For Iowa native Karlee Mannix, doodles turned into an art degree and high school choir turned into a family-affair band.
Karlee, an Iowa alum, enjoys her eclectic life. When she is not working as a photographer’s assistant at The Portrait Shop in Coralville, she is singing in Iowa City bars with her husband and guitarist, Jeff Mannix; sister-in-law and bassist, Sarah Mannix; and drummer, Alfred “Mannix” Edgar with their appropriately titled band, Mannix!.
Their music is a blend of all their influences. Karlee said her husband’s influences include the New York Dolls and hard rock bands, while hers are harder to nail down. They range, she said, from John Lennon and The Beatles to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. According to the band’s MySpace page, they sound like “being struck in the face with a double-sided mann-ax,” which must mean it’s hard rockin’, go-out-with-your-friends-and-dance music. Karlee says The Strokes and Blondie also influenced their sound. In fact, that and her bright blonde hair made the opportunity to perform dressed as Blondie for The Mill’s Halloween show a natural move.
Their shows draw a good crowd, she said. They favor The Mill for the employees and the Mannix! fans that come to see them play. When they’re not on stage, they hang low at home with friends and family—some closer than others. Karlee’s youngest brother lives in Iowa City and her other brother in Chicago, but her mother lives in Florida.
“My mom and I are very close. It’s been hard,” she said. “She’s been here a couple times and she’s coming back in Thanksgiving. She’s moving back to Iowa permanently in July because she misses it too much.”
As for her moving plans, Karlee and the band are happy where they are. Once debating moving to Minneapolis, the decision was quickly nixed when they realized how comfortable they are in Iowa City.
“I’ve been here for, like, eight years. I love this town,” she said. “I have friends in Minneapolis and they don’t always know a lot of people in a big city, and I would hate that feeling because I love all the people out here.”
Karlee lives with her husband, the rest of the band, and another friend in what has been dubbed the Mannix Mansion, a 1900s home where they use their dining room to practice.
“We don’t have a garage so we had to use the dining room,” Karlee joked. “We don’t need a dining room. We all eat at the couch.”
Though married life usually calls for privacy, Karlee said her populated home actually works out well, and its age and size reminds her of her Eastern Iowan childhood home in Clinton, Iowa.
“It’s really comforting to be there,” she said. Home life is a snap—Karlee calls herself the “clean freak” and Jeff is the master chef—but she pitches in, too, with cupcakes and other desserts that she loves to bake and share.
The couple recently celebrated their four-year anniversary. They met in 2001 through a mutual friend when she was a UI freshman.
“As a visual artist, she’s always had an eye for detail and her work was almost exclusively realist, but I think she has really found her own style,” said Jeff. “As a musician, there isn’t another singer I would rather have in my band. She has a great stage presence and a very natural feel for what works and what doesn’t as a vocalist.”
Karlee said her a capella choir experience from high school has helped her voice training and breathing.
“I know when we practice I can’t sit on my ass. You can’t sit and sing, it’ll sound like crap,” she said. “I’ve been singing since…I don’t even know. My mom said when I was a little girl I would brush my hair in the mirror and sing ‘Lucky Star’ by Madonna into my brush as a microphone.”
Her band’s album Just Havin’ a Night will be complete by December—full-length with 10 original songs, which they plan to sell at their live shows and in local music stores.
“We’ve been working really hard on it, practically a year. We had to go to Minneapolis twice. Arlan [friend and record producer] came to Iowa City once and recorded our vocals in our old apartment if you can believe that,” she said. “It sounds really good, and they’re taking really good care of it. We’re really excited. We’re going to have it mastered in Chicago. It’ll hopefully be ready by December 6.”
Karlee’s first love is art, and a piece entitled “Dream a Little Dream,” will be shown in the upcoming Small Works Show at the Chait Galleries Downtown in Iowa City starting November 7. She describes most of her art as “very girly,” with lots of pink and purples, but recently has become obsessed with leafless trees. She combines both aesthetics in the selected work, creating the effect of a sad painting with a bright outlook.
“I did the painting specifically for the show,” Karlee said, sipping a berry smoothie in Iowa City’s Java House. “I haven’t done a painting for a while and it was a good way to motivate me into that because I used to paint a lot but it was usually for class, so it was a good kick to do a new painting.”
Before her work went public in the art gallery, Karlee’s concentration throughout much of her University of Iowa art career were cats.
“When I was in school, I had this one class and it was all oils—and the teacher let us pick any subject we wanted so I picked my cats,” Karlee recalled. “Before I went ahead and did it, the teacher was like ‘Cats? Cats are hard to paint, I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ and I’m like ‘I like cats, I draw them all the time, I study them and I know them very well.’ I blew her mind when I painted these cats, it was dead on. I got an A-plus.”
As a child, Karlee said her mother was shocked by the young talent she had on her hands.
“I was two or three and my brother was four or five, and my mom gave us paper and pencils to keep us occupied and said ‘Draw something.’ Scott’s was a bunch of scribbles, and I had drawn a house, a window.
But it wasn’t just a house, it was looking out the window the way our cat would with the trees, yard and cars in the street. She was shocked, it was really good I guess, and she said ‘I have a little artist.’”