Old friends, band dynamics, difficult changes, and the offer Mr. Manchild couldn’t refuse
With high-profile spots at the Tower Theater, headline billing on various local festivals, and an appearance on the locally popular “Play It Loud,” Johnny Manchild has quickly and inarguably become one of the hottest rising stars in OKC music. Backed unflinchingly by the sprawling jazz-pop of his band, the Poor Bastards, Manchild seems to have made a habit out of impressing all the right people at all the right times, leading to an exploding status as one of the most acclaimed performers within the young pop-rock resurgence that’s been sweeping across Oklahoma.
And that makes it all the more sad and shocking that he’s leaving for Los Angeles.
But why? What gravitational pull could rip a star as bright as Manchild’s away from its home and its inception? What offer was made that he couldn’t refuse?
“It’s just a really good deal,” Manchild says. “I knew that if this was going to happen, if we were going to have this big moment of exposure, then we should just really tackle it.”
That “moment of exposure” he’s talking about is when Johnny and the Bastards linked up with Jacob Rabon, better known as YouTube streamer Alpharad, to collaborate on a cover track and video of the song “Last Surprise” from the game Persona 5. The band’s brass-propelled jazz-pop was a perfect match for the song’s Japanese Swing style, and the clip took off, to say the least. At the time of this writing, the video currently sits at over 988,000 views on YouTube.
“I met Jacob when we were sixteen at Quartz Mountain. He was listening to something that I had recorded and I was like ‘I recorded that!’ and he’s like ‘what the… who the fuck are you?’ and then ‘oh, you did record this,’” Manchild explains in his typically frazzled fashion, his brain clearly working twice as fast as his words. “So I recorded his band, for free, and we were friends since then.”
With Rabon spending his time at home in LA, and the Bastards just beginning to break here across the state, the two found themselves drifting apart.
“We didn’t see each other much for like three years because I was doing my thing and he was embedded in his YouTube thing,” Manchild says. “He just did crazy well. And we released ‘Insomnia’ in 2018 and I guess he listened to it. And when he reached out to me, he was like, ‘This is really good. I want to do something.’”
Their collaboration would come to be the “Last Surprise” video that helped rocket the band to massive views and listener numbers across the country and the world.
“It went on his channel, and we went from 2,000 monthly listeners to 30,000 monthly listeners, and then we’ve doubled that since then,” he says. “The crazy part is they all stayed. Once they saw us, they didn’t go. They created a Discord for us, like a fan server, and once I found out about that, I got involved with them there. Just engagement. Crazy engagement.”
As that engagement grew, so too did the band’s audience. Before long, they were regularly breaking their own streaming records and began noticing their highest listener numbers localized in some of the biggest markets worldwide, places like Chicago, New York, Germany, Ireland, and of course, Los Angeles.
The westward pull got even stronger when Rabon formed his own musical project, Ace of Hearts, and persuaded Johnny to help take the reins.
“I’ve been producing his music,” He explains. “I record all of it and help arrange it and stuff, so he’s been trying to get me to come out to LA. He wants me to be in his touring band and for JMPB to open. I told him ‘I’m not going to move by myself. I want to continue my thing. I’ve got some people here.’”
But given Manchild’s passion and affinity for production and studio engineering, Rabon was able to find the sweetener that Johnny just couldn’t refuse.
“We talked about a deal to help us transition and get out there,” he explains, “and in return I would build him a recording studio at his new house. I’ll be producing his music every day and working other clients out of it and being his touring band and studio band while I’m doing my own thing, too. So that’s just a really good deal.”
For Johnny Manchild, that is a good deal, one clearly too good to pass up. But what about the Bastards? Will they be with him? Will they stay here? Can he be the same artist and songwriter without them?
How much of the success and appeal is the band and how much is the man out front?
“I think I’m the only one who feels like I’m changing the way that this band is perceived,” says Manchild, “but I guess everybody else already thinks that this is just my thing.”
That was never his original intention, he says, and now, with his move looming, and with various band contracts and legal agreements adding complication, some serious, grown-up issues have had to be addressed.
“I’ll be moving forward with the band as a sole owner but continuing work with the band members as well as others in the future,” he explains carefully. “It’ll still be a project that we all come together to be involved in at times, and at other times I’ll work with others. I’ll be at the helm of the band and taking full ownership in an effort to expand beyond what we can do right now, but no one is being ‘removed’ from the band entirely.”
It’s clear just from the conversation that he doesn’t want to lose anyone from the band of brothers that has made up the Poor Bastards.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure everyone involved is made whole for everything,” he says. “I want to set a stable, future-proof precedent.”
It’s a challenging and uncertain topic, and sitting to talk with Johnny Manchild, you can see that uncertainty worn all over his face and demeanor. He’s always been a little awkward, a little tongue-tied, in conversations and interviews and serious situations. That’s always been one of the defining factors in the difference between Johnny Manchild and the real guy behind the music, Jonathon Garrett.
Garrett is surprisingly shy and soft-spoken, a former Army recruit with a knack for keeping his head down and an almost savant-like focus and proclivity for the music performance track that he took through college.
Manchild is a well-dressed wild-man that commands an audience and conducts his band with abandon, cracking jokes on stage and belting out top-of-his-lungs anthems for dissociated twenty-somethings.
“It’s not going to be the same, first off. It’s just not,” he says, struggling to find the best words for his feelings. “I think it’s just more about the willingness to do the thing. That’s more important, and this is just the shape that it takes.”
He’s excited, but sad. He’s focused, but still characteristically scatterbrained.
Maybe LA, a land of duality, of reinvention, of commitment to character, is the perfect place for Johnny Manchild after all.
Brett Fieldcamp served as Music and Films Editor for Boyd Street Magazine before covering Arts, Entertainment, and Culture with the Oklahoma Gazette and NonDoc. He’s also a songwriter and musician himself with the band SATURN and various solo projects.