New Jersey lost a bit of its soul when the sax-and-guitar
fueled garagepop combo the Everymen disbanded in 2017 and
frontman Michael Venutolo-Mantovani - known affectionately
as Michael VM or sometimes just Mike V - relocated to North
Carolina. James Damion loved Mike's 2017 solo album The
Happiest Man On Earth and decided to check in. Mike
talks about his new home in the Deep South and his memories
of New Jersey, revisits some Everymen stories, and starts
by talking about how he once got paid to shop for records.
Interview by James Damion
Q: The idea to do an interview with you came after
watching the Amoeba Records YouTube series called “What’s
In My Bag?” that featured you and fellow Everymen
Catherine Herrick. I’ve been regularly watching the
segments for over a year and I think you might be the first
person appearing in the series that I’ve actually
met. Long question short: Can you give a little background
on how the whole thing is set up and if Amoeba gives you
your selection free, or at a deep discount for your time?
I guess they wanted to feature the two singers of the band.
But our record label had set that up for us when we were
on tour supporting Givin’ Up on Free Jazz.
What happens is they give you a bit of store credit to shop
with and then you talk about what you bought. But I went
way, way over my credit. I think I had like $100 of credit
to spend. I ended up spending over $300 on top of the $100
credit. Which was usually my record buying budget for an
entire tour. Set me free in a record store for several hours
and I guess that’s bound to happen. It was like a
bucket list rock 'n' roll dream to do a “What’s
in my Bag?” That was one of the highlights of my years
with the band for sure.
Q: During the segment, you talk up the band Archers
of Loaf. The comment “They make the Beatles look like
the Osmond’s.” had me rolling on the floor.
Being a huge fan of the Archers, who’s seen them live
and used to have a poster hanging in my NYC apartment. Being
one who’s always connected with people through music
and would almost immediately latch on to someone due to
a mutual love for a band or an artist. I wanted to get the
specifics on what originally drew you and still draws you
to The Loaf.
Ha! Good, I’m glad you got a chuckle. I don’t
really remember how I discovered the Loaf. Probably the
same way we all used to find new jams; someone must have
put a Loaf tune on a mixtape or maybe I heard them in a
movie or on a skate video. I used to watch Mallrats
on almost a daily basis when I was in high school and
they were on the soundtrack to that flick, in the lingerie
scene, so maybe then? But I’m pretty sure I had Icky
Mettle and Vee Vee before I’d ever seen
that movie. So, in short, I have no idea when. But what
drew me to the band was the fact that I had absolutely no
idea what was happening there musically. The chords they
were using, the keys and tunings they were writing in, it
was all so antithetical to what was going on in so many
other bands I was into at that point. I mean, I couldn’t
play like J Mascis but at least I could wrap my head around
what he was doing. With the Loaf, it was like guitar stuff
from Mars. Discovering bands like them and Pavement, Polvo,
Blonde Redhead, Slint, all those bands around the same time,
it really stretched my understanding of what could be done
with a guitar. It fucking blew my mind. It still blows my
Q: Did you grow up in New Jersey? If so, where?
What was the last city/town you lived in before moving to
I am a born, bred and flag-waving Jersey Boy. I was born
in Belleville, just outside of Newark, and lived in Jersey
City when I was very young. My mother grew up there and
we had tons of family in and around Hudson County. But when
I was a little boy, we moved down the shore to a little
town called Little Egg Harbor. That’s where I grew
up. It’s a tiny little clamming village right on water,
across the bay from the southern tip of Long Beach Island.
I definitely had beef with it when I was a kid, desperately
wanting to get to a big city, namely New York. But in hindsight,
I realize what an amazing place it was to be a kid. To grow
up right on the ocean, to have the Pine Barrens in our backyard,
as our playground. It was amazing. But virtually every kid
hates where they live. They all think there’s so much
better out there. Which is why I moved to Philadelphia the
day after I graduated high school. I had to get out and
I couldn’t do it fast enough. After five years in
Philly for college and a brief stint teaching English in
Rome, I moved to Jersey City for a time, and then to New
York. I lived in various neighborhoods in Brooklyn for a
few years (Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Greenpoint).
Eventually, my wife and I (then boyfriend/girlfriend) moved
to the corner of Delancey and Allen Streets on the Lower
East Side of Manhattan. Of all the places I’ve ever
lived, the LES felt most like home. That was our last spot
before moving to the South. And if we ever hit the lottery,
the first thing we’ll do is buy that old apartment
on Delancey and Allen. It was barely six-hundred square
feet but we had each other and we had a great record collection.
What else did we need?
Q: Speaking of Chapel Hill, what was it that drew
you to and or inspired you to move there?
I started touring a bit in college but a lot more when
I got out of school. I always loved this area. The food
was great, the people were unbelievably kind, and the weather
always seemed to be perfect (and other than a handful of
rainy days each year and maybe one very minor snowfall,
all of those things remain true). I obviously had a rosy
picture of it from the indie rock legends of Merge and Archers
and Superchunk and Polvo and Pipe and Ben Folds Five, all
of the killer music that always seemed to come out of this
little town that you can’t find on a map. Plus, as
a kid, I was a big Carolina basketball fan (Michael Jordan,
obviously, but when we were kids, it was all about Vince
Carter, Jerry Stackhouse, Dante Calabria, Antawn Jamison
and Eric Montross). So, this place was always kind of mythical
After about a decade in New York, when my wife and I decided
to get out, we chose here. She grew up a few hours down
the highway in Charlotte but, like me, left home soon after
she finished high school and hadn’t really been back
but to visit in almost twenty years.
Q: Being that it’s a college town, I would
imagine that the area births a lot of new music acts. Are
you keeping up with any new music? Perhaps finding inspiration.
I do keep up, yeah. I actually started a little record
label with my dad called Suah Sounds. We focus on bands
and artists from the Triangle (Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh,
as well as the little enclave of Carrboro, which is surrounded
on all sides by Chapel Hill).
I can’t say I go to many shows these days, as we
have a two-year-old son at home. So that keeps me from hanging
around the regular haunts except for shows I make a point
to go see. Also, I’m making a living as a freelance
writer these days and I generally start my workday between
5:30 and six in the morning in order to be able to spend
as much of the afternoon as possible with my son. Thus,
I’m not out past sundown too often anymore. Unless
we’re out looking at the moon, which he is obsessed
with. But I do keep very close tabs on what’s happening
out there. And that’s kind of what birthed the Suah
label. Wanting to keep myself in the mix, wanting to help
people bring their art to the world and wanting to work
alongside my father.
My father recently retired and has always been a devout
music fanatic. He’s been playing in bands since he
was like thirteen or fourteen. But he never really put out
his own records or had any experience with a label. So with
my experience in the record business and some of his pension
money ;) we started the label together. In fact, we just
put out his first record of original music. I’m super
jazzed that he got the chance to do that. First and foremost,
it’s been great to do something like this alongside
my old man, to show him the inner workings of this thing
that he’s been so passionate about for his entire
life. But it’s also given us an opportunity to give
a platform to local artists that we believe the world needs
to hear. Of course, it’s not a very big platform.
But we do our best to help amplify the art they’re
Q: I’ve known a lot of people who eventually
move down south seeking a warmer climate and perhaps a better
life. That said, one can’t help but envision Confederate
flags, AR-15’s, trucks with gun racks, and country
music blaring from every speaker. Am I way off?
Eh. That shit’s everywhere, man. If there’s
one thing I learned touring, it’s that country is
everywhere. There’s just as much country in New York
as there is in Alabama. Shit, maybe I didn’t even
need to go on tour to learn that. The town I grew up in
right there on the Jersey Shore is this strange little ultra-conservative
outpost where people would fly Confederate flags all the
time. I mean, there used be kids in my high school with
bumper stickers that read, “The South Will Rise Again.”
The South? Which South? South Jersey?
Anyway, yeah, sure there are flag-waving sons of the South
with their carbines slug across their backs pumping that
bullshit bro country all over the place down here. But those
people are everywhere, not just the South. Maybe growing
up where I did, prepared me for a life in the South. I guess
I kind of had a primer for it. My wife (who was born and
raised in the South) often jokes that I’m more Southern
than her. Maybe it’s because I’m a nut for NASCAR.
Chapel Hill is at the western edge of the Triangle. Everything
east of us—Durham, Apex, Cary, Raleigh—tends
to be very liberal, probably because it’s full of
northeastern transplants, many of whom have advanced degrees
and who work in the university, tech or medical fields.
And those people tend to be more liberal. But get in my
truck (yes, I drive a truck. No gun rack but I do have lots
of Dale Earnhardt ephemera), drive ten minutes to the west
and you’ll find yourself in the deep red South. Ten
minutes from Chapel Hill, one of the most liberal parts
of the South I’ve ever seen, and you’re in deep
But North Carolina is a lot more purple than people give
it credit for. Most of the big urban areas like Charlotte
and Raleigh and the college towns like Chapel Hill, Durham,
Asheville and Boone tend to be a lot more blue ideologically.
What that leads to is a state that really is diverse in
thought and action. And one the coolest parts for me was
voting in 2018. For the first time in my life, I was voting
in a state where my vote really, truly mattered. That is
to say that no matter how you vote in New York or New Jersey,
those are blue states. Vote conservative all you want (trust
me, people in Little Egg Harbor do) but Jersey is going
to be a blue state. Same with a place like Alabama. I was
making my solo record during the 2018 election in Muscle
Shoals and I remember all the guys I was in the studio with
going and voting, presumably for Hillary Clinton. In Alabama.
She’s never going to win Alabama.
But down here, I cast a vote thinking how our state could
swing either way, thus, how important each and every vote
was. Sadly, the bad guy won. But it was a damn hell of a
thrill nonetheless. I wish every American could feel the
way I did when I cast that vote (and it’s one of the
biggest reasons I advocate for a popular vote and the abolition
of the electoral college, but that’s a different interview,
All that said, I love the South. And if there’s one
thing I could tell people who are worried about the AR-15s
and the Confederate flags and the gun-racked trucks, it
would be that the South is not one contiguous backwater
that starts in Delaware and ends in Texas. It’s an
unbelievably nuanced, incredibly kind, tremendously beautiful
place that, like anywhere else, is full of complicated history
and complicated people.
Q: In regards to Chapel Hill, I’d love to
talk about your solo album, 2017’s The Happiest
Man On Earth. It was somewhat, if not a far departure
from what you were doing with the Everymen. How much of
an influence did living in Chapel Hill have on you? Though
my reaction wasn’t immediate, it ultimately reminded
me of a conversation with my Dad, who by the way, was a
gifted pianist. He told me that he could always play the
notes, but didn’t find the keys until he visited New
Orleans and saw Dr. John and Leon Russel perform live. Was
the album more of a reflection of who you always were or
the influence of your regional surroundings?
I think most of the record was written before we’d
moved down here. Maybe a bit here and there was written
after our exodus from New York. But for the most part, I
wrote that record on a little couch in our little apartment
on Delancey Street on my acoustic guitar.
Sonically, it may have been a departure, sure. I mean,
I definitely set out to make a quiet record with a lot,
lot, lot more space than we always had with The Everymen.
When it came to that band, it was full on wall of sound,
cram every nook and cranny with as much noise, sound and
action as we could. Maybe that was life in New York rubbing
off on me. But the time I made the happiest man on earth,
I think I was looking for that air, that room to breathe.
So, I don’t know if it’s a record about Chapel
Hill as much as it’s a record about leaving New York.
Except for the song, “Chapel Hill.” That one’s
about Chapel Hill. Obviously. Well, it’s actually
about convincing my wife to leave New York. Anyway.
But if you stripped all of the power away from The Everymen,
you’d hear a lot of similarities in those songs. Conversely,
if we ran the happiest man through a meat grinder and a
Big Muff, it’d probably come out sounding a lot like
The Everymen. The songs come from the same place. They just
have different window dressing.
But as I said, I made that record down in Muscle Shoals
with a bunch of Muscle Shoals players. And I think that
had as much influence on the record as North Carolina and
leaving New York did. My whole life, I’ve made music
with people who have the same reference points as I do.
Classic indie rock, punk, hardcore, Springsteen. So, to
get into a studio with a bunch of guys who grew up on Prine
and Dan Penn and Kristofferson, Arthur Alexander, Donnie
Fritts and Spooner Oldham, to hear the way those references
are filtered through those guys’ own life experiences
and onto my songs, was a thrilling new experience for me.
I could probably count the people who’ve listened
to the happiest man on two hands. But for me, it was the
most exciting record I’d ever made because it was
so damn far out of my comfort zone.
Q: “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight”
is without a doubt my favorite track on the album. It reminded
me of something my step brother used to say to me all time.
Can you tell me what the song means or meant to you and
what you were referring to in the lyrics “And I can’t
keep this pace.”?
Man, I’m glad you dig that one. I think it’s
my favorite, too. That tune is actually a thank you note
to my wife. She didn’t want to leave New York at first.
It took me about six months to convince her that it was
time to go. I still loved New York and, for the record,
I still do love New York. But I just needed room to breathe.
I needed space. Not just physical space but mental and emotional
space, too. Keeping the pace, I guess that was a reference
to how burnt out I was from The Everymen. We worked ourselves
harder than just about any band out there. We were doing
a hundred shows a year BEFORE we started touring. We would
do crazy shit like go play one-offs in Cleveland or Raleigh
only to turn around and drive right home after our set.
Then, after a few years of booking and playing almost 200
shows a year, I was just toast. I was totally spent. In
fact, now, almost four years after our final show, I’m
still toast. It’s been really hard for me to muster
the energy to book shows. In fact, I think I played maybe
four shows total in support of the happiest man on earth.
Good thing I wasn’t beholden to someone else’s
label for that one. Anyway, that’s what that lyric
is in reference to.
But there’s also a lyric in there that says, “There’s
nothing left for me to do,” which is kind of exactly
how I felt when we were leaving New York. Other than making
a few million bucks, I had accomplished everything I came
to New York to accomplish.
As for the title, it was something my football coach used
to say in high school. Probably something all coaches say.
Basically, make good choices, don’t be stupid. And
though I loved our little apartment on Delancey and Allen,
bear in mind it was just a few blocks away from what is
pejoratively known as “Hell Square,” one of
the most concentrated nightlife areas in Manhattan. That
little cluster of bars, clubs and restaurants was madness
from Wednesday through Saturday nights. Outside our window,
all we heard were fights, ambulances, cops arresting people,
heavy drama. It just always remined me of that saying. Nothing
good happens after midnight. Unless you’re getting
laid. But David Lee Roth probably wrote that song already.
Q: For myself and many others, the Everymen were
a family and sort of a tribe, as much as you were an ensemble
or a band. Would that be a correct observation? If so, was
that the original plan or goal? How much input into songwriting
and band related decisions did everyone have?
Absolutely we were a family. Heck, Scott and Jamie are
brothers. You know. And me and Catherine, man she’s
like a sister to me. She and I worked together at a record
label for years, we lived together as roommates for a time,
we spent years in the back of a van and in shitty dressing
rooms and disgusting motels together. For many years, I
spent more nights sleeping next to Catherine than I did
my wife. I don’t know if that familial feeling was
a goal, per se. But I really only want to play in bands
with people that I want to hang out with. We never made
much money doing what we were doing so, the way I always
saw it was that you need to be surrounded by people you
love and people who love you. The Everymen were one of the
most drama- and stress-free bands I ever played in because
everyone loved and respected each other’s needs and
everyone knew their roles.
Band decisions were primarily mine but everyone had input.
I kind of was a benevolent dictator in the band. I had the
final say. But these were people who’ve been in bands
their entire lives, who could play the hell out of their
instruments, and whose musicianship and instincts I trusted.
So, I was open to any and all suggestion and input at all
times. Especially when it came to the music. I had ideas
on what Scott might do on the sax or what Ryan Gross or
Geoff Morrissey might do with a lead guitar part or what
Catherine might do with a vocal. But in the end, they were
brought into the band because of their ability with their
instrument. So why would I get in the way of that? I’m
not a sax player. I’m not a lead guitarist. You wouldn’t
tell a mechanic the best way to fix your motor. Why would
you tell a sax player the best way to play his horn?
As for the actual songwriting, I’d usually write
a guitar part, vocal and lyrics (if I were to sing the song.
If it was going to be a Catherine song, I’d leave
the lyrics and vocal to her), as well as the overall arrangement.
I likened it to a skeleton. I put the bones together. It
was everyone else’s job to add the muscle, the fat
and the skin.
Q: Did you see the name “The Everymen”
to represent what you wanted the band to represent? By definition,
protagonists in a musical sense?
Not really. It was just kind of a joke when the band first
started. The Everymen were this imaginary band of square
type dudes. Accountants or actuaries or something. Normies.
But once they got on stage, they lit it up. I guess that
was us, in a way. We were never super hip, super cool people.
We were just kind of this band of misfits. Everymen. I guess
we fit the name rather than the name fitting us.
Q: As an aging hardcore kid, I was curious as to
why the Everymen decided to title your debut LP “New
Jersey Hardcore.” What did the term mean to you and
the band? Did it ever cause any confusion or resentment
from anyone connected to that scene?
It was super tongue-in-cheek. More a reference to our unabashed
love for where we come from (except Catherine. She’s
a lifelong New York City girl). We weren’t playing
New Jersey hardcore. We were New Jersey hardcore. I don’t
know, maybe a comma would’ve helped. New Jersey, Hardcore.
That sounds like too much of an inside joke though. Like
something a Guy Fieri band would say.
Q: I was doing some backtracking when I realized
I was, unknowingly at the time, your
final Everymen show. I recall leaving before your set
due to an emergency. At the time, had you already decided
Ah man, I’m sorry you had to miss it. I hope everything
ended up okay for you. But yeah, that was announced and
billed as our final show. Everyone there knew what they
were showing up for. It was the party to end all parties!
And then we spent the rest of the night getting fucked up
at the Golden Cicada, RIP.
It was at WFMU’s live space, Monty Hall, which, as
you know, is a BYOB spot. We had like a thousand bucks left
in the band bank account and we figured that, seeing as
we weren’t going to need it, why not give a little
something back to our friends and fans. So we went to that
beer/liquor store down by Home Depot, over near the Holland
Tunnel, and we got a thousand dollars’ worth of beer.
We bought these big buckets at Home Depot and filled them
with ice and everyone at that show had beers on The Everymen.
We were always a light-beer-and-a-shot kind of rockandroll
group, a real beer-swiller’s band, so it made sense.
Q: It’s been proven that every good thing
must come to an end. Especially with bands. Was there anything
besides time and wanting to do something else that caused
Yeah. It was our inability to find a booking agent. That
was 100% the reason behind it. I mean, don’t get me
wrong, we were burnt out, totally waxed after playing hundreds
and hundreds and hundreds of shows in every single corner
of the country. But we could have kept going if we had an
agent. We had a great label in the Ernest Jenning Recording
Co. We had a great publisher in Rough Trade Publishing and
Bank Robber Music. But for me, booking all of those shows
and tours all by myself, it just totally wore me out.
Not long before our final hurrah, we did a two-week run
opening for our friends The War on Drugs. Drugs’ frontman
Adam G had called me, asking if we could do that tour. There
were no agents involved, no managers. Just one pal trying
to help out another. The money was good, it was a super
easy gig, the band and their crew treated us like gold.
We didn’t have to argue with any shithead promoter
kid or fucking jerkoff club owner about how much money we
were owed at the end of the night. We played to captive
audiences who quickly became fans of ours. We sold tons
and tons of merch. It was perfect. If we had an agent that
could have kept us going on tours like that for a year or
two, letting us build our own audience without the stressors
of booking tours and worrying about people showing up so
we could put damn gas in the tank, I guarantee you we’d
still be out there making records and touring harder than
But, for some reason, that was one piece of the puzzle
we could never seem to sort out. So it is.
Q:What lies ahead for Mike V.?
Do you plan on writing, releasing or being involved in music
on any level?
I always be involved on some level. Right now, the Suah
label is still in its infancy, still working on a one-release-at-a-time,
business model. Hopefully, it’ll be something I can
do forever. If someday it yields me some income, great.
But really my goal for the label is to just make enough
money so I can keep helping people put their music into
the world. Kind of a Cory Rayborn/Three Lobed Recordings
model. I’m hesitant to call it a passion project because
all projects should be passion projects. Why do anything
if you’re not gonna do it with your heart, you know?
Anyway, get off the soapbox, Mike.
As for making new music, absolutely. I think my days of
the road dog touring machine I once was are over (though
I still sneak on a tour or two here and there. Just last
year, I went out for a few runs with Son Volt. I wasn’t
playing with them, just working for the band. But there
are few places I love being more than in the back of a tour
van. For me, that’s home.) but I’m still always
going to make records. I just wrote and recorded all of
the music for the Suah Sounds Co-Isolation Sessions, which
is being released on June 5 as a benefit to help the North
Carolina Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, I’m sitting
on an ambient piano record that I made shortly after my
son was born that I’ll release as a white-label 12”
someday soon, and I have a little rock and roll project
that I was on the verge of unveiling before this lockdown
Down the road, I’d love to get more into producing
records. I’ve produced a good little handful of records
that I’m real damn proud of. The problem is, I’m
not an engineer. And a lot of bands operating on a small,
DIY or indie rock budget only have the funds to pay a producer
who can engineer rather than both. But someday. Heck, the
dream is for me to someday produce all of the releases on
the Suah label. But that’s if we can make it to our
next damn record.
You can check out Mike's record label Suah