By John Luposello
This Q&A appeared in our second issue, which dropped Dec. 2. 20 Watts sat down with Syracuse native Carrie Manolakos to talk about her hometown and her latest album, ‘Echo.’
Ever since 20 Watts posted a YouTube link of Carrie Manolakos’ chilling cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” on our website last spring, we’ve been obsessed. Reviews editor John Luposello tracked the Syracuse native down and chatted with Manolakos about her album, Echo, and about how growing up in Syracuse has influenced her as an artist.
20 Watts: How did you get your performance career in Syracuse?
Carrie Manolakos: I started singing on my own. I just grew up singing at a really early age. My mom said that I sang before I talked. And then I started singing in a children’s choir in the third grade, the Syracuse Children’s Chorus, and that’s where I started to get formal training. I was always in choir in school. Then I started taking voice lessons in high school.
20W: Do you have any favorite venues in Central New York?
CM: Well, of course, I love Syracuse Stage because I’ve spent a lot of time there. Do you mean like music venues?
20W: Yeah, absolutely.
CM: The Westcott is pretty cool. Very grungy and underground, but really cool. I didn’t see a lot of music shows there when I was in high school just because I couldn’t get into most places [laughs]. Yeah, and of course the big theaters we have up there are pretty fun to go to for the big shows.
20W: Why did you decide to make the move to New York?
CM: Well I had decided pretty early on that I wasn’t going to stay in Syracuse. I just wanted to have an experience outside of where I grew up. And I went to a summer program at NYU in high school, so before my senior year, I spent six weeks at Tisch School of the Arts studying musical theater for the first time, really. I knew from that moment that I wanted to be at NYU and to be here, so I applied early decision and before I even sent my applications out to other schools, I found out I got in. So I just accepted and went right to Tisch.
20W: So you did your undergrad in New York and then stayed after graduation?
CM: Yeah. I mean, I’ve toured a bit, too, but my home base is New York City.
20W: Would you say that during your undergrad was when you got serious about your performance career?
CM: I guess. I mean, that’s when I got real, formal training, but I always knew that I was going to be singing as a career. I just didn’t know what type of incarnation that would be in. And then when I was going to NYU, theater was obviously something I was passionate about, so I studied musical theater there. But I always knew I’d be singing in some way, shape, or form, even from age five [laughs].
20W: What role do you think theater played in you becoming a music artist?
CM: I think it plays a very big role. There’s a little bit of a stigma in being a Broadway performer and then trying to break into music, but I actually think it was an asset because I approach songs in kind of a different way. It’s a big challenge, songwriting, because I have to force myself to keep things really simple. But in terms of acting a song and things like that, like with something like “Creep,” for example, I can connect to certain material on a very emotional level.
20W: Speaking of your cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” we blogged about it last semester, as it went viral so quickly. Tell me a little more about your decision to cover it and why you think it was so successful.
CM: Someone else actually suggested that I do it and I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s an interesting choice.” So I started listening to some different versions of it and really connected with it and I thought we could do something cool, so we just decided to do it and only rehearsed it about three times. And then when we were rehearsing with the band, we decided it would be a really fun song to close the show with. It was a really big moment, you know, the last song of a huge night, my album release concert. So it was a pretty exciting and emotional time for me because it was pretty much the biggest moment of my life so far.
20 Watts: It really comes through in your performance.
CM: Yeah, thank you. But yeah, we just decided to do it, I really loved the song and then the feedback from the show was great. We did a couple other covers, too, but that one really hit hard. And then when I saw the video, the quality came out really great and everything was sort of in the right place and I just posted it to my Facebook. And then it just exploded. Gawker picked it up, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast. Everyone was just writing about this video, which was insane. Alec Baldwin and Josh Groban and all these people that I admire so much as artists and people, so that was very cool to see all of that happening.
20W: Let’s talk a little about your album, Echo, which came out last April. How did that album come together? Did you have specific plans for the album or did it come together more organically than that?
CM: Yeah, it was more of the latter. It was more of an organic thing. I got to a point where I had played enough shows that I felt as though I should have something recorded. We were able to get a lot of bang for our buck, essentially, and recorded at a great studio. It just took a long time to get them recorded because I was doing shows, but I wanted to have something of my own to finally share with the world that I wrote by myself, just to see if I could do it. It was great and I can’t wait to do another one.
20 Watts: So what plans do you have for the future? Are you going to release another album?
CM: Yeah, I’m sure I will at some point. It’s just sort of been in the back of my mind lately because I’ve been writing so much. For the show I’m playing on Nov. 29 at the Rockwood Music Hall, I’m playing a bunch of new songs that I’ve never played before. So that’s really been my focus over the past few months, just trying to write every day that I’m home and in town, just to keep banging out a bunch of songs to add a lot of quantity. So that’s what I’m really finding; that by writing every day, you end up with some good songs and some horrible songs and sometimes you’re inspired and sometimes you’re not.
20W: Finally, how do you think being from Syracuse has influenced you as an artist?
CM: I love Syracuse. I think it was a great place to grow up because it kept me so grounded. I just feel like [the arts and culture scene] was big enough that I was able to learn a lot, but not so big that it took over my entire life. Being from a huge city would have been a really different experience for me. It also allowed me to grow up and play soccer and do other things that I love, and I think are just as much a part of who I am as anything else. Also, the people from Syracuse are so supportive and I constantly feel the love and support of people from there, many that I know, many that I don’t even know that reach out and write me emails or stuff online. It’s just really beautiful to see such an awesome community there.
20W: So it’s like you grew up here and Syracuse gave you what it could, but more importantly, it still gives back so much back to you.
CM: Oh yeah, totally. It’s just been really awesome, so I can’t wait to come back at some point and do my own music and reintroduce myself in that way. It’s kept me really grounded and I think that’s important in this business because it’s just so easy to let every moment of your life be consumed. This business is really hard sometimes and you’re constantly being judged and constantly being told no and that’s just part of what you sign up for. But being from where I am really allowed me to be levelheaded and to just let it go always and not be affected by things that you have no control over.
20W: Well, we look forward to you coming back and playing. I’d be at that show.
CM: I hope it happens soon. We’ll figure it out at some point. Maybe not in the winter, though, because…yikes [laughs].