Interview with Haley Bowery, Creator of Game of Thrones Concept Album
The time between when I read the words “Game of Thrones concept album” and slammed my music app was shorter than the time it took for Varys to get to Dorne.
I’m not sure what my expectations were for Seven, written by self-proclaimed “frontmonster” Haley Bowery of NYC-based band The Manimals, but the album turned out to be better than Arbor Gold. It mirrors George R.R. Martin’s POV structure, one character per song, each with distinctive flavors and multilayered music and lyrics. Seven is a raucous, rollicking, radical experience; an awesome amalgam of rock’n’roll and nerdery.
I interviewed Haley about Seven and her life as a musician and fan of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones.
What is your relationship to George R.R. Martin’s written works?
I was embarrassingly late to this party, as I got to reading only about three years ago. I came around to read them after I’d already started the show, when I realized I couldn’t get enough – but they deepened the story so much for me that I ended up heavily preferring the books. I’ve also read the World of Ice & Fire tome, but none of Martin’s other works yet. There’s a very lengthy summer reading list in my future. You could say I fell fast, but hard.
How long have you been a fan of Game of Thrones?
I love fantasy, but I’m awfully particular, and the “tits and dragons” concept didn’t appeal to me when I first heard about it. So I tuned in after two seasons had already aired, and was surprised by how much I loved it. I’m kind of a show optimist, because I so badly want it to be amazing all the time. Season Five was not my favorite, and there are always going to be some TV decisions that don’t sit well with me, but overall I’m still committed to seeing this story come to life. I do love all of those actors. I’ve got to say that I had a really good time watching this most recent season! They’re taking roundabout routes sometimes to reach a similar outcome, with mixed results, but I’ve decided for myself that the books and the show are operating in alternate timelines. I’m still going to be the most thrilled to experience Martin’s version.
Who and what are your favorites?
A Storm of Swords might be my favorite because of the sheer amount of plot that happens in that book, but I’m actually rather attached to A Feast for Crows because it was the first book I read without any show-foreknowledge. Going into Cersei’s head really cemented my love for the POV chapter device, which then informed Seven.
I might like Season One the best, because it’s so concise and faithful. Early on, it was really neat to compare the show to the books and marvel at how it was adapted. If I were to pick an episode, though, it would be “Blackwater”, which I think is probably a popular answer to this question. I loved the inventive way it was staged, based around a good deal of interiors and smaller character scenework, as opposed to being just a massive high-budget battle.
My favorite character has long been Arya, but Brienne is up there for me too. I obviously relate heavily to their issues with traditional gender roles. As the frontwoman in a band and as a woman in general, I’ve struggled with how to exercise my own power and assert my identity. I feel like gender is something to be played with, and that has a huge influence on my writing and performing. Onstage, I like to take traditional beauty or sexiness and juxtapose it with things that are gross, scary, and aggressive. I want your boner to be very confused.
What made you decide to do Seven?
It was a lot of things happening concurrently. I had quit playing music for about a year at the time, thinking that I’d try to get serious about my job and have kids. Music felt exhausting and fraught and dark. But both of those things didn’t work out the way I thought they would, and I felt like such a garbage heap for failing at my back-up plan. One thing that had kept me from depression was A Song of Ice and Fire – poring over it, getting lost in it. As a kid, all of my favorite fantasies involved a human going to another world, a stranger in a strange land. In this case, I felt like that character. I was just compelled to create my own material to respond, to inhabit that world. So it became this beautiful return to making music. I also think that I wanted to write from fictional points-of-view in order to express emotions that I’d been repressing. It was a way to safely say things, hidden in metaphor. I was able to talk about my fears of maybe not having children via Daenerys – her dragons could represent my songs, something extraordinary I “mothered” that made me uniquely powerful in spite of my losses. Everything on Seven contains a little piece of me, which I think was essential for making the songs emotionally resonant. There’s something universally human in all of these character arcs, I think that’s why so many people love this story.
I started writing the first song, “Mother”, in August of last year. After that, I wrote about a song a month until January. I had a process of researching the character, collecting quotes, listening to inspirational music and finding a style that I thought suited him or her… we recorded it in February, and it was done by the end of March.
What was the writing like for individual songs on Seven?
The hardest song to write was definitely “Summer”, which is Bran’s song. I started out with this idea of focusing on Martin’s children, characters I thought were central and important (though that changed some as I wrote), and I almost immediately regretted choosing Bran. I didn’t know how to write for a child, especially one whose material is mostly dreams and visions. It ultimately became my favorite song, because I decided to treat it as an epic “moral of the story”. Since Bran gets to see more of this world than most characters, I decided that his song would contain parts of all of the other six songs like a mini-opera, and give the album a circularity and a completeness.
The easiest was “Lone”, Jon’s song. I had just seen the Jesus & Mary Chain in New York – they played “Some Candy Talking”, and I thought, “I want Jon to sing THAT”. So I wrote my own dreamy drug love ballad the next day. The key to all of the songs was picking a very specific moment for each character, and I decided to write about Jon and Ygritte – which relates to his larger struggle with vows and doing what’s right. I was able to tap into my own sense memories of a doomed relationship, and it just poured out.
The most fun was probably “Teeth”, because I knew from the get-go that I wanted it to be a punky glam rock stomper. That’s sort of the primary Manimals style, so it fit right in my wheelhouse. I got to give Arya all these kick-ass, posturing things to say, and also reveal her vulnerability.
I wouldn’t say that any of them were un-fun to write, but there were times when it was tough to find motivation. That’s the trick, though: if you tell everyone that you’re writing a concept album, you have to finish.
Have you performed Seven live?
We have! We’ve done the album in its entirety at two different shows, and several songs from Seven pop up in our usual sets as well. The response has been really fantastic, both at live shows and from online listeners. Fans seem to enjoy the fact that it’s a glam rock record, and that it has a slightly different bent than other Game of Thrones-related music. My favorite responses have been from people who I can tell really listened from start to finish. They’ll talk to me about how emotional it made them, and I’ll think, “Ah, you actually got to the last song! You heard the cellos!”
My husband, my parents, and my sister are all non-fans [of Game of Thrones], and they’ve still had really positive reactions to it. These songs are about isolation, perspective, duty, grappling with your identity, loss… I really wanted to make something that worked both in and out of context, something that was so true to that universal emotionality and had phrases that would cut through even if you didn’t know what the hell I was singing about.
Are all of The Manimals Game of Thrones fans, or is it a mix?
We are all fans, I lucked out. No one scoffed at me when I brought them this highly geeky idea. Even our engineer/producer, Nate Jasensky, was a pretty hardcore ASOIAF fan. At our Seven shows, Michael [lead guitar] dresses as “Jaime Glammister”, which is pretty much what it sounds like. The Manimals are my brothers; we’re so on the same page.
Tell me about #DrinkingGOT.
I host a very dumb podcast where my friends and I get hammered and discuss Game of Thrones! There was one night out at a bar when we launched into a 30-minute conversation about it, and my friend/bandmate The Bear [rhythm guitar] recorded it on his phone. Since it’s clearly the kind of thing we would be doing anyway, I thought it would be so much fun to make up drinking games each week (though these have a tendency to fall apart, along with our coherency, during the podcast) and chat about our fave fandom. You can expect a lot of vulgarity, lusting over certain actors (the choices get weirder the drunker we get), and sometimes we even have intelligent ideas. The group is made up of fellow musicians and theater ex-pats, and I think they’re totally hilarious, which you can tell from all my shrill cackling. Drinking Game of Thrones (Brooklyn) is on iTunes, so feel free to subscribe and laugh at/with us.
How else do you or would you like to interact with the ASOIAF/GoT fanbase?
Twitter has been a lot of fun for me – I’ve made some great friends and contacts within the fanbase just through some well-timed tweets. The podcast Storm of Spoilers took an interest in the album, and they have been really instrumental in turning new fans in our direction. At our record release show, we had GoT trivia and encouraged costumes, so we got to meet some awesome people that way. Our dream is to play all of the Cons and parties… we really just want to meet and engage with the people that will appreciate Seven the most. I took painstaking efforts to pack these lyrics with many layers of references, because that’s the kind of thing I love to pick apart, and I know I’m not alone in that!
Any plans for a follow up album or other geeky goodness in your future?
I keep wanting to write for some of the characters I excluded – Jaime is a big one. This is a really fun framework to work inside, and I feel like I have endless ideas to expand on it. I love the ASOIAF universe so genuinely that I think it helped me make more genuine art – so, songwriting about my fandoms could easily become a thing. I once wrote a song about Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials, and that’s a series I would definitely love to revisit in this way. The music industry can be tough and isolating, but letting it overlap with the geek world has been really freeing, encouraging, and awesome.
It seems Haley is as thoughtful as the lyrics she pens, with some serious iron underneath. Seven can be purchased on bandcamp. You can also check out The Manimals website, Instagram (@manimalsband), Facebook page, and music videos for two of the tracks on Seven: “Talk” and “Half.” Also just announced: The Manimals will be headlining Friday Night of Ice & Fire Con!
Author: K-K Bracken
K-K Bracken grew up overseas and in the Washington, DC area, went to the Ohio State University to get her BA in English, and has been in Columbus, Ohio ever since. She is working on her first novel and co-wrote the book for “Edit:Undo,” a musical featured at the Kennedy Center.
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