- Wed, 2010-09-22 10:34
As well as penning hit tunes with bands as diverse as Groove Armada and Boyzone, BRIT School educated Jack McManus released a lauded album of his own material in the shape of 2008’s Either Side Of Midnight. After a couple of years spent locked away working on new music, he’s now ready to return to the limelight with new single Heart Attack.
I Like Music chatted with Jack about the new single, his eagerness to return to playing live, being at the BRIT School, and where he’d like to be in five year’s time.
"I Like Music because…I’d be lost without it.” Jack McManus
ILM: How would you describe your music for all the people out there yet to hear it?
Jack: Well I’ve done a lot of things over the last few years that are quite different, from working with bands like Groove Armada to writing songs for poppier bands. I think the most important thing for people to know about me as an artist is that I’m melody-driven. I love catchy choruses. It’s taken me a while to get to this point. I think that’s because you have to live a little in order to write things, otherwise you just end up with a load of songs that everyone’s kind of heard before, albeit in different ways. I like to be a little bit different lyrically. I just want to keep writing good pop music forever!
ILM: How would you describe your song-writing process?
Jack: I can’t live without my iPhone and its voice-recorder! I’m so bad; I can be at dinner with my girlfriend - it doesn’t matter where I am - and I’ll have to make an excuse and go to the toilet without talking to anyone and put a melody down on the iPhone! There must be two or three hundred little snippets on the phone. It’s weird, I don’t really check them that often, but I just hate the thought of letting something go. I normally write in two or three ways. I might get a lyric or a title in my head and often melodies or chords will then come straight away. Sometimes I sit down and work out the music first. Because I’m producing a lot it can start with a drum beat, which will take you to different areas. I think that’s why a lot of my songs sound a bit different. Hopefully my voice and general sound tie it all together in the end.
ILM: How did your new single Heart Attack come to be?
Jack: That was quite a weird one; I don’t normally write like that. It was me and two other guys jamming in the studio. It sounds so clichéd! I never normally do that, I very much work on my own and lock myself away. But this was three of us banging away on instruments and trying things out. We came up with the main riff, which is pretty much there the whole way through. So we had this really punchy melody and were looking for a lyric that would suit it. At the time I was under lots of pressure, so I thought ‘heart attack’ suited that well. It really fitted the melody and pace of the track, so we just went with it from there.
ILM: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?
Jack: There are quite a few of those! Ones that have inspired me from childhood are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Beatles, Elton John, Billie Joel. They’re all quite traditional, but now there are relatively new bands coming through in the last five or six years who are inspiring me. I love Kings Of Leon! I put their album on when I go for a run and it makes me want to make music. If I can be a tiny bit as good as them then I’ve done well!
ILM: What do you look forward to the most about playing live?
Jack: I always really look forward to it. Now I have a new band and we’ve got string players in. Last time I was wedded to the piano. I was a pianist that sang and fronted a rock band. It didn’t feel right to do that this time, so I’ve gone for a slightly different set-up. It’s kind of my own mini-orchestra on stage! I feel much more comfortable. I’m standing up for some songs, playing the guitar on a couple, still playing the piano but not exclusively. I’ve been lucky enough to see some great bands over the last year and have learnt something from all of them. I saw Kings Of Leon, which was amazing; very rock n roll and cool. Then I took my girlfriend to see Michael Buble and his voice was so good! Some people think he’s a bit cheesy, but his presence is amazing! I just set out to see loads of gigs and to try and learn from it.
ILM: What have been some of your most memorable live experiences?
Jack: I supported John Mayer at Brixton Academy, which was fantastic! I remember being on stage with a full house of nearly five thousand people, and thinking “oh my god, I can turn my head the whole way round and there are still people there!” It was massive! I’d actually played to more people at festivals, but to see that many people in one room just staring at you… It was nerve-wracking, but it just made me perform better. That was probably my biggest moment. It just made me want to do more of it.
ILM: You were part of the BRIT School for a while; what impact did that experience have on you?
Jack: If I hadn’t gone to the BRIT School I wouldn’t be doing this now. I actually went there wanting to be a classical trumpet player! It’s completely the wrong place to go for that! It’s very much a pop, rock and R&B culture there. The first year I was there I was completely gobsmacked. I didn’t have to do maths or English, I could just do music. I think it meant I dossed around a bit too much, but then I realised what an amazing opportunity it was to be there with thirty other people in your class who want to do the same thing and can’t wait to write a song with you or be in a band with you. We were so lucky with all of the facilities as well. We had a full-on studio and big stages, technicians and teachers on call. I really took advantage of that in the second year, and that was when I decided I could do this properly. It gave me the belief that I could do this. It was crazy as well, because there were people like Amy Winehouse there, and Leona Lewis, Luke from the Kooks, Katie Melua… It produces some good people!
ILM: It certainly gets people focussed on music at quite a young age.
Jack: Yeah, I was 16 when I started. It was a very young age. And I couldn’t bear to do any other subjects. I’d never really tried at GCSEs. All I wanted to do was music.
ILM: What are your future plans from here onwards?
Jack: I want to keep on making albums for myself, for as long as people want to hear them. If record companies will have me, radios will play me and audiences will listen to me then I’ll never stop. I’ll always keep writing. In the short-term I’d like to be headlining my own tour in bigger venues and really getting a good following going. Way down the line I can see myself writing and producing for other artists, until I’m old hopefully! That would be the dream. It’s all I know and it’s what I love doing. But it’s hard. It’s so competitive. There’s a block of U.S. artists who dominate the charts here, and everyone’s fighting for a place. It’s cut-throat.
ILM: How do you respond to that? How will you stand out from the crowd?
Jack: There’s an element of me that just says “I’ve just got to be me,” but I think you’ve also got to learn from these other people who are making big successes of themselves. Especially in terms of keeping up with current sounds and knowing what people are actually listening to. You have to know what the radio is playing because it’s so influential. What they play is all that people hear. You have to get on the radio. You do also have to stand out from the crowd, but I’m not going to go all wacky and weird just to create attention!