Neu in Berlin, Germany, 04.11.15
Ray Mann, Moritzplatz
Cities lived – Sydney, Berlin
Profession – Musician (The Ray Mann Three), visual artist, media teacher
Passion – Music, cinema and chocolate
Time in Berlin – 4 years on and off. I first visited 10 years ago on a planned seven week backpacking trip that turned into a year all around Europe. Berlin was my last stop. I was broke, exhausted and convinced I had no more room either in my head or heart. Until I landed in Berlin. Pretty instantly I promised myself that someday I would return to stay and eventually years later I did.
When I first arrived to Berlin I met a lot of creative people of different artistic disciplines doing unfamiliar things in unique spaces. Coming from a very regulated city I found it all very exciting. Berlin felt like a city that still had some blank canvases – room for people to choose their corner and make out what they will. This was idea that attracted me to this city. Berlin today is very different from that city I met 10 years ago, but it presents no fewer challenges to me.
Best in Berlin – Berlin is a really great place to experiment. There are spaces to try out different things and people here are open to things they haven’t seen before. It’s unique. The population of creative and expat communities is constantly shifting so every few months you will have a new audience to play with. There is a lot of artists here who are well-established elsewhere – the next person you meet might be a superstar somewhere else, or just be amazing but undiscovered. People seem more open to making new connections and collaborations. My theory is that, once you remove the possibility of making big money, the currency becomes other things – your interests or the energy and enthusiasm you can bring into a conversation or collaboration. In Berlin, a city of starving artists, the transactions are definitely different.
Bad in Berlin – The pressure of balancing between the almost prohibitive bureaucracy and all the interesting professional possibilities this city offers. Living here as an artist and a musician I have to operate within a lot of visa restrictions. Sometimes restrictions can be great for inspiration and productivity, but for basic survival they can be the very opposite.
Tip – I still feel like a happy tourist myself – constantly stumbling into new discoveries. Best recommendation I can give is: keep stumbling! Have random nights out, meet people, say yes when they invite you to check something out and great experiences may come out of it. Don’t let that become everything, but don’t forget to do it every now and again either.
If you move to Berlin as an artist, I’d suggest coming up with a project to keep yourself focused and get you through your first year. When I first arrived in Berlin, I met a few people who’d been here for a year. They’d come here to be artists, but they hadn’t really started anything on their own. By the end of that first year, they were broke, partied-out and bitter – and they blamed Berlin for it. I quickly discovered the people constantly creating their own projects avoided most of this. I had to learn to not treat this city as some magical gateway, but rather a great backdrop for creativity. There is a myth about Berlin that the city doesn’t automatically or even necessarily live up to. At the end of the day, I found it to be a place where you can make of it what you will. It gets rough and lonely here, but that can be taken as a challenge, a test of focus. I had to get through that before things got really interesting – character-building, creativity, friendships, relationships. My ideas about myself and others changed; I learned things I couldn’t have in my comfort zone. By that point, it doesn’t really matter if where you are – you’re doing stuff!
Spire Focus, Australia, 11.07.14
Sydney artist Ray Mann has been writing and releasing music from his Berlin base now for over three years. Overcoming the constant adversities that come with a move abroad, Ray’s previous soul infused LP saw him push the boundaries artistically: The album was created as part of an ongoing audience collaboration series called The ‘Sketches’ Project (with a link here for the nine videos that accompanied the album and the process of how it was created.) I have been keenly following Ray’s creative path, and while in Germany I caught up with him to discuss Berlin, relocation, and new music.
Cities often come and go bearing the title ‘musical hotspot’. Why do you think Berlin has been able to hold onto this moniker longer than others? Or do you think this is just a sensationalised misconception?
It’s been three years since I moved to Berlin and I’m still asking that question. I think, like a proper rock star, Berlin’s reputation has endured because there are bits of truth within the mythos. The city both does and does not live up to the hype. It’s certainly a creative hotspot – not just for music, but also for visual art, and more recently for startups. But I think Berlin’s draw has less to do with the overall quality of the stuff people create here (sure there’s lots more going on, but that can also mean lots more that’s very ordinary too), and more to do with the relative lack of restriction here. The potential is limitless, but opportunities to realise that potential are limited.
What was it about Berlin that initially drew you there?
I first visited Berlin ten years ago, during a year-long trip around Europe. I only stayed for a month, but something about it affected me deeply. That lack of restriction I mentioned, from the art scene down to the little things in everyday life. There was also the draw of a city full of international misfits, nomadic personalities, cultural orphans – different arty types united by difference. For someone who never felt entirely at home while at home, this immediately touched me. For one thing, it inspired me to start The Ray Mann Three, which I went back to Sydney to do – but I always had it in my mind to return to Berlin one day.
Was the experimental nature of the ‘Sketches’ release a product of your time in Berlin, or does it directly reflect who you are as an artist?
I’m a time + place + resources artist: what can I create that I could only create at this time, in this place, with these people, and with what I’ve got at this moment? ‘Sketches’ was about finally arriving in Berlin, and about being, for the first time in my life, “just” an artist. The ‘Sketches’ Project spanned my first year in Berlin. Content-wise, the songs and videos as a collection can be read as a journal of settling into a new life while breaking up with an old one. Artistically, it was about me trying to get out and establish myself in this new city, one I’d been looking forward to for years, that seemed so full of opportunities for creative expression. I’ve always been a multi-disciplinary artist, and this felt like the moment to really go all out with that – to produce not just music, but also video and other graphics, and trying to treat social media as a stage for interactive performance art. The format – an online series – was very much inspired by the electronic music scene I encountered over here, for which online artist-audience interaction is lifeblood. So in terms of time, place and resources, ‘Sketches’ is very much a snapshot, my “wish you were here” postcards, my rescue-from-a-burning-house photo album.
What’s been the hardest thing you have experienced as a musician in Berlin?
Of all the challenges I’ve faced as a musician in Berlin – the lack of money, the humbling process of starting from scratch again, the wild west randomness of the live scene – the hardest thing has been: letting go of “home”. There’s still a big part of me that measures my progress by this totally irrational, imaginary yardstick of what I could or should have accomplished back in Australia by now – as if outdoing that is the only thing that will justify my move away. It’s taken me three years, and three visits back to Australia, to appreciate that the biggest impediment to my artistic development in my new hometown is my reluctance to let go of my old one.
Can you explain your live format?
As I mentioned, the live music scene in Berlin is like the wild west – and to really engage with it, I’ve had to adapt. So now I have three live modes: solo acoustic; a Berlin band; and a new solo electronic setup. Band gigs are a struggle, either due to noise restrictions (Berlin’s are even worse than Sydney’s), or limited availabilities of my busy players. Meanwhile, there are plenty of opportunities to play solo, with as electronic a setup as I like – beats, vocal effects, visuals, etc – and if there’s one thing the kids here can get into, it’s a guy pushing buttons and calling it a show. What began as me remixing my songs live has become a crucial part of developing my new songs. And so my new songs are, not surprisingly, unfolding in a more electronic direction.
How have you changed as a songwriter since The ‘Sketches’ Project?
I don’t know yet – I’m a bit too close to it right now. I’m in the midst of developing new material, and trying new approaches to creating. Because that, apparently, is what I do: I can’t just keep it easy and straightforward for myself, I always have to reinvent my own bloody wheel. Though I don’t know exactly how just yet, I can feel that I’m changing as a songwriter – partly because of my new live setup, and the new sonic vocabulary that allows me to express with, and partly because of ‘Skratches’, the ‘Sketches’ Remix Project. It was really interesting hearing what other people did with my tracks – and hearing my voice in more electronic contexts gave me lots of ideas. It showed me my limitations as a producer, and also highlighted for me some of my strengths as a vocalist and songwriter. All of that is feeding into my current songwriting – and I hope to be able to share some of what’s coming out real soon.
I read you recently went on a writing retreat with other artists. Is this how you would normally approach writing? Are you collaborating on any new material?
The artistic getaway is not something I’d ever done before, but now I find it invaluable. We call it our “Beat Retreat”, and it’s something we do every few months. The “we” is a bunch of friends from different creative fields – electronic music, video art, radio production, street art, etc. We escape Berlin for a few days, hole up somewhere and just make stuff. It may contradict the image of Berlin we were talking about earlier, but after you’ve lived in Berlin for a while, people do actually need to take a break from the city. For most of us guys, our day-to-day involves working in isolation – so it’s nice to be around others. Even if you’re just doing what you’d usually do anyway, there’s a different energy to things when you’re sharing a creative space with others. Every time I think of taking a break, I look around and see these guys all charging along with their own projects, and that kicks my butt to keep going. The odd moments of collaboration take place, though they’re not the main purpose. Some of those collaborations have made their way online already – from my end, you can check out the ‘Skratches’ remixes from Deepchild & AUTO64 and from Schuftronic (a.k.a. Craig Schüftan).
Can you tell us about any new releases on the horizon?
I’m still too deep in the primordial stage of writing to consider releases at the moment. Though, to be honest, I’m rethinking that side of things a bit too, as I did with ‘Sketches’. That is to say, I don’t expect I’ll release things in the same way that I did with ‘Sketches’, mainly because I’ve already done that; but rather, I’ll be looking to release things in a way that makes sense in terms of the way I’m working right now, and the things that interest me at this moment – the time + place + resources thing once again…
Any local Berlin artists you are digging?
Music: Krts, a hip-hop producer with a dizzying live show; Kyson, who makes beautiful electronic music (and is another Aussie expat). Visual art: Damien Vignaux, incredible photographic artist; James Bullough, mural artist and illustration genius.
Any plans to visit Australia again soon?
For sure. I’ve been back to Australia to tour three times in as many years since I moved to Berlin. I look forward to playing with my guys and spending time with my folks. Each visit has happened differently and unpredictably – whether the opportunity has presented itself, or I’ve created it – so I don’t know when or how just yet, but I’m sure I’ll be back to visit soon.
Tone Deaf, Australia, 17.10.13
Ray Mann is an indie-soul musician and visual artist. Both solo and with his band, The Ray Mann Three, Ray has toured Australia with Al Green and Tori Amos, and supported the likes of Lauryn Hill, Jamie Lidell, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and Roy Ayers, both here and overseas.
Ray was born and raised in Sydney, where he founded his band and in 2008 independently recorded and released his debut album, The Ray Mann Three: a collection of intimate, minimal, deconstructed soul songs. In 2011, Ray relocated to Berlin and began work on an innovative, online, audience collaboration series called The ‘Sketches’ Project. The project saw Ray create a new song and music video every month, for twelve months, inviting audience contributions throughout the process. The experiment resulted in: a more eclectic-sounding second album, Sketches; a collection of audience-made remixes called ‘Skratches’; a stream of digital audio and video releases; and award nominations in various European music video festivals.
Ray is visiting Australia this summer for festival dates with his Sydney band, The Ray Mann Three – including performances at Mullum Music Festival.
It’s been over a year now since your sophomore Sketches was released and not too long since we’ve heard some of the audiencemade remixes from the ‘Skratches’ Project. As an artist what’s your response been to some of what you’ve heard audiences do with your tracks?
As an artist, The ‘Sketches’ Project was about me engaging with my audience in a new way. I opened up my process to people who are probably used to seeing only the finished product. It was a way for me to let in new ideas that would challenge me, and maybe even frighten me a little. I’d just moved to Berlin, and the project reflected my process of moving on from recent events and starting over in a different part of the world. With each step in the project, I kept trying to open myself up more and more. By the time it resulted in the Sketches album, I realised the ultimate “opening up” would be to give the elements I had created back to the audience who had inspired them and say, “I’ve taken this as far as I can – can you take it further?” As an artist who mostly works in isolation, getting that feedback has been exciting. I got a little addicted to the initial shock of each new remix that turned up in my inbox. Some remixes took the songs places I never would have imagined, and didn’t even necessarily agree with – which was entirely the point. As the ‘Skratches’ Remix Project progressed, I started baiting people: “Scare me!” And I have been happily scared, time and again.
The ‘Sketches’ Project took place over twelve months, being quite involved with audiences via social media, how much of an effort was it to both complete and collaborate with people you may have never met within a specific timeline?
The ‘Sketches’ Project was huge for me: create a new song and video, from demo to finito, every month; share the process via regular online updates; and invite the audience to get involved in that process. I’d also just moved to Berlin, so I was still getting settled in my new hometown too. I was doing everything myself – not just producing the music, but also creating the videos, running the social media schedule, everything. It was as gruelling as touring can be, in its own ways. After twelve months of that, I was wiped out – and I’d created more new art than I had in years.
And it’s true, most of my collaborators on the project were people I never met – but for me, the distinction between “virtual” and “real life” interaction is an arbitrary one. My closest friends are scattered all over the world – I was the last of us to move overseas – and my online connections with them are as vital as any in my life. So “moving” my performance art to an online stage just felt appropriate and timely.
What would be the biggest lesson learned from undertaking such a massive project?
I found working within a series so good for my creativity, in so many ways. There was always the next deadline, always the next thing to move on to, and never enough time to dwell on, overthink, or talk myself out of anything. I only had time to take leaps. And with each leap, I got creatively fitter, more confident, and (hopefully) more accomplished. There’s that idea about how you discover your strength in moments of crisis; I fear sliding in the opposite direction too: the longer I go without challenging myself, the weaker I feel myself becoming. My running interior monologue: “So long as you’re healthy and able, why aren’t you doing as much as you possibly can? Stop talking about it and just do it.” The ‘Sketches’ Project allowed me to engage with the world – both online, and in my new hometown – purely as an artist. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Get out there, be weird, solicit help from strangers, throw ideas around, think on my feet, and just create, create, create. And ironically, working within such a strict schedule freed me up in ways that I didn’t expect. It generated work that I was either really proud of, or where I had to be like: “Well, my next chance to do better begins… oh shit, now!”
Would you ever take on a similar project again in the future and extend what you can do further?
I probably won’t do something like it again, because… well, I’ve done it. Part of the point of The ‘Sketches’ Project was to do things I hadn’t done before – so the next thing would have to be different again. If I’ve learned smart lessons from The ‘Sketches’ Project, they’ll hopefully be the foundation I build upon with the next thing.
As such an innovative artist, how important would you say it is to be innovative in the industry and push the traditional line regarding how we make records and do shows?
I think making records and playing shows should ALWAYS be about trying to do something different. I certainly think an artist should at least try to zig where others zag, as often as possible. I am an independent artist with limited resources – no label, no financial support, no “team” behind me – so if I want to do anything, I kind of have to be a creative problem-solver. I am of course inspired by artists I find inventive in different ways, or who treat the things that are unique to them as strengths they can play to (and with). With recording and playing live, I personally don’t agree with simply doing things “the way they’re done” – or at least, not without interrogating them first. There could be a better way, or a way that’s better suited to you and your circumstances, and that can result in something unique and interesting. I think any artist who doesn’t interrogate tradition is missing the point – or at least, they’re missing a real opportunity.
We’ve seen a bit of a trend recently with a number of festivals being cancelled in Australia due to poor ticket sales, why would you say this is happening and in your opinion what makes a festival, an enduring event and one that people just keep wanting to come back to?
Watching this happen from the other side of the world has been interesting. I now live in a part of the world that’s been hurting a lot more economically in recent years, yet where established music festivals seem to be surviving, even thriving, somehow. In many ways, it’s the opposite of how things have been going in Australia. I’m not educated in the machinations of these things, but my simple, uninformed opinion as an outside observer is: if something that used to work isn’t working any more, maybe certain traditions could bear some interrogation too.
What are you most looking forward to about heading over to the 2013 Mullum Music Festival?
I’m coming straight from the start of Berlin winter, so the 40 degree temperature difference will be a reward in itself! The thing I’m most looking forward to is playing with my Aussie band after a year away – the guys get so much better each time I visit. We cannot wait to share our show with the Mullum crowd.
And who do you most want to see?
Seeing as I’ve been living overseas for the last couple of years, I’m most looking forward to seeing friends play: Elana Stone, Jack Carty, Little Stevies, Bobby Alu, the Sketch The Rhyme crew… so much to look forward to.
Gigs n Interviews, Australia, 08.11.12
A Short Chat With The Smooth Sounding Ray Mann
Written by Jacqui James
ORIGINALLY A SYDNEY NATIVE, Ray Mann has definitely had some amazing experiences since moving to Berlin in 2011. He has performed with Al Green and Tori Amos, but not after bouncing back from his original band breaking up, management and issues in his personal life all came to a head in early 2011.
As a true Aussie, Ray dusted himself off and decided to relocate to Berlin. From his bedroom he launched The Sketches Project where he invited fans to put their input in his music and videos. The result is Sketches which is available www.ray-mann.com/ and through MGM. If you think of the smooth tones of Ben Harper and a collective genres of funk, reggae and rock.
In November and December he’s coming home to tour! A big thankyou to Ray who answered these questions on a PLANE! Also thankyou to the guys from Heapsaflash for allowing me to interview Ray!
You’ve come back after everything fell apart – management, band and things in your personal life, but then you moved to Berlin in 2011 and after that you found yourself sharing the stage with Al Green, Tori Amos and Lauren Hill! Do you think Australia doesn’t treat real talented singers/songwriters so they move overseas?
My tours with Al Green and Tori Amos were amazing – those happened in Australia before I moved to Berlin. The festival dates with Lauryn Hill and Aloe Blacc happened here in Europe earlier this year. I think Australia treats some artists better than others, but I don’t think that’s unique to Australia. In Berlin, I’ve met artists from all over who feel like they don’t fit in back home. And some of us move overseas just to see what living and making art in another part of the world is like.
Your tracks are like silk! They’re easy to listen to. Are you a laid-back person?
Thankya! I think my music is much more laid back and understated than I am.
Your second album Sketches has so many genres from blues, hip-hop to garage rock! Growing up were you into all types of music?
Sketches definitely has a mix of styles. Each song was created as its own experiment during the 12-month Sketches Project, and audience input informed the songs as much as my own taste in different kinds of music. I think the songs overall are still rooted in soul, and each one jumps off in its own direction. It’s been fun to open things up a bit and just see what comes out.
Are you looking forward to coming back and touring Australia this month and December?
For sure – I’m looking forward to playing shows with my Aussie band and Aussie audiences that I’ve missed so much. Plus I get to escape Berlin winter for a bit of sun too – bonus.
I’d imagine at your live gigs it would be a lot of fun! Is it like one big jamming session?
We have a lot of fun at our live shows. Jamming is one big part; projections of my visuals are another. My favourite moment at anyone’s live show is when you realise something unrehearsed is happening; that you had to be there on that night to see it; that it didn’t happen at the last show, and won’t happen at the next. We like to be spontaneous on stage, and keep each other on our toes – and the audience is in on it, sharing those moments with us.
Blitz Gigs, Berlin, 12.09.12
Berlin Soundcheck: Ray Mann
Interview and photo: Olga Baczynska
After the likes of The Sun and The Wolf, Tusk and Jasmina Maschina we’ve yet another import from Down Under, but that’s really all that Ray Mann has in common with the former, at least in music terms. He came to us from Sydney last year and immediately set about to make his way in the music world of Berlin.
If you’ve already come across his music, he’s not as easy to classify as one would think. In the past, soul would be a term applied to his music without a bat of an eye lid. These days though, Ray Mann is taking in everything our city has to offer and drawing inspiration from just about everything around, which inevitably affects his sound. He’s not afraid to move away from his musical roots, to add elements that are foreign to soul and mix genres.
His project Sketches is a kind of video diary of this shift. He, with the help of his fans, painstakingly came up with nine videos that were developed simultaneously to the songs they would later feature. What resulted are not only visually and conceptually interesting clips but also a collection of songs that formed a complete album. It’s about to be released and I thought it’s a great opportunity to talk to him.
Why did you come to Berlin?
Ray: I visited here about 8 years ago on a holiday, just going around Europe and when I arrived in Berlin there was just something about the city (that) engaged some part of me. I can’t really explain it. I knew I needed to come back at some point and stay for a while.
Were you already a musician back then?
Ray: I was. I had the idea for the kind of music I wanted to do and Berlin played a big part in shaping that vision that I had. At the time there was a lot of soul music playing in the little bars, sort of night spots that I’d like to go to so I made the decision at that point I could either stay in Berlin and spend the next couple of years looking for the right people to make that music with or I’d go back to Sydney where I knew who I would play that music with and just spend that two years developing the sound, and then hopefully coming back here with that. I went back, started straight away and couple of years later recorded the first album. Life happened, so it took me a lot longer to come back here than I originally imagined.
How would you compare the music scenes in both Sydney and Berlin?
Ray: While I was in Sydney, cos it was quite a few years (ago), the so-called scene changed a lot – or maybe my goals changed a lot – I started to feel less and less like I was really drawing inspiration from my supposed scene. Coming here I found I’m drawing more inspiration from things that aren’t related to music so I couldn’t really speak much on any soul music scene here. The little bits that I found bear a lot of resemblance to the things that in Sydney stopped inspiring me. In Berlin I’m drawing a lot more inspiration from visual art actually than I am from music and the music I am interested in doesn’t really sound a lot like what I do. Certainly I wouldn’t be classified in the same genre as a lot of the music that I get inspired by and wanna listen to.
Why do you think you started making this shift from soul music?
Ray: Hmmm…it’s a complicated thing.
Is there something about the music that you used to listen to and were surrounded by that made you grow tired of it?
Ray: Sure. I mean it’s been almost a decade, and tastes will change, and new things are happening in culture that become more exciting. A lot of the soul music that I originally drew inspiration from is still very close to my heart, but you know, you move on. You discover new things. I think as well, and this is really why I stopped drawing inspiration from any soul music scene, is that I find a lot of people are sort of content to stay in a period of time in music as if nothing has happened since then and I’m not excited by that. I want to move forward and it seems to be one extreme or the other. It either seems very revisionist or really super future, and both of these things have their appeal. I reckon I’m somewhere in between and I don’t want to make something that somebody else is making – it sort of defeats the purpose.
How would you describe the music you make?
Ray: Right now? I’ve only just put the finishing touches on the new album just before it’s being released. I’m still too close to it to speak about it objectively. The first album, I can tell you, yes, it was a straight-up soul record. It was very directly referencing a lot of the things I was listening to from the 60s and 70s and right through the late 90s, early 2000s. And then this record, I think it reflects a little more how more diverse my listening is. It still is a very much a progression of that first record. The first record fits squarely in soul music, albeit very minimal and very organic, and this new record is a bit more… it’s got those elements, but some new elements in there as well like a bit more indie, and a bit more psychedelic, some electronic elements and stuff. Ask me in a year and I’ll probably be able to say to you “Oh yeah, have you heard of that guy? That’s what my music is like”. Right now I can’t see that.
Your album Sketches is coming out soon and parallel to working on it you have been releasing the songs, that ended up in the album, in form of videos. Tell me more about that.
Ray: The Sketches project, I started in September of 2011 and that was a couple of months after I’ve moved to Berlin. In Australia it had been three years since I released my first album, and I didn’t want to disappear for another year and then come out with this album (…) I had to find some way to stay in touch, let people know I still exist and, especially for the audience that I already have, to find someway to talk to them and share things with them. (…) The final inspiration for it (the project) came from hanging out with a lot of friends in Berlin that were in the electronic music scene. Their whole culture is about constant output, and it’s all online. (…) I found that really interesting. I thought: “Is there a way to do that, but when you’re not in that genre?”. I like to make videos and the visual side of things as well, and I thought, “Alright, what if I ease people into the new material? Not only is it going to develop from song to song, but what if I developed each song on its own in front of people, and do it by way of visual accompaniment as well?”. And so each month, at the start of the month I’d post the demo and a rough visual idea together as a music video, a really short one, and each week update it, develop it more, and by the end of the month the song is done and whatever video element is done as well.
With the project I decided to share myself with people and open up to them. A big influence of that is what Berlin is like. Everybody that I meet here, certainly creative people here, everybody is going through something, asking big questions. There’s an almost existential crisis that everybody is going through. (…) People here really encourage others to open up and share personally and open up in one-on-one conversations. I thought, “Maybe I can do that with my art. There’s something compelling about that for an audience to see and maybe actually there’s something in that for me as an artist and as a person as well”. (…) It’s a first time in my life where I started something without having a clear idea of where it’s gonna finish. It terrified me, absolutely terrified me. (…) I took a risk, and even if nobody else is impressed, at least I’ve learned something. So the fact that an album came out of it is the least of what I can say that resulted from this project, at least for me.
You now have a band here in Berlin. Will you have shows at the beginning of the year?
Ray: Yeah. The way it has worked out now is, like, I have my band in Australia and I’m going back there at the end of this year to promote the record, and in the meantime I’ve put together a band here in Berlin with local musicians. (…) and we just played our first concert at Berlin Music Week. It’s exciting. In Australia, I have a collective – not a band actually, as my band fell apart a while back – of different musicians for different shows. So I’m constantly having to work to the strengths of the people on stage with me, and that makes each show’s lineup bring out different things in the same music. It’s exciting for me because it challenges me each time. Making that progression here in Berlin was a very familiar situation for me to be in. (…) They (the Berlin band) really wanted to work hard to learn to play the material as it was, and I said “Well, no actually. I don’t want this to be ‘Ray With Some Dudes’. I want the three of us to play this stuff together. Learn the songs and then forget them, and then just do what feels good for you”. That makes it better musically, and makes it more satisfying as a show, and makes it more interesting for me.
Little Boom Music, Australia, 28.02.12
Ray Mann is a multi talented creative who combines all the things that make the world so enjoyable (music, art & people) and turns it into a soulful elixir. Recently Ray started his Sketches project & the basis of the project is to complete a song & accompanying video clip each month and release them online for all! Little Boom Music caught up with Ray during his Sketches So Far tour to discuss his current project, how the tour with his band The Ray Man Three is progressing and we talk about his relocation to one of the most creative hubs in the world Berlin. To get a feel for Ray’s project check the clip on the right, it’s one of my personal favourites called Who’s Loving You taken from Sketches Vol 1.
Welcome to little boom music Ray Mann, you’re speaking with Scott how’s the Sketches So Far tour going?
The “Sketches So Far” tour is going well! I’m enjoying playing with my band for the first time in a year, seeing friends and family after so long, and getting more sun than I’ve had in months (Berlin isn’t always the sunniest place in the world).
Creatively what sort of impact has Berlin had on you?
Berlin has been super-inspirational for me. The work-in-progress / experimental nature of the art scene, and of the city itself, has really influenced The “Sketches” Project, which is all about sharing my process of creating music and videos – something I would never have had the balls to do if I’d stayed in Sydney.
You’re extremely motivated when it comes to getting your music out there, what’s the best way you’ve found to get your music into people’s hands?
I’m interested in connecting with people through my art. The music is only one part of what I do. The “Sketches” Project is about a few things: making music, sharing ideas, audience collaboration, process work, visual experimentation, live shows… Some folks may like the music but not be into the whole “work-in-progress” aspect; others may dig the videos but not the music. So there’s a bunch of entry-points for people – and I’m still finding out which ones are the most powerful…
Since your move to Berlin have you discovered ways to collaborate with your group that eliminates the distance factor?
When I moved to Berlin, I moved onto the Internet too. The tools are so powerful, and so inexpensive, that distance and money are no longer obstacles. Working more on Sydney time than Berlin time is a big help too!
And I also hear that you’re rallying the troops over there to join you in the Ray Mann experience?
I am! Most of the videos I make for “Sketches” involve collaborations with my new artist friends in Berlin. People in Berlin seem to be more up for getting involved with things – if it’s artistic, experimental, or random: whatever you’ve got, they’re in. That in turn motivates me to get out there and rally more troops for each new idea I have.
Thank you for taking the time for the interview & enjoy the rest of your tour!
The Orange Press, Sydney, January 2011
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
Paul Andrew, Melbourne, 28.10.10
Ray Mann: Multimedia Show
The Ray Mann Trio will be playing live to projections by the band’s front man at a unique fringe show. Paul Andrew speaks to Mann.
Ray Mann’s posters like this one always get a second look:
For soulster Ray Mann the ideal concert experience goes something like this: “It’s a show where things happen that let you know it really is live, it’s a moment that makes me feel, wow, even the guys on stage didn’t know that was gonna happen’, [and the crowd thinks] ‘I’ll bet that didn’t happen at their last show, and it won’t happen at the next. Yes, I had to be here, tonight, just to witness now.”
It’s this ‘now’ magic that Mann hopes will be present while performing at the Melbourne Fringe this year. The Ray Mann Trio defines their take on soul as minimalist; pared back, a little less traditional in feel. Mann defines soul music as, “a place where blues meets gospel meets pop – music of the Lord and the devil all in one. And it’s feel good too. Bonus”
“I was in high school when I first heard Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together’and thought, ‘damn! ‘. When I truly started listening out for it, I discovered soul had always been around me, like those really obvious clues in a cheap mystery thriller: I Heard It through the Grapevine in a raisin toast ad; Stand By Me in the movie of the same name, My Girl in the movie… you get the idea. This music had everything I loved about music in it: great songs, groove, rawness and vulnerability. I still love other kinds of music -at the moment, I’m listening a lot to Tame Impala and The xx- but it’s always a great soul tune that stops me in my tracks.”
“ I began playing my cricket bat when I was three. My parents tried to replace the bat with a ukulele, but I just ended up using the uke as a cricket bat. I got my first guitar at age ten – a big old classical guitar, and me with my tiny hands, it took a long while to form any decent chords. My real teacher was the radio – I’d learn vocal melodies and guitar chords by ear, and try to play Crowded House covers with only two chords, which, funnily enough, worked for more songs than you’d ever think! “
“As a five-year-old, the first cassette tape I was given and became completely obsessed with was Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Since then, my listening habits jumped between indie rock to hip hop to jazz. Nowadays, one figure I admire more than ever is Sam Cooke, an artist and an entrepreneur. Here’s a guy who is responsible for so many evergreen soul classics, songs recognised today by folks who aren’t even into this genre of music.”
Red Bennies, Melbourne, 30.09.10
Ray Mann Q&A
By: Crimson Cookie
CC: You recently toured with Rev Al Green & Tori Amos, what was that like?
RM: They were my biggest and most exciting shows up to that point. On the Tori tour, I was playing solo to 2,000 people that night in venues like the Regent Theatre and the Sydney Opera House – it would have been more intimidating, but the audience response was so warm – especially when you consider I was just some anonymous dude singing soul tunes, a very different vibe to the lady of the hour, so that was humbling. As for The Rev, it’s an amazing thing to share the stage with someone whose music has influenced your stuff; and after playing such large rooms by myself with Tori just weeks before, it was great to have the ‘Three’ with me, and see how our dynamic translates from rooms of a couple of hundred people to ten times that.
CC: You have achieved a great deal since the formation of ‘Ray Mann Three’ in 2005, does it ever feel that way? Discuss.
RM: You know, I don’t stop and think about that as often as I possibly should. Let’s see: I’ve recorded an album in a weekend; played shows here and overseas; tried my hand at making music videos; put on a couple of exhibitions of my art here in Sydney; shared the stage with artists like Jamie Lidell, Sharon Jones, Arrested Development and Rickie Lee Jones; and along the way I’ve found myself surrounded by a collective of wonderful musicians and collaborators… You know what? Thanks for asking me that. This may be the first time in a while I’ve taken stock of all that, just because I’m always excited to move onto the next thing – I’m excited about that right now!
CC: What inspired you to contribute your visual artwork within your performances?
RM: I’m a visual person as much as a musical one, so I’m interested in trying to bring these things together, whether it is in music videos or our live shows. From day one, I always saw the artwork of ‘The Ray Mann Three’ as important as the music; in trying to create my own little world. For the first few years I developed that aesthetic with our gig posters and promo art, until last year when I tried animating my drawings for the music video to our single ‘Opa Opa’. So this for me is the next logical step: incorporating the visuals into the live music show, communicating not just what I hear, but also what I see in my head. I get excited watching a gig that has that extra element, and I don’t see many other local bands doing it at the moment, so why not?
CC: What does it feel like to have your own art exhibition in Sydney and are you planning to have exhibitions overseas?
RM: So there were these two guys I didn’t know walking around my very first art exhibition, this time last year in Sydney. They stood in front of one piece, shook their heads, and kept walking around the gallery. I remember thinking, “This is real! Strangers are looking down their nose at your art! In a gallery! Your art! They’re critical! You’re in the art world now!” The experience of putting on the show was even more nerve-wracking than playing my first gig. I couldn’t really explain why; it’s probably just that I have a few years more experience as a performing musician than as an exhibiting artist – so the visual artist part of me has a lot of catching up to do. It was also really important to me that people view my art in a gallery space and not a music venue – it is one thing to be creating artwork purely in the context of promo material, but there’s nothing like exhibiting your work on its own, to tell you what it’s lacking or if it needs improvement. I’m hoping to get out one more exhibition soon, before I take my art – and my music, of course – overseas again in 2011.
CC: Was it difficult to leave ‘Kid Confucius’ and form your own band? Discuss.
RM: Leaving Kid Confucius was difficult purely because I’d spent most of my 20s in that band; stepping out on my own was daunting, but inevitable. I had a lot of affection for the guys, the music and the lifestyle, but Kid C was not my baby; and I knew I had more in me artistically, that there was room for in that group. The Ray Mann Three had been going for a couple of years before I left, but I’d been treating it as a side project, even though I wasn’t writing or singing in Kid C (there were three other guys in Kid C taking care of that). My role in Kid C was purely as lead guitarist, in which I enjoyed and learned a lot from, but my own musical ideas were a little more holistic. Kid C was a very demanding thing; time and energy-wise, juggling life around it in general had always been pretty hard. So my decision to focus on the Ray Mann project meant having to “leave home”, as it were, and take a chance on something I knew I had to at least try.
CC: Japan is a country which every much admires your music, is there a huge comparison between Japanese and Australian crowds?
RM: Oh man, Japan audiences are something else! We visited Japan for the first time in May this year, and our first show was at Greenroom Festival, playing to 3,000 people – and they knew all the words! Surreal! It was the same thing, at the much smaller club show we played at; they seemed fanatical and reverential all at once – not just toward us, but what we saw of them in general. You start a song and there’s this thrill of recognition, then they quickly settle down and become just so attentive; they do not want to miss a thing. Funnily enough, the Australian audience I’d compare them to is Melbourne – really responsive, digging the details, nuances, little moments, everything. For us, the shows are intimate and full of improvisation, it’s really rewarding.
CC: You have a vast list of artists that you’ve played along side; do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount or the tremendously talented people you have met?
RM: I feel blessed, more than anything, to have met so many talented people. From folks like Jamie Lidell (who was all class and approachable at the same time) to Al Green (he talks just like he sings!), to the really wonderful, talented musicians in Sydney and in Melbourne I’m proud to call my friends, I feel… yeah, blessed.
CC: Are you excited about playing at Red Bennies for Melbourne’s Fringe Festival? Discuss.
RM: We’re really looking forward to being a part of Melbourne’s Fringe Festival. What hooked me was Red Bennies’ deco-theatre-on-an-intimate-scale vibe; I definitely feel an affinity with that. After spending this year experimenting with the “Multimedia Show” concept, and looking for an opportunity to get back to Melbourne, this invitation to be involved in the Fringe Fest and in this wonderful room, felt too much like the stars aligning to say no. We don’t visit Melbourne anywhere near enough and these are our only shows for this year! We can’t wait to share this with you!
Ray Mann: Multimedia Shows perform as part of Melbourne Fringe at Red Bennies between Oct 7th-10th as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010.
3D World, Sydney, 21.09.09
The Ray Mann Three’s jack of all trades Ray Wassef has nearly seen and done it all, but displaying his art publicly is unfamiliar terrain. He talks Soul and scrutiny with Tristan Burke.
Used to singing, songwriting, managing and booking for the Ray Mann Three, founder Ray Wassef’s schedule doesn’t generally have time for nerves. Yet preparing to showcase a selection of sketches, designs and films crafted over four years for the trio in a dedicated exhibition, the Sydney neo-soulster is feeling the fear.
“It’s terrifying,” he concedes, “like playing a first gig all over again. I don’t have the thick skin about this yet that I’ve developed over time with my music. With the music if someone has any criticism to make I’ll take it onboard; with the art it’s like, ‘if you don’t like it, that’s okay… uh, look over there’!”
Check out his $50 shoestring videos – the Saul-Bass-on-a-budget aesthetic of Opa Opa, or the trio playing almost spectral backdrop for the frenzied feet of dancer Etoile Marley in Hook Me Up – and you’ll see he needn’t worry; Wassef’s artistic merits certainly aren’t ambiguous.
As laidback in conversation as his silken tones are in song, Ray is perfectly accustomed to creating with limited finances and time, laying down his eponymous debut album in a tidy three days. It was a daunting proposition which precipitated retiring his lead guitar services for soul-funk collective Kid Confucius.
“Looking down the barrel at recording the first album, totally independently and self-financed, I thought, ‘this is the fi rst solo album I’ve ever done, so I’m going to need my headspace to be in that’,” he explains. “Once the Kid tour ended I made the call. It was more that than anything artistic or musical – the Ray Mann Three’s my baby; it was the only decision I could make.”
While recognising the constraints in effect, Wassef modestly credits plentiful preparation for their overcoming, even applauding the process for lending the LP its appealingly imperfect quality. “To make those three days happen we spent months working out what we were going to do, so by the time we got into the studio we all knew what needed to happen. Maybe it meant we weren’t as adventurous as we could have been, but there was something exciting about only having one or two takes to get it right, then moving on regardless.”
Playing the tracks in a live environment has brought its own set of challenges. While the Ray Mann Three is an outfi t that, by its leader’s defi nition, operates on a can-do spirit that’s “built into the dynamic of the band,” it’s a special act that can gel together on stage after moonlighting with others. Former Drummer Bart Denaro juggled duties with Kid Confucius, before his replacement by Grant Gerathy, while in August bassist Byron Luiters announced he would also be playing with the John Butler Trio.
“Just like juggling two acts became too diffi cult for me, so it became for Bart,” Ray clarifi es of his departure. “But because the line-up’s changed a bit over the years, I’m used to us coming together from time apart or work on other projects. It may take us a couple of shows to get it back together, but once we do it’s pretty exciting.”
Improvisation as necessity might confound some musicians, yet it appears to just come naturally to the Ray Mann Three. Though reiterating his vulnerability in regards to his art, Wassef equally admits to be nostalgically digging the rush of a new ‘fi rst time.’ “There’s no way to speed up development better than the scrutiny of attention,” he says philosophically. Cats don’t come much cooler.
Music Feeds via YouTube ~ Interview & Art Show Preview, Sydney, 12.09.09
An interview with Ray about making art for The Ray Mann Three. Thanks to Mikey Carr and Music Feeds.
Music Feeds, Sydney, 14.07.09
by Thomas Mitchell
Ray Mann Three are a Music Feeds favourite, as is lead singer Ray. He has hair like Amy Winehouse and wears a vest; basically the guy’s a legend. However, it turns out that people are cottoning onto the stylish Ray and his sweet tunes. The Japanese have seen the potential and come a knockin’.
“Since the end of last year we had a label from Japan get in touch with us, they were keen to put out our album in Japan, they had faith that it would appeal to people over there. So we spent the first few months of this year sorting out that deal and the album came out a few weeks ago in Japan.”
While simultaneously taking over Japan the band has also utilized the Internet. Instead of wasting precious monies on creating EPs, Ray Mann and his three, well technically two, have released songs digitally, whetting the appetites of their fans.
“We’ve released a few digital only EPs on iTunes, it was little bits of music, either live versions or remixes. It’s been our version of live updates of what we’ve been doing creatively. It’s digital so there is no money spent on packaging, we can get things out quicker, we did three in 6 months which was a new experience for us.”
That’s not the only new experience for the band lately, with the line-up also changing. Bart (who knew people actually had that as a name?) left the group, and Grant came in, meaning the name didn’t have to change to the Ray Mann Two. In between these movements the band has struggled to find rehearsal time.
“Well funnily enough we haven’t played a lot together this year, most of what has been going on has been behind the scenes or administrative stuff. So this tour that we’ve just started the shows are the first we’ve one in two months so that’s been kicking things pretty fresh for me and for Byron, and for Grant too.”
The same Grant I mentioned earlier. Keep up.
“Grant was playing with us last year before he joined the band full time. We do know the songs inside out but the thrill is getting to know each other better musically, that doesn’t seem to get old for us, it seems to be getting more exciting.”
While the Sydney scene has embraced the Ray Mann Three there is no doubting how lucrative the international market is. It’s just so lucrative.
So signing with a Japanese label is a big step, now to tour?
“Hopefully, nothing set as yet but we are keen to do it, in the meantime we’re waiting to see how it unfolds. The album came out a few weeks ago, the response so far has been really encouraging. The initial response was good, the album debuted strongly on Japanese iTunes, retailers have been pushing it hard over there. We’re quite big in Japan.”
Everyone is big in Japan I think, the national height is like 27 cm, but I keep this witty remark to myself while Ray continues.
“The impression I’m getting is that the system is different there. Over here the label or the band has to sell the shops/retailers on stocking their work whereas in Japan the retailer kind of sells the label. So they ask for a certain amount of stock and they push it as hard as they can. We’ve been sent photos of these racks of our CD’s on sale, with amazing signage, its surreal, the kind of display that here, someone like Pink would have.”
One thing Pink doesn’t have that the boys do have, besides penises, long hair and credibility you could rest your hat on, is a video made by a fan. Ray Man Three, because of their sensual and intimate music have fans that are equally sensual. One particular Melbournian took it upon herself to make a tape and the rest is history. “This dancer from Melbourne she introduced herself, liked our stuff, we ended up featuring her in one of the videos we made. That purely came about from us doing a lot of shows in Melbourne, keeping in touch with her and she sent me a video of her freestyle dancing to our song and I just looked t it and thought, ‘This is the clip.’ We just needed to insert ourselves. It was literally our audience dancing to our song.”
It’s beautifully cyclical and the video is sweet. In between taking over Asia, digitally controlling our lives and dancing with their fans the band has also found time for a tour that, by the sounds of it, will be quite tame.
“Try to get as much sleep as you can between rounds of shows, it’s such an old Nanna thing to say. We did 30 dates last year, maybe 12 of them were in a row and that was a big learning curve for us. In all the years of touring with Kid Confucius we never did a run that was that intense.”
You can find Ray Man Three probably watching Antiques Road Show at 5pm with a milky cup of tea, but if that fails then catch their Sydney show on July 24th at the Basement as part of the Opa Opa tour.
Timeoff, Brisbane, 06.07.09
“Less Is More”
With soul music comandeered by pop stars and cover bands, Ray Wassef of The Ray Mann Three tells Paul Donoghue about finding the real harmony in a classic genre.
“We call ourselves a soul band and people are assuming we are Usher,” says Ray Wassef, notably unimpressed. As the singer with Sydney soul/R&B band The Ray Mann Three, his comments are indicative of a decline in the integrity of soul music. Once an empowered, respected genre – its roots in the American working class and willed towards notoriety by singers like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin – Wassef believes his chosen genre has lost some of its former glory.
“The style of music has kind of been co-opted by cover bands and function bands, bands that belong more on a cruise ship,” he says. “So it’s understandable that it has lost a lot of respect.”
Wassef, whose trio will play in Brisbane on the back of their Opa Opa digital EP, found a love for the paradoxical elements that underline soul music. “Soul music is very direct, very succinct [and] it is usually quite positive,” he says. “If you are talking about the more unfortunate aspects of life there is always some optimism built into it. For me, that is an artistic challenge.”
Positivity in songwriting, however, can be a prickly idea. Wassef compares it to penning a happy poem – the result can appear sappy or “Hallmarky”. Owing to this, the songs on the EP and the band’s 2008 debut album went through a rigorous process, whereby Wassef and bandmates Byron Luiters and Grant Gerathy would weed out anything that did not fit the mood of the record. “I had some songs that in my mind fell on either side of the ideal balance – they were either too twee or they weren’t positive enough,” he says. “It is not always about the happiest moments but they are moments where you find something honest or better in yourself. And that idea kind of carries from song to song.”
Spare, succinct composition is another element Wassef admired in soul, and has tried to proliferate on the trio’s recordings. Songs like ‘Opa Opa’ and ‘Smile’ build grooves from the barest of foundations: strong, simple beats, Wassef’s smooth, fluttering croon, and intermittent thumps of the bass guitar. Every instrument is pared back, even barely used, meaning each has ultimate impact. Wassef became interested in this idea of the brevity of soul music when the Sydney soul and R&B scenes were giving up nothing but excess.
“They had bands with seven, eight players, and there would be a lot of overplaying,” he says. “Whereas, you would go back and listen to the songs they were referencing and they would sometimes just be so sparse – all you would have is a beat and vocal, and by the time a bass note came in you would feel it in your guts. That had a lot more impact because there is so much less of it. So I thought I would like to see a band doing that live,” he says. The idea of the band being strictly a trio reinforces Wassef’s commitment to the sparse nature of the genre.
The Ray Mann Three have taken their cues from soul’s rich history, its revered forefathers – from Gaye and Franklin to Al Green and Otis Redding. But in Sydney, they have taken just as much inspiration from artists that weave the basic elements of the genre – its honesty, simplicity, the succinct nature of its lyrical style – into other areas, like folk and pop.
“For us, that is a lot more soulful,” he says. “Yes, they are playing a folky song, or a it’s a guy with an acoustic guitar or two girls with a harp, but in my mind that sticks more to those basic ideas of what soul music is: it’s honest, it’s direct, it’s unpretentious; there is real skill and craft going into it, but at the end of the day, it is not about technical ability, it is about communicating something from the heart as eloquently as you can.”
Beat Magazine, Melbourne, 01.07.09
“The Ray Mann Three”
By Gav Ross
Within the first six months of this year, Sydney’s Ray Mann Three have demonstrated the right way an independent band can keep their name out there on the airwaves and in the press as well as pleasing their growing fan-base. The Sydney three-piece, led by ex-Kid Confucius guitarist Ray Mann, have just released their third digital-only EP of 2009 titled “Opa Opa”, and it’s another slice of some of the smoothest and funkiest soul Australia has to offer. Recently, the outfit has also been celebrating an unexpected bout of success in Japan, with their track “Smile” hitting the top 10 of the most downloaded songs on the Soul and R&B iTunes chart. Beat caught up with Ray himself this week to discuss Japan, new recordings and the launch this week of their new EP.
Are you a bit taken aback by the response to the album in Japan and the airplay it is getting?
“Definitely! The first reports we had about response to The Ray Mann Three’s album in Japan were exciting for us, if a little bewildering. We’ve never been to Japan, and we have no idea what people are listening to there. The idea that, after spending years slowly and quietly trying to find our audience here in Australia, there can be this sudden positive response to our music so far away, and only a few weeks after the album’s release over there… well, we’re still getting our heads around that one!”
Tell me about some of the songs on Opa Opa. How long ago were the tracks recorded? Around the time of the album and you kept them aside, or have you recorded more since then?
“With the exception of the album track, the music on the short-player is brand new. Since we released the album – around 12 months ago now – The Ray Mann Three’s live show and our collaborations with other artists friends have developed in interesting directions. The three of is decided to document that, “the story since our album”, over three digital releases, with three tracks each. On this “Opa Opa” short-player, in addition to the title track from the album, are two examples of the music that has materialized since – a new remix of another of our tracks, “Feels So Good”, by Sydney producer and DJ Jamie Lloyd, and a live version of “Opa Opa”, full of improvisation and spontaneous twists and turns – a good example of what happens to our songs when we play them live.”
Will you be sticking with digital-only releases until another album you think? Will this be the last EP for a while?
“That was originally the plan – three digital-only releases between albums: “Smile” in January, “Hook Me Up” in April, and now “Opa Opa”, before moving on to the next album and beginning a new process with new possibilities. These digital-only releases are almost like our “live updates” of how our music is developing in the meantime. But who knows: depending on the response (and if we’ve learnt anything from our current Japanese experience, it’s that you can never predict a response), we may release another “update”. The digital-only releases have been a really interesting, positive process, and I feel like we’ve only just nicked the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possibilities of that format for an independent band in our position.”
I like the way a colour identifies each release, while they still have the same design aesthetic. Will you continue this look?
“Thank you – glad you like. For me, the audio and visual aesthetic of The Ray Mann Three go hand-in-hand. I’ve been working up the visual side of things for as long as the band’s been developing its sound: simple, sparse, vintage, raw, and still sketchy. While I really enjoy working within the current look, I don’t want to sit in this style forever. My hope is that, as the music evolves, so too will the design aesthetic.”
How have your live sets changed in the last 6 months or so? Have certain song arrangements evolved into something different, or are you using any new equipment?
“The Ray Mann Three live show has evolved into something very different to the album, like a more dynamic, free-form companion to it. We use the album versions of the songs only as the blueprint for our live show. As a band, we’ve developed since releasing the album; particularly over our month of shows in Melbourne earlier this year, I felt the band beginning to evolve into this tight-but-elastic unit, where we can spontaneously go anywhere together, right in the middle of a song – and it feels really exciting to us, something we want to continue to explore. So from that perspective, the arrangements are constantly evolving, but still within the vocabulary we established on the album. Equipment-wise, we still keep it as sparse and stripped-back as we did on the album – minimal drum kit, hardly any effects – and, being only a drums-bass-guitar trio, that forces us to work a little harder for different dynamics and colours throughout the show. Hopefully, that comes across to the audience; it’s a very intimate show, you can see that we’re responding to eachother and to you, and that determines, moment to moment, how we play each song for that show. As I mentioned before, things happen to our songs when we play them live.”
What are plans for the rest of 2009? A Japan visit soon?
“There’s a Ray Mann art exhibition in spring in Sydney – it’s my very first gallery show, and I’m really excited and nervous about it. It’ll be a retrospective of the last few years of band-related art, sketches, designs and motion graphics (such as the kind that made it into the ‘Opa Opa’ music video). As for travel, while there are no international plans as yet, we would LOVE to go to Japan!”
Moreland Leader Melbourne, 10.02.09
“The Ray Mann Three to play Brunswick”
By Annika Priest
WE all know the Sydney/Melbourne rivalry is fiery, but Sydney neo-soul band The Ray Mann Three got an ambivalent taste for it on their introduction to the Melbourne scene in November.
“There were a lot of musicians that we met basically saying to us ‘we’re having a problem with you. Because you’re from Sydney. And we like you’,” front man Ray Mann said.
“Soul or groove or funk musicians in Melbourne take real pride and real ownership with that kind of music. It’s well beyond the Sydney/Melbourne rivalry thing. They take this stuff seriously. To be fair a lot of musicians in the same sort of scene in Sydney don’t. It’s a real different standard.
“It’s a big point of contention in our band. It’s really different to do what we do in a town where a lot of other guys are chasing the money with music that sounds similar but is played with a lot less love and a lot less respect.”
The love is showing – having supported Jamie Lidell and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings already this year, the Ray Mann Three have become the talk of Sydney town and could soon well be in ours.
The 31-year-old singer/guitarist fell head-first into music at age 16 when he’d sneak into inner-city pubs and bars to see bands.
“Hell, it’s where I learnt to drink beer, it stopped me from getting that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look when I thought they were going to throw me out. It tasted disgusting but at least I got to listen to the band,” Mann said. Following a stint playing in his cousin’s band, hip-hop soul eight-piece Kid Confucius, Mann wanted to find something more intimate and less rehearsed, joining with Kid’s drummer Bart Denaro and “celebrity bassist” Byron Luiters who earns his bread and butter touring with the likes of Natalie Bathingthwaite and Delta Goodrem.
“Which means we get him as sloppy seconds to gigs that pay him enough to live, but ours is the passion project keeping him sane,” he said. Slick in vintage ties and grandpa vests, the trio developed their sound with a residency at a bar in an old two-storey terrace house in King Cross from 2005, channelling influences such as D’Angelo, The Roots, Marvin Gaye and Erykah Badu.
“Tonic was so crucial in us forming. As a bar it had that feeling, it’s like a Melbourne bar,” Mann said. “We’d play sitting down so we’re on the same level as everyone else so it’s like we’re hanging out with you, we just happen to be dudes with instruments.” * The Ray Mann Three play free gigs at the The Retreat Hotel, Brunswick on February 14, 10pm and Veludo’s, St Kilda, on February 15 and 22, 7pm.
Beat Melbourne, Feb 2009
“The Ray Mann Three”
By Jesse Shrock
Despite a long track record in Sydney’s underground bars and clubs, soul outfit the Ray Mann Three – the hobbyhorse of former Kid Confucius guitarist Ray Wassef – have only just ventured down to Melbourne… where they have quickly found the musical climate to be a lot more soul-friendly.
“For so long, I was still into Confucius,” Wassef says. “That was my touring band – the band I would jump in the car with every weekend to go interstate, play shows, get no sleep, and go back to my day job during the week. Ray Mann Three was like my outlet for my own amusement. But when it became more of a serious thing, (coming to Melbourne) seemed a logical next step. Our first visit to Melbourne was just after we released the album, and considering that no-one had heard of us, it was a pretty extraordinary response.”
While Wassef’s background in the frenetic hip-hop/funk posse initially helped to give The Ray Mann Three a jumpstart, what it eventually came to represent was a point of contrast for his new outfit.
“The way that we go about our music and our shows, it’s almost like Ray Man Three is the Yang to the Kid Confucius Yin,” Wassef observes. “Whereas Kid is big, and highly rehearsed and orchestrated, a kind of ‘knock you off your feet’ sort of show, Ray Mann Three is almost the opposite of that. It’s very small, it’s very intimate, and one of the driving aesthetics of the band is that it’s so improvisational. I think in the initial stages, yes, using the Kid Confucius name definitely helped people at least have a reference. But later on, I found that the audiences at the gigs for the two bands were becoming increasingly disparate, for whatever reason.” The Ray Man Three have a laid back aesthetic, for sure… but in the hands of such tight-knit, soulful players, that’s no bad thing. Indeed, minimalism can sometimes be a key to uninhibited feel.
“In terms of expression, I feel, ironically enough, that less players give you a broader range,” Wassef explains. “Or at least, I feel like we have a broader range, playing as a three piece, than I’ve felt in larger bands before, where there tends to be more overplaying. When I set up this band, I gave my guys a real strict brief of: ‘Play less.’ And what I’ve found is that people lower their defences quite a bit, which gives us a lot more room to move, and we suddenly start to sound fuller. We can do something that, maybe volume-wise, isn’t half as loud as a band twice the size, but intensity-wise, easily eclipses it.”
When Wassef, along with bassist Byron Luiters and drummer Bart Denaro (recently replaced with longtime touring drummer Grant Gerathy) stepped into the studio with noted Sydney funk and r’n’b producer Buckman (aka Tony Buchen), their goal of “live and organic” helped them turn the album around in three days.
“We wanted to do it in as few takes as possible, both for the aesthetics and also for the money,” Wassef laughs. “Once we got in the studio, it was like, only one or two takes per song. And if somebody did something that wasn’t quite right or whatever… too bad, that’s the way it stays. For the kind of band that we are – we don’t rehearse, and we try to never play something the same way twice live – it wouldn’t have made sense to do things any other way.”
The trio did splash out, though, for a little extra production on some of the album’s highlight songs, with the added string and horn parts adding a motown-like fl air.
“Those extra elements – the horns and the strings – were pure Buchman suggestions,” Wassef says. “That was his idea for how to take these two songs to a slightly more emotional level, without compromising the basic concept of the record. To his credit, he pulled it out in a way that, as you said, recalled more motown than anything else – which is just as true to the style brief as any of the other things that we’ve tried to do.”
Wassef and company are now gearing up for a series of regular residencies in Melbourne, hoping that the positive reaction will continue.
“I’ve heard from a lot of the local musicians who have been turning up to our shows that there’s a real pride and ownership over soul, groove, or whatever you want to call it, in Melbourne.” Wassef says. “It’s taken very seriously. In Sydney, it’s quite a different story. This kind of music is not very popular. And most people who are playing music that might be called ‘funk’ or ‘soul’ or whatever don’t take it so seriously… it’s more a means of making money. We’re in a strange position of trying to do something artistically, in a town that doesn’t really respond to it. And slowly I’m discovering that, in Melbourne, it’s very much appreciated.”
The Ray Mann Three play the Retreat Hotel, Brunswick, this Saturday February 14, at Veludo’s, St Kilda, on Sunday 15 and 22, then a cruise boat on the Yarra River with Simon Wright & Eclective, Direct Influence, Simon Philips, Coby Grant and Emily Grayson on Saturday 21. The self-titled album is out now through MGM.
Music Feeds Sydney, Nov 2008
“Interview: The Ray Mann Three”
Written by: Michael Carr
“Well we’ve been embarking on our first tour,” Ray Wassef singer/guitarist of the Ray Mann Three tells me, a blissfully weary tone oozing forth from his golden vocal chords. “These have been our first gigs outside of Sydney. We basically jumped in a Tarago and have been visiting everywhere from Brisbane to Melbourne and a whole bunch of regional places along the way.” A band born and bred in Sydney, having been weaned on the teat of Sydney soul outfit Kid Confucius, venturing out into the wild abyss proved to be quite a fascinating undertaking for the boys. “The effect of rocking up to a regional town and setting up to play a show dressed like we dress and playing the kind of music we play, it’s been very interesting to see the different reactions that we’ve gotten.”
“We haven’t been chased out by torch wielding villagers yet, but have been to a couple of places that weren’t too far from that, or at least the attitudes of some of those in the room seemed to be. But then there have been places that have been the polar opposite of that, places where they just made us feel so at home, like ‘who are you?’, ‘where have you been?’ and ‘are there more like you?’. But it’s weird because a lot of the places that have been like that weren’t the places that we thought they’d be, so it’s definitely been a learning experience.”
The Ray Mann Three are a band drenched in soul. Ray delivers panty-whetting vocals in his almost pre-pubescent falsetto, while bassist Byron Luiters and drummer Bart Denaro play their instruments with effortless perfection. Rife with long interludes of improvisation and sensual grooves, The Ray Mann Three live is something not to be missed and not to bring your girlfriend along to.
Usually sticking to red-lit bars like Tonic Lounge on the infamous Kellet Street Kings Cross or one off pop up bars like the now famous launch of Sydney’s new licensing laws, I asked Ray whether it was hard having to play show after show so far out of reach of the hand of civilisation.
“We were lucky that everybody who was involved with the crew had toured before with different bands, so we knew how to keep our heads and how to pace ourselves, to a certain extent at least, which means we made sure we didn’t all go out and have a big one every night and not be able to move the next day.”
“Doing that, going out every night and getting plastered, really creeps up on you, especially if you’ve got ten shows in as many days, and learning to pace yourself becomes a real skill. It’s not very glamorous or rock & roll of me to say, but a bad night’s sleep can make a big difference for the next five days, so you want to be smart about what you’re doing in your waking hours.”
But it would seem that even the drunken roadie or bass player is but a monor villain when faced with the threat of no air conditioning. “You’ve got to make sure the air con is gassed up before leaving, and that’s probably the most important lesson we learned this tour. You know if you’ve got a bunch of guys in a van driving across the country you want to make sure that you’re comfortable, and that the car doesn’t reek of man. You know you don’t want the combined B.O. in the car to actually become an occupant of the car itself.”
The band are currently winding up the Victorian leg of the tour, which is their inaugural visit to the southern lands, but despite this, they refuse to take a break having already booked in a very special residency at The Mac for four Wednesdays in November.
“We’re going to play four Wednesday’s at the Mac and record each show and actually keep the same set list for each night. So essentially it’s like we’re recording four takes of every song that we play and each night is like another three hour run of the same material. We’re really excited because it gives us the freedom to every night go somewhere completely different with the same song. It’s almost like there is no pressure that this one night every song has to be the definitive version – it’s more like we just let go and have a lot of fun, and it’s just really organic.”
“The idea then evolved from that, when we started thinking about how we were going to capture it. We got in touch with some people who had offered to come down and record us with vintage microphones directly on the reel to reel tape, as opposed to recording digitally with whatever sort of mikes are handy. So they’re going to bring the actual tape machine down to the Mac, and record us each week and we’ll come out of it with this proper sort of vintage sounding recording done in an authentic way.”
Never choosing the conventional or convenient route when it comes to their music, the band is intent on capturing the intimate atmosphere and delicate sound they’ve worked at and refined over the past months. “We just want to record it in a way that totally captures us playing live as we have learned to as of this tour and will do over the month we record the album. It’s going to be more of a document of the band we’ve become while recording the album. We play differently now and all the places we’ve been have effected or changed us in some way and we just really wanted to capture that in a genuine way.”
And that’s no easy task. If you’ve ever seen them live, you’ll know what I mean when I say their sets have a tendency to wander a wayward path through the band’s catalogue, while the album, their self-titled debut LP released earlier this year, is a restrained and minimal slice of what the band is capable of, like an entrée on Iron Chef, while the live album promises to be a hefty dish heaped with many a mouthful of musical morsels.
FBi Radio with Stephen Ferris – Interview, Sydney, 31.10.08
“I’ve never seen Al Green live… it would blow my mind if he came to this country.”
Music Feeds via YouTube ~ Interview, Sydney, 01.07.08
Sydney Morning Herald 20.06.08
By Brett Winterford
Read it at smh.com.au
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.”
Music Feeds Sydney, 12.07.08
“Interview: The Ray Mann Three”
Written by: Michael Carr
Watch the Video at musicfeeds.com.au
The Ray Mann Three are exactly the band you should never leave your girlfriend alone with. They fuse the sweets soul of Al Green with the raw sex of D’Angleo and their grooves are sexier than a busload of French maids broken down by the side of the highway.
They have become a bit of a Kings Cross fixture due to their monthly residency at Kellet St’s favourite brothel-esque cocktail lounge Tonic, but following their sell-out album launch at The Vanguard, the boys are heading out east – playing the upstairs of Bondi’s Beach Road Hotel every Tuesday in July. I sat down with singer and guitarist Ray Mann (who has a voice that could make even Dick Cheney make a pass at him) before they took to the stage.
“Yeah, we sold out the album launch, and since then there’s been a bunch of buzz, so we’ve been playing a lot of gigs in new venues as well as our usual hangouts. But tonight is our first night playing here at the Beach Road, and we’ve got all kinds of gigs coming up in the next few months. We’ll be supporting some big name international artists, whom unfortunately I can’t mention at the moment, but we will be making a lot of noise about that when we’re allowed to start announcing it.”
But Kings Crossians don’t despair; the lads still got love for Tonic. “We played our first gig there and we’ve played there once a month since then, so that’s been three years now. So regardless of other gigs or what’s going on in our lives, we always made sure we snuck in one gig a month at Tonic, to keep that going because it’s a nice ritual for us.”
It’s hard to imagine a venue more suited to the band, especially seeing as though it was, in a way, part of the inspiration for the band. “I discovered Tonic before I even put the band together. I had the idea in my head for the Ray Mann Three, I don’t think it even had a name at that point but I knew I wanted a particular type of band that I hadn’t seen in Sydney before. I remember thinking to myself ‘if only I could find the right space for it I could continue to imagine the band’ and when I first walked into to Tonic I was just like this is the place. They’ve been very supportive of us since the beginning and our connection to that is integral to our identity and is close to our hearts as well.”
“It’s an old terrace house that has been sort of done up as like a red-light type bar, so it’s sexy but very sweet at the same time,” he tells me. “All the DJs play dance-floor soul music, it’s a really sort of a walk in a discover it type of place and it’s got a really warm atmosphere rather than hitting you over the head with anything lewd or in your face, which I find is really lacking in Sydney. So it stuck out to me, it’s a subtle place, it’s got a lot of character and the people who go there make it.
And Ray is all about the people. Go to one of the Tonic shows and you’ll see Ray mingling with the crowd, chatting, trading CDs and just generally fostering an open and welcoming atmosphere. “The vibe, in my mind at least and I think in practice as a result, is more like a house party than a performance.”
The Ray Mann Three are exactly the band you should never leave your girlfriend alone with. They fuse the sweets soul of Al Green with the raw sex of D’Angleo and their grooves are sexier than a busload of French maids broken down by the side of the highway.
The band seems to thrive on intimacy, and the sort of friendly and communal attitude which seems so rare in Sydney. “It’s the sort of thing you can find much more easily in Melbourne. We seem to have drawn people out of the woodwork a little bit, and consequently we’ve kept all our gigs small since. Even when we’ve had the opportunity to play bigger rooms, we like to keep it small because that sense of intimacy and community it really core to what the Ray Mann Three is about.”
They’re self-titled debut is a stunning example of economy. Nowhere will you find the sort of indulgent musical-fornication so common in the funk/soul genre. Its minimalism at it’s most sensual and makes the music all the more involving. “It’s the idea of creating a dialogue with the audience, whether they’re watching us or listening to the album, I like there being room in the sound for the listener’s imagination to play a part as well. I find whether it’s live or on record, the less we do, the more people feel engaged, they feel like they’re a part of it. It’s surprising how little you need to play for it to sound full. After a while people begin to forget about the ingredients involved in the sound they’re hearing and the just listen as it is.”
But don’t think that they’re then boring live. The band shines when playing live grooving with the crowd, breaking their songs apart, jamming out and putting all back together again. “We’re not really filling in the spaces when we play live, it’s still just the three of us as is on record, but we are a bit more dynamic live because we’re responding to the barometer of the room.”
“If you come see us at Tonic you’ll see us in party mode, because we are predominantly a working band, we need to do our job as we see it and play to the vibe of the room. But if you came and saw us at a different type of gig, like when we supported Kate Miller Heidke you know, her audience didn’t need to be impressed by dynamics because they knew Kate was coming on, so instead the more we kind of laid back, the more people became more attentive. So we probably didn’t even rock out half as hard at Kate’s show at the Annandale than we would at Tonic, which is a small room where people aren’t expecting to hear something rock out.”
“A big part of it is improvised and that’s really important to us because when people come to see us I want them to feel like they’ve seen something that didn’t happen last night and isn’t going to happen tomorrow night, because the music that turns me on makes me feel like that.”
mx Sydney, 20.03.08
“Debut Album: One Mann, three menn and happy music thoughts”
By Karina Dunger
The Ray Mann Three is thinking happy thoughts.
The soul trio – Bart Denaro (drums), Ray Mann (vocals/guitar) and Byron Luiters (bass) – were chanelling these cheery thoughts in the hope of a positive debut album.
“Our debut has been my attempt to write the happiest, or warmest, record I possibly could,” Mann said. “In creative writing classes, the first exercise is to write a happy poem, which is much harder than a sad one.”
Mann said he believed they had successfully captured a cheerful vibe and live sound.
“We’ve kept it organic, rather than being over-layered, with sparse instrumentation and we’ve left a lot of room for the listener to leave it up to their imagination.”
The hip-hop-inspired band will launch its self-titled debut album at The Basement on April 19.
They will play the songs on April 1 at the Easter Show, along with Watussi, Seany B, The Potbelleez and Kate Miller-Heidke.
They play at The Shed, Olympic Park, at 6.45pm.
The Brag Sydney, 21.11.05
“The Ray Mann Three:
Putting the soul into Melt Bar”
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.”