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NewTracks New Artist: Nic Manders

NewTracks New Artist: Nic Manders

There are plenty of reasons why NZM might have run an article on Nic Manders; he’s a musician, engineer, and music producer, responsible for tracks released by several of Aotearoa’s biggest commercial acts, dating back as far as the Parachute Band in the late 1990s on through to new singles by Fred and Unity Pacific in 2020. Nic’s studio CV includes a list most easily described as a who’s who of genuine local talent, but it is in his guise as a solo artist singer-songwriter who has had a track (Headland) included on NZ On Air‘s NewTracks compilation this December that we caught up with him. 

What’s your name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

Nic Manders. Born in England, grew up in Quebec, Canada and Christchurch, NZ. Now I call Tāmaki Makaurau home. I play most keyboard orientated instruments and most kinds of guitars. Rhythmic instruments are also fun. The triangle can be a hugely underrated instrument. And I sing.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

My musical journey began as a chorister in Christchurch cathedral choir. Four morning practices a week, four evensongs in the evenings and two services on a Sunday. Plenty of grounding and practice in singing and musicality. Music and school and plenty of bands during and after school. Learning was rounded off by attending SAE.

Any other previous projects we might know you from? 

I was once the boy soloist for Andrew Lloyd’s requiem… a long time ago! Otherwise I’ve been involved in many projects over the last 20 years as a musician, engineer, producer. The likes of Brooke Fraser, Stan Walker,  Katchafire, Dave Dobbyn, Lydia Cole, Jeremy Redmore etc.

Who else is involved with your music?

For this project I knew it needed to be created as much as possible from what I could do. I collaborate a lot in my day to day musical expressions, but it was important that the music was as much from my own stable as possible. While I can play drums, there was no way I’d be able to bring the full vibes I was after so I asked a legend on the skins, Steve Thomas, to join me for a day to record drum parts for the album. He’s really very good. And a great guy to have around.

How has your music evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

Gosh – hard to sum up, but I mean there’s a number of years of being involved in numerous musical projects that have helped form my current taste and style preferences. It makes for a fair musical smorgasbord!

How and when did you come up with the name for this new project?

The album name ‘This Time’ actually came rather late in the process. I had a few good friends making suggestions a day before I had to hand the album in, so it was down to the wire, but I feel grateful to have landed on a title which I think sums up the project really well.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date? 

As a ‘behind the scenes’ producer, I’ve ridden the coat tails of many wonderful artists and experiences over the years. Would be hard to pick one, but certainly one highlight would be recording with my producer ‘idol’ Daniel Lanois a few years back in his home studio. That was such a wonderful experience.

What makes Headland stand out for you as a single?

I felt like this song had a good chance of being a more ‘accessible’ song than some of the others on the album. And it’s first up on the album. 

What is the story behind Headland?

I pretty much wrote the piano motifs one Friday afternoon in about ten minutes and it sat on my hard drive for about a year or so. I threw the idea into a folder of drafts and didn’t really think much about it. Once we hit lockdown and I was throwing myself into writing the full album, my manager (Jayden Keoghan) messaged me about it, suggesting it needed to be finished. Sometimes it’s good to have outside perspective, otherwise these moments could potentially pass by……

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I actually really like the chorused guitars that come in from the second chorus. Small things haha! I also like how I managed to wrangle an ‘ahhh’ into ‘hark’ as part of the lyric. Happy accident.

Who did you record the single with and where? 

I much took the original piano parts that I’d banged down in 10 minutes back at my room at Parachute, and once we were in lockdown I managed to get all of my gear home into my home studio. I pretty much recorded everything there myself while looking out to the empty streets.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

Some kind of hope.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

To be honest, while I think there are some obvious parameters, that’s actually really tough. I don’t think you ever really know how a song is going to be received once it’s out in the wild. How many times have we heard interviews with artists who talk about their wildly successful single as being the last song to be even considered?

Who else is in your team (ie. producer, management, label, publicity etc.?)

I have a great team around me. August Avenue have taken me on as management, though I’m not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into haha! I also rely heavily on a few close friends who I trust artistically.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

Oh totally. I love working with the music community in this country. It is such a privilege and we are in pretty awesome creative times as far as NZ’s music climate. I’ve just mixed an awesome album for Rob Ruha that I can’t wait for people to hear. There’s a wonderfully talented artist Neil McLeod that I’ve been writing and producing tracks with. 

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

Jeremy Redmore – Fire and Snow
Lydia Cole – Sober
Harry ParsonPromise

Got any advice for others out there who have made applications but not yet been included on NewTracks? 

Keep at it! I’ve always been super impressed with how the team at NZOA know and care about our local talent. But it’s also flooded with an enormous amount of eager artists vying for the elusive funding. It’s a cliche, but hard work and consistency is rewarded.

Any last words?

I’ve said it before, but it really is a privilege to be able to make music in this country. We have something special and the environment is growing in creativity and belief. I love being part of it and our unique story in Aotearoa.

 

New Tracks is a compilation of new music from New Zealand artists which is distributed to broadcast and online platforms on the first of each month. Previously the Kiwi Hit Disc, New Tracks is one of the ways that New Zealand on Air promotes kiwi music to the industry, radio, streaming services, and media. To apply for New Tracks you must have a completed, airplay-ready song and a promotional plan.