by Sam Robinson
Earlier in August veteran Christian hip-hop/rock artist Chris Greenwood, who goes by the stage name Manafest released his seventh studio album, The Moment. The album is twelve punchy tracks that keep to the style that Manafest fans have come to love. I recently called Manafest to speak about the album, only to find him on the road headed to a show.
SAM: Chris, how are you today?
MANAFEST: I’m good! I’m in the car driving to a show! I’m in LA on the way to LAX airport, we’re going to fly to Oregon. Flying four hours, driving two hours, for a thirty minute show! [Laughs] It’s going to be a blaze of glory.
That’s the life of Manafest though, right?
Yeah, oh yeah.
And you’ve just dropped The Moment. This is your seventh studio album? Or is it your sixth?
Sixth or seventh. I don’t know, man. Somebody said that the other day and I was like – dang dude! That’s a lot!
You’ve lost count. Does it shock you sometimes that you’ve released so much music in ten or so years?
Yeah, you know, when someone brought it up it made me realise when I was younger, I remember hearing KRS1 say he’s released his tenth album. I was like, ‘Dang dude! You should just stop, man. Ten albums – have you got anything else to say?’ And now being an artist you always want to keep making better music and you still have passion for it. So it’s an honour to still be doing it as a career.
Absolutely. Have you seen a progression in the way you make music over time?
I’ve definitely grown. You work with new people, you get stretched, you get better at songwriting. Coming from a hip-hop background it used to be all about the verses and now I realise it’s all about the songs. Song structures and reaching more people and radio comes into play. It’s such a wide gambit in options of ways you can approach a song.
For people who are reading this interview and haven’t come across you before, can you share how you got into the music scene?
Yeah. I listened to all kinds of music growing up because I was skateboarding. Punk rock, pop, you know. Everything. I had a skateboarding accident when I was eighteen cos I wanted to go pro. I got dumped by a girl who I thought loved me, so I was in a dark place, and that’s when I started to write music and paint the pain. That’s when I met these rap guys at a youth night and I only went there because I was hoping to meet a girl, and I ended up seeing some hip-hop dudes and I thought they were cool. I got them to teach me how to rap, and one thing led to another, and the rock inside of me wanted to come out. And here I am ten years plus later, doing what I’m doing.
This new album, The Moment, where did you record it?
Part of it in LA – Orange County. Windsor, Ontario. Wrote a lot of it all over the world, from Germany to France, wherever I was touring. In the car – wherever!
So it’s an international album?
Yeah! Worldwide, baby.
Did it take a long time to make this album?
Yeah, you know, it’s funny. It’s all the little pieces in the bill that go into it. But it’s funny, sometimes in the studio it doesn’t take as long and it’s just schedules… I had a baby… Patience is something you need to have as an artist to get through everything.
Yeah. And did you take a new approach to the way you made the album, or did you run with what’s worked for you in the past?
A little bit of both, but I’m always amazed when I work with my buddy Adam Messinger, when I bring a song concept that he just pulls something completely new out of me and takes me to another level. Working with new guys always stretches you in different ways and you come up with new ways to write a song. Different people work different ways, so there’s more than one way to do something. You’ve got to keep your pride down and be willing to try new things. I’m trying to always stay open to learn.
The album dropped a few days ago, how have the fans been responding to it?
Good man. I’m proud to say that it’s actually been a good response. Honestly, people will tell you if they’re not feeling it. Silence is probably the worst thing! If you’re not hearing anything back at all you’ve probably not made the right thing. So it looks like we did something right on this. Now you just let it find its own legs and hopefully people will talk about it. Reviewers like you are reviewing and spreading the word about things. It’s great.
This release saw your fans partnering with you to fund it through Pledge Music. Was it a different album experience taking that approach?
Yeah. We did a Pledge Music fundraising campaign and my fans really stepped up to the plate. Really helped out. And along the way they got an insight into the album making. It took a lot of extra work and organising but it was fun. You get to shoot cool stuff and let people in on it. The fans really appreciate it and want to know. You do things differently and you share more, but I recommend every artist should do something like that because you get to hang out with your fans and it just becomes a really fun process.
Now the title track to the record, The Moment, it’s also the opener. What’s the story behind The Moment, and how is it reflected across the album, if it is?
You know, The Moment is all about the idea that life is made up of all these different moments, and being present in them. And specifically, I’ll pull a lyric from that song: ‘All I need is the moment, own it / No money can buy me piece of mind.’ You know, I’ve been broke, had money, I’ve known poor people, known rich people, and I just realise that to have peace and joy it’s a choice. It’s a decision. I’ve seen dudes that are rich and absolutely miserable. And I’ve been there where you have money. Bills are paid but you can still worry about other things. Then you have people who don’t have anything but they’re so content. I know dudes who have gone to Uganda and met these people that are so joyful just with their soccer ball and here we are with our iPods and all these gadgets. And we’re just stressed! So I feel like it’s really a decision and choice but at the same time I would definitely prefer to be rich because really it gives you more options and then you can give. If you don’t have money then you can’t give. So The Moment is all about being present, about living your life to the fullest every day, and enjoying it!
Is this something that you’re constantly challenging yourself to do?
Yeah! Yeah. I’m trying to live it out like everyone else, man. I definitely don’t always have it all figured out. I have my own stresses and frustrations sometimes. That’s where I gotta heed to the words of my own songs that I write sometimes.
And even now you’re driving and flying for just one show. Taking the moment!
That’s right, baby. Enjoying the moment right here and the traffic! My buddy Joe is driving, Noah’s in the back seat. We’re just taking in all these license plates. It’s a little bit of traffic, but we’ll make our flight though. I missed a flight last weekend which wasn’t fun. Don’t want that to happen again.
Definitely not! Let’s talk about a few of the other tracks. Edge of My Life has you talking about carrying burdens and past hurts. What’s the story behind it?
I think everybody can really relate to going through a struggle, or a moment in their life where you’re on the edge. Whether it’s family issues, financial issues, health, stuff that you can and can’t control sometimes. But to not give up, even though you might be on the edge. I think as much as we talk about the stress and the trials are real, the struggle is real, the solution is also real, and that’s where Jesus comes into play. You grab on to that peace, to Jesus in those moments of trial when you’re on that edge and it’s just like, ‘Argh! I can’t take this anymore!’ Or it’s like, ‘God, I need you to show up in my life here. I need your love right now.’
And there’s an amazing video clip that you released with crazy stop-motion. Who made that and how long did it take?
That was my buddy Chris Stacey. He’s a really good friend of mine. He just wanted to go all out. He’d never done a lyric video before and he thought if he was going to do one he’d do it crazy. Then he realised how much work was involved. But he pushed through it.
It’s one of those videos that you know someone has put a huge amount of work into it. Now the track Criminal is quite rap-heavy. Now when I heard it, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it reminded me of Jesus on the cross and the thief next to him. Is that what you’re reflecting on?
Well the concept of the chorus is actually – ‘Who is going to come down and take me if I’m a criminal?’ It’s the idea of standing up for your faith and getting martyred or called out or put in jail. In the breakdown I say, ‘Jesus, Jesus, between two thieves.’ The criminal is right there on the cross – it’s such a powerful story right there. You can be saved right at the very end, man. Jesus says, ‘You’ll be with me in heaven,’ you know? What a powerful picture. So yeah, that’s not what I totally meant but you might pull something out different to what I intended but it spoke to you in that way which is great.
For sure. And the interlude on the album, Light… What’s the message of that interlude and why include it on the album?
You know I got back from a surf session with a buddy and he was looking around in my iPod and he found that. He’s like, ‘What is this?!’ And I told him it was something I was going to release for the book Fighter that I did, and he was like, ‘Dude! It’s amazing! It really spoke to me. It sent chills down my spine!’ So I was challenged, maybe I did need to release it and get it out there. I just felt like that was the closest thing I could do to preaching on a record or be motivational but also musical.
It certainly stands out because you have to stop and listen to what you’re saying.
Another track, Startup Kid. It’s a crazy song. Lots of fun.
You know what, man? It is a fun track. Hip-hop. Me dancing around my room trying to come up with some gangsta flows, you know what I’m saying?
[Laughs] I would love to see this.
Startup Kid is all about having that dream. You can dive into different things, obviously I talked about moving from Ontario to California. It’s just a fun, playful track. Doing something more on the hip-hop side of things.
I’d love to know what God’s been teaching you across your seven albums? I know that’s a big question!
Wow. Yeah, it’s a large question. Lots of stuff. He’s taught me patience. He’s taught me perseverance. I’ve grown, you know. I hope I’m different and gotten better at things. A better person. A better husband. Now a father. I learned a lot about the music industry. I’m not going to rag on it or rag on labels or anything like that. But yeah, I feel I’ve grown a lot and I hope that other people see growth in my music as well.
Do you hope to release another seven albums?
[Laughs] God-willing, man.
How does your faith in Christ help you stay focussed at the task – to take those moments, as we discussed earlier? How does it help you to do that?
Well I was listening to something the other night that really challenged me. It’s actually an Australian man. He’s probably one of my greatest heroes ever in my life besides Jesus. Peter J. Daniels. He’s from Australia. He said something that really challenged me. He said, ‘Out of all these years, how can we not have a hundred-year plan to win the world for Christ? Out of all the Christians, Catholics, Baptists, Protestants – where is our hundred-year plan to win the world for Jesus?’ Where is the big leader to bring us all to Jesus? And it just shook me up. This is just a few nights ago. It made me ask, what are we really doing? What am I doing going to this show? I am going to be speaking, I will bring a message, but it really brought back to the purpose of what it is I’m doing. Whether I’m an artist, an entrepreneur, a businessman, a nurse, making music – what is it really all for? It comes back to that faith and that purpose. That’s where I think, as Christians, we are grounded by our faith. We don’t just want to be going in circles. We want our life to have meaning and what we’re doing to have purpose. It just shook me up and reminded me why I’m doing this. I want to be winning people for Jesus. Ultimately, you can say that. But sometimes you need a bigger vision and a bigger reason to why you do what you do.
Before we wrap, I’d love to know what’s coming up next for you?
Well I told you dude, I’ve got a show to get to! Nah, just kidding. We got some music videos coming up, lots more shows… Lyric videos. Making more music. I’ll do another book one day. I’m excited about life. Excited about the future. Learning how to surf better. And yeah man, very thankful. Hope to come out to Australia soon.
You’d be most welcome here. I’ll show you around.
I’d love to know where you’ve driven me today. I don’t know LA too well but please share.
The 5 to the 22 and we’re on the 405 right now and actually I better let you go because we’re going to be coming up on the airport any second!
Well done, good timing then! Have a great show.
Yeah! Thank you so much dude.
The Moment by Manafest is available now on iTunes.