How to make it in rock'n'roll

Phil Manley's Life Coach, Anna Hillburg's solo album, King Khan and BBQ Show return

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Life Coach hits the Hemlock Sat/20.
PHOTO BY BEN WERTH

emilysavage@sfbg.com

TOFU AND WHISKEY "I felt like, if I don't put these songs out, they're just going to fade away," Phil Manley says from the enclosed playground in the Panhandle. He's doing double-duty as an artist on an interview and a father watching his 15-month-old daughter in the park. And he's prepping for a show at the Knockout later in the night.

It's a juggling act the musician-producer knows well. He was a founding member of influential DC post-rock trio Trans Am, and has played with the Fucking Champs and Oneida. He's produced albums for Wooden Shjips, Grass Widow, Date Palms, and Golden Void. And most recently, he released a textured, guitar-heavy drone rock album called Alphawaves (April 16, Thrill Jockey) with his new band, Life Coach. The release show for which is Sat/20 (9:30pm, $8. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com).

Given the prolific output, he's been described as the Bay Area's very own Steve Albini.

Manley moved to the Bay about a decade ago on the advice of Tim Green from the Fucking Champs. "DC is a much smaller artists community," he says. "It's been great for me as a recording engineer, to be here in San Francisco."

He's been working out of Lucky Cat Recording in Potrero Hill since 2006, after a fortuitous meeting with Lucky Cat engineer Kurt Schlegel at Manley's previous workplace, Bottom of the Hill. At Lucky Cat, Manley's more recent recording sessions have yielded albums by the Fresh and Onlys — "all I remember is this intense burst of creative energy" — and Barn Owl, whose new album, V, also dropped last Tuesday on Thrill Jockey.

Alphawaves is the first official Life Coach record, but confusingly, in '11, Manley released a solo album, also called Life Coach. Got it? That was a collection of songs with vintage synths, Moogs, and drum machines, allowing a krautrock influence that remains a part of the Life Coach equation, even now with standard live drums. Manley pulled together a set for that solo project, ended up writing new songs for it anyway, and then turned those into Life Coach, the band.

He recorded with a drum machine as a place holder then sent the new tracks to "four or five drummer friends," including Kid Millions from Oneida and Spiritualized, and LA's Jon Theodore, who was in Mars Volta and is now drumming for Queens of the Stone Age. Theodore was the first to respond; he spent two weeks rapidly pounding out and recording tracks while living in Flea's guest house in Malibu. "He banged it out so fast. He got the gig," Manley chuckles.

The nexus point of inspiration for Theodore and Manley can be found in Tony Williams, a late jazz-rock fusion drummer who played with Miles Davis. "If you listen to his band, the Tony Williams Lifetime, you can hear the similarities," Manley says. "But I should qualify that by saying that there's no way we could ever touch that shit, because it's so amazing. But we're both fans."

"Also, and I'm going to say this knowing that I probably shouldn't say this. When we're on tour, we basically only listen to the Grateful Dead," Manley adds. "I think there's a taboo [about that], especially among indie musicians, but who cares?"

Together, Theodore and Manley have toured with Psychic Paramount and Moon Duo, though Theodore's schedule is a bit insane currently, given his involvement with QOTSA. But he'll be there for the Life Coach album release show this weekend. Isaiah Mitchell of Earthless and Golden Void — who plays on some Alphawaves tracks — also might be in the live mix.

Mitchell played the backward guitar solo on opening track "Sunrise" and reprises that solo during title track, "Alphawaves." He also guests on the awesomely noisy "Fireball."

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