Do you rock with The Mannequins’ lore?

Cover image: The Mannequins: Carter Bulthuis, Grant McKenzie, and Michael Sherman. Credit: Adrian Van Stee.

Grant McKenzie (‘24) says, “All right, guys, let’s ROCK!” as he and the rest of The Mannequins [Carter Bulthuis (Previous Hope Student), Michael Sherman (‘24)] prepare for their daily jamming session. Sparks fly as McKenzie rips a sick riff, Bulthuis locks into the tightest of bass grooves and Sherman wails on the drums like his survival depends on channeling the spirit of Nirvana-era Dave Grohl. The whole room is awash in the sounds of an energetic band absolutely rocking out. 

Or, at least, that’s probably what would have happened if we met in their jamming space. Instead, The Anchor met in a coffee shop with the band. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, this enigmatic band were kind enough to chat about their band’s history, future releases, and being a part of the thriving indie-rock scene in Holland, MI. 

It all started a few years ago when McKenzie and Bulthuis met… and that was as far as they were willing to elaborate. However, the word on the street is that they discovered a lot of common music interests when deciding to meet up and jam one day. By all accounts, it was a rousing success, with a few songs they still play frequently being written in that very session. McKenzie, Bulthuis, and their original drummer, Davis Miller began to jam more. This original lineup was the creative force behind “Blast Off For Kicksville, their best-selling album to date. 

A knowledgeable source claims that half of each practice was dedicated to inflicting grievous harm on the large assortment of mannequin heads just lying around McKenzie’s house. One of the few intact ones, who they named Jason, became the band’s symbol and is the face of their marketing. The band believes that Jason somehow ascended to a better place, having disappeared under mysterious circumstances despite being guarded under lock and key. 

McKenzie playing at Mulligans in Grand Rapids. Credit: Adrian Van Stee.

After about a year or two of being a band, Miller could no longer continue, leaving huge shoes to fill after making an indelible imprint on the band’s identity and sound with his outstanding talent for percussion. However, Sherman managed to get in contact with McKenzie, and as soon as he showed up, it was clear that he was the new man for the job. Sherman brought an explosive energy to his drumming that proved to be the “secret sauce,” and from there it seemed like the band was on an upward trajectory yet again. 

It was not too much longer before they started to play shows. Favoring house shows and small local venues, they brought the energy night after night, playing both the hits and the deep cuts from “Blast Off For Kicksville. Playing live shows also gave them the opportunity to road test new material, some of which will probably find its way onto their upcoming album. 

Speaking of which, they have a new album coming! They do not know when, but it is coming, and it is going to be awesome. This is what McKenzie spoke about the rollout process: “A lot of the mastering and production is being done by people who are great at what they do, and they are charging way less than they could be. We are incredibly grateful for their efforts because our music is going to sound as good as it possibly could for the budget we have as a small band. However, that means we and our fans need to be patient with the release timeline.” 

The recording process itself was pretty incredible, with Sherman having less than two days to be present with them when they were doing a final rehearsal before recording the following week. Battling both nasal congestion and traffic congestion, Sherman made the odyssey from Detroit to Illinois, listening to the rhythms and drum fills that he was going to play on the way there. At many points during his drive, he was improving the music on the go, pulling over every now and then to make adjustments to his parts. When he finally arrived, Sherman propelled the fantastic new tunes with his drumming, possessing a level of determination that can only be obtained after a long drive, low sleep and lots of NyQuil. The songs were all recorded live in-studio, with the band giving it their best shot to translate the kinetic energy of their live shows into their new music. It is fair to say they are immensely proud of the results, and in lieu of new music, they are releasing a concert video within the next two weeks to give everyone a taste of that live energy. 

If there is one thing that The Mannequins really wanted to articulate over the course of the interview, it is gratitude. They all absolutely love what they do, and getting to use their creativity to express themselves and bring people together around their music is a dream come true. “The ability to play live shows, and the response to what we’ve been doing, especially at Hope, is amazing. It’s so loving and tremendous and impossible for me to understand (in a good way),” said McKenzie. Seeing friends, acquaintances and strangers alike singing along to their songs electrifies them, and the community response has empowered them to learn and grow and take new risks. 

If you suddenly feel the urge to see one of their live shows, you are in luck. The Mannequins are going on a small run of shows this spring, and they would love to see you there. Seize the opportunity; you will not regret it. Details are below: 

3/9: Cole’s Bar in Chicago, IL

3/21: Hope College Coffeehouse in Holland, MI

4/5: Park Theatre in Holland, MI

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