Returning to our shores for a select run of shows in February supporting his current project entitled ‘Sketches’, Ray Mann (of The Ray Mann Three) took a few minutes to fill out our latest Q&A. After permanently relocating to Berlin in 2011, the soulful front man has sunk his teeth into a 12 months on-line collaborative project with his fans and his band back in Australia, find out some more info first hand below.
Tell us in your own words what your sound is.
I had a dream where I was trying to explain this to a very upset listener: “Sorry it sounds like soul music but isn’t strictly soul music… Well, I like not having keyboards or horns in the band, I think the space is more interesting… Yes, but it’s supposed to sound a bit raw – a lot of the music I love is low-fi…”
Who makes up your band?
The Ray Mann “Three” is a collective: I’ve been recording and touring with a rotating cast of players, including Joel Burton and Adm Ventoura on bass, and Ross Ferraro and Grant Gerathy on drums. I’m currently getting a Berlin band together too – it’s a lot of work, but it makes for a variety of possible live shows.
What were your influences when you first started writing music? And what are your influences now?
When I first started writing I wanted to sound like You Am I. When I first started writing as Ray Mann I wanted to sound like D’angelo. While working on The ‘Sketches’ Project, I’m listening to Mos Def, Black Keys, MF DOOM and Jimi Hendrix – but I’m realising that now, for the first time maybe, I just want to sound like me.
You moved to Berlin earlier this year, what made you make that decision and what has it been like?
Berlin is actually where the idea for The Ray Mann Three was born, on my first visit here years ago. The small bar scene felt like home, and its soundtrack was soul music. Berlin also felt like a place where it was possible to just be an artist and somehow survive. It’s a village of a city, full of artists from different backgrounds with different ideas; there’s craziness and there’s stillness, and the two extremes somehow coexist quite stably here. On my first visit here I thought, “This is the city that made Bowie Bowie, Nick Cave Nick Cave, and Peaches Peaches – what might it do to me? One day I must go back and find out!”
Do you feel like David Bowie in the 80′s or Nick Cave in the 70′s?
If they felt stoked every day they woke up in a place they found more inspiring than anywhere else they’d been in the world, then yes. If they felt hungover more days than not because they were living in a town where beer is cheaper than water, then also yes.
There seems to be a hidden academic side to your latest project, Can you explain the entire ‘Sketches’ Project in and outs, how people can be involved and how you came about it ?
Maybe that’s my design teacher background coming through! The ‘Sketches’ Project is intended to be a way for me to create and release new material constantly, and to involve the audience in the process. The basic ins and outs: at the start of each month, I post a raw demo and a visual idea; each week, I post updates as the “song+video” develops – the audience can watch or even contribute as it unfolds; and at the end of the month, I post the completed music video, and I produce it all myself. Every three months, I release the latest three tracks as an EP on iTunes. Folks can get involved at http://ray-mann.com or on Facebook or Twitter – comments, posts, links, uploads, remixes, whatever – I’m just excited to see what comes out of the interaction.
How has it been received so far?
The audience response has been positive, while the response from folks in the music industry has been mixed. Audience-wise: more people are getting involved with each month’s new ‘Sketch’, and I’ve even had some positive feedback from people who aren’t necessarily into the music, but who find the experiment interesting. Industry feedback so far has either been: “You’re doing something good”; or “You’re being naïve”, “You’re undervaluing your art”, and “No label is going to want to touch you if you give away your music first”. I guess we’ll see.
If you could collaborate with any musician in the world, Who would you collaborate with?
Questlove, MF DOOM, and Kevin Parker from Tame Impala.
What do you think about Berlin’s music scene in comparison to Sydney?
Audiences in Berlin actually listen, especially if they DON’T know who you are. Socially, hipsters don’t seem to set the tone here – there’s just way too much going on in Berlin, and fashion is just one of many things to catch. As a result, the draw for people doesn’t seem to be what’s “hot” so much as what’s “good”. Folks take the time to understand what an artist is about, rather than simply going to a show because their friends are there. The different scenes in Berlin feel a lot less exclusive than in Sydney, and people don’t appear to be so desperate to assert what they’re not, which is really refreshing, liberating and inspiring. The feeling I get here isn’t so much “What’s the coolest thing to check out tonight?” as “How many things can we cram into one night that we’ve never seen or done before?”.
Seen any good bands lately?
Two soloists I’ve seen recently who I really dug are: Svavar Knútur from Iceland, who is possibly the best live performer I’ve ever seen; and PHIA, a Melbourne girl now also living in Berlin, who can rock a room with just a thumb piano and a loop pedal. I also caught a Peaches DJ set – how it differed from her full show was beyond me: she had dancers and costume changes, and the front row got wet, all in a room no bigger than the OAF gallery bar.
Where are you playing next?
I’m playing some solo shows and DJ sets here in Berlin over the Christmas season. And then I’m visiting Australia for the ‘Sketches So Far’ national tour with The Ray Mann Three in February 2012 – details will be at http://ray-mann.com