dinsdag 14 juli 2020

Interview met Manhatten

Met het album ¨Blue Sky Girl¨ debuteerde de Engelse synthwave producer Manhatten dit jaar op het label Future 80´s Records. Een zeer goed album met lovende kritieken en naast de digitale uitgave ook zelfs nog versies op CD en cassette (al is deze inmiddels uitverkocht). Tijd voor een interview om de mens achter de muzikant te leren kennen. Veel plezier!

With the album "Blue Sky Girl" the English synthwave producer Manhatten debuted this year on the label Future 80´s Records. A very good album with critical acclaim and in addition to the digital edition even versions on CD and cassette (although this has since been sold out). Time for an interview to get to know the person behind the musician. Lots of fun reading it!


Chris, can you please introduce yourself?
Hey all. It's your friendly neighbourhood Synthwave Artist, Manhatten here (yes spelled that way, and yes I know it's wrong). Funny story, spellcheck your name before you start promoting yourself otherwise you have to pretend that you meant to spell it that way as if you were trying to be "cool and edgy". I'm a UK based Electronic Music Artist / Producer (and a composer / sound designer as my real-world alter ego), born in the 80's, and I've been writing music for over 20 years now.

Your new album ¨Blue Sky Girl¨ has been released on May, 28th. Congratulations with this great achievement. How are the reactions so far?
Reactions have all been really positive. There's been a lot of love out there for it and I couldn't have asked for the release to go much better than it has... well, I mean selling a few hundred thousand copies during the first week would have been nice, but still :)...

I'm a newcomer to the synthwave / synthfam scene having turned up almost by accident - I hadn't planned to write a synthwave album, I just fancied doing something that sounded a bit like the music I remember listening to as a kid back in the ´80s. So to have it released and for everyone to react as positively as they have done (in terms of comments, reviews, sales etc.) has been awesome and pretty humbling to be fair.

What was your idea behind this album when creating it?
As I touched upon above, the idea initially was to create something that sounded like the music I listened to when I was young - that wonderful period of Electro Synth-Pop bands in the early to mid ´80s. I also wanted to finish something y'know? I have folder upon folder on my HDD of "ideas" that always start off well, but then you get distracted or your hear something else and all of a sudden you want to do that etc. It got to the point where I'd almost forgotten how to finish something, so I started on this with the idea of "I'm going to write 3 / 4 tracks and get it sent of as a demo to some labels etc.", almost as an exercise in finishing something. And it just so happened that "Blue Sky Girl" was the first thing that came out of my head. After that song came out, the whole idea of the story that the album tells and all the other tracks on it just came out really quickly and easily. So it worked, in terms of the exercise in finishing something... and also really worked creatively too. I kind of found my musical path, if that doesn't sound too cheesy...?

Which songs are most special to you on the album?
Can I say all of them? It's a bit of a 'kop out' answer I know... It's like picking a favourite child (if you have kids). Everyone has one right, but you're never supposed to tell anyone 😂.

But twist my arm and I'd probably have to say "Blue Sky Girl", "Thunder" and "Last Chance City". They were three of the first four songs I wrote for album ("Slow Burn" was the other) and I suppose they all gave me a confidence boost in different ways. "Blue Sky Girl" as I sat down and wrote it start to finish, without my focus wandering off. It was the sound I was after and I had made it happen. "Thunder" as I was / still am, super proud of the melodic elements to it - I've not always written a lot of melodic based stuff, so it was cool to hear that I seemed to still have an ear for it (even if I do say so myself). And "Last Chance City" as I remember getting about 50% into it and then thinking: "Hmmm, not sure about this one actually". Normally at that point I'd probably go off and doing something else, but I treated it as an exercise in Production (imagined I was being asked to produce this idea and saying "Nah, don't fancy it" wasn't an option), powered on through and then came out the other side thinking "Wow. This is actually pretty good... maybe I should approach other tracks like this".

The album is released by Future 80's Records. How did you end up working together with this label?
They were the first, and and pretty much only label I got my demo off to, basically as they responded really quickly. I had researched a load of labels, details, YouTube channels etc. and written up a spreadsheet so I could keep track of who I had sent it to on what date and any feedback I received, and was ramping up for a bombardment campaign to try and get this music out there... and then I never got to use it as Future 80's Records got back and offered me a deal to release it. The label has been really cool and I've got to talk to a load of other artists (on and off of the label) via them. I know a lot of people go it alone these days, and that's a perfectly valid way of doing things, but I'm glad to have another voice in the discussion around things. There's not been any creative "interference" - they're happy for me (and all of the other artists on the label for that matter) to make the music I / we make, but from a marketing point of view, I've not got much experience at all, so having them to help with that is the number one reason I wanted to go with a label in the first place. Plus their all musicians / artists in their own right too, and it never hurts to have another creative voice pitching in with opinions on things. I find it helps me listen to my own work in a different way, which is always useful.

I have to admit though, I was a bit gutted I never got to use my spreadsheet... lol 😂.

The Roland Juno-106 synthesizer played a big role in creating this album. What other gear did you used?
I know it's not cool to admit, but a lot of it (including the Juno-106) was VST synths. I own a lot of hardware synths, and you can hear them at various points throughout the album, but with limited time to write / create music it's sooo much quicker for me to get creative without having to wait X minutes after turning something on for it to warm up, then re-tune it, then re-patch it or hope that I took a photo of how I had it setup etc. I'd love to have the time to do a lot more hardware stuff, but even big synth bands / duo's have the same issue. I saw an interview with Andy McCluskey (OMD) where he talked about using the VST version of the Jupiter 8 (instead of the real one he owns) for exactly the same reasons.

In terms of the main VST ones I used for the record:

- Juno 106; a free reaktor patch version for Reaktor 5 - can't remember where I got it from).
- NI Massive; my go to synth. The only one I've ever learned inside out.
- Korg Polysix; all my basslines.
- Korg MS-20; from the legacy collection, much like the Polysix.
- NI Battery 4; with a load of custom drum samples and samples taken from various retro drum collections.

Then there was a few more around that were used here and there, but these ones were the core of the album. Hardware ones that made an appearance were:

- Yamaha CS-5; the pride and joy of my hardware collection. Love this synth.
- Roland D-110; a real underrated star. Used it a lot to add layers into the sounds as opposed to using it "on its own".
- Behringer VC340; people are very divided over Behringer making their own versions of classic synths, but that aside they are well made and well priced so I'm down with it. The vocoder vocals on "Blue Sky Girl" were on the VC340, plus the strings make a couple of appearances throughout.
- Korg Minilogue; really need to use this one more.
- Yamaha DX Reface; I always wanted a DX7 (I remember at University we had a music lab room full of them), but price and physical space are always issues so DX Reface does a more than good enough job. I bought it to replace my Volca FM which was good, but no good to actually "play".

What advice can you give to new synthwave producers?
Not sure really since I'm pretty new to it myself... 😂 But I would say have fun with it, Don't get too caught up in having all of the "right gear" and sticking rigidly to the format. Yes, the music takes a lot of lead from the music of the past, but at the same time it's made of the "here and now". Don't be afraid to embrace newer production techniques, but at the same time don't shy away from older ones (even though they can take longer) - E.G. trying mixing VSTs and hardware. Write with what you have and what you know - the music will always come out "truer" that way, and that's when it will sound good. I'd also say don't come in expecting huge commercial success (though it's possible), and engage with the community - there's a load of talented people out there who are also dead friendly, so learn what you can from them, give something back and have a blast while doing it.

Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club...

What are your further plans for this year, though life is not normal nowadays due to COVID-19?
Music wise just to keep going as I am really. The songs keep falling out of my head, so I'm just trying to scoop them all up now before they make a mess of the studio. I'd like to try a few more collabs with people (got a couple in the works already), particularly singers / vocalists as I sound like a rat drowning in a drain pipe when I try and sing. 😂 Asides from that, I quite enjoying making videos / visuals for the tracks (and have had some really good feedback so far) so I might dive a little deeper into that.

Away from music, just trying to stay fit and healthy - I enjoy a drink or five, but I'm also quite into my exercise. Nothing too drastic, but I find going for a run most days to be great not only for my physical health, but also the mental side of things too. Plus it gives me a chance to listen to some of the music I keeping buying on Bandcamp. We've got a couple of camping holidays pencilled in too (COVID-19 allowing of course), which are always great fun so I'm looking forward to getting out and into nature with those.

What do you like most about the ´80s?
The music. And the art. And to a lesser extent the fashion. But not the politics (the whole Thatcher / Reagan era in the West), though it all seems to be sadly coming back round again, right? Perhaps that's why the music of the ´80s is coming back? I've been very much enjoying the bandcamp Fridays supporting the artists, but also for their support (and that of a great many labels and artists) for the fight to end racial injustice around the world, because fuck racial injustice! I'd love to see more of, and get involved with, more of this kind of thing as there's a lot of shit out there in the world that I reckon could be solved if people just put their minds and effort to it.

And finally, any last words to the synthwave community?
Buy my record... 😂

But seriously, continue to be awesome. Continue to support each other (through purchases, retweets, nice reviews on bandcamp, streams on spotify etc, and just generally being good and kind to each other). And continue to make great music - it's what binds us together (at least to start with).

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