IN my quest to discover solo musicians that have the potential to go…
all the way in this industry: sometimes I scour the desert floor without so much as a quick thirst quench. With regards Albert Man, you have rivers and oceans of potential – enough to not only quench the senses but drown the body. Not only has he recorded at Pete Townshend’s barge studio (Grand Cru Studio) but played gigs at Caffe Nero – as part of a series promoting promising artists in the country. I chat to Man about his upbringing and past music; how his forthcoming E.P., Nothing of Nothing Much, will differ from his album, Cheap Suit. He provides frank, detailed and illustrative answers: talking about his Christmas plans and working with Rews’ Collette Williams – another duo (with Shauna Tee) who will be owning large parts of 2017.
Hi Albert. How are you? How has your week been?
Good, thanks. Just been busy promoting the new E.P. and rehearsing for my last gig of 2016: supporting HamsandwicH at The Borderline on the 6th of December. I just played a solo gig at Caffe Nero at Heathrow Terminal 2 last Sunday too - which is always fun as they have a nice grand piano there for me to play. Last night, I heading to a gig at the Bedford in Balham – Caffe Nero are presenting three emerging artists. It’s a night off for me though so I’ll just have a beer and enjoy the show!
For anyone new to you and your music: can you introduce yourself, please?
I write piano-led, melodic Pop songs and am based in London. I write Classic Pop and have been likened to that of Ben Folds, Billy Joel; Adam Levine, Randy Newman and Elvis Costello (to name a few). I’m very much involved in the London Music scene having played over forty gigs in London in 2016. I released a four-track EP in 2015; an eleven-track album earlier this May and have a new six-track EP coming out on February 3rd, 2017 - which is already available for pre-order on iTunes (www.albertman.com/preorder)
You are half-German and born in Manchester – but now reside in London. Where is the best place for music would you say? Is there a huge difference between German and British audiences, for instance?
I’ve never actually lived in Germany but have toured over there with previous bands. The German audiences are really receptive and you get the five-star treatment.
London is great for music: every night of the week you can watch live music somewhere. This also means the London music scene is oversaturated and the audiences are sometimes less receptive just because they’re spoilt for choice.
I think you can build a good local following in smaller towns around the country. Manchester is a big city too and has a strong music scene as well, though. I’ve only ever played one gig there (at Night and Day).
London must be a wonderful city for new musicians. What it like from a creative standpoint and is it a relief venues like Fabric have survived – does that give you hope in the venue scene there?
Music Venue Trust held a night at the Roundhouse called Fightback (back) in October this year - to support the live music scene to try and protect U.K. grassroots music venues. It’s really important that these venues stay open and that London remains one of the world’s most culturally-rich cities - especially for music. There are always venues and musicians to play with in London which is great. I love learning about other musicians as much as I enjoy playing my own gigs.
You have recently played #BLOGTOBER and some great gigs this year. Which stands in the mind as particularly memorable?
Some of my favourite gigs of the year would include my recent gig at The Hospital Club - for Vin’s Night In - The O2 Priority Lounge before Muse (got a free ticket to the show too!); Jimmy’s Farm for his Harvest Festival; The Verdi Room at the Royal Albert Hall; Sofar Sounds in Liverpool; the Coffee Music Project final at 229 The Venue; The Grand Social over in Dublin and Oxjam Clapham Music Festival at The Sun. I’ve recently started playing with a band so that’s always more fun. I’m hoping my next gig at The Borderline supporting HamsandwicH is going to be a highlight too!
Cheap Suit is your album (released this year). It gained huge praise and lauded by radio and critics. Were you surprised by the reaction and what has the reception been like – from the live audiences – towards the record?
It was really nice to have the record praised by radio and music blogs. It was loads of work so I’m just glad the people who heard it seemed to like it.
It means a lot and makes the late nights all the more worthwhile! :) I even got it pressed onto vinyl too which I have always wanted to do so very happy about that. People seem to like the songs when I play them live. It’s funny how you have your favourites and then someone will come up after the show and tell you the one they really liked. It’s always something different from what you think and what other people have said.
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Nothing of Nothing Much is your forthcoming E.P. What can you tell us about the songs/themes on the E.P. and what was it like recording at Pete Townshend’s barge studio?
The barge studio was great. It’s such a relaxing studio with wood panelling on the walls and ceiling. You also get loads of natural light in there which isn’t always the case with a lot of studios in central London. Apparently, you could go off sailing and still record though I think it’s mostly stationary these days. There are a couple of upbeat tracks and three ballads.
I Feel Like Dancing is the first single and it’s about how music is all you really need to have a good time and take your mind off any crap that might be happening in your life. Diamond in the Rough came out of a co-write and is about a relationship where the woman in question chooses money over love. Shotgun was written during the height of summer this year - and really captures the essence of summer for me. It’s just a fun upbeat track about going for a ride in the sun with that special someone.
You Had Me at Hello is a heartfelt ballad about how time gets the better of us all and how nice it would be to go back to the first “hello” with the one you love. It’s recorded with Collette Williams on backing vocals and - who also played drums on the tracks. Her vocal is quite high in the mix, though - so it almost sounds more like a duet. I really like how it turned out: it’s always fun coming up with ideas in the studio.
Do You Think About Me? was the first song I wrote from this collection and is about the pain and regret that comes with a relationship breakup. My songs don’t tend to come from personal experience; I just like to make up a story or situation and get creative with it.
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How would you say the E.P. differs from Cheap Suit? Is there a stylistic/sound change or can fans expect something quite similar?
I think it’s quite different. There’s different musicians playing on both and the songs from Cheap Suit spanned quite a long time - so even on the album, there are songs which feel quite different. The E.P. was all written quite quickly and recorded even quicker (in just three days). The album took about a year from recording to releasing.
I wanted to get this E.P. done faster. I think the new songs are a bit more grown up: I’ve tried to write songs that people can connect with more than with some of my earlier stuff.
Working with a producer meant the tracks perhaps sound a bit different too, the album was all self-produced.
I believe the E.P. started as a live session in Dublin with a group of local musicians. How come you were in the city and what was the first song you recorded for the E.P.?
My wife and manager, Manoja, is really good at making connections and earlier in the year we had some photos taken by Dara Munnis: a Dublin-based photographer who’s really well connected to the music scene in Dublin. I had a gig at the Grand Social in Dublin this past August and Dara helped set up a recording session at his house with a bunch of local musicians - performing my track You Had Me at Hello whilst we were there. This version is now a bonus track on the E.P. and you can watch the session on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EL2ilHAfv0. It’s one of the highlights of the year for me. It was good fun playing with those guys and enjoyed collaborating on the parts just on the same night.
You Had Me at Hello finds you working with Rews’ Collette Williams – who I am very aware of. What was it like working with her and which other musicians can we expect on the record?
Collette is really nice and great to work with. She just got it straight away. We were recording drums with her for an entire day - having only a couple of hours for her to lay down some vocal tracks. She has an amazing voice, too (which was a bonus)!
Dara came over from Dublin and recorded piano on one track and Sarah Lynch - who was also part of that recording session out in Ireland; came over too to put some violin on the tracks. We had Joe Garvey who is another singer-songwriter on the London circuit come and join us for an evening to put vocals and guitar on a track I co-wrote with him. The producer, Rhys Downing, put guitars on all the tracks and worked solidly for three days on the E.P. It’s always great to work with a producer you trust and get on with so well.
Critics have compared you to everyone from Adam Levine to Billy Joel. Which artists were important you growing up?
David Bowie was really important to me growing up and still is now. I used to record songs from Labyrinth onto tape recorded from the T.V. I was always a fan of The Doors too - maybe because of Ray Manzarek keyboard playing. I’ve always liked a bit of Elvis - especially that ‘68 Comeback Special and I visited Graceland a few years back. I was really into my Manchester bands as well when I was younger; Joy Division and the Stone Roses. I love glossy American bands like Huey Lewis and the News, too. It’s a wide range and all of these have been influential to me.
One of the things that amazes me is how professional and full your press release is – how much information is available to the media. Do you think too few artists expend this effort and consideration?
It’s hard to know really. A lot of stuff you send out for reviews (etc.) is all done privately so I’m not really sure how other artists approach it. It really does take a lot of time though and you really have to spend a lot of time on it. If you as an artist can’t be bothered making what you have to offer as appealing and as easily accessible as possible then why should anyone take the time to try and find out what you’re all about. The social media stuff is obviously out there for everyone to see and interact with, and it is a lot of work, too.
Again, I think you need to do it and you reach more people than you think with it. You also need to know more than just how to play and sing.
Today’s D.I.Y. ethos is so necessary in order to make an impact. You need to make and edit your own videos: record and mix your own music, create your own artwork and graphics; take care of your own website as well as be your own P.R. and press agent.
It’s just impossible to pay for someone else to take care of all that and to be honest - nobody is going to care as much about it as yourself.
Who are the artists you are tipping for success in 2017?
It is almost Christmas time once more. Where will you be spending it this year? Any presents high on the wish-list?
I’m obsessed with wires and cables. I love having spare cables and extra XLR leads and adapters that I’ll probably never use but may need one day. I also like buying stuff for my live sound or home studio. I’m looking into a portable sixteen-track recorder at the minute to record some live gigs easily - so I’ll get Santa on the case! Amazon seems to sell everything I need these days so Amazon gift vouchers for me would be the way forward to anyone listening ;). Christmas will be spent between Manchester and London. Looking forward to seeing the family.
Is there any particular advice you’d provide new musicians coming through?
Like I said before: you need to do everything yourself. If you don’t know how to do something such as make a video: you can learn how to do it. You don’t have to be an expert in any of it so long as you know the basics.
Also, work with a manager who really believes in you and is proactive at getting you gigs and putting your name out there. Try to make everything you do as professional as you can.
I see so many badly-recorded live videos with awful sound and just think that nobody will think you’re any good. Most important of all, don’t let anyone or anything get you down. Work hard and be true to your music, people will start to notice and appreciate it.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like (rather than one of yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.
David Bowie - Cat People (Putting Out Fire). The original version from the movie Cat People rather than the re-recorded version on the album Let's Dance. I’d only ever heard the Let’s Dance version until I watched Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds for the first time - I was completely hooked.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Arnab Ghosal Street Photography