March 30

Interview: Myles Manley

It’s funny how long you can know a musician and yet never hear them play a live set.  If you’re not a musician yourself, this is near unforgivable, as it’s not difficult to make time to see someone perform, just like it’s not difficult to meet someone for drinks.  If you’re a musician, I think it’s more forgivable as musicians tend to all be busy in the evening – whether it’s attending an open-mic, or playing a show of your own, or working the odd job to make ends meet.  And of course, musicians tend to know *lots* of other musicians, and so it’s impossible to regularly catch all of the shows that all your musician friends play.  And sometimes the best way to catch the set of a fellow musician is to actually just play a show with them.  I’ve known Myles for quite a while, and it wasn’t until recently that I was able to see him play live.  (Part of this is because Myles lives in Ireland).  Of course, it was fitting that the occasion for this event was that I was playing the show with him.

We sat down to chat a bit about his recent release, Relax; Enjoy Your Night Upon the Town.


Andy:  I think what I enjoy most about your music is that I think you have a stronger sense of *concept* when writing a track than most other musicians that I run into, if that makes sense.  Just as a whole track, the music and lyrics and hook all fit together as a unified entity I think.  So I guess because of that I’m curious as to how you end up writing tracks?  I’m inclined to think that you think about your songs more as studio pieces when you write them.  Is that right, or am I way off?

Myles:  First of all, thanks very much! We were listening to Ten Hymns From My American Gothic a lot in the car while touring in the UK a few weeks ago and I would say that is true of your music! So … it’s a big compliment.

Well I don’t have a fixed method of songwriting, but I would say that the song comes out as a gust of emotion initially, most probably with a ‘hook’ as part of that. But once I have a tune structured my mind weedles away at the lyrics, sometimes over a long time. So there’s often an alternative perspective on the initial emotion, where I’m thinking of all different ways of interpreting a refrain. You don’t really lose the emotion by fiddling with the words, it’s all there in the music. But you can have this uncomfortable distance between the emotion of the music and the more cerebral element of the lyrics which I enjoy very much!

As for whether that makes for a ‘stronger sense of concept’, I’m not sure about that!

I usually have some kind of project in mind with any period of writing, like a live setup for gigs and a recording project, but I’m never thinking of specifics of arrangement to begin with. My main purpose is to make a solid skeleton. A good song should stand alone, by which I mean I should be able to do a good version just accompanying myself. I do have strong ideas about arranging songs but anyone else involved contributes a lot too. I’ve mostly recorded after playing the songs with a band for a while and the collective element is very important.

Andy:  Can you tell me what “Relax” is about?  I listen to it and I imagine it as like a dada-esque response to drunk bar night bullying?  Where did that song come from?

Myles:  A lot of my new songs are based around kind of sing song bullying language.  I’ve been thinking about nationalism for along time, since childhood, and it seems a good way into writing about it.  It was the centenary of the 1916 rising in Ireland last year and I started off thinking this would be my contribution.  It started to take on a wider significance … too wide. Got to relax occasionally and perhaps stymie that pure malice!

Andy: The structure of that song is also rather curious too – in particular the descending section towards the end when you repeat the “meanwhile we’ll be showing them who’s boss”.  Do you have a music theory background?  It’s just something I don’t typically hear in the broad realm of pop.

Myles: No none whatsoever! When I was about 16 I got 6 or so lessons on the bass guitar, and all my music theory comes from bass guitar for dummies! When it comes to modulation I don’t really know what the rules are at all and I just do it by ear. I have no idea how I came up with that bit!

Andy: “Pasta Solo” I suspect there’s something that gets lost in translation from across the pond – I had to look up what Dolmio food products were.  Is this about a mild annoyance with a non-artist friend?  I liked the featured musicians, just something about the orchestration with their(?) voices worked really well.

Myles: Haha! There was a TV ad for Dolmio pasta sauce that had a couple coming into an italian restaurant and ordering  ‘pasta solo’ (‘just pasta’ according to the subtitles), and when this instruction is relayed to the chef he loses it and starts throwing pots around. But by the end he is gently slapping the woman’s hand away while he enjoys eating the delicious stir-in Dolmio sauce on the pasta. This is a pretty obscure reference and when I wrote the line and decided to keep it it was a kind of an ‘ah fuck it’ thing — I thought the part of the song was maybe too earnest and it was a good anticlimactic way to end, that would never be figured out. I’ve ruined that now.

Voice #1 (me in the recording) is someone dissing a poxy interview by a lesser talent. Voice #2 is a warning not to be the chef – pride comes before a fall. Haha!

It’s just one extra singer: Willis Earl Beal who now performs as Nobody. He did one take in his Chicago accent but then another in a weird pirate Irish accent! He is an unbelievable singer. There’s another little bit of the joke in asking such a great singer to do that part. I don’t envisage many people listen to my music to hear a beautiful voice, Haha!

Andy: What was the impetus for this pair of songs here?  I listen to this and I see a change in mood (and instrumentation) with your ‘More Songs’ release.

Myles: Have a lot of new material and the purpose of releasing this single was basically to tour the new songs and get good at playing them, get ‘back out in the world’ a bit. I’d say that the new songs are more overtly in the spirit of fun!

I think More Songs has it’s funny side but it’s pretty black. It was a period of heavy depression when I think I realised I was really from Ireland and there’s no escaping the fact! I am glad to express that feeling which is an everyday part of life in Ireland but you don’t expect many immediate rewards for it. Unlike my new songs which are unbelievably sexy, instant and catchy.

Andy: So the ‘More Songs’ release has I think the really really great “I Love Her Family” on it.  You performed that live in the show we did together a few months ago, and I liked that piece a lot.  Again, I think the song just as a whole works strongly as a concept.

Myles: Thank you very much. I was proud when I wrote that song and I felt that it opened up a whole new area to be explored – long narrative type of songs. I haven’t done many more of them but I feel it’s waiting!

The basic plot was a rip off of an Alice Munro short story called Passion. I was also inspired by Cass McCombs’ Mystery Mail which is a similarly long, pulpy kind of song.

It gives me so much pleasure to sing because it’s a good trick, a dirty trick. ‘Let me tell you about this story in which I’m a victim, I’m sure you can relate… I’m horrible and so are you probably hahahaha’

Andy: What are you looking at next in terms of the music?

Myles: If anyone wants to give me €2000 I’ll make the best Irish album of all time … until my following one. Otherwise I’ll just keep doddering along. Playing some more gigs in the UK in the summer