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Interview: Scott Mannion Talks About His Debut Solo Album 'Loving Echoes'

Interview: Scott Mannion Talks About His Debut Solo Album 'Loving Echoes'

Stevie Kaye / Photo credit: Julie Karpodini / Wednesday 19th June, 2019 10:41AM

Indie-pop luminary Scott Mannion, co-founder of Tāmaki Makaurau label Lil' Chief Records and with a pedigree in The Tokey Tones, Plasticine and Polaar, has just released his debut solo album Loving Echoes. Based in Chelva, a tiny Valencian village in eastern Spain (where he's been monstering the local cake-baking competitions), Loving Echoes sees Mannion deftly combine his knack for intricate Brian Wilson-esque orchestration with a bittersweet narrative of a relationship's rise and fall born of experience. 

UnderTheRadar last spoke to Scott Mannion in July 2017 when he launched the first single from Loving Echoes, 'Your Kinda Love'. He then thought "the release is planned for early 2018 - hopefully February!" – however, the album's release this month was a little further down the track.

Stevie Kaye: Was part of the delay with Loving Echoes' release a Lil' Chief Records scheduling issue?

Scott Mannion: Certainly the delay from last year to this year was a Lil' Chief scheduling thing, because [the album] was done more or less in the middle of last year – I could have pushed to have it finished a little sooner, but we had big albums from Jonathan [Bree] and [Princess] Chelsea, so that was definitely a scheduling issue. I would have had to push it to late November, which is getting too close to the end of the year; that didn't feel right, somehow.

Since you've lived in Wales and Spain (as well as Ryan McPhun in Norway), Lil' Chief seems to have pivoted slightly towards the European rather than North American indie scene - was that a conscious shift?

Since I moved over here, [Lil' Chief] started pressing vinyl for the first time – we started doing that with Chelsea's first album, so maybe that was 2011? And because of that, it became more affordable, because the pressing here was cheaper. When you're in New Zealand trying to press vinyl, the only option is Australia and that seemed out of reach. But because I was living here, we could press it at a better price, and the stock could live with me, which just ended up – particularly in Wales – being in an apartment just full of records. I guess Chelsea blowing up was the same kind of time – 'The Cigarette Duet' video went viral and became a huge thing, we started selling a bunch of her records, and a lot of her fans happen to be from Europe. Since then Jonathan's totally kicked off, and he has a super-strong following in Europe as well. It wasn't a conscious thing – just a happy coincidence, I guess.

There's a Songs of Innocence / Songs of Experience shift in the label's releases from the early days until now - richer, more sophisticated orchestration and themes. Is there a house sound, or just the natural evolution of working with friends as they mature?

I think we've always inspired each other in a way within the label, and so over the years Jonathan's always been hearing my works in progress and vice versa. Jonathan's so prolific, he's sitting on so many records of unreleased stuff, but in terms of how my sound is now versus then it's just experience, the instruments that I have now and the setup that I have. The process was really different here as well – for The Tokey Tones most of it I worked up with Li-Ming – I saw The Tokey Tones as a duo, [done] in the same room, but then when drums or anything else were added, they could be worked up in a sort've band situation, whereas here I've had to do a lot more myself, and send things to people like Ryan [McPhun] or Jonathan to add to, or I've gone to them, or they've come to me, but it's just felt like quite a different process. It's been ... in some ways it's harder, but it's also resulted in the sound being a bit different as well. I think with The Tokey Tones, working things up with Li-Ming meant that brought in certain types of instrumentation and melodies that aren't on this record, I guess.

Since you first started recording with Polaar, there's been huge leaps forward in the cost and portability of home recording setups. How have you experienced that shift?

I think the Polaar days were just pre being able to have the home setup. With The Tokey Tones I was using Pro Tools, but with Polaar before, I would demo on four-track cassette and take it to the band, then we did stuff in the studio, which I think led to me wanting more control over everything, wanting to get things to sound the way that I imagined, and that led to The Tokey Tones – I've had the means to record myself since then, but I think obviously things have come a long way since then as well. There's so many people making music and making good music, it's a little overwhelming how much good music there is around. For anything to stand out it has to be particularly special these days. But it's also been part of my problem as well, having all these options. In some ways I need to introduce some limitations for my process to speed things up a little bit, somehow, for the next thing.

You've gone for a traditional album-cycle release with Loving Echoes, but have you considered alternate means of putting out music? For example, Lil' Chief alumni James Milne's last Lawrence Arabia album was a crowdfunded monthly singles club.

Totally – it's amazing what James achieved, and I'd worry that if I did something like that the quality would be compromised. But it is really tempting to do something like that where I just say, yeah, I'm gonna write something start to finish and give myself this time period, or to just say that I'm only gonna use these instruments. For example, on this record Julie, my partner, her favourite versions are the original demos which were just guitar and voice, or guitar / voice / piano or something, and I kinda like the idea of doing an EP with just that limitation in the palette, because then it prevents me from all these extra choices and endless tweaking, and makes the mix easier and so on. I've been talking to a friend about borrowing his four-track cassette recorder and just doing a few songs like how I used to make them originally ... obviously it'd be quite lo-fi, but to see what I could do with one these days, because there are things that you can do – playing with the tape speed, recording in reverse and just the process of bouncing tracks. I just want to have a play, if I can.

What's your connection to your local music scenes been like in Wales and Spain? Was the introduction of Clara Viñals to your and Jonathan's recordings a result of going to local gigs?

Chelsea was playing a show in Barcelona, and it was being put on by a friend of mine who lives up there in Sitges, and she was playing support for the first time – I listened to her music and I just really loved her voice, so that was how she became a part of it. In Wales, to be honest, I never really connected the local music ... maybe if I'd been in Cardiff it would have been different, but I was in Swansea. I did try a little bit, but I dunno, I just didn't feel it. Here [in Spain] I've connected more with musicians, definitely. My landlords when I first came here were sound artists, and their kids play in the local band, because here just about everybody's in the local ... it's like a brass band I guess ... and then they had musician friends in Valencia. I've then met other people since in the indie scene, which has been really cool. My bass player Charlie's from Valencia, and Clara's in my band but she's up in Lleida, which is near Barcelona, and yeah – there's other people I'd like to work with too, but Charlie's been stolen by Stereolab! He was playing with [Stereolab's] Lætitia [Sadier], in her solo band – somehow he got the gig playing bass for her years ago, and since he's been playing with her for years. They asked him to play bass with Stereolab, so he's on a world tour for I don't know how long now. So I'm needing to find a new bass player for some shows coming up.

I'd heard Loving Echoes' core songs had been written by 2015 - had you written / recorded a lot of songs that didn't thematically fit the album's Lexicon of Love-style narrative / concept?

Yeah, or even earlier – yeah definitely 2015. I'd say I had a lot of the songs ready by the end of 2014, but there's a ton of songs that didn't make the record – not because they didn't fit the narrative in some ways, but just because I wanted to limit it to ten songs, and I dunno, maybe the vibe wasn't quite right or something. I tried to think about how the songs flowed into each other – the sequencing. The only one I might have changed for something else is 'Nine Years'. I had another song which I like which could have worked as the last track, but I had originally planned for 'Nine Years' to be the last song so I stuck with it. I was listening to some of the stuff which didn't make it yesterday because Julie's trying to push me to finish the next one as soon as I can – she'd like me to get another one out next year, but I don't know if that'll happen. There's probably already enough songs there, and the process of actually releasing Loving Echoes and playing live again has got me writing new stuff as well.

'Loving Echoes' is out now on LP and CD via Lil’ Chief Records / Rhythmethod.


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