Josiah J Manning / An Impact Beyond The Spotlight In Music Production

That’s the thing with rock music. It’s not all about the front men, or the showboating guitarists, as wonderful as they are. There are also the unsung heroes, the collaborators who are the producers, band members, songwriters and so on, who may not be in the glare of the spotlight themselves but whose reputation for enhancing everything they touch is strong. One of those in today’s scene is Josiah J Manning, a name that’s becoming more familiar. 

Josiah J Manning is the founder of Momentum Studios in Devon and is an integral part of Kris Barras’s band. He has a significant presence on some high-profile records, including Inglorious and Jack J Hutchinson.

When we speak, Josiah is back behind the desk at Momentum Studios, having newly returned from a short run in Europe with Kris Barras Band for a few dates based around their appearance at Germany’s Rock Palast. 

He will shortly be heading off for a large headline UK tour with Barras in support of new album Halo Effect, but there’s plenty of work to be done in the meantime. As studio owner, he is kept busy with a selection of customers, mixing a live album today and working with a folk musician in the coming week; it’s a varied and busy life.

Josiah J Manning and Thrxnes
Thrxnes: Josiah J Manning, Dan Stevens, Danny Dela Cruz and Will Richards.

Josiah J Manning is also part of a new band project, Thrxnes (pronounced Thrones), a hard rock band who are destined to be the scourge of spell checkers everywhere and are pretty damn good. The launch single Atom Bomb premiered here at MetalTalk in February. This project developed from a small seed of thought and grew organically.

“I produced a couple of the Inglorious records, the Heroine album – that was the first time I met Dan and Danny – and then produced and mixed MMXXI Live At The Phoenix,” he says. “Dan, Danny and I hit it off and got on so well. Dan approached me about doing some writing together with no expectation or anything, just ‘Oh, should we do some writing?’ ‘I’ll send you some demos. You can send me some demos, and we’ll see what we come up with.’ 

“Atom Bomb was the first thing we wrote together. We ended up sending it to Danny, who said he’d try to put some vocals down. He sent this demo back within an hour or so. We were in Plymouth at a Brewdog, listening to this phone recording and were like, wow, that’s actually pretty cool!”

With the next single Circles released on 26th April and more to come throughout the year, this is one band to keep an eye on.

Momentum Studios, Devon
Momentum Studios, Devon

Josiah J Manning is a multi-instrumentalist, skilled with guitar, bass, keys, and drums [he’s the drummer on Thrxnes’ Atom Bomb as Will Richards had not been recruited at the time of recording] and performing is a huge part of his life. 

“As a musician, I love playing in any format,” he says. “For instance, me and my wife, we do duo gigs. We do little pub gigs, and we both love it. I’ve got a little blues cover band, which I just do for fun. That helps me with my guitar playing. I love all that stuff equally as much as I love doing the big shows with Kris.”

There’s no desire to be upfront and centre, though. He has really found his niche doing what he does. “I’m under no illusion that I could ever be an artist like Kris, for instance,” he confirms. “He’s an artist through and through, a presence on stage. I’m a producer and a musician and I love music and I love performing. But I’m also very happy working on the back end of a project. 

“I’m happy to be the supporting musician or the producer. I’m happy not to be in the limelight. That’s where I am comfortable. I enjoy being part of the process rather than having the attention.

“I love it all. I absolutely love the shows. I love the touring and I’m so lucky that I get to do it with one of my best mates, Kris. Billy [Hammet] and Fraser [Kerslake] are great guys, and I’m looking forward to doing a bit of that with Thrxnes at some point, cos they’re great guys too.”

Kris Barras and Josiah J Manning - O2 Forum Kentish Town - 25 August 2023.
Kris Barras, Josiah J Manning – O2 Forum Kentish Town – 25 August 2023. Photo: Lawrence Potter/MetalTalk

Of course, magic happens when you play to your strengths. Josiah J Manning is far too modest about his talents, however, describing himself as “getting by”. 

I strongly disagree with this, citing just as one example the incredible piano performance from the acoustic version of I Am The Fire on Inglorious’s Heroine album as being a genuinely show-stopping track and one that remains in constant rotation on my playlists.

“That was a really quick session where we sat around the piano and hashed it out for probably no more than 20 minutes,” Josiah says. “There’s a key change at the end of the song, and I suggested we did that. We were playing it through, and we both looked at each other and we were like, yeah, that’s it. That’s the one. 

“We recorded it live in, I think, two takes. So I had Nathan [James] in the vocal booth and me on the piano. It was one of those sessions where it was just super easy. We were both in the same headspace and it just went down.”

Momentum Studios, Devon
Momentum Studios, Devon

I was interested in finding out more about Josiah’s influences and how he came to play so many instruments so well. He explained that he started with piano at two years old, picking out melodies on his parents’ upright, before moving on to other instruments, but has never been classically trained. 

“I trained for a little while in jazz,” he says, “but most of my playing is by ear. My musical theory is not very good at all. So I’m trying more these days to get my head around the theory side of things. It’s actually quite helpful from a production perspective, especially when you’ve got players in the studio that do read or understand theory.”

As far as influences go, he grew up exposed to his parents’ record collection, which sounds like impeccable taste consisting of groups such as Slade, Sweet, T Rex and Queen. Once he reached his teens, Dream Theater were a huge influence, especially Jordan Rudess for his keyboard playing.

Kris Barras Band - OVO Arena Wembley on 28/05/2022
Kris Barras Band, OVO Arena Wembley. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

It’s no surprise that being an accomplished musician has led to songwriting too. This is another area which has developed naturally, starting with making suggestions to studio clients to tighten up and improve some of the songs.

Josiah J Manning didn’t really regard himself as a songwriter until fairly recently. There are plenty of co-writing credits to his name now including on Jack J Hutchinson’s new album Battles.

“With Jack, I took a lot of his ideas and said, well, we could do this, or we could change this,” he says. “Maybe this chorus isn’t a chorus, maybe it’s a pre-chorus, and trying to cultivate the songs a bit more. I just elevated the ideas for Jack because he had never co-written with people before. 

“He had complete control over his music, and it’s quite a big thing to relinquish that. We were working together for a while prior to writing together. We established that trust. I just wanted to produce a great record and have songs that were as good as they possibly could be.”

Hutchinson himself has talked in interviews about how working with Manning was such a good experience, and this is echoed by everyone who has worked with him – the general consensus is that if Josiah is on board, you are in safe hands, and it’s going to be a positive venture. 

Kris Barras Band. Marble Factory, Bristol. 14 March 2022
Kris Barras Band. Marble Factory, Bristol. 14 March 2022. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk

The production and engineering side developed along with his performing starting in his teens.

“I was about thirteen, fourteen, with a very small four-track digital portable recording studio that had a load of demos on it,” Manning says. “Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s they had a lot of these Boss portable recording studios where you could just plug your headphones in and play guitar and jam stuff. 

“I used to listen to the demos and think, oh, they sound amazing, and then I would record something and think, oh, that sounds really crap. 

“I’m trying to get my stuff to sound as good as the demos on the units that were prebuilt, but obviously what I didn’t realize were all these demos were properly recorded in studios and just loaded onto this little unit. But I got the bug and built it up from there.”

Momentum Studios, Devon
Momentum Studios, Devon

This has resulted in Momentum Studios, a well-equipped commercial studio on the outskirts of Plymouth. It’s a unique place built on old farmland. There used to be a monastery on site, so some of the surrounding buildings are seven hundred years old. 

This picturesque land fosters creativity and is a peaceful place for bands to relax between recording sessions. There’s also an added bonus of a gorgeous studio dog, Teddy, known as Beav, who has earned assistant engineer status. “He’s very quiet, sits on band’s laps, and he’s a Good Boy.”

Josiah J Manning describes his production style as a mixture of being detailed and thorough but not being enslaved by technical perfection, as his whole focus is serving the music.

“There definitely are times where you have to tell somebody that’s good enough,” he says. “If you’ve got a vocalist that’s doing a bunch of vocal takes, after the 3rd, 4th, 5th you start to lose the passion or fire because you’re thinking about the technicalities of that, not the emotion. 

“Sometimes you’ve got to say no, that’s great, I can work with that. I would prefer to have the emotion rather than the perfect vocal.

“What I do try to achieve in the studio is a positive vibe, to make sure people are having fun. I’ve been in studios and worked with people where we’re on the clock. There’s a lot of pressure and a bit of angst. 

“I don’t want anybody to feel like that when they’re working with me. As soon as you’ve got any of those elements lurking around in a session, your creativity gets zapped.

“I want people to feel comfortable and feel relaxed, like they’re having fun and they are loving doing what they’re doing. 

“I think that’s the best formula for getting a great recording.” 

Kris Barras Band UK Tour 2024
Kris Barras Band UK Tour 2024

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