It has been over a decade since Mansun broke up. They were one of the best bands to came out of the Brit-pop bubble and had hits with ‘Wide Open Space‘, ‘Legacy‘ and ‘I Can Only Disappoint U’. They were not your average indie band. Their albums would skip from genre to genre, the lyrics would feature Stripper Vicars one moment and the Book of Mormon the next. After having a number one debut album with The Attack of the Grey Lantern they followed up by releasing their musical mind bender (and their finest record) Six. It embraced the deadly unfashionable genres of prog-rock and opera, with a splash of punk mixed with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ (why the hell not?) – not forgetting a spoken word section from Dr Who’s Tom Baker! Basically they did a Kid A way before Radiohead did their ‘WTF’ album. Their third album Little Kix confused and disappointed the majority of their fan base and, before they got to rectify their mistakes, they were gone all too soon.
Since then front-man and the main creative power of Mansun, Paul Draper, has spent many years working in the shadows. There was so much speculation on fan sites to why he hadn’t made a solo album and the real reasons why the band had ended before finishing their fourth album. In the last couple of years Draper has embraced social media and spoken in length about the break up and is now working on his first solo album titled Spooky Action as well as working with Catherine Ad on The Anchoress new album Confessions Of A Romance Novelist. We caught up with him to talk about going solo, his work with The Anchoress and the death of Mansun.
HTF: Mansun broke up over a decade ago and still their online fan presence has never stopped. There is even a tribute band and there was a convention earlier in the year. Do you have any idea why your fans are so committed?
PD: I think as I did some interviews regarding The Anchoress album, the Mansun fans realised I wasn’t just a reclusive studio producer anymore and it prompted them to put on a second Mansun Convention. It was amazing 500 people from all over the world came. Now The Anchoress album release is upon us I’m back in the musical landscape putting my debut solo album together so the fan commitment paid off! I think we recorded over 100 unique songs, so there’s a lot for Mansun fans to find and discover on Spotify and the Facebook groups dedicated to the fans. It’s a deep long-lasting culture they have. They liked the live shows, the EP’s, lyrics etc, it’s an acquired taste Mansun I will admit, but now I believe it’s seen as a left field art project, which it was, we weren’t really a pop band.
HTF: You played a new track at the convention. With your new material do you have a similar feeling as before releasing your debut record Attack Of The Grey Lantern? A rebirth so to speak? Does Spooky Action sound like anything that Mansun or do you have completely different influences and thought process?
PD: The track at the convention is typical of Spooky Action, electronic and rock in one song. It didn’t start out as that. It started as a rock record, ’till people started bringing synths to the studio and it’s become a rock/electronic hybrid by accident. I was naive before Attack Of The Grey Lantern, full of youthful ambition. I’m much more concerned about getting the compression and EQ right on the mixing and engineering side of Spooky Action, I’m a studio obsessive now, I don’t care about fame, just making the record good so I like it and it represents me. Making The Anchoress album Confessions Of A Romance Novelist was similar. We don’t care for outside fashions and tastes, except snare drum sounds, which define rock n roll eras.
HTF: The band were much heavier live, I remember one review describing you as The Clash. Was that a just an organic development? Which tour was your most enjoyable? Are there any live concerts that never got to be released?
PD: We became as raucous as The Clash after (drummer) Andy Rathbone joined. Punk loomed large over Brit-pop. The bands don’t have punk in ’em nowadays. I had punk in me, I had working class anger which I took through art school and became a classic angry young man rock musician. So it was in us to be explosive live, but it evolved too until we became untouchable live. We were probably the best UK rock band on the live circuit in the 90’s. I’d lay down the gauntlet to any UK band to come and play with us in our prime, it was breathless up there. The Six tour was quite sinister, but we really rocked those shows and were voted best UK live band by the music press. There’s a whole film of a concert on that tour in Abbey Roads vaults, if it ever comes out, you’ll see how exciting those shows were.
HTF: Will we see you going out on tour with the new album Spooky Action?
PD: Hopefully. I’d like to play it in its entirety with Catherine AD playing her Anchoress album Confessions of A Romance Novelist on the same bill. We are left field arty party types these days so it’ll probably be at the Barbican (London) or something, who knows, I may end up at festivals. I’m just going where Spooky Action takes me…
HTF: Do you check out new artists still? You haven’t done Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable on BBC Six Music for a while. Are there any artists who excite you or does nothing compare to Prince? What do you think of the recent Prince material?
PD: I’m not a big fan of Prince’s latest stuff, but he always pulls out a good track out of the bag. I love The Twilight Sad, Alabama Shakes and Kendrick Lamar is interesting for different reasons. I’m a totally now consumer, I pick the best tracks I’m recommended and playlist them on Spotify premium. It’s a new era for the industry. Killer tracks rule. It’s back to the 50’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’. Nobody cared what was on the rest of the album, but the track rocked. If I hear a track that moves me, it goes on my playlist, it’s a new era for popular music. But the album is most certainly not dead!
HTF: Going back to Mansun, there are many rumours as to why the band dissolved. Is there anything you regret?
PD: Yeah, I should have left sooner and cracked on with a solo career instead of getting stitched up whilst being loyal to members who just wanted to nick the record deal for themselves, Simple as.
HTF: You were fortunate enough to get into music as during the British boom of the mid-90s. Do you think Mansun would survive in today’s climate? What are your thoughts on streaming sites like Spotify?
PD: I’m a big Spotify fan, I’m gonna be all over it this year, The Anchoress is going to be all over it. I’m an adopter of the now and the future. If Mansun were a new band now, we’d build a huge fanbase on Facebook and Spotify and it would probably scale the heights everyone wonders why we didn’t.
HTF: Since the break-up, you have worked with a number of artists including Skin, Joy Formidable and obviously more recently The Anchoress with Catherine AD. How did you get involved with these projects? Did it take much persuasion to record your first lead vocal for more than a decade on the new Anchoress single?
PD: I just fall into projects with people I meet through mutual contacts, through the record companies or managers. I turn most stuff I’ve been offered down, Catfish and The Bottlemen asked me to produce, but I was busy and I’ve tried loads of writing and production jobs that haven’t worked out. I love studios. Every day is a magical challenge, a dream from when I was a boy who wanted my own studio – so it seems I’ve taken an odd path in music, but not if you understand what makes me tick. Although I do it, i’m not a singer-songwriter, I put tracks together in studios, that’s my love, my passion, making records that fascinated me as a child and making them relevant. You get some wrong and some right. For me to get involved with singing this new single with Catherine on The Anchoress project was a natural progression of us working in my studio all the time until we knew each other so well I thought, fuck it, let’s have a go, so we put it out. It’s been all over the radio so it’s odd hearing my voice again as I’m busy doing things and it comes on in the background, but it’s part of a bigger job for me, which is Confessions Of A Romance Novelist.It’s a powerful piece of art straddling dark pop and progressive rock at the same time, and it was no mean feat. It’s like a 21st Century Hounds Of Love as one esteemed critic put it. Is there room for intelligent pop art in today’s music industry? Well let’s see!
PD: I hope you buy The Anchoress album out Jan 15, it’s a great piece of art and I’m very pleased to be involved with it. And if you liked Mansun sign up to my mailing list from my Facebook page and you can find out about my solo album release later this year! Thanks for listening!
Check out the latest Anchoress single ‘ You and Only You’ featuring Paul Draper below: