New Plymouth library might not be the most rock and roll of settings but according to Alastair Ross it provided an ideal location to chat to a relaxed and enthusiastic Andre Manella (aka Sonic Delusion) about his (band’s) latest album, a jauntily diverse, sometimes serious, sometimes flippant excursion titled ‘This Material World’.
Sonic Delusion’s first album ‘+OR-’ was released in 2012. A small cast of rotating band members has orbited around Andre Manella since. As he explains it was a solo gig until he started forming a band around it.
“It’s always going to be a solo thing and a band thing. Sometimes there is a period where I play more with the band and sometimes I play more solo, it totally depends on my situation in life really, you know.
“I’ve been living off music for the last four years, so you always juggle a little bit – make sure I have enough solo gigs to pay my bills. But I do like playing in a band because you have people on stage with you and it’s a lot more fun, so generally speaking the band is when we do festivals, or we do a launch, but if it’s smaller gigs, or if I am touring in Europe, I just do it solo.”
Having previously toured in Europe twice Manella is heading there again in September when the fourth Sonic Delusion album (out here in April) gets its European release under small Swiss label Ambulance Recordings. When we talk he has only just signed on with Ambulance in the last week.
“So initially it’s an NZ release only, which is a first time for me,” he laughs. “I would normally just release it everywhere, you know!”
While finding a label hasn’t been a career goal, it has come as a welcome and unexpected development
“They heard my music online, they came across it on a Swiss website www.Mx3.ch, where I often upload my music. It’s a bit like MySpace used to be, that sort of platform. I’d put on the new song Funky and This Material World [the album’s first two tracks] a little while ago. They heard it there and got in touch, liked what I was doing and we’ve been chatting ever since. Now it’s all go, yeah, it’s cool!”
Everything Manella has done previously has been self-funded, displaying a determination familiar to many musicians.
“My gigs fund my trips and I book enough of my own gigs, but luckily now I’ve also got a booking agent in Switzerland. It’s very hard to find one actually because they are quite picky and very busy, but as result, I’ve been re-booked for a festival in Germany I played last year, and that pretty much covers my trip over. Then I’ll do another three or four weeks on top of that.”
With its striking cover image, juxtaposing a glittering mirror ball with the destruction of a building, and potentially loaded title, his new album suggests a slightly serious conceptual release.
“I guess the theme is ‘this material world’, but not all the songs tie in completely to that. I have been trying to have a positive but cynical spin on environmental damage, rather than being preachy.
“So I wanted to write a positive song that is kind of a cynical, but a happy tune about how we fuck up our world. I kind of just liked it as an album idea, as the theme for the album.
“That’s how the cover came about as well. I was touring in Switzerland and they were pulling down this great big old hotel – actually it probably wasn’t that old! So I pulled off the highway and took a photo of it and that’s the cover. Obviously, we added the disco wrecking ball, that wasn’t real,” he laughs, “but it was just a funny play on it, destroying our world with our blingy stuff.”
Explaining how he came to play music and where he finds himself creatively now, Andre reveals a serious classical music background.
“Sometimes I ask myself has it helped me, or influenced me, playing the cello for 15-20 years when I was younger and being able to read music? I guess it’s helped me in some ways as I have been around music all my life.
“I started playing the cello when I was about seven, played all throughout all my school years and in a small orchestra. I always wanted to write music and I tried on the cello a few times, but it’s not an instrument for me to write music on. Eventually, I’d had enough of playing off the sheet and quit the orchestra and bought myself an acoustic guitar and a loop station pretty much at the same time.”
His previous recordings have all been written on the loop station, but having recently purchased a synth and electric guitar this one was written on different instruments, providing a lot more variety.
“So this is the first album I didn’t write on the loop station and it makes it actually quite tricky now as we have to put it into a live setting and it’s a great challenge. I love it. It’s great trying to get that song into a live moment and it’s not always that simple as I didn’t write the songs particularly for a loop, which means there might be other chord changes in there that are not so easy with the looping. It’s the reverse idea of what I used to do!”
The band version of Sonic Delusion is, he says, almost ready to hit the road. He notes the importance of not being obsessed with perfection in a live situation.
“We are getting close, probably another couple of weeks anyway. We have to be ready, so once again it’s deadline! With the band, we just try and perfect it a little more. I like when the songs are played live that they are different to the album, not completely different so you don’t recognise it, but just an interesting or a slightly different take on it. Being quite spontaneous with the music, in the live environment I can change the song quite a bit without knowing that beforehand,” he laughs.