. I wrote and recorded that in my house with my buddy Aaron Beaumont.

Nerds and Beyond: “Better Than.”

Jason: I always forget about this tune! I basically sing it once a year at Rockwood with Emma Fitzpatrick. We wrote this a while ago and I always intended to put it on my next album but then I got so busy producing I haven’t put anything original out in way too long! I have worked with Emma a couple of times before. This is the first time that Emma and I just wrote something. She had a concept for feel and vibe and story. I played a few different things that were in that mood, and one of them resonated. So, we dug in. It was very collaborative. We worked together on the pieces of the puzzle.

Courtesy of Staff Photographer, Liz Larson.

Nerds and Beyond: Your answer is inspiring me to ask you about what the writing process is like for The Station Breaks?

Jason: We have done very collaborative, and more independent work, all of the above. The first couple of “Station Breaks” meetings, which I put in quotation marks because Station Breaks didn’t really exist at the time, Rob and I were like, we should write some stuff. Some original music. We had worked on some covers together, and they really seemed to resonate, and our voices were well suited to sing together, so the first couple songs we wrote which were “Stowaway” and a song called “Coming Home” (which ended up not making the album), and another song – it was very collaborative. We sat in the same room, and wrote lyrics, melody, and chord structures. Then when The Station Breaks started becoming the band, it became a little bit more of a work flow. Initially it was just a creative investigation, and then when it became more of a goal, a work flow happened. So, we would bring in ideas, some songs were pretty much done, some songs were completely done, and we just kind of picked from the bin. Like “Gone.” “Gone” was a Louden Swain reject, I mean when you hear the song you get it. It fits more with Station Breaks. So, to answer the question – all of the above. Some of it was written together, some of it was started solo and finished together, and some of it was already complete, and brought into the group.

Nerds and Beyond: “Down.”

Jason: This one was just all about the groove. The recording didn’t end up exactly what I pictured so I’ve actually taken it (both of my last two albums actually) off all the streaming platforms and I’m reworking them to kinda reflect what I wanted them to sound like. Which is a major benefit to all the producing I’ve been doing. I can finally make them sound like what they sound like in my head!

Nerds and Beyond: Can you share a little bit more about taking some of your songs off streaming?

 Jason: This last time I went to L.A. I had a day in the studio with my band, and we put several songs through the works. We tried difference cadences and tempos, we tried out weird timing signatures, we played around with stuff. I kind of did that to get out of the place in my head where I have memorized those songs the way they were produced, and I want to be a little bit freer to find where they should be. It felt really good. It’s a little nerve-wracking. It’s the same for other people because they’ve memorized those songs a certain way, they like that song and it’s the only way they’ve heard that song. So, you take that song away, and change it, maybe the way that they heard it, they’re going to like it better than the way I meant to play it. I’m hesitant a lot of times to do that kind of stuff because I don’t want it to seem like I’m belittling the work of the producers I worked with on those projects, they’re excellent, and they did an excellent job with what they had to work with, which was me, and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, and the end product wasn’t me in a sense. There’s a few songs on those records that I would let someone listen to, and say, “I would listen to those songs,” but (and this is a weird thing to say) the vast majority of those records if someone else had made them, I would not have them on my playlist. Not because they’re not good, I mean I sing the right notes, and the instruments are in-tune, and the musicians play them very well, but it’s just not me. It’s not my style, it’s not what I listen to if I put a playlist together, it’s not the stuff I listen to.

Nerds and Beyond: “Soul.”

Jason: My brother Matt started writing a song with Jonah Dolan & Henry O’Conner (drummer & guitar player for my buddy Riley Smith) and they were probably half done when they showed it to me. I instantly loved it. Had such a good feel to it. So I finished it, recorded it, and the rest is history! (Jonah and Hank play on that song and a lot of other stuff too!)

Nerds and Beyond: “Weary Man.”

Jason: “A befuddled King is no King at all – he’s just a weary man with the furthest to fall.” Sometimes you set out to capture a particular feeling or thought and at the end, when you step back, you wonder if it’s clear what you meant. I felt proud of the lyrical content on this tune. I said what I wanted to say with it. Now, whether that makes it a good song or not is another matter entirely [laughs].

Nerds and Beyond: “Butterfly (In The City).”

Jason: It’s new! It’s not finished yet, but I’m very happy about where it’s headed. I wrote this one with Beaumont as well and I’ve had the chance to make it my own by singing it for small groups at my Manns Caves for the Creation SPN cons and trying different things out.

Courtesy of Staff Photographer, Mandi.

Nerds and Beyond: Do you see any themes in your writing? How has it evolved over time? Are you still sticking to a soul feel for your upcoming album? 

Jason: I’m an eternal optimist. Controversially optimistic. Rebelliously optimistic. That’s usually reflected in my music. The times I’ve written about tough subjects or difficult things… it was a specific inspiration, a need to express something, or just a desire to challenge myself. If just sit down to write a song right now… it’s probably gonna be a love song, and it’s probably gonna be happy. As for the next album… still working that out!

Nerds and Beyond: You’ve talked about studying music more academically, especially now that you are a producer. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Jason: Sure, I think the things I’ve been learning more recently apply a little bit more to production than music in general. Music was always something that I just did. It wasn’t something that I studied or learned. I never took any lessons or had any training, I just liked it, and the more I did it the better I got at it. So, I practiced, but I didn’t really study. Production has kind of been the opposite of that in the sense that I really dug into the whys and the hows of it, and because practice is not as available as music, I play music every day; whereas, production is limited to specific times. I’ve enjoyed that aspect of it, and I’ve learned a ton about it, and it’s a weird dichotomy because music in general is so creative, and compared to some endeavors production is very creative, but compared to performing music production is very technical. There are unlimited directions you can go with production, but if you know where you want to go, there’s an answer. If you know you want it to sound a certain way, there is a list of plugins and instruments, and musicians that provide you that blueprint. The creativity comes when you’re listening to the individual performances, and know which parts of those performances are going to end up in the final take, and how you’re going to affect those performances before they get to the final stage.

Nerds and Beyond: Do you ever write anything besides songs or music? 

Jason: I write everything. Not that I’d ever put it out there for folks to read, but yes. Scripts, books, poems, essays… all of the above are hidden in dark and secret recesses of journals and word files on my computer and phone [laughs]. A treasure trove of musings that probably make no sense to anyone but me. “Journey” was a poem of mine, so you’ve heard some poetry, I just put it to music.

Courtesy of Co-director, Lindsey DeLuca.

Nerds and Beyond: We’re going to switch gears. This is kind of a silly question. With three adjectives, how would you describe young Jason (like elementary school), high school Jason, college Jason, now Jason? 

Jason: Young Jason: curious, questioning & confident.

High school & college: excited, optimistic & focused (less focused in college).

Now: happy, busy, transitional.

Nerds and Beyond: What do you mean by “transitional”?

Jason: It means that I feel like I’m at a bit of a crossroads, or soon to be, I feel like the path I’ve been on, which I never expected myself to be on as long as I’ve been, is shifting. 10 years ago, my life ago looked very similar than it does now, with the exception of my kids, of course; but, music, cons, Supernatural, travel, playing music with my buddies, tours, etc. 10 years from now I think it’s going to look vastly different. Maybe I’m wrong. I have a few goals for the next 3-5 years, and I think that they will determine what it looks like in the next 10 years from now. In the next 3-5 years, I want to be home more, travel less, be home for my kids’ activities, that kind of stuff. There are different ways that can happen, I’m open to most of them, and I expect the answer to present itself to me. I don’t know exactly what path it will take, whether I do more production stuff, and less performance stuff, or more non-musical endeavors. So, yeah, transitional.

Nerds and Beyond: Speaking of college, Jason. We’ve talked about you being a lit major in the past. You seem like a prolific reader, maybe because you’re traveling so often, would you agree? Recommend a book to our readers that reflects your taste. 

Jason: I’m kinda split down the middle. I was a lit major but also a business major. I got the exact same score on my verbal and my math on the SATs, so my tastes are the same. I love fun magical reads like The Ninth House, but I also love history and biographies like These Truths or a combo historical fiction like Ken Follet’s books. And yes… 90% of my reading these days happens on a plane.

Nerds and Beyond: Let’s talk about Producer!Jason. You produced an epic number of albums last year. Which one do you think challenged you the most as a producer? Which one did you grow the most from?

Jason: Too many! [Laughs]. I’ve never been that busy before and I learned my lesson. I don’t have to say no but I can and will say, “not right now!” And some things won’t be able to wait and that’s ok. Not copping out here, but I really do learn a ton from every project. They each have their challenges and lessons.

Nerds and Beyond: What’s going on with The Station Breaks?

Jason: Writing and recording new stuff! We’ll see how all this COVID-19 stuff affects timelines and stuff but we’ll have new stuff out this year.

Nerds and Beyond: What’s going on with Dogwood Events? I know you had a show coming up with Billy and Hayden in April, and your own show in NYC, recently rescheduled for June.  

Jason: Well, that’s all postponed at the moment, but we’ll be back in the fall with some fun stuff!

Courtesy of Staff Photographer, Liz Larson.

Nerds and Beyond: How is Covers with Friends progressing? 

Jason: Pretty much finished with the music after this last LA trip. Just trying to round up my vocalists, but also giving folks some space to finish up this crazy journey we’ve all been on so long. I always feel like timing plays such an important part to all of this so I can wait as long as needed. I sometimes feel like a few fans get antsy because it’s so late (which is 100 % fair!!), but I just want it to be right.

Nerds and Beyond: Moving onto some Nerd questions. Have you watched the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? What did you think? Did you predict the return of Palpatine?

Jason: I haven’t made it to the movie theater for an adult movie in a very long time. [Laughs]. But I’ve preordered it, and had avoided spoilers (UNTIL NOW!!! 😤) I think Tuesday is the day if I’m not mistaken. I’m so very excited.

Nerds and Beyond, in a follow-up interview, asked Jason about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, since he watched it since the interview and these were his thoughts:  The second it was available in my home I watched it. I enjoyed it. I think of the new ones, The Force Awakens was the best. Although I didn’t love this film as much as the The Force Awakens I liked it and I will watch it again.

Nerds and Beyond: What did you think of Reylo?

Jason: I thought they did a good job of letting the audience get there. I didn’t hate it when they kissed. He’s [Adam Driver] a great actor, and that character was given enough of a runway to make that arc make sense.

Nerds and Beyond: I loved your response to this last time, but have you been watching any new cartoons at home with your kids? On that note – how is the viral sensation beatboxing baby, Tripp?

Jason: Ha. He’s good. All the kids are doing well thankfully. I’ll be honest with you. I got cocky last time. I hadn’t even heard “Baby Shark” and I thought I had avoided it. Things have changed. I hear it 10 times a day. Serves me right.

Nerds and Beyond: I heard you like documentaries, what’s one you recommend? 

Jason: I do! I prefer historical/factual docs more than “trying to prove something” docs. Some of those are done really well, but I’m just naturally a devil’s advocate, so when they say “so this means this” I’m always going “maybe it does… but maybe it means this, this, or this…” [Laughs].

Studies show kids that eat broccoli do better in school, so Broccoli makes you smarter. I’m the one going…”yeah, but kids whose parents make them eat broccoli also make them do homework, so maybe it’s not the broccoli.” When I was younger I was a know it all. As I’ve gotten older I have become painfully aware of the fact that I definitely don’t know it all. So I ask a lot of questions.

Thank you again to Jason for the interview! You can catch Jason appearing as part of our festival, Festival & Beyond, streaming free live on our Youtube page on April 25-26.

Paulina

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Paulina is an advisor for Nerds and Beyond. She was one of two original staff members who helped Briar build the site and make it what it is today.

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