“I like to take people to a dark place, but I also like to lead them to the light at the end.”
These words neatly sum up the philosophy behind the music that Chris Greenwood makes. With an energetic mix of hard-hitting rap and hardcore rock, the artist known as Manafest has built up an international following stretching across the world. His 2010 studio album The Chase quadrupled sales of all previous efforts in Japan, and until recently, was his bestselling record.
However his fame to date has seemed to exist outside the bubble of the Canadian music market, as the Peterborough, Ontario native found less recognition at home than in other parts of the globe. A recent trip to China illustrates this fact, as Manafest notes:
“It was my first time going there but it’s amazing the power of the internet, even the kids all the way over there knew the songs and stuff, which was really cool.”
With the release of his latest album, Fighter, things might be about to change, however. I had a chance to catch up with Manafest over the phone ahead of his Western Canada tour, and he’s optimistic about the direction the new record is taking.
“Feedback’s been good,” he says. “Our bestselling record so far for a couple of weeks which is really encouraging to hear, especially in the US and Canada.”
Produced by Adam Messinger (Justin Bieber) and Seth Mosely (Newsboys) this record, like many of his past releases, is an amalgamation of both party-playable tracks and contemplative rock. But even with the fast-paced beats and confident lyrical swagger, this is an album with a message. Drawing upon his own life as well as other influences, Manafest here presents an album that commiserates with those going through rough times, while inspiring them to never give up trying to rise above it all.
‘ “Fighter” is more about personal experiences I’ve gone through over many years, and just the inner fight we all battle,” he says. “It’s not about a physical fight, but more about the inner struggle – fear, insecurities and the things we all work through as people, and [about] overcoming those and just giving us a shot in the arm to keep fighting. Sometimes we need to pray, sometimes we need to fight, you know?”
This is expressed succinctly in the chorus:
“Down and out/ I start to doubt /I hit the ground/ I bruise but I won’t break, I won’t break/ You can say I’m done but this is just begun/I’m a fighter, I’m a fighter…/I ain’t afraid of death, you ain’t seen nothing yet…I’m a fighter, I’m a fighter… ”
Fighting is something Manafest is intimately familiar with. His father committed suicide when he was a child, a fact he reveals openly and addresses in many of his songs. The trauma of this event is something that informed much of his life, and is addressed with poignant directness on the 2006 album, Glory with the song, “Where Are You?” As a young man, a promising skateboarding career was cut short by injury, and in the aftermath music, as well as his Christian faith, became a way to get through the resulting emotional upheaval. Through these, he found not just a way to go forward, but a way to live.
“I think we all long for knowing where we’re going to go when we die and longing for that, you know, peace and gap to be filled,” he says. “So having my faith in Jesus it’s had a huge impact and been a real foundation, not just the faith side of things but just the principles of how to live and to be able to set boundaries for my life so I don’t screw it up by going on tour and messing my life up relationship-wise, or drugs or other things. It’s enabled me to have boundaries, to be successful, and so far I’ve had major success and I’m winning, and I think that’s how you can find out if something works or not, by the fruit of it, and whether someone is successful or not, and I think that’s a good measurement of it.”
Manafest has often been given the title of Christian artist because much of his music has references to God and his spirituality, but he prefers not to have that define him.
“I don’t personally like to be called a Christian artist, it just happens to be what my faith is,” he says. “I do understand the need for giving it a genre, a label, I totally get it. But I find that if you’re making quality music and you’re just being yourself and you have something to say, then people want to hear from you. A dentist you rate on the quality of their work, if they do their job, and I think artists are meant to be the same.”
However, he doesn’t deny the impact faith has had on his life.
“I find that we all use our faith in many ways by stepping out. Sometimes we have faith in a chair that when we sit on it it’s actually going to hold us up, you know? We put faith in the car that when we step on the gas it’s going to take us where we want to go. I use my faith and my music by stepping out and going for my dreams and I put my faith in Jesus and Christianity, and just knowing there is a plan and a purpose for my life, and it encourages me to keep going.”
In his music, this particular mix of hardship and hope forms the touchstone of his lyrical style in a way that resonates regardless of individual belief systems and this seems to be the key to his growing success.
With the song “Human”, Manafest once again dives into personal territory, this time exploring the ways relationship bonds can be put to the test, using his own marriage as the springboard into the issue.
“That song is basically about being transparent with relationships and people, and the fact that none of us is perfect,” he says. “We all make mistakes and we’re only human.”
The song, which plays like the aftermath of a fight between a couple, reflects how too often people hurt the ones they love:
“Hey, I never said I was an angel/ No, I never said I wouldn’t break down/ Yeah/ Beside myself living in a cold cell/ Don’t shut me out…/You look at me like I’m a stranger/ You make me feel like I’m a traitor/ Don’t leave me stranded/ As I reach out my hand…”
“We tend to put a lot of demand (on people) and think they’re going to solve all our problems, and people end up getting hurt,” he says. “They think someone’s perfect and they’re not. We need to work together and just have mercy on one another, and work together as opposed to thinking they’re going to make our lives completely perfect. Relationships are about growing together, accepting each other for our differences.”
With “Human”, you find an honest appeal for forgiveness of all-too-human mistakes:
“Hey, got any grace for a failure?/ Cos I’m feeling like I failed you/ I lashed out, digging up my past, though I know I let you down/ I’m still fighting for the future/ Cos I never want to lose you/ I’ll keep on climbing if you’re by my side…/I wear my heart on my sleeve/ If you cut me I’ll bleed/ I know I cannot erase every mistake that I made/…by now you should know, I’m only human…”
Outside of his personal experience, Manafest cites a wide variety of influences that went into the making of this album.
“Definitely a lot of the inspiration comes from touring and travelling and different cultures and stories I hear,” he says. “You know, one of the songs is about divorce, about a friend that went through that, and that’s on the song “Throw it Away”. “
The latter song perfectly captures the storm of emotions that arises when a marriage is torn apart, from the hurt: “I don’t hate you, no I don’t/ But won’t pretend it’s okay...” to the anger: “Come and pick up your things before it goes up in flames” to the emphatic denial, and finally resigned acceptance and will to keep going:
“Wasted, faded, how did we get so jaded?/ Hollow, tomorrow, we can’t just throw it away…/We gotta pull ourselves together/Nothing lasts forever/ Pull ourselves together/Move on, now or never…”
With the song “Pushover”, Manafest creates an anthem trumpeting the right to stand up for yourself in the face of a bully:
“You’re hijacking my joyride/I’m living the good life./Why can’t you leave me alone?/ You don’t know me now, You don’t know me now/I’m not a pushover, I’m not a pushover/ You can’t fill these shoes, you can’t make me move/I’m not a pushover…/I won’t play your games/ Just let me be/”
The track “Come Alive” has echoes of Linkin Park in the vocal styling and in the production, but Manafest proves his own distinct style with the kind of song you can imagine prepping for a marathon to:
“I’m a man on a mission/ A man with a vision where dreams come alive/…I’m going all the way/ I’m giving everything/ No room for compromise/ I’ll make the sacrifice/ It’s time I come alive…”
Fighter plays like a motivational speech packed into eleven tight tracks. Manafest doesn’t mince words when talking about the realities of existence – “You gotta be real, life sucks sometimes, you gotta deal with it,” he acknowledges in the interview – but he’s also unmoving in his determination that things can always get better. With this, his sixth studio album, and a planned book in the works for younger artists coming up in the music industry, Manafest proves that this “man with a vision” is ready to take on bigger and better things, and he’s willing to take you with him on the journey.
02. Throw it Away
05. Come Alive
06. Never Let You Go
07. Not Alone
08. Prison Break
09. Heart Attack
10. Will You Catch Me
11. Never Let You Go (acoustic)