Like so many other people, contemporary Christian band Manic Drive has experienced a year filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. In January, band leaders Shawn and Michael Cavallo’s mother passed away. Soon thereafter, Shawn and his wife welcomed their first child into the world. Then, when the coronavirus pandemic struck, the Canadian bred brothers were literally just about to embark on a much-anticipated spring tour. All of this, on the heels of a career defining 2019 that saw them impact audiences in 44 cities on the highly-popular Winter Jam tour.
Rather than just shut everything down due to COVID-19, Shawn and Michael forged ahead writing songs, not really knowing what would become of them. The final result is a six song EP, Vol 1, that released in late November. Featuring the high energy single “Champion”, they also pay tribute to their mother with the somber yet hopeful, “Thank God I’m Alive”.
Vol 1 is the be the first of many volumes to be released in yearly increments.
I recently spoke to Shawn and Michael, who are best known for their chart-topping hit “VIP”, about the highs and lows they have recently been through, why they chose to release an EP when the expectation was a full-length album, and what God has been teaching them in this corona-fueled year.
Thanks for taking the time to talk about the new album release. Is it an album or an EP?
Shawn Cavallo: We don’t know! That is a great question. A couple of people have been asking. So technically, it’s titled as an album because I think you only need six songs for it to be (officially) an album. However, I think an EP can be a maximum of six songs. So, let’s call it a short album.
While a lot of musical artists have sort of dialed it back recently due to the coronavirus, it seems like you guys have had a “full speed ahead” mindset. How have you been making it through the coronavirus pandemic so far?
Shawn Cavallo: I guess everything slowed down for us in March. We had a spring tour lined up that we were really gearing up for. We knew we wanted to be releasing a new CD at the end of the year. So, there was a lot on our plate and my wife was actually pregnant at the time. As soon as everything hit, all of us looked at each other and said ‘I guess we should just start writing (some new songs). I felt like we needed to create content. And so our goal was, before we get back on the road, like really heavily touring, to have at least a couple of volumes out and eight or 10 music videos shot and produced. We have been going pretty hard at it. It’s been a while where we haven’t been rushed to push out a record. Usually, you’re in the studio and then you go directly out on the road. It can be really hectic. But, (since March) we have been very studio focused, which has been kind of a relief. We haven’t been able to do that since back in the day.
As brothers, what has the experience of working together been like? I’m not sure I could work with my brother for a long period of time. Yet, you guys have made it work for 15 plus years.
Michael Cavallo: I’m currently strangling him as we speak. (laughs) No, we had a very long history of performing together since we were kids. We started picking up instruments at the ages of eight and nine. We played at our local church. Our father was musically inclined, so we had the little family band when we were kids playing at local churches, festivals and so forth. We just had such a deep passion for it. Over the years, I guess it was just a natural sort of thing that we would form Manic Drive in 2004. Right up to this very point, we just love performing. We love traveling. We love making music, encouraging people, and hearing their stories. I love my brother. I love him so much.
Shawn Cavallo: Yeah, he’s okay. We’re probably better than for KING & COUNTRY in terms of a working brother relationship. (laughs) We were nominated for a Dove Award for being the best brothers. (laughs) Being locked down, your mind tends to stray a little.
Vol. 1 is part one of a series of projects you are working on. As we mentioned earlier, Vol 1 contains six songs so it’s technically an EP. Why take this staggered approach to releasing music?
Shawn Cavallo: There were a few reasons why we chose to do that. We loved the idea that we could release more projects between each single that we released. We thought it would be very clever to have a series of volumes instead of just one album release with 10 or 12 tracks on it. We wanted to kind of spread that out and have little projects in between that were a little bit more epic instead of just selling stuff. As I was saying earlier, when we were constantly out on the road touring, it was hard to even focus on certain singles that were being pushed to whatever medium as well as on the radio. This way just gave us more time to focus.
Michael Cavallo: I feel like every time we released an album with more than 10 tracks on it, often half the tracks were kind of just thrown on there to make it a full length recording. As indie artists, it takes us a really long time to go through the writing process. A lot of other artists might have a team of songwriters. They might have producers and engineers. A lot of it is done in house. So, it’s very time-consuming and we want to have time to sit with the songs too, before we just release it. We want to be able to listen (to the songs), critique them, and try to improve them. So, with the whole process, we just like to take our time with it. In order to release the content a little bit quicker, we just want it to shrink it down a little bit, but at the same time, produce more video content as well, since that’s so important nowadays. This has worked out well considering how 2020 has unfolded.
If you don’t mind, let’s take a look at a couple of songs on the album. First, what can you tell me about “Champion”?
Shawn Cavallo: “Champion” was actually our first track. We started writing that in late 2019, right after we were on tour with Colton Dixon. The song is just a good old David and Goliath kind of story. We’re all going to face obstacles and challenges and I guess metaphorically speaking, “giants” in our lives. It’s almost inevitable. We wanted to try and really encourage people to find your strength, even when you get knocked down. We just wanted a hard hitting track that could lift people up during these hard times.
Michael Cavallo: I always think of “Champion” being like a mindset. We’re not saying failure isn’t possible, or God doesn’t ever allow failure. The mindset of being focused is completely different than just being like, hey, I’m never going do something or push myself because I’m probably going to fail. No, go at it a hundred percent. That kind of mindset really explains what Manic Drive has been doing, and would explain the longevity of the group. It’s kind of like, okay guys, we’re facing these giants. It’s all in, we’re not going to look back. We’re continuing that mindset. We just keep on releasing content because we believe that at the end of this, when we’re back on the road touring, we’re going to have some great music, videos and new fans that we can play too.
Another song on Vol 1 is “Thank God I’m Alive”. This song is about your mother who passed away earlier this year. What can you tell me about that?
Shawn Cavallo: She passed away early this year. We pretty much started as a family band. She was always very involved. It kind of took the wind out of us for a time. And we weren’t planning on releasing or writing a song. This kind of just came organically. I just started writing and eventually showed it to the rest of the family. Everyone felt we had to release this. It was just straight from the heart kind of honesty of what we were going through at the time. And we understood it’s kind of heavy, especially for Manic Drive. We have developed a reputation over the years of being upbeat and fun. But this song is a little bit heavy. But I think it’s important for our fans and listeners to kind of see us in this vulnerable state.
We will go through it and see how we process it. During that timeframe earlier this year, my wife was actually pregnant, so there’s a whole slew of dynamics filled with a lot of grief and joy. At the end of the day, my appreciation for life was taken to the next level. Just to see how fragile it is and how important time is. I just became super grateful and couldn’t think of any other analogy or metaphor other than to thank God that I’m alive.
What has God been teaching you through this dastardly year of 2020?
Michael Cavallo: Patience. I was sharing this with a friend just a couple of days ago. I was talking to him about finding the joy in the dark moments in life. That’s been a big lesson for me because it’s very easy to get entangled with that and to allow it to kind of swallow you up and not appreciate the little things. I think Shawn was reflecting on that earlier. With the passing of our mother, and then finding joy in (his new son) Baby Cody.
Shawn Cavallo: I’m going to interrupt you. I don’t think we introduced the baby. I have a baby son and his name is Cody. And that has been such a distraction to the craziness that’s been going on. I constantly forget that we’re in a pandemic because that guy keeps me occupied. The joy that I get from that little guy has just trumped everything else. It’s hard for me to look at this year as an average person going through this. It’s been a little bit scary because our career has been on the line and you don’t know what’s going on. We’re champions every day. We’re thanking God, we’re alive, and we’re living up the high life.
Final question, after people have listened to Vol 1 what you like your listeners to get out of the experience? What is your greatest hope for the album?
Shawn Cavallo: A large portion of our audience is pretty much split, probably 50% Christian, 50% non-Christian. Sometimes people come across our music and don’t realize that we’re a Christian band. We absolutely love being in that space. We just want Christian listeners to be encouraged and to be reminded about whatever topic we’re talking about, whether it’s overcoming something or dealing with grief. Also, we want people that might not usually listen to Christian music to give it a shot and just be like, ‘Hey, what are these guys talking about? Why does this not sound like Christian music?’ Our hope is that curiosity will plant a seed and give them an opportunity to check out what we’re saying.
Watch a Music Video for Manic Drive’s Latest Single “Champion”: