Manchild – Brett Parker

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Interview by Mark Bayross

The Cardiff-based duo of Brett Parker and Max Odell have been recording together as Manchild since 1997. Last year, they released “Untied States”, their debut album of colliding beats and guitars, which included collaborations with Sadat X of US hip-hop legends Brand Nubian, Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics and Andy Cairns of Therapy? Their latest single, “Nothing Without Me” has seen Manchild enter the Top 40, and there’s a second album on its way…

Time to catch up with Brett…

How has the last year been for Manchild?

Pretty good. We’ve been going for three or four years now, but it all started to come together last year. Getting into the Top 40 was great – it was what we had been working for all this time. We spent most of last year writing, although we also played a hell of a lot. This time last year, we were touring – we must have played about 70 gigs – but we knew we needed to write some new stuff, so at the back end of last year, we started writing some new songs. We then hooked up with some new collaborators – ET, who’s a rapper; Arianne Schrieber – who sings on “Nothing Without Me” – and wrote some new material. We’ve also done a few gigs this year, so that kind of held up the writing.

Do you find that being on tour helps the creative process?

When you play festivals, you come across new bands, and that helps bring on new influences. Much of what we do is dance-based, produced with machines, rather than guitars, so there is less of an ability to be spontaneous and just jam.

Which bands have you seen at festivals who have particularly influenced your music?

Roni Size, who are fantastic live and who we supported at the Brixton Academy; we saw the Chemical Brothers headline Glastonbury. We also played a festival in Spain with people like Lou Reed, Paul Weller and the Bloodhound Gang, which was great. And we saw Leftfield play live, who were great, of course. We see lots of bands play live, and I guess we pick up tips for playing our own shows.

Didn’t you play in the Former Yugoslavia this summer?

Unfortunately that didn’t happen. We were all really keen to do it, but we couldn’t cos of some kind of contractual obligation…it was all really annoying! We’ve been invited back to do something early next year, so we’ll get to go there then hopefully. Some friends of ours, Super Furry Animals, played there and they said it was phenomenal!

What kind of different dynamic does the expanded live band give the songs?

Lots of dance acts just have decks hooked up with keyboards, which doesn’t make for a particularly interesting show, unless you’re a band like The Chemical Brothers, and can afford to have a light show to make things interesting… We have added rock elements – a guitarist, bass player, drummer, MC and so on…all bring something new to the party. Having an MC providing live vocals really helps, as it gives us more of an interface with the crowd.

Do you think having an MC as the focal point might make people think he’s the lead singer, as a lot of people did with Keith Flint of The Prodigy?

I think that’s when The Prodigy became really massive though, once Keith came to the front. We have the same manager as The Prodigy, actually – Mike Champion.

What are your plans for releasing a new single?

We are working on a track called “Come Home”, with Arianne singing again. It’s a bit of a darker song; we’re working on the 12” now. We’re going to release it in clubs in about five weeks, then have a proper release early next year. We’ve just moved into a new studio up in Cardiff, as well, which has been taking up a lot of our time. As I’m sure you know with DIY, it always takes longer than you think it will. [laughs]

And the new album?

It’s intended for February or March next year…that’s a rough date. We’ve got seven or eight tracks we’re happy with, plus a shitload of new ideas!

You obviously admire bands who change and develop their style, bands like Radiohead and Talk Talk. What kind of developments can we expect on your new album?

Our debut album was more of an exploration of our influences since childhood…this new one shows more of our dance-side. There’s more of a concentration on electronica, I suppose; fewer rock elements than on the first album. The evolution has come from working with a rapper and a female artist, Arianne, something we have not done before.

After the collaborations on “Untied States”, can we look forward to more on the new album?

We know the band Lostprophets through friends. Ian, the singer, was keen to do something with us, so about six months ago, we recorded something together. It’s got kind of a Rage Against The Machine meets Dr. Dre feel to it… Things are really taking off for them now, which is great. They won “Best Newcomers” at the Kerrang! Awards last week…

Which of the collaborations have you enjoyed the most?

Probably working with Andy Cairns. When we worked with Kelly [Jones], we didn’t have much contact with him. We spoke on the phone a few times and sent him a DAT, which he sent back with vocals on. With Andy it was different – we spent the weekend with him and got to know him well, did lots of drinking… [laughs] He performed with us on stage in Belgium, which was great. Max has wanted to work with him for years, actually. Andy’s great, exactly how you’d expect him to be.

He appeared in the video for “Rehab”, which was filmed in a mental asylum. How did the shoot go?

Very scarily. That was a really frightening place, with a real history to it. It was disused, but there were still some personal possessions lying around. We saw some really strange stuff, like we found a photo of someone’s family, but it was of the back of their heads… The caretaker there told us lots of stories, and even the video director got scared. We did a lot of shots down dark alleys, and there was a storm outside…it was really creepy. I think it’s being made into luxury flats now… [laughs]

If you could work with anyone, who would it be?

Well, for Max, it would be Mark Hollis of Talk Talk. He absolutely idolises him. For me…probably Herbie Hancock. I’ve always liked him.

Did the band name come from you, then?

From both of us, really. “Manchild” came out the year I was born. It helps that lots of people remember the band’s name, although that’s usually cos it reminds them of the Neneh Cherry song… [laughs]

Despite fusing techno and rock, do you feel you have been accepted more by the dance community?

Perhaps a little bit more. We listen to a lot more rock-based acts than people may think – we went to see Limp Bizkit a few months ago, for example. We are only now beginning to cross over into the dance area. People will always want to pigeon-hole us, but, when you at most people’s record collection, there is always a middle ground. We are trying to fuse stuff together – we are never keen to do just one thing – I guess we just go through a range of moods on the new album. It’s harder to make a classic dance album.