Alex Maniak writes and performs as Shortly. Or maybe she’s the vocalist and guitarist of the band Shortly. When asked if she prefers to be addressed as “Alex from Shortly” or “Alex who performs as Shortly”, she’s not sure. “I’m in this weird transition period where sometimes I’ll write and twice in the same sentence I’ll say, ‘So I’ and then, ‘So we’ and then ‘So Shortly’ – I’ll do that all,” she admits. “You’re talking to me; technically I am Shortly – but it’s kind of becoming… it’s becoming a group effort but it’s not yet, if that makes sense.” The Detroit-area native began writing these songs on her own, but now frequently works with her friend Austin Stawowczyk to write songs, and sometimes plays live with a full band.
On October 26th, Maniak and her current live band – Stawowczyk on guitar, Luke Dean on bass, and Kris Herrmann on drums – began Shortly’s biggest tour to date: supporting The Wonder Years, Have Mercy, and Oso Oso, with a Halloween show at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey. In the holiday spirit, each band played a cover set before playing a selection of their own songs; Shortly performed as My Chemical Romance, with Maniak dressed as Gerard Way, eyeliner and all. They played “I’m Not Okay”; “Helena”, for which their tour manager came on stage wearing a long black dress and wig; and “Famous Last Words.”
Discussing the choice to cover My Chemical Romance, Maniak says, “I was talking to [Dan Campbell from The Wonder Years] about being maybe Madonna – any of these big, female, theatrical acts.” But as she went through the songs, she found herself thinking, “None of these really feel like they’re me.” Inspiration struck while listening to “Famous Last Words”: “I looked at my boyfriend [Zayde] and I’m like, ‘Why don’t I just be Gerard Way? I don’t want to be stuck to gender, what I am used to performing or what is comfortable performing. If this feels like something I would die to cover, then I’m gonna do that.'” On top of that, she notes that Dean cites MCR as his greatest influence, even writing an essay about the band for Alternative Press and that it felt fitting to pay tribute to the band in their home state of New Jersey.
Between songs, Maniak told the crowd, “I usually stand real still and I’m very quiet, but not today”; when playing the MCR songs, she took on Way’s frontman persona, running around the stage, microphone in hand. Still in costume, after “Famous Last Words” she picked up her guitar and began playing “Matthew.” One of the most upbeat and heavier-sounding tracks Shortly has written, it was a clear transition out of the My Chemical Romance cover set. It was “kind of a fake transition into like, all of the instrumentalists are still on stage even though we don’t usually have this many instrumentalists, and – in my head, I guess I was being a little self-conscious. I was like, ‘I’ve been yelling, bouncing around stage this whole time – now I’m going to pick up a guitar and stand still,'” and further admits that “We even played it a little bit differently than we usually do.”
The tour with The Wonder Years is the largest and most professional tour Shortly has done to date, and Maniak notes that day one was “a wild, wild ride… it’s really cool cuz everyone has so much touring experience so then there’s us, with our eight-passenger van that I just bought, kinda new in the game.” It’s been an adjustment, as they’ve been thrown into “kind of a whirlwind of learning the industry again.” Prior to this, Shortly had done several DIY tours, as well as smaller tours booked through booking agents; earlier this fall, they toured with Mom Jeans. and Just Friends. This run is “the next step up, larger venues, more experienced tour managers and artists, etcetera, etcetera.”
From the beginning, Shortly’s manager – Nate Dorough, who’s also the owner of Fusion Shows, a notable Detroit promoter – has strived to be professional (though business is kept separate, and Dorough doesn’t make managerial money when Shortly is booked on a Fusion Show), and Maniak shares that “the most interesting progression is to actually do those things that are professional and them being expected now, if that makes sense.” On tours of this capacity, “You have to get here at the right time, you have to make sure you’re talking to the right people.” They were never keen on running late, switching set orders, or otherwise operating unprofessionally, but “now we don’t have the option to do that. There’s no punk time here – which is probably the weirdest transition.”
After the Sayreville show, there would be several days off before the tour picked up in Providence, Rhode Island. As Maniak discusses Shortly’s plans (the following day, they’d be playing a headliner at No Face Studios in Philadelphia, and a show in DC after that), Zayde walks through the corridor behind the stage but is unable to enter the green room era as he didn’t have the proper credentials. “That’s another thing,” Maniak remarks. “You can’t get in without the right credentials. He’s got the pass, he’s got the wristband, but it’s not the right color…. That’s definitely new. I’m used to a stamp on the hand.”
A few years ago, Maniak was motivated to start the Shortly project after feeling like she didn’t have enough creative freedom and wasn’t being taken seriously in her past bands. “I was being tokenized as a woman as well – playing keys in the same tune as everybody else so no one could hear me,” she adds. This was a pattern, until she found herself at a crossroads in life: “It just happened to be at the right transition of my life where I moved out of my parents’ house, I was living on my own, I suddenly met my boyfriend Zayde, who’s really heavily affiliated with the DIY community of Detroit; I had never heard of DIY before. Suddenly I also had a roommate who was in that and they also booked.” While playing her songs in her room, her boyfriend and roommate asked why she wasn’t playing them with her band. “I was like, ‘Well they don’t like them’ and they’re like, ‘why don’t you play ’em anyway?’ and I was like – “That’s an idea” – so it all came together. When I quit that band, I played a show that I was supposed to play as a member from that band – like I’m on ‘stage’, it was in a backyard, and I’m like, ‘I’m actually gonna go by Shortly now and I’m playing my own songs.'”
When she released “Matthew” a month later, “It was just a personal decision for me to do what I wanted to do. It definitely wasn’t at the point where I felt like music was going to be my career.” It wasn’t until six months later when she’d opened up for the likes of Title Fight and Jeff Rosenstock and record labels began taking notice, that music felt like a career path. Though she’d long been involved with music, it took finding the place where she truly belonged for things to click, but then “things fell into place – the seas parted.”
This September, the first Shortly EP, Richmond, was released on Triple Crown Records. In 2017, Shortly was playing the Fusion Shows Birthday Show with Title Fight and Koji, and caught the eye of Triple Crown Records when Free Throw was added at the last minute. “Apparently what happened is literally – cuz Free Throw had just been signed to Triple Crown, Fred [Feldman, founder of Triple Crown Records] saw the flyer, saw my name, thought it was cool, and listened to it and then Free Throw was like, ‘Hey, this band is really good.'” Maniak shares her love of the label and excitement to hear from them: “I have always loved Triple Crown Records because they put out – at the time it was Deja Entendu, and now Brand New is kind of, RIP, but I was like, ‘They put out Deja Entendu and they put out From Indian Lakes’ – that’s one of my favorite bands, so I’d recognized the name when the email came to me. It was very blank, like ‘Let’s talk about this. – Fred, Triple Crown Records.'”
When Richmond was released, Maniak tweeted that the EP “is by no means perfect, but it has a little bit of different eras of me thus far.” “I wouldn’t say that it is my current work at all,” she offers. “It’s what’s released and I didn’t have anything else released other than ‘Matthew.'” Rather, these songs are ones “that I found myself playing over and over again and songs that I had reworked in many, many ways”; some were written as early as 2012, or as recently as 2017. She adds, “I was writing these while I was in these bands that wouldn’t play the music that I was writing with them. The songs come from completely different eras of my life but they’re laced together and they still are relevant to me, because I was still playing them as Shortly. So to me, I listen to it and I think that’s why they vary in genres, cuz they are what they’re supposed to be as songs. So it’s definitely an EP, I wouldn’t call it a finished work at all – it’s just kind of a sneak peek into what the project is.”
Even though it’s been several years since she wrote some of these songs, Maniak is still able to connect with them because “all of the topics that I wrote about still matter to me.” She adds that “A lot of the lyrics that Shortly writes – and I say ‘Shortly’ as a name now because my friend Austin has been writing a lot with me lately – a lot of the lyrics that we write are kind of introspective and they can be kind of like, ‘I’m sad!’, but they’re not just yelling into a void saying that they’re sad, there’s a lot of resolution in it.” She gives an example: “something that’s about codependency which is then about, you can be better than that, you can grow on from that, you can grow stronger than that. And so I find that even if I don’t relate to the heartbreak of it – or maybe I do again, as I’m going through things – then I still relate to the resolution that I come to at the end of the song and what it means to me symbolically.”
Richmond opens with “Finders Keepers”, a highlight of the live set. The song includes a finger-picking part that “I wrote with my friend Danielle in like, 2010 or 2011 and she and I both hated it and we scrapped it.” Years later, in 2015 or 16, she reworked the finger-picking part and rewrote the lyrics. She recalls the opening line, in which she sings, “All I have is cigarettes to offer you”: “The ‘cigarettes’ part, that’s because I was a 14-year-old girl writing about cigarettes, so that carried over but it’s not something that I would write about now, if that makes sense.” In the early days of Shortly, her boyfriend would ask her to play what she once called “The Cigarette Song”, but admits that “I hated the song for so long.” After fleshing it out with Austin, rewriting the lyrics, and incorporating math rock techniques, it became a clear favorite. “The lyrics changed as they became relevant to things that were happening in my life then, the way that the instruments interacted with one another changed, and changed even more when we brought it to the studio…. When we finally had the balances for the EP when they came back from the studio, I sat down with Austin and my boyfriend, Zayde, and we kinda looked at each other and like – ‘Yeah, that’s the best one’ – and it’s really funny because I didn’t look at that one.”
Maniak reflects on the meaning of “Finders Keepers”, explaining that “it’s more than just missing someone, it’s kind of like… trying to passively let go of someone and they have already let go of you.” She cites a verse: “All I have is a flannel shirt you gave to me / All you have of mine you can keep, I don’t want it back now” and admits, “[If] you can’t tell I went in and out of a lot of different people in my life, and letting go and moving away and kind of becoming affiliated with music rather than other things I was doing – and people just come and go. That lyric is because I had this flannel from someone that I used to be like best friends with and I just suddenly stopped talking to them. We just never talked again, and I felt them radiating off of it like a phantom limb. It’s like – ‘What are you doing in my home?’ I felt like I was bothered but they’re not bothered, clearly.” Seemingly minor changes, like when she stopped smoking, lead to major impacts in her life, as she stopped talking to old friends “because we’d go hang out and everyone would go outside to smoke cigarettes and I had stopped smoking; I didn’t realize that was such a social event. Like literally – things as small as that, slowly one-by-one you kind of… change.”
The tour with The Wonder Years will stretch through the end of November. Maniak hints at a new song coming soon, and mentions a hometown headliner: on December 14, Shortly will play at The Loving Touch in Ferndale, Michigan (just outside of Detroit). “That’s gonna be really really fun,” she grins, “cuz we had one last year, it’s gonna be kind of like a legitimacy show so we’re gonna be posting sneak peeks and snippets from that.” In the days before this conversation took place, Shortly had been included on a tour split with The Wonder Years, Have Mercy, and Oso Oso, as well as a Flint Eastwood pop track. Maniak also hopes to record and post some cover videos, something that is “such a normal thing, but Shortly just hasn’t done, because I always felt like, ‘Oh, it’s just me’ – but now I feel more comfortable relying on other people around me, and giving and taking with their musicianship and kind of turning it in to a big project, not just me trying to navigate it with friends.”
Shortly is on tour now with The Wonder Years, Have Mercy, and Oso Oso; head to their Facebook page for a full list of dates.