Interview: “Bedroom Riffs” ~ Sydney Morning Herald

The Ray Mann Three fuse sex appeal with the grit of Tom Waits.

By Brett Winterford

WHAT on earth would propel guitarist Ray Mann to quit Kid Confucius – the most explosive, fattest-sounding, hardest-working soul band in the country?

“The juggling act got the better of me,” Mann answers, slumped on a couch. “I was trying to run the Ray Mann Three and be part of Kid Confucius. They are both very demanding roles.”

You don’t say. Kid Confucius don’t do things by half. The band’s last run of shows, The Street Corner Soul Tour, took them to no fewer than 30 Australian towns, performing every weekend for about four months. All the while keeping their day jobs during the week.

On weeknights, meanwhile, Mann and two of his pals were indulging in a markedly different gig: a stripped-back groove trio (drums, bass and Mann on vocals and guitar) called the Ray Mann Three.

The Ray Mann Three started out in 2005 as a “working band” playing classic soul covers to whoever would listen. Over time, Mann would sneak his own songs in between the Bobby Womacks and Al Greens and, before too long, crowds responded. Today it is Mann’s songs that are being requested and the trio’s long-running residency at Kings Cross R&B club Tonic sells out on a regular basis – hence the juggling act.

The Ray Mann Three, the band’s songwriter explains, is “the yang to the Kid Confucius yin”. Where Kid Confucius is big and boisterous – two singing guitarists, drums, bass, three horns and an MC – the Ray Mann Three is sparse, cruisy and understated. If Kid Confucius is the sound that gets your mojo going on a Saturday night, the Ray Mann Three is the sound of where you’d hope to be the next morning – under the sheets, with company.

The trio’s self-titled debut was recorded on a tight budget in the one weekend Mann had between legs of the Kid Confucius tour.

“We knew which songs we were gonna do and we knew we didn’t want to spend more than one or two takes on each for better or worse, to keep it organic and honest,” Mann says.

This simplicity works in the trio’s favour. Over 10 tracks, Mann, bassist Byron Luiters and drummer Bart Denaro expertly balance a solid foundation of R&B/soul-inspired grooves with the nuances of the master songwriters. On standout tracks Morena, Hook Me Up and Night With You, the trio fuse D’Angelo’s sex appeal with Tom Waits’s grittiness.

Which might explain why indie-rock loving, singer-songwriter types are lining up among the clubbers to get a dose of the Ray Mann Three, seeing how they bridge two very distinct scenes.

“I always thought there should be a way to have music that can move you but still has a singer-songwriter sensibility about it,” Mann says.

“So whatever level you want to listen on, it’s there. If you just want to dance, it’s there, but if you want to just sit there and listen and not be offended by the inanity of the lyrics, that’ll be there, too.”

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