Julia Leiby


Interview: Maneka Opens Up About His Mind-Expanding Masterpiece “Dark Matters”

March 31, 2022

“The very idea of this band/project is to go against the grain so to speak and defy expectations.”


As guitarist for Speedy Ortiz and on his own as Maneka, Devin McKnight has a rare talent for interrogating and then obliterating conventions. On his latest solo outing, Dark Matters, Maneka turns his serpantine riffs onto the literal substance of the universe and the cycles of oppression and repression that define American history. He manages to wring humanity and emotional connection from the weightiest of material with lyrics that find the poetry in philosophy and history. From lead singles “Winners Circle” and “Bluest Star” to the duology of Nnamdi collaborations to the aching standouts “Runaway” and “Maintain,” Dark Matters is as powerful and undefinable as its namesake.


One of the things I love about your lyrics is the way you engage with heavy and heady concepts about time and space and the weight of history without feeling like you’re writing an essay, like happens in that Bad Religion school of punk. How do you approach turning complex ideas into poetry? Is that something you do intentionally?

I’m not really sure if I have any specific approach. I think daydreaming or lying in bed awake and pondering stuff has always been a pastime of mine so maybe that can be considered an approach. I was worried that it might seem like an essay from a Literature class so I’m glad it didn’t come off that way. My goal is always to try to get the listener to think about things a little differently than they might be used to. The very idea of this band/project is to go against the grain so to speak and defy expectations, so in that sense it’s intentional.

That line from “Maintain” really stuck out “Time is like an oozing blister before it heals.” How do you approach poking at these open wounds?

Well not to be trite but this song was about keeping my head screwed on during the early days of the pandemic. I don’t think I had much of a choice but to endure the thought of my own mortality. That line specifically alludes to the theory that the universe expands to a breaking point then implodes to a singularity and then the big bang happens the same way all over again. Some scientists think we’re living in a pre-determined re-run and we could be on like our hundredth cycle of the same universe playing out over and over again. So if I’m always supposed to die a certain way then I can relinquish some control and take stock in the things that are good around me in the present.

What have been the things over the past 2 years that have kept you grounded?

Weed Gummies lol. Close knit network of friends and family. The NBA.

You’ve said some of this record came out of insomnia-driven documentary watching. What are some of the best documentaries you watched? Were any of the songs inspired by specific docs?

There was one that I watched on Netflix called “The Universe” I think. I actually recorded myself saying actual lines from one of those episodes in the intro track. There were a few on hulu also that I found after I watched all the Ancient Aliens episodes. Turns out that it’s way better to watch documentaries made by actual scientists. Also I really liked this one doc on Nikola Tesla.



There’s so much in this record that feels like it’s deliberately challenging the sound and conventions of punk and indie. How deliberate are you about that? Was there anything in the recording process that felt like you were pushing the boundaries too far and had to rein back in?

Well, I started out trying to fit in better into this indie landscape. I want to make this band legit but I was a bit self conscious that my last two albums weren’t palatable enough. So oddly enough this record was me trying to be more relatable. I think because I have a hard time not being true to myself, even my attempts at making normal sounding stuff still ends up sounding like some stoner was locked in a studio for 2 weeks. I got a chance to really play around with some synths in Ableton which was really a lot of fun. Then I felt like my songs were all verse/chorus structured so I had free reign to go nuts on the Nnamdi tracks and stretch out a little bit.

With bringing on folks like Chad Clark and Nnamdi, you put together a serious dream team on this record. How did you go about choosing your collaborators? Did you have them in mind from the outset?

Nnamdi and I had been toying with a collab maybe 6 or 7 years ago. It just never really got finished. I feel like we both got so busy that it just kinda got pushed to the back burner. I did take note that he has regular access to good drum recording though. So he seemed like a perfect candidate to do a remote collaboration. He’s also very fast and a talented improviser so I figured it wouldn’t take him long. THANK YOU AGAIN NNAMDI!

I didn’t really know who I wanted to master the record. I knew I wanted to try someone new just to try it out and I asked Bartees and Elise Okusami in our group chat who is good at mastering. When Bartees suggested Chad I thought “bingo!’ why didn’t I think of that sooner. He’s always been a songwriting hero of mine so to have him touch my work at any capacity was a huge honor.

What are your plans coming up now that the record’s out? Anything we should expect coming soon?

TOUR!!!! I want to tour haha. I want maneka to not just be a local band and to spread across the nation, hopefully the world. So look out for us going on tour. I thought I was done touring after Speedy Ortiz but I was very wrong about that. After a sedentary year or so, I felt the itch to get out again and I still feel that way.



Keep up with Maneka on Instagram at @manekadevin69