Gamenight doesn't play too many shows in Knoxville—it's been about a year since their last show here. But that doesn't mean they haven't been hard at work. For most of that time, the indie-rock band has been preparing its new album, Pets Pets.
"It took us a long time to get everything together," says drummer Brandon Manis.
So what took so long? They had to grow up, says vocalist Josh Manis, Brandon's brother.
"By this point, when I was 18, I thought I would have a lot more stuff figured out," he says. "You learn things, and life brings you knowledge anyway through experiences, but ... the more you learn, the more questions you have. That's somewhat of a theme of the lyrics. The songs aren't completely black and white. They're about being in your late 20s. The lyrics are a little vague, but I want people to be able to apply them to their lives however they see fit, and however makes them feel connected."
The members of Gamenight have been together since 2005, when they were all in their early 20s. The Manis brothers' previous band broke up, and they added guitarist Robby Kerr and bassist Matthew Presley; the next few years were spent touring around the country and releasing the 2006 album Simple Starts in the Mind and a handful of split EPs. Now, not only do their lyrics reflect the band's growth, but the way they put their songs together does, too. Their new songs still recall the heyday of early 2000s sensitive emo types like their favorite bands Mock Orange and Hey Mercedes, but with an older, wiser tone that's neither cynical nor optimistic.
"We used to do maximalist—always doing something, noodling in some way," Kerr says. "We still do that sometimes, but now everything's more moderate. It's more about the song now."
"We want to write music that the crowd will enjoy more than in days past, when the crowd was like this the whole time," Presley says, adopting a blank expression. "We're hoping the vibe will make people move."
"We took a bigger-picture approach," Josh says. "Instead of doing parts that sounded cool or made ourselves look good playing, we just tried to do the whole song, focusing equally on drum parts, a transition, and vocals, and what it's saying, but also what it's saying musically. It's like a buffet. We've always tried to make our songs sound different from one another, because we don't want everything to be the same thing, or the same formula, and just pooped out. While we focused more on entire songs, we're still focusing on making things sound unique."
For Pets Pets, Gamenight set out to make a DIY album that doesn't necessarily look or sound as patchwork as it is. You'd never know that the tracks were recorded in Johnson City, Philadelphia, and in Josh Manis' West Knoxville bedroom, before being manufactured in New Jersey and then copied 200 times on a CD copier in the band's living room.
"We were wanting to do it totally DIY, but not make it look DIY," Brandon says. "I wanted to make it something that looked really good."
The recordings took place over six months. The drum tracks were recorded last September in Johnson City, and then the band went to New Jersey to record the bass and guitar tracks in a friend's studio.
"In Johnson City it was a buddy of ours that we've known forever, and it was a buddy up in Philly, too," Brandon says. "It was just people recruiting us, wanting us to record [in their studios]."
The vocals and some instruments, like acoustic guitar and banjo, were recorded in Josh's bedroom in the West Knoxville house three of the band members share.
"There were a few months there when I was waking up and recording when I wasn't working and stuff," Josh says.
As Presley and Brandon put it, Pets Pets is something of a tribute to the band itself, from the CD insert designed by Brandon and featuring photos from their travels to the pensive lyrics.
"It's not like reflective in a way that we're retiring, but thinking about all these things we've done in the past and hopefully letting people know who we are," Presley says.
"We've never really had any success by any substantial measure, but we have been playing music together for eight years," Brandon adds. "It was kind of cool being more retrospective this time again."