March 17, 2013

Windham High alum makes name for himself in show-biz world

Lawrence Manchester is a sound man extraordinaire, and he's got a Grammy to prove it.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

You think Jimmy Fallon is funny? You think he's charming on TV?

click image to enlarge

Lawrence Manchester at the controls at MSR studios in New York during recording of the cast album for the Off-Broadway show “Dogfight.” Manchester mixes the music for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC. He also mixed the music on Fallon’s Grammy-winning comedy album “Blow Your Pants Off”; the movies “The Departed,” “Frida” and “The Red Violin”; and the NBC series “Smash.” Fallon credits Manchester with helping make “Late Night” “the best-sounding show on television.”

Steven Stuts/StutsMedia.com

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Lawrence Manchester was on the job when Fallon hosted Justin Timberlake last week.

NBC

Additional Photos Below

Well, Fallon is quick to give the credit to a Mainer for making him sound good -- literally.

"He's a genius. He's brilliant. He has such an ear for music, he's so easy to work with, and I trust him with every single thing," said Fallon. "He will mix anything and make it sound amazing. I think we have the best-sounding show on television."

Fallon is talking about Lawrence Manchester, who grew up in Windham and now works as the music mixer for "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" on NBC. He gives Manchester a big chunk of credit for the Grammy Award they both won in February when Fallon's album of parody songs, "Blow Your Pants Off," won the Best Comedy Album category. Manchester recorded the album, mixed a number of the songs and co-produced.

"We won a Grammy. We wouldn't have a Grammy if it wasn't for him," said Fallon, who took time to answer questions about Manchester before taping his show -- with musical guest Justin Timberlake -- on Wednesday. "He made these comedy songs actually sound like good songs. I mean, they're not just jokey songs. You can listen to them and you go, 'Hey, that's pretty good.' "

Although "Blow Your Pants Off" was Manchester's first Grammy, the 41-year-old graduate of Windham High School has compiled an impressive resume during the past 15 years as a New York-based recording and mixing engineer on TV shows, film scores and albums.

For most of his projects, Manchester is the man behind the glass during a recording session, pushing a lot of buttons and adjusting dials to make sure the sound comes out just right. For film scores, he's the guy in charge of getting a 90-piece orchestra's sound perfect so that it becomes a vital part of the film.

Two of the film scores he's recorded -- for "The Red Violin" (1998) and "Frida" (2002) -- won Oscars for Best Original Score. He also recorded the score for Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2007. He's done Broadway cast albums ("Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" and "Godspell"), and he's recorded artists from Art Garfunkel to Justin Timberlake.

It might seem like a long and winding journey to get from Manchester's beginnings as the son of two teachers growing up in Maine's Lakes Region to his current status as a touted, go-to recording and mixing engineer working with rock stars, TV producers, Hollywood directors and successful composers.

But he thinks of it as a straight line. This is basically what he's always wanted to do, and he never had a fall-back plan.

"I never worried about not making a career in music. I'd always been able to find employment as a musician; that's how I paid most of my bills in college," said Manchester, who lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children and walks to work at New York's famed 30 Rockefeller Plaza building. "I never thought about a back-up plan."

But he did cover all his bases.

While in college at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Manchester had a double major. He got a degree in percussion from the college's Peabody Conservatory as well as a degree in recording arts and sciences.

Manchester said that as a youngster, he took guitar lessons from Rick Charette, a longtime Maine children's song performer. Later, he focused on percussion, playing in school and in various theater productions. He met his wife, Rebecca Kendall, during production of a show at Portland Players in South Portland.

As teachers, Manchester's parents likely had something to do with encouraging his work ethic and determination. But they say his passion for music was simply born in him.

"When he was 4 or 5, he started using tape recorders. He'd tape himself playing drums with a Buddy Holly record or with Elvis," said his father, David Manchester of Windham. "When he was 12, he got an actual four-track recorder and started working with that."

Manchester got started on his career by landing a job as an intern (required for his degree) at a well-known rock studio in New York called the Power Station. He loaded equipment and swept floors, but got to observe recording sessions with the likes of AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen. He eventually got hired full-time there. Then he went to another studio, and soon began working as a freelance recording and mixing engineer on a wide variety of projects.

Manchester has been with "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" since it premiered in 2009. He's the guy charged with mixing the sound of the show's house band, The Roots, all of Fallon's musical parodies and the show's musical guests as they play.

He works on 200 shows a year. They're taped at 5:30 p.m. every day, but he mixes the sound as the bands play live.

"It's treated like a live show. I show up in the morning when the band is setting up, I get the song, I'm there for rehearsals," said Manchester.

It's hard to name a pop music artist Manchester hasn't worked with during his four years on "Late Night." The show's musical guest list during that time has included Prince, Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Mumford & Sons, Green Day, Neil Young, The Dave Matthews Band and Public Enemy.

"Pretty much every time I bring an artist to the mixing room to hear their performance, they say 'Wow, it sounds amazing in here.' I think that's a pretty uncommon experience for artists on a TV show," said Jonathan Cohen, the music booker for "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."

"Prince, who is pretty notoriously critical about things like this, has raved about the sound. Justin Timberlake, Springsteen, have all talked about the quality of the sound here," Cohen said. "We know word gets around, and I think it definitely helps us (to book acts). And it's because of Lawrence's skill at what he does."

Besides mixing all the music for Fallon's show, Manchester also mixes the original music on the hit NBC show "Smash," a drama about Broadway musicals. The composer of the "Smash" songs, Marc Shaiman, said Manchester's judgment has been crucial in getting the right sound.

Shaiman points specifically to Manchester's work on the "Bombshell" album, a compilation of songs from the show, as evidence of what makes Manchester's work as a recording engineer stand out.

"He has made recordings with a small group of musicians -- compared to a Hollywood scoring session -- sound like, well, a Hollywood scoring session," said Shaiman.

Doing a film score is very different than doing one for a TV show. Manchester is usually behind the studio glass while an orchestra plays and the film is shown on several screens so that everyone involved can see the action being scored.

Of his film work, Manchester says "The Departed" stands out. The 2006 film tells a dark story about a Boston mobster, and earned Martin Scorsese his first Best Director Oscar.

"Martin Scorsese is very sensitive to the music, to what it can do," said Manchester. "He'd come to play-back sessions and listen very carefully."

But as with a lot of creative work, Manchester says it can be rewarding to work on smaller-budget projects like "Frida," the biopic of artist Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek.

"That was one of the most fun scores, and I had a lot of involvement. It wasn't a big-budget film, and sometimes that causes everyone to get more creative," said Manchester.

"At the end of the day, when the viewer watches something, it should all be seamless. It should not be apparent where we had to make a compromise or save money.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

Twitter: RayRouthierThe

 

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Additional Photos

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Manchester in the control room at NBC, where he mixes the music for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

Dana Edelson photo

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Lawrence Manchester and family – wife Rebecca Kendall and children Grace and Thomas Manchester – live in Manhattan, where Manchester walks to work at NBC.

Toni Robertson/Smallfryphoto.com

 


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