Interview: “Putting the soul into Melt Bar” ~ The Brag, Sydney

“I played the cricket bat like a guitar, and went in to bat with the ukulele in cricket matches with the other kids in my street” ~ interview by Cec Busby

Soul music has had something of a revival in the last few years, scratch the surface of a Joss Stone or an Alice Russell and the musicality of an Aretha or a Bobby Womack aren’t that far beneath. Bands like The Roots and singers like D’Angelo have re-introduced the rhythms of Motown and Philly to Generation Y and they’re lapping it up. Marvin Gaye and Al Green do a roaring trade in back catalogue and jazz trios are the band of choice at weddings. For local lads, The Ray Mann Three, it was the sounds of soul that brought them together. Although their pedigree may surprise you: Ray (Mann, guitar) and Bart (Denaro, drummer) are members of Kid Confucius.

“Bart and I already knew eachother from playing together in Kid Confucius,” says Ray Mann, “and through that I got to discover long ago what many people in this town are just beginning to cotton onto now: Bart is, quite simply, The Best Drummer Ever. While this project grew out of playing together in that nine-piece band, in this more minimal trio we get to explore the same Soul-based influences in a different way. Throw into the mix Matt Hunter, full-time phenomenal bassist and part-time debonair young ladies? man, and you have The Ray Mann Three. That’s right: we’re those guys we are.”

Although The Ray Mann Three is a soul trio, Mann admits their influences are far reaching: “our personal listening ranges from hip-hop to jazz to garage rock to, erm, fanfares. While doing this interview, my media player has shuffled through D’angelo, The Blues Explosion, The Jackson Code and Bing Crosby,” he says. “Ask Papa Mann, though, and he?ll tell you the only music is Om Kalthoom, the female Elvis of Egypt. My mother (Mama Mann) would tell you the only music is Elvis Presley, the male Elvis of the rest of the world.”

It sounds like the Mann household would have been interesting to grow up in. Ray agrees: “When I was five I had two obsessions: guitars and cricket. My dad, Papa Mann, in his efforts to encourage his firstborn son’s budding passions as Egyptian fathers are wont to do, bought me my first ukulele and my first plastic green cricket bat. Always one to do things completely the wrong way, I played the cricket bat like a guitar, and went in to bat with the ukulele in cricket matches with the other kids in my street. I still have the ukulele, although it’s missing all its strings and a couple of tuning pegs; the cricket bat, on the other hand, disappeared – and with it, my interest in cricket.”

Not so his interest in music. Cut to the present and Mann described how he spent the last year travelling trying to quench his wanderlust and discover new music only to find ‘there is no place like home’. “I spent months diggin’ on Flamenco and Folklore in southern Seville, wiggin’ off industrial Tekno in Berlin, and spacin’ out to Dub Side Of The Moon in Amsterdam. But, ultimately, I came right back to Sydney: my favourite musicians in the world all happen to live and play right here. What we may lack technically, we possess in passion, sheer spectacle and our unique sense of humour about it all. And that’s a big deal, especially considering how hard it is to even be a musician in Sydney, let alone find the time to hone your craft and develop any kind of style. And yet despite all that, there is so much amazing talent in this town. We either have a lot to be proud of or are largely insane.”

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