Interview:Mansun Guitar Magazine September 1998
|Interview With Dominic Chad and Paul Draper from Mansun|
...It's Guitar Madness
|Interview with Dominic Chad, Paul Draper|
|Source:||Guitar Magazine (UK)|
THE MANSUN FAMILY - image 2 right
Mad wibbly intergalactic flange guitars, an obsession with a drowned rock star, close encounters with Winnie The Pooh and a visit by a real, live Timelord: it's all bread and butter to Chester's Mansun, busy crafting an album that's surely set to redefine the terms 'vision' and 'scope'. Singer Paul Draper and Guitarist Chad have the full story...
With well-heeled Richmond to one side and prim Putney to the other, the genteel south west London suburb of Barnes does not appear to be one of the capital's more overtly rock'n'roll quarters. True, Marc Bolan died tying a mini round a tree - possibly even an old oak - on that road running past the Common, and it's rumoured that Ben'n'Tracey of Chablis junglists Everything But the Girl reside in dinner partying domestic bliss nearby. But stroll a few hundred yards past the village-esque pond on the Church Road, and you'll find Olympic Sound Studios. Despite it's unassuming nature - no gold discs adorn Olympic's reception walls, simply a single vibrant watercolour of a classical quartet - this place has more than played it's part in rock'n'roll creation and chaos. Olympic's 1960's habitués included the Rolling Stones and, occasionally, The Beatles, plus Jimi Hendrix, who recorded most of his first two LPs here. Today, Olympic is paying host to Mansun, who recently completed their epic second album Six in Studio 3.
'It's cool here,' announces lead guitarist Chad, he of the domed '60's barnet and once-toe curling reputation for rock'n'roll hellraising, settling down in one of the mixing rooms. 'Hendrix is one of my idols, and Brian Jones too, obviously, so it's nice to work in the same place. I haven't picked up any vibes yet though... I've been trying to do my own thing.'
In may ways this hotbed of '60s invention is a fitting place to find Mansun. You couldn't comfortably describe their sound as retro, but their sometimes-clumsy yet always wilful directional swerves in style do hark back to the late '60s, an era when popsters snorted up influences and spat them back out with unhinged abandon. In an age where many pop hopefuls coolly calculate their 'relevance' of their sound to prevailing tastes before even putting notes to tape, Mansun are so heroically adventurous they deserve a special badge. And a Handle With Caution warning.
Like their boldly ambitious debut Attack of the Grey Lantern, Mansun's starling follow up Six, released on September 7, is something of a concept piece. Lyrically, there are numerous themes: cult '60s TV drama The Prisoner, bear of little brain Winnie the Pooh, Taoist philosophy, the death of rolling stones Brian Jones, the grim guilt complexes resulting from a strict Catholic upbringing - and that's all before you get to part 2. And in the time-honoured style of serious art statements like Sgt Pepper, Quadrophenia and, ooh, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, the music zigzags all over the shop. There's chart potency in the hooks of Negative, Being A Girl, and Seratonin, but the songs around them are almost free of the
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radio-friendly popisms that pushed Take It Easy Chicken, Wide Open Space and Stripper Vicar chartwards. Gone are the cinematic orchestral arrangements of The Chad Who Loved Me and Dark Mavis; instead come stop/start drum meters and swathes of flanged chords, raygun solos and weird blips a-go-go from the FX-fuelled guitar of Chad.
'It's not', Chad insists proudly, 'just 13 verse/chorus songs which happen to make up an album. We wanted Six to be a piece, a real work, something artistic. I know it's not a very fashionable way to make a record and maybe we'll be criticised, but we didn't want to do what everyone else does. These songs really fit together with lyrical links and musical themes that come in and out, like the Legacy riff.
There are loads of effects, too. It's just been guitar madness! 'People will either love it straight away, or ...' - pregnant pause -' ... they will really fucking hate it.' This is true. But if boredom is knowing what's coming next, then Mansun are arguably the most exciting band in Britain. Even if they are mad.
Mansun formed in summer 1995, claiming a simple prime motivation - to escape their adopted hometown of Chester. Singer and principal songwriter Paul Draper met Stove King (real name: Stove King) while the two were studying at art college. Draper then didn't even own a guitar, but he's since claimed to have been planning the band since his early teens; King, meanwhile, readily admits that at this point he'd never even picked up any musical instrument, let alone a bass. Fortunately, both liked drinking at Chester's Fat Cat, a pub where the bar manager was one Dominic Chad, recently ejected from a languages degree course in Bangor - 'for doing, I admit, absolutely nothing.' Although Chad had only first strummed a guitar at 18, inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Marr and Mick Ronson, he was definitely up for joining a band. For a while, the threesome - first called Grey Lantern, then Manson, finally Mansun - made their own brand of sci-fi guitar
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LIFE OF BRIAN: CHAD ON BRIAN JONES (table) image 4a left. 4b middle right
Bearing a certain resemblance to Brian Jones and also sharing his birthplace of Cheltenham, Dominic Chad is a major obsessee of the expired Stone. The Mansan man has reportedly changed his middle name to Brian by deed poll (unconfirmed), was even mentioned with regard to playing Jones in a bioplc (true, but sadly unrealised) and shares Jones' fascination with AA Milne's Winnie The Pooh books (Jones lived and died at Milne's ex-estate, Cotchford Farm in Sussex).
'I always liked Jones' multi-instrumentalist approach, even though he was simply a great guitarist, and I love the early Stones records; the later stuff, apart from a few tracks from the Mick Taylor era, I'm not really interested in,' Chad explains.
'Brian Jones' story is such an interesting one, very tragic too - the way he was ousted from the band he formed. He was undoubtedly the most talented member of the Rolling Stones, though perhaps the one with the least direction. The others knew what they wanted, which was mainstream success.
'The best books I've read on Brian Jones are Terry Rawlings' Who Killed Christopher Robin? and Jeffery Giuliano's Paint It Blaok. They approach the events differently but both come to the same conclusion - that Brian Jones was murdered. The motive, though, is hard to pin down. Who Killed Christopher Robin? draws a darker conclusion, saying that when Brian died was actually . when he was sorting himself out. He had formed strong friendships with both Hendrix and John Lennon and was very positive, planning to work with them: it suggests that, in particular, if Jones and Lennon had got together it would have been a really big threat to both The Beatles and the Stones and that maybe someone associated with one of those organisations probably the Stones - didn't want it to happen. So Brian was killed. 'Paint It Black' is more about the Stones' own security people keeping an eye on Jones, and how they hired the people who were working on renovating Cotchford Farm. Basically, the fellas who were working there took the piss, spending Brian's money, treating the place as their own, and they were jealous of Brian - of his fame, his money, his girls. Officially, there were only three people at Cotchford on the night of his death but Paint It Black suggests there could have been up to a dozen of these builders and other people, and there are witness who say they were ducking Brian Jones in the pool, pushing him right down, and that it all went too far. There's a confession in Paint It Black that this really did happened.
'This notion that Brian Jones drowned because of a cocktail of alcohol and drugs and that he shouldn't have gone swimming ... it just doesn't make sense. The autopsy showed he hadn't taken that much - plus, apparently, he was a really good swimmer.
'But whether we'll ever know, I doubt, and the motive is unlikely to come out. But I have no doubt that Brian Jones was murdered.'
noise to a backdrop of breakbeats from a low-rent drum machine. On the strength of a £150 4-track demo of five songs, they inked a deal with Parlophone, way before they'd even played a gig. 'We did try,' bleats Chad gamely. 'We asked all the pubs round Chester, but we weren't very good and no-one would have us.' Eventually they found evening drummer and daytime Audi salesman Andie Rathbone, who agreed to join only after being assured he would not be playing 'Britpop shite'. They would not, and Mansun proper were born.
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Not, then, your archetypal gaggle of teens stumbling through covers of Wild Thing with noses pressed 'gainst the guitar shop window every weekend. Even so, Mansun soon proved they took their music - even if it was primarily a ticket to ride - very seriously indeed. Persistent touring with Suede and Cast soon built up a groundswell of interest, and heavy support from Radio 1 gave the new band four Top 40 hits in quick succession. Just a few months after their live debut, they were supporting The Charlatans and playing to 4000 people at Brixton Academy; less than 18 months after forming they had completed work on their portentously titled debut album, Attack Of The Grey Lantern. Self-mockingly, perhaps, Draper referred to the LP as 'half a concept album - a con album'. The public, however, unfazed by its lyrical obliqueness and kitchen sink inc. musical ethos, helped rocket Grey Lantern to number one, knocking labelmates Blur off the perch in the process. Whether Six will scale equal heights remains to be seen. It certainly does anything but match Draper's promise of 'a pop album, something like George Michael's Faith' - in fact, it's even crazier than their debut.
'The whole ethos of the band is to move onwards and upwards,' Chad insists. 'The main intention is always to do something different from whatever we did last. Because of all the EPs we've recorded' ¬Mansun are currently on number nine - 'we'd already been in studios a lot when we made Grey Lantern, so it was probably our second album's worth of material. We really used the studio's facilities to augment that album - keyboards, strings ... but we came in to making Six on the back of a lot of touring and feeling a lot more comfortable
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as a live band. This is how we see ourselves now, a live guitar band, and that's what we wanted reflected in this album.'
All too often the dread words 'we're a live guitar band' herald an LP of meandering blooze jams and weary on-the-road navel-gazing. Not so here: the main musical palette - created from guitar ideas coined by Draper and Chad at soundchecks, in hotel rooms and on the Mansun tour bus - were blended into wordy and complex tableaux. The title track, for example, has five tempo changes and four immediately identifiable main hooks. Shed Seven, you need not be reminded, do not do this. 'The thing that always put me off buying British indie albums when I was a kid was that you'd just get 11 watered-down version of the single you liked,' grumbles Paul Draper. 'I don't think our records are particularly wide-ranging, I just think that everyone else's are particularly narrow and boring. Listen to a David Bowie, Prince or Beatles record - they go from one end of the spectrum to the other in 45 minutes. I think all great artists have the ability to do that.' 'We tend to abandon songs, than actually finish them,' Chad chuckles. 'If no-one's jumping up and down with more suggestions for a piece, then it's done ... if not complete. On certain tracks we actually wrote whole songs with the different sections intended; other times, snippets of ideas were brought together to make a song.'
'Have we got short attention spans?' wonders ~ Chad. 'I dunno. But what we don't do is make a ten-track album, decide we don't like it, get a remixer in, ditch him, re-record, then go back to the original version anyway ... so many bands do that, but we certainly do not. We get to a point in recording where we either improve a song, and if we can't, we start something new.' Capitalising on their increasing live skills, Mansun cut the basic tracks for Six simply as if doing a gig in the studio - first at Parr Street studios in Liverpool, then here at Olympic Sound. 'There's a lot of horrible, dirty sounds on there as a result,' beams the lead guitarist proudly. 'There's all sorts of spill - guitars over the drum takes, drums over the bass - purely because we were just in a room together. I think that if a producer had tried to clean it up and separate it all, it just wouldn't have the same feel.'
Although the basic tracks are live, what really invigorates the LP for Chad is what he piled on afterwards - the nutsy effects overload that makes Six a certified non-runner in TGMs 1998 Porch Blues Tone Purity awards. 'We set ourselves a challenge this time round,' he asserts. 'If we came up with an idea to jam, a riff, we also had to come up with a new guitar sound.' 'We're just challenging ourselves, but most British guitar players at the moment are just diabolical,' rails Draper. 'I keep reading in the NME that British guitar music is over - but, to me, British guitar music is actually still in its infancy. It's just that someone like John Squire has put it back 30 years by ripping off Led Zeppelin again, and if Noel Gallagher doesn't do anything apart from rip off old George Harrison riffs then, no, it's not going to go anywhere. But every now and again good innovative sound makers come along and push things forward - it is only every now and again, though.'
Chad: 'One effect we used a lot was the TC Electronics Fireworks, a new rack processor which has some fantastic sounds: it's very "effecty" - it doesn't so much process the sound of the guitar as completely change it. On some patches the notes you fret just trigger sounds ¬it's quite random. Then there were loads of smaller pedals - a Colorsound Toneblender, an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, a Daddy-O, a Rat fuzz, plus an old Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory
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which is excellent for a really shitty chorus sound.
'We also used an Eventide DSP4000, an old MXR flanger which is fantastic - you can hear that at the end of Fall Out, where the Legacy riff comes back in. As I was playing that riff through this MXR flanger, Paul was twirling the knobs around as I played. Really fucked-up sound ¬great! We also used a Bell BF20 rack flanger - you can hear that on the main riff of Anti-Everything. Again, it's on the verge of being out-of¬tune-y, but it's a fantastic noise. We also got in some old Korg synthesiser and put my guitar through that, messing around with the filters and everything. We had to tape one of the keys down before you could play guitar through it. Dunno why. I suppose 'cause it's a synth, really.'
'I used a Roland TR-707, one of the early guitar synths, too,' continues Draper. 'It's been mostly old gear. But new sounds.'
'When we're recording I also quite like using vari-speed recording,' says Chad, 'slowing the tape down to half-time, transposing the guitar line down about four semi-tones and then playing it back at normal speed. It all helps make the tones interesting.'
Indeed, perhaps Chad's main strength as a lead player - apart from his busy counterpointing of Draper's octave leaping vocalising and crunchy chords - is that he doesn't dwell on any sound long enough for his lines to be predictable. That said, the zappy, toppy solo sound he's coined on Wide Open Space and on Six's Fall Out is all his own.
SEMICONDUCTORS: MANSUNS GUITARS (table) image 6b left - text right As well as amassing a cupboard full of new-old effects pedals, Chad expanded his guitar armoury for recording Six. As well as his previously mainstay, a Gibson ES-335 - an early '90s model bought second hand a few years back - and his trusty Fender Tele Std, employed on the spikier riffs, Chad has also acquired a vintage Gretsch Country Gentleman and an old Fender Jaguar (both useful for Six's extensive trem waggling moments). Pride of place in his new collection, though, is a new ES-335 with Gibson vibrato given to him by the US guitar company ...
'It was played by Jeff Beck at Les Paul's 80th birthday party, apparently, which was nice. So thanks to Jimmy at Gibson US for that one!' coos Chad. 'It's just a beautiful guitar - I think the Americans keep the best guitars they make on home soil, because even though it's a brand new guitar it's in a different league to any new 335 I've played in the UK. I just love it.'
Draper's more occasional fretboard forays largely come via a Gibson Melody Maker: 'On Grey Lantern I used a Les Paul through a JCM45, but I wanted a smaller, more punky set-up for this one, so I've switched over to a Melody Maker going through a MesajBoogie Mark III - sounds really good, too. But we'll both use whatever's to hand; we chop and Change gear all the time.' 54
'Loads of fellas come up to me all the time after gigs and ask about that sound,' Chad says. 'The main element is this octave-up Pitchshifter I use, plus a bit of delay on the note. There are a few guitarists known for using delays, obviously, and a few for chorus, but I don't think the octave-up Pitchshifter has really been used to its full potential. I tune the octave-up note slightly sharp as well, and it gives a really piercing, slightly chorus-y sound - it's not a dead straight harmony. As a band we like that - making things slightly dirty and nasty with the guitar sounds.'
But what headaches loom for Mansun when they debut Six live? Surely unless Chad is blessed with an impeccable memory, a well-thumbed notebook and an ultra-patient guitar tech, Six's nuttier sounds will be lost forever.
'No, I've still got a decent idea of what effect was used where and when, but if it sounds different when we play live, so be it,' he breezes. 'As long as it's going in the right direction, it's alright. But live, my set-up's a lot more stripped down: I've got my Vox AC30 and Marshall Bluesbreaker amps - constantly running in stereo, so the sound's neither total heavy metal nor pure ~ blues - and only a few pedals. I've got two foot processors, a Boss ME-8 and a Zoom 8080, plus a couple of Love tone pedals, a Meatball and the Doppleganger, both of which are fantastic. Then there's a Boss compressor to give a bit more attack to the front end of the sound, but; that's it. Six will lend itself to being played live better than Grey Lantern anyway, because live playing is exactly how it came about.'
Admirably positive thinking - but it is rather a complex album, even for two guitarists ... 'I'm trying to cut down on my guitar playing, too,' explains Draper. 'I want to free myself up a bit to sing better. The live sound we've had up to now has been really dense, but we're now at a point where Chad's guitar set-up is so good that I don't need to join in on the choruses - Chad can just kick in his pedals and sound as big as two guitars.' 'Still, I've kept my backing vocals stripped down on this record,' offers Chad, 'because I know I'm going to have to concentrate on a lot of playing when we do this live.'
As well as seeing Chad grow into his role as Mansun's premier noise master, Six has also seen the guitarist flex his creative pen. With its quirky cartoon characterisations and rather murky world view, Attack Of The Grey Lantern was solely the compositional baby of Draper ('I didn't know how to write songs back then,' Chad shrugs). Most songs on Six are collaborations between Draper and Chad, though the young lead player's muse shines through on a couple of solo compositions. Ironically, neither feature guitars: first is Inverse Midas, a sombre piano ballad offering respite from the guitar bonkerload of Six's Part 1: second is the interlude between Parts 1 and 2, Witness To A Murder, a poem addressing the 'murder' of Rolling Stone Brian Jones set to harpsichord and grandiose operatic vocals. And narrated - why not, eh? - by Tom 'Dr Who' Baker. 'Witness To A Murder was actually written on acoustic guitar, a finger-picking thing,' explains Chad, 'but it ended up on harpsichord. We wanted an interlude that was completely different to the rest of the album, and decided we wanted some opera. Then Tom Baker came in to narrate.' Confronting the Horrors At Fang Rock might be easy pickings for a Timelord, but was the smiley-eyed thesp not a little boggled by being asked to narrate an operatic poem concerning a drowned '60s rock star? 'He had no idea who we were! I just sent him the music and the words and he said he loved it - I didn't tell him what it was about, I think he made his own mind up. It was odd, though: on his way here, someone came up to him when he was buying his paper and said, "Excuse me, Doctor, what's this I hear about you being in a rock band?" He just didn't know how anyone could have found out. 'He didn't have his scarf, hat or cape on,' details Chad somewhat disappointedly, 'but he was a lovely man, very intelligent. We went to the pub afterwards and he had the whole place in the palm of his hand. What a great track to do!'
While much of the LP sees Draper mining his favourite themes of outsiders (Anti-Everything), religious shitiness (Cancer), media poison (Television) and, on Six itself, The Prisoner ('It's not just about a fella in a village,' Chad htims gravely: 'there's a whole theology about it'), the lead guitarist's interest in Taoist philosophy - cultured since he went on the wagon after boozing himself daft in Mansun's early days ¬informs the lyrics of one of the album's most ambitious tracks, Shotgun. 'I guess I turned Paul onto Taoism. I was given the book The Tao Of Pooh a few years ago as a present and developed an interest in it. The essence of Taoism is that life is sweet if you accept the fact that it's not always going to be a good experience. But if you appreciate that the problems are as much a part of life as the good times, then they cause a lot less pain. The essence is one of contentment with where you are in life, and I think that's something the band feels. Since travelling the world and seeing all these different countries, I think we've found a certain degree of contentment through that. We're certainly more at one with what we're doing now. We're pretty happy.'
And if you'd made a 7l-minute psycho-philosophy prog concept LP with 851 tunes and a 10-foot flange pedal up its jacksie which makes OK Computer sound like a Dr Feelgood soundcheck, then you'd probably be happy too. Mansun confess they have no idea how anyone will react to Six ('It might only get to number 250 'cause people think it's an absolute piece of shit,' sighs Draper. 'I really don't know') but, given the band were at first painted as a post¬Oasis guitar rock shower of Northern hooligans, they're simply glad to have skipped clear of the dying gargles of Britpop. 'So many bands in the '90s seem to think that the only decade of music that ever mattered was the '60s,' theorises Chad. 'If you look at the big '60s bands - The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Small Faces - there's a '90s guitar band that correlates to each one. It's all a bit sad, really.'
Thus for the meantime, Mansun are happy to hang out with '70s hero David Bowie ('Awrighht, my name's David' chirped the thin white one by way of introduction, rather unnecessarily) and record with another fave from later that decade, Magazine guitarist Howard Devoto, who co-writes and sings on current EP B¬side Railings. In between times, they simply continue work on their already half-written third album. (Subject matter: Don't Ask.) 'Six is a very selfish album,' concludes Chad, as Olympic Sound's nine-to-five shift draws to a close. 'It's what we want to listen to. There was no agenda other than to make the best sounding record we could, really. We self-consciously tried to sound like no-one else on this record, and to my ears we don't. The people who've heard it so far say it sounds like it was influenced by Mansun. 'And that,' he grins like a bear with plenty of pots of honey, 'is A Good Thing.'