Though no one will ever mistake Knoxville’s Gamenight for P-Funk or James Brown — the band ply a loopy brand of power pop spiced with the faintest hints of prog — frontman Josh Manis says the group’s forthcoming new album will introduce some funky new elements to their ’90s-centric indie rock sound.
“People have told us there’s a little bit of an R&B element, that it’s a little more soulful,” Manis says of the new record, due for release in summer or early fall of this year. “Not that it sounds like actual R&B, but it has some of that feeling.
“If I had to describe it myself, I’d say that overall, it’s similar to the things we’ve done in the past, but hopefully with better songwriting. And I think we sound like more of a band than we did at the beginning, as opposed to four individuals playing stuff that sounded hard.”
It’s strange to consider for those of us who’ve been around the Knoxville scene for more than a minute, but it’s been nearly 12 years now since Manis, brother (and drummer) Brandon, bassist Matthew Presley and guitarist Robby Kerr first assembled in a dilapidated Fort Sanders tenement. And while the band hasn’t exactly been prolific since then, releasing only a couple EPs in addition to two full-length albums, the work they have produced has been marked by polished musicianship and a precocious sense of craft — by far more songwriting smarts than anyone would ever rightfully expect from a group of millennial slackers living in the trough of collegiate poverty.
To wit: Gamenight’s debut recording, Simple Starts in the Mind, hit the streets in 2006. That was followed, much later, by a couple of wiseacre holiday EPs, 2013’s Gamenight Ruins Christmas, and 2014’s Gamenight Ruins Christmas 2: Judgment Day. And by their latest longplayer, Pets Pets, also released on 2013. Full of clever guitar orchestrations and elaborate song structures, Pets showcased a band that was coming into a full realization of its potential.
But in the years since that first Fort Sanders practice, Manis says the band members have reset their expectations, even as they’ve grown more capable as songwriters, musicians and performers. “We’re all in our early 30s now,” Manis says. “We were all in college when we started, and we tried to tour a lot more. None of us had any significant bills to pay.
“To some extent, we all wanted to sign to that sweet label. It was a goal, though never our central focus. But it was on our minds. But now, there’s none of that as a goal. We’ve learned to be comfortable with who we are, comfortable in our own skin as people and as musicians.
“I think in the beginning, maybe we tried to be a certain thing that we thought we should be. Now, we play music, and it sounds like it sounds. I think we care a lot less about being cool. We care a lot less about what other people think”
In addition to harboring a few songwriting twists, Manis says the forthcoming, as-yet-untitled record will be almost entirely self-produced — another result of Gamenight’s 12-year learning curve. “We’ve done bits of albums before, but this is the first time we’ve done it all ourselves,” Manis says. “It’s a different kind of challenge, and it’s taking a while.
“I’m learning mixing, and we’re going to try and mix it ourselves. We just wanted to see if we could do this all ourselves., using all that we’ve learned over the years. We also wanted to save some money. And then there’s the aspect of being free to work on it when we want, and not adjusting to someone else’s schedule.”
Gamenight will play Scruffy City Hall Saturday, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m.