Welcome to another edition of Music Meter Monday, in which we profile bands who are climbing the MTV Music Meter. This week, we caught up with Chad Valley (a.k.a Hugo Manuel), the Jonquil frontman turned electronic musician whose first LP, Young Hunger (Cascine), recently dropped.
A self-professed computer geek, Manuel has been marrying electronics and music since he was a kid. Over the years of making music and touring with British indie pop band Jonquil, he has continued to work on his craft, but it wasn’t until recently that that undertaking took shape — and a name.
Manuel released his first EP as Chad Valley a couple of years ago, and his debut album last month, unleashing unto the world a dreamy, dancey brand of electronic music that could be full-throttle pop, if not for the quirky richness of his voice and all the decidedly unbubblegum collaborators studded throughout the disc (Twin Shadow, Active Child, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, etc).
The O Music Blog caught up with Manuel to talk about the album, collaborating with musicians he’s never met, and his status as an extreme early adopter. Check out our Q&A below:
So how has it been since your album came out? You came in right before that to do a WTF Wednesday.
It’s been great. There’s just been something new every day. It’s really exciting; getting to wake up every day and there’s always something new that’s going on. A new tour that’s booked or a new remix that’s been done or something — or press. It’s non-stop something happening all the time. That’s where I prefer to be. I don’t like it when I’m just at home twiddling my thumbs.
Has this been a lot different from when the EPs came out? Your first LP as Chad Valley?
Yeah, I’ve noticed that a lot actually. It’s just so much more of an event, you know. An EP for me is always a stopgap kind of thing you do as a means to an end, so I was always really excited to do the album finally. It seemed more important to me than doing the EPs, but I wanted to wait until I thought I was ready to do an album.
I wanted to ask you about the album — you have so many collaborators on it. What was your experience working with so many different voices on your debut LP?
I’ve always had the idea — way before I did my first EP. I knew that when I did an album I wanted to have this kind of idea of having lots of guests on it. Just because I wanted to be less introspective. It gets really easy to get lost in yourself when you’re just writing music and playing it by yourself. You don’t have anyone else to work against.
I always had the idea and I gave myself a huge amount of work — all those recording sessions all over the world. It was quite a task in the end. You know, in between tours, because I was touring a lot last year when I was making the album. I was doing sessions between touring.
When I was in New York last year I did the Glasser vocals. I sort of managed to lock that down the day before I was flying back home. Literally, on the way to the airport I stopped in the studio with her and spent an hour and half recording that. Similarly with the Anne Lise Frøkedal one; I was in Norway when I recorded that. We did it in her studio in Oslo. A lot of them were done by [the musicians] at home and emailed over in a less dramatic fashion. But they were all very exciting to do.
That must have been interesting — having people email you their parts.
Yeah, it was something I’ve never done before. I was working with people I had never even met. I only met — for the first time — El Perro Del Mar last week in person. We had only met over email before. And we sang a duet together, so it was kind of strange.
That’s so crazy. That’s like online dating or something.
Yeah, it was kind of really awkward when we met last week. You’ve shared this thing and you’ve collaborated and sent numerous emails and then suddenly it was like — ‘Oh, hello…’ It was a bit awkward, I’ll admit. But it was fine. I’m playing a show in Stockholm next month and we’re going to hang out.
So the way you describe it, this sounds like a big change from being in Jonquil — in terms of the way you’re making music and working with other people.
Yeah, everything works in a very, very different way with Chad Valley. It’s kind of the opposite, in a way. It’s just me writing all the songs, and that, for one, is a hugely different experience. In Jonquil, we sit in a room — the five of us together — and we write the song together. It’s a very collaborative affair. With me, it’s normally very sad and lonely, home by myself.
Do you like being able to have that agency to create music alone?
Yeah, indeed. I’m basically really selfish and pigheaded and I like to have my own way. So to collaborate with people is actually a bit of a — I have to force myself to do it, in a way. Not in a bad way — that sounds really bad — but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I see the benefits in doing it. When it goes right it’s fantastic to write something with someone else. But generally my default setting is just to do things by myself. It’s the natural thing to do for me. It was never a question for me to start doing solo music. But, yeah, I like both aspects — I like the fact that I’m in the position where I can spend six months touring and writing with Jonquil and six months by myself as Chad Valley and have that kind of diversity.
That must get tiring, though.
Yeah, it’s only been the last year and a half. I don’t have to do this for the rest of my life, but I could do it for a long time, for sure.
So last time I saw you you had just bought a ton of synths. When did you get into playing electronic music?
From an early age I played around with stuff on my computer. I have older brothers and they were into some similar stuff. Just writing stuff on really sh*tty PC programs — really simple programming stuff. At the same time I was in a band playing keyboards — you know, a guitar band with my mates. From an early age I was doing both the whole time. It just happened that Jonquil — I’ve been doing that for six years — that that took off first. The problem was I didn’t know what I wanted from [electronic music] and I was just doing it for fun — just for the hell of it. So I was just writing tunes aimlessly.
So the beginnings of Chad Valley were more just the fact that I decided, ‘OK, I want to make something of this. OK, what do I want to sound like? How can I make this something more concise?’ I’ve always had that parallel interest in electronic music, dance music and more traditional guitar stuff.
I don’t think I had a computer until I was in middle school. How young were you when you were playing around with this stuff?
My dad worked in the computer industry when I was a kid, so I can remember having a computer from my earliest memories. My dad is really proud of the fact that he got us on the Internet in the mid-’90s when I was a kid. Even that was something I’ve grown up with from a really early age. I was a bit of a computer geek when I was a kid. I was taking apart PCs. At the same time as that I was learning piano and singing in choirs and stuff for school. So combining the two just seemed really natural.
So I have to ask, and people probably have before, are you a big Spice Girls fan? You lift a whole lyric in one of your songs.
[laughs] Because of [the Spice Girls line] in ‘My Girl’? I don’t think so. I hated them when I was a kid. They were big in ’96 and I was 10 or 11 — that’s what all the girls in school liked. It’s only every time I hear them on the radio nowadays that I’m like, ‘F**k, this Spice Girls song is really good.’ People my age, it’s engrained into us. It’s part of the programming in my brain. I can still enjoy them. I’m not like a weird super fan or something.
Yeah, the ’90s are a big thing now. I guess in 10 years we’ll start listening to today’s pop.
That’s the thing, I already do. I love it.
Who would you want to collaborate with in the pop world?
I love Katy Perry.
Image courtesy of Big Hassle