Chad Valley’s Hugo Manuel has been a busy man. The Jonquil frontman just completed a tour of the UK with Massachusetts electronic band Passion Pit and Glaswegian electro-pop outfit Chvrches, and also launched his first tour of the US as Chad Valley, so he was justifiably tired when we met to discuss his debut album Young Hunger. While in America, the Oxford-based artist had the opportunity to headline a label showcase at CMJ, and though the tour wasn’t what you’d call traditional, he got the opportunity to promote his music in a way which should open up regional programmers to his unique blend of ‘90s-era Balearic chillwave and modern electronic music.
Manuel recently spoke to PopMatters not only about his new full-length, but how the album’s numerous, noteworthy collaborations (Twin Shadow, Glasser, El Perro Del Mar, etc.) came into being, and how he accidentally came across Bono’s unique method of writing lyrics.
You just returned from your first tour of the US. How did that work out for you?
It was excellent! It wasn’t really a traditional tour. I only played six or seven shows, but I filled up the rest of the days with promos and recording. One of the things I was really happy about was that I got to play CMJ Festival—which is the New York equivalent of South by Southwest.
It must have been quite hectic being in the US as Superstorm Sandy hit, and during the elections.
We were quite lucky to miss Sandy. It was just going past Miami while we were there. But it wasn’t really a storm in the way that you’d expect it, it was warmer—more like tropical rain. A couple of days later I was in LA. As for the elections, from what I can tell, Romney is bad news.
Aside from the performances themselves, what else were you able to do while in America?
Lots of random things really; I played CMJ, headlined a label showcase. It was good to meet my label mates, but the audience is mostly industry people. They’re there for work—people are sitting there stroking their beards. On the other hand Chicago was full of drunk people dancing. It was good to be in the states for our launch party.
Young Hunger is your first album, What was your experience like recording it?
I had a great time making it. It was a fun experiment. I had a motive for pushing myself, I think, when it comes to other artists—even if I like an album, I can be critical if it doesn’t have enough diversity. I wanted to reference a lot of old-school sounds. I did a lot of research into bands like New Jack Swing, Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson, Boys2Men, New Edition and Prefab Sprout. I always consider singing as my main instrument. I tend to warble over my songs as I write them and then fill in lyrics afterwards. Apparently Bono uses the same method.
How did the collaborations on the album come about?
I think it was a case that I had people earmarked for certain tracks. I had to make sure all the tracks worked first, so I did the warbling, and then I recorded the vocals. We did the Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs collaboration just off St Clements. Ironically, we live just round the corner from one another and that was one of the hardest to organize. He was on tour constantly. I managed to grab him for a session when he had just come back from somewhere and the next day he was off again. “Fathering / Mothering” is the oldest song on the album. It dates back to August 2011. Harry’s Gym have their own studio in Oslo, which is beautiful, so we recorded it there. They have the most amazing equipment.
What’s your opinion of the finished product?
I like it. I took my time with the album and resisted pushes to get it out earlier because I knew it wasn’t ready. I had to learn how to do a lot of stuff. I wanted to get away from the image of being a bedroom DJ.
How are things going with Blessing Force – your creative collective?
We’re doing a gig in Paris fairly soon. It’s the first thing we’ve done in a while so we’ve got everyone playing. Blessing Force is a family. We want to keep a bit of a profile and maintain the scene. We’re all doing different things at different speeds, but we’re going about it the same way. It’s DIY, but at the same time not being afraid to collaborate with what – in my youthful naiveté—I would have called “the man.” The music industry is a very strange place right now.
One thing that I find from talking to electronic artists is that “performing live” is not their strong suit, Would you agree?
To some extent. I’ve been rehearsing with backing singers, but I find it hard to interact with a crowd. Because I’m singing as well as performing I barely have time to catch a breath, let alone look up. But I’ve got some pretty cool lights now. My lighting technician is the only one who’s getting paid. I can’t afford to pay the singers.
Besides the Passion Pit tour, what does the future hold for Chad Valley?
I’m playing two shows in Japan soon. It will be my third time going back. It’s a really cool place actually, and something I can feel really good about. At the moment my profile is higher in the US. A lot of bands do well in one place or the other, so to keep getting invited back is great.