Track By Track: Scott Mannion Goes Deep Inside “Loving Echoes”

After over 15 years away from making music, Scott Mannion has emerged with the 10 psychologically-scarred new songs that make up his solo debut, Loving Echoes.

You probably know Scott as the co-founder of Lil’ Chief Records (home to Jonathan Bree, Princess Chelsea and The Ruby Suns) and as one half of the Tokey Tones.

Scott left New Zealand over a decade ago, and, after trying life in Wales, took up residence in rural Spain…a small town called Chelva, in the mountains outside of Valencia.

Having experienced depression and anxiety, along with the break-up of a long term relationship, Scott came back to making music, resulting in Loving Echoes.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Scott Mannion from his home in Spain, and got an in-depth, song-by-song rundown of the new album.

Click here to listen to the interview:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: Now, I guess the first question should be, how did you end up there? You’ve been there for a while now, right?

SM: Yeah. I left New Zealand and then I went to the UK, and then the short version is, I got depressed and had anxiety issues, and just – it rained all the time, in Swansea, where I was, and I needed some changes, and I needed to get back to focusing on my own music. So I was looking for a place, and I had been to Barcelona a few times, and Berlin… and so I was interested in those places.

But then… I went to Berlin in the winter, and it was, like, minus twenty. It was not going to work, and it was really bureaucratic to rent places. And Barcelona was kinda expensive, and then I came across something here. And… it was cheap, and I came to look at it, I really liked the place, and then I didn’t leave, pretty much.

MD: Did you speak the language?

Chelva village skyline in Valencia of Spain Serranos area

SM: Really badly. Really badly. I understand a useful amount. Julie [Karpodini], my partner, she’s better, or at least people think she’s better because she is a little more confident, and smiles, and doesn’t look terrified when people are talking to her. I just look like a deer in the headlights, and my brain freezes, and… anyway, I get by. But I need to put some more work in.

MD: Right. So congratulations on the new album. It’s been a long time since you’ve had some music out, and I guess what you’ve just told me partially explains why it’s been such a long time, but maybe you can elaborate a little bit.

SM:  I was writing ever since… you know, I had stuff right from when the Tokey Tones stuff came out, that I thought would be the next album, and then… just stopped. I would decide that it wasn’t good enough, or I just wouldn’t finish it, and then I had different ideas for different albums at different times, and then it was just a case of never being happy enough with them, and then too much time passed, and then I felt the songs were irrelevant, or, weren’t representative of how I was feeling at the time, [but not] anymore. And then, I was in a relationship which was pretty heavy, I suppose, so that took up a lot of time. I had a day job, and I was also running Lil’ Chief, and Lil’ Chief had a lot of stuff going on as well. So it just meant that music – my own music – became less and less of a priority, until I came here. So, yeah. That’s kind of what happened.

MD: So – the album. You have a bunch of familiar names on it – Jonathan Bree and Princess Chelsea and Ryan McPhun and Lawrence Arabia – did you record the album…Where was it recorded? How was it recorded?

Ryan McPhun

SM: Um, I have a studio here – so I brought a bunch of stuff with me. I took stuff from New Zealand to the UK, and then I collected some more stuff there, and I brought that here, and then I had stuff that I’d had with friends, or in storage in New Zealand, shipped over, and put together a studio here. So most of it was recorded here. Bits and pieces were recorded elsewhere.  Ryan is in Norway. He’s – more than anyone else, he’s been super-involved in this from the start. He co-produced it, and everything. So as I was writing it, I’d be sending it to him, and getting his thoughts, cause it just helped that we were in the same time zone.

And drums, for a lot of them, he added in Oslo, or in Denmark. And I went up there and we did stuff, and then people who came through here, recorded stuff here, so Ryan came here, and Chelsea and Jonathan came here, but then I also recorded stuff with people in New Zealand, when I went back for visits. James [Milne] – he’s been a couple of times here…Lawrence Arabia. Or more than a couple at this point, cause he was just here the other day. And he added stuff when he came. So yeah. Mostly here, bits and pieces elsewhere.

MD: I was hoping that we could briefly go through the track list, song by song, and you could give me a few comments after listening to the record –

SM: Yeah.

MD: And give people an idea about what the whole thing is about, starting with the opening track, Smoke.

SM: It might actually also be useful… I didn’t get all the way through the album, but I wrote some notes about each song, which I can email you too. If that helps. So, Smoke, was a song that I wrote about Julie. For a long time it was just guitar and voice, and she preferred that version. And when I go back to it, I can see that too, but then I ended up doing my thing, and adding a bunch of stuff to it. It started out just as words, which I remember writing when I was in Madrid, and then I came back to Chelva and just put in some chords which I quite like. It came together quite quickly, but then finishing it, like everything else, just took a long time.

MD: Yes. Well, I guess you’re kind of notorious for that, for spending a lot of time and being fairly meticulous in the studio. Is it just something that you’ve kind of – that is the way you work and it has to run through that process, in order to finish up something?

SM: I don’t think it’s a very good process, but, and it is also it’s funny because a lot of this isn’t perfect at all, and it’s quite rough. But I don’t like things to be shiny. Despite all the time and attention to detail, it doesn’t sound very slick, or something. But one other thing I should say about Smoke is that Li-Ming plays on that too, and she’s –

MD: Who is that?

SM: Li-Ming Hu. She was the other half of the Tokey Tones. So she played a little on that, and on Be Your Mine. So it was just nice to get her involved on the album as well, a little.

MD: Cool! And Be Your Mine is your second track. And you mention that some of it’s rough-sounding, but I’ve written here that it’s got kind of a shimmering feel about it, so it’s fairly well-produced, I would have to say.

SM: Yeah. Well, when I say ‘rough’, I mean it’s not like… I don’t know what, I would leave some studio noise, and Ryan gets upset at how when I record my vocals and I record it through tape echo, it’s like distortion, and things make it harder to work with later, maybe. But Be Your Mine. What can I say about that?

Most of the songs on the first half were ones that – there were a lot of songs that I wrote, from those, I picked these and tried to sequence it so that the first half were songs about a relationship beginning and the second half was more about a relationship falling apart, and just being conscious of how the songs flowed into each other. So that’s another one that came after meeting Julie.

And it was another one that came together quite quickly. ..just the guitar and voice and for a long time, it was like that. And again, maybe that was better than… this? But I don’t know. I do really like this. I had an idea at one point that I wanted it to sound a little like Shuggie Otis, just like, the instrumentation. I think maybe that’s why I added the drum machine. I had ideas for some strings, but then I never ended up putting them on. And so, it’s what ended up being – I’m not sure, exactly. But Chelsea added to that –harmonies at the end, and James, when he was here, added a bunch of harmonies to the end as well, which I really like.

MD: Cool.

SM: The beat is also kind of unusual, and Ryan’s… I mean, he played the drums, but then he wanted to change it to something different, but I really liked what he did, so. Because it sounded a little bit funky, but it’s kind of weird, it’s against the rest of it. But, I don’t know. I think it works.

MD: Okay, moving onto Do It For You. That’s been released as a single, hasn’t it?

SM: That’s right. That was the last single. For me, this is one of the most satisfying songs to play on the guitar. Like, I really like the chords. It came together really quickly, and it’s one of the songs I was the most happy with, so I was excited to play it to Julie for the first time. And then she totally hated it. She thought that it was too – the sentiment was too needy. And this was before we were fully together. She was like, “You know, people aren’t going to find this attractive.”

Anyway, she likes it now.

MD: Oh, that’s good.

SM: And I tried for a time, to find a different chorus, but nothing felt right. But it was just funny, because it was a song where I felt, oh man, this was really great. I really like this song, and then she wasn’t so impressed.

MD: Okay. Not Exactly Deep?

SM: That started out in Wales, as an electro-pop thing. And it didn’t have quite so many parts. It was the – verse and the chorus and the, kind of, riff. But it didn’t have all the other kinds of little segments that it has now. And the vocals for the verses were recorded – they’re still from the original demo. They were recorded on iPad…just through my iPad and microphone. And I think also the main guitar riff as well, still from the demo. But then, Ryan came here early on, when I moved to Spain, and we worked on it, in that direction. But then, later on, when I was visiting him in Oslo, we just – it didn’t feel right, and we started from scratch. And then it came together in the way that it is now. Well, almost. And then I changed it again, a bunch. And then I added another whole section, which I really like, actually. Which isn’t in the final version. But it was just gonna be too much. The song is already kind of a monster.

MD: Sounds like there could be an alternative version of the album, floating around somewhere, with different…

SM: Yeah. Well, there is, probably. I have all the different versions of all the songs from over time. Yeah. Anyway. That’s the song that’s probably the most collaborative between Ryan and I. Yeah. In that way, we worked it up a lot together, whereas a lot of the others I did a lot of, and then I would send it to him and he’d add something to it.

MD: Okay. Juniper Tree.

SM: Juniper Tree is the first or second song that I wrote. It’s about Julie, probably. It was like – she’d come here for residency as well. At that point I was – I don’t know how long it’d been since the breakup – six or seven months, or something. And when I first met her, I just – I think we went out for a drink or something. But I wasn’t drinking, or something, so I was just having anxiety issues. So I had a hot chocolate and I just proceeded to dump all of this baggage on her about the breakup and blah blah blah. And I don’t think she knew —because I was the only English speaker – native English speaker in the village at the time. And then her coming in… yeah, she had to hear all about that. And I think she was like – “Who on Earth is this guy? He’s a little bit crazy, telling me all this stuff”, but then, later on, I wrote that song, and I think it was a little bit about being confused about still getting over… and then being interested in somebody else. And then the harmonies are from Emily Zuch, who came with Julie for that residency. She’s another painter.

MD: Come again? What is her name again?

SM: Emily Zuch. And while she was here, she was hanging out, the three of us, a lot, and we would… I stopped drinking hot chocolate, and we were drinking quite heavily. And we would play a lot of music, and sing songs and Emily would sing harmonies, so we played a lot of Neil Young songs, and things and and then, so when I recorded that, I asked her if she wanted to sing on it. And I was just really happy with how it sounded. And then later on, she made costumes for some of the videos. The costumes – for Not Exactly Deep, and things. Anyway. Emily’s a great friend.

MD: Alright. Somebody Else’s Dream.

SM: That’s one that I, that I think that I started, with a riff-of, in Wales. And some of the guitars, I think, are from an iPad demo. But I never… I didn’t have it all quite together, and I didn’t have the chorus or the other parts. I worked that out with Ryan, on one of his visits. But then, later on, I added the whole second verse thing, and then had Clara [Vinals] sing on the second verse as well. And the idea for that: the way it’s ended up, was to have her quite dry, which was actually a suggestion from Jonathan Pearce from the Beths. Cause he was here for a few weeks last year.

MD: Sounds like you have a stopover for like, the whole indie scene from New Zealand, gathers at your place.

SM: They’re actually here again.

MD: Great.

SM: They’ve got another tour break. And Jonathan, I should have said that, he actually mixed two of the songs as well. Be Your Mine, and Do It For You. Ryan mixed the rest of them. But the drums for the second verse, the live drums, they actually come from a really old Tokey Tones song, that’s never been released. So they were played by Kari Hammond, who used to be in the Tokey Tones. And I just re-appropriated them for this song.

And then I just really – the strings kind of build. It took quite a long time to work that out – the arrangement, and actually, to get it to sound right. And anyway. That’s probably the song – or one of the songs – that I’m most happy with…jJust been working on the video for that one as well.

MD: Oh, cool.

SM: Yeah. And particularly, the second half of that song? That’s. Yeah. I’m pretty happy with that.

MD: Cool. Alrighty. You Are The Substance That I Can’t Live Without. Sounds fairly self-explanatory.

SM: Oh, yeah, obviously. Obviously, we’re getting into songs that were post-breakup. So that one – the way it sounds now is quite different from the original demo. But if you look at the… there’s a video that I put out last week and at the beginning of it, there’s a little bit of music, which isn’t on the album. But that comes from the original demo, so. Kind of – more guitar-y and I’m not sure. But it was it was one where I had the core of it for quite a long time. It was just the finishing took quite a long time. And all the. words I guess were maybe a little cryptic, but they’re quite personal. But I guess it’s pretty self-explanatory.

MD: It is what it is, yeah. Alright. We Should Never Forget?

SM: That’s a little biography of the relationship that broke up. So it’s all pretty personal, lyric-wise. The original demo was in a higher key. And the vocals that are on it, that you hear, are from the original demo, but pitched down. So they are a little maybe a little harsh. But I couldn’t ever get the same vibe again when I tried to sing it in the new key.

And the original demo had less chords and it was one where Ryan really liked it, but he’d say,  “just try adding another chord!” He wouldn’t tell me what chords to add, but he would say that he wanted to hear more, and then I’d go away and add two more chords, and then… until he said “yeah!”. And so now it’s ridiculous as to how many chords there are.

And then on one of James’ visits, originally I had myself doing the backing, stacked harmony thing. But my voice is much more shaky for that kind of thing. And so James did it. I was really happy with it. I also have some samples, some field recordings from a fiesta here.

MD: Let’s move on to the next one then. Your Kinda Love. Which is a duet, isn’t it?

SM: It’s one that I had the chords for, for a long time, as far back as New Zealand, and originally I had it as a disco song, ish. But then it was in Swansea that I wrote the lyrics, almost all the lyrics, and the melody, and it was one that I was really happy with. I used to play it more in a Neil Young style. And then on one of James’ visits here, he suggested the current rhythm for it. He said, “I think this will be a little more sexy.” And then he also had the idea for – when it comes out of the middle eight into the final chorus, it shifts slightly, as kind of a shift up, which gives it an extra lift, and that was James’ idea as well.

And at some point I had the idea to turn it into a duet, and Clara – when I saw her play. I get confused about whether I told you – I just did an interview just before… and it’s just overlapping that…

MD: Fair enough.

SM: So did I tell you how I met Clara, or?

MD: No, no. I don’t think you have.

SM: Okay. So, Clara, she – her band Renaldo & Clara… they were playing support for Princess Chelsea in Barcelona. And I was out there for that show, and so I saw her play, and I really liked her voice, and so I asked her if she would sing on that song, and it works really well. I’m really happy. That song was released way before the album, but it did really well in its time. Still seems to do pretty well on Spotify and stuff. Yeah. It’s hard, because you know, in some ways it’s the most well-known song, but…so for me, it’s the one I listen to the least, these days. But when I do listen to it, I appreciate it. It’s a good, decent, pop song.

MD: And that brings us to the final track on the record, which is Nine Years. Which must’ve been fairly intense for you to record, and write, for that matter.

SM: Yeah. It was. There was another song that I considered putting last, which would have ended the album on a slightly different vibe…a little less heavy. But for quite a long time I’d had the album… I’d decided that was going to be my last song. So I just stuck with that. It’s a little bit different to the other songs on the album, because it’s much more synthesizer-based. And to be honest, when I played live for the other songs, originally I had to go back and relearn everything. But that song, if I have to play it out live, I’ll really struggle, because – I just kind of make up chords. Quite a lot of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing exactly. And then record them and then forget what I did.

It’s just like, as I go, I record what fits at the time, without really even keeping notes of what the chords were or when I played them, or the sounds I used. So, when I listen to that one, I mostly think, “Oh, man. Um…” It would take some time to work out what I’m playing there.  Ryan plays the drums on it. But I think everything else on that one is me. It’s kind of the least collaborative song on the…

MD: Right. And was it cathartic to record this song, in particular? And most of these songs? Is it stuff that you just had to get out?

SM: I would say that You Are The Substance and We Should Never Forget were, at the times that I recorded those, were cathartic. Yeah, I definitely felt those songs  at the time, they were pretty raw, and listening to Nine Years in particular, listening to some of those vocal track solos, was a little heavy.

MD: The album as a whole, sounds very much like a product of the studio. So you touched on it a little bit, playing some of these songs live. Are there plans for you to come to New Zealand to perform? And if so, in kind of what form do the songs end up presenting themselves in when that happens?

SM: So last year I played at Auckland City Limits, and was with a six-piece band – two keyboard players, two guitars, bass and drums. And we could cover a lot of the parts, and then we had glockenspiels and all of the other paraphernalia, but the shows we’ve been playing here have been with a five-piece and one very good keyboard player. And he kind of is able to cover most of the important bits from the keyboards and the strings. And then Clara, she plays guitar, I play guitar, and then bass and drums. And then forgetting about the samplers and the glockenspiels and stuff, it actually works really well.

MD: Oh, good.

SM: I’m really happy with how it sounds live. It’s more… I don’t know what, but. I would at some point like to do a show where I have string players live, and things, which I did a couple of times with the Tokey Tones. But I think we’ve managed to pull this stuff off.

And in terms of New Zealand, I’m not sure. I’m trying to work that out. Because I have a band here, but in New Zealand, I rely on other people and Jonathan , he plays drums for me there. And he’s, like, on a permanent world tour at the moment.

And I had Jonathan Pearce in the band there, but the Beths are…

MD: They’re busy.

SM: They’re really tied up with him. I don’t know, I’m trying to work it out, because I’d need to come back. There was a chance to play the Others Way Festival, but just for that one show, it wasn’t right for me. A little too difficult.

Marty Duda
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