Ray Mann Q&A
By: Crimson Cookie
with Ray Mann
CC: You recently toured with Rev Al Green & Tori Amos, what was that like?
RM: They were my biggest and most exciting shows up to that point. On the Tori tour, I was playing solo to 2,000 people that night in venues like the Regent Theatre and the Sydney Opera House - it would have been more intimidating, but the audience response was so warm - especially when you consider I was just some anonymous dude singing soul tunes, a very different vibe to the lady of the hour, so that was humbling. As for The Rev, it's an amazing thing to share the stage with someone whose music has influenced your stuff; and after playing such large rooms by myself with Tori just weeks before, it was great to have the ‘Three’ with me, and see how our dynamic translates from rooms of a couple of hundred people to ten times that.
CC: You have achieved a great deal since the formation of ‘Ray Mann Three’ in 2005, does it ever feel that way? Discuss.
RM: You know, I don't stop and think about that as often as I possibly should. Let's see: I've recorded an album in a weekend; played shows here and overseas; tried my hand at making music videos; put on a couple of exhibitions of my art here in Sydney; shared the stage with artists like Jamie Lidell, Sharon Jones, Arrested Development and Rickie Lee Jones; and along the way I've found myself surrounded by a collective of wonderful musicians and collaborators... You know what? Thanks for asking me that. This may be the first time in a while I've taken stock of all that, just because I'm always excited to move onto the next thing - I'm excited about that right now!
CC: What inspired you to contribute your visual artwork within your performances?
RM: I'm a visual person as much as a musical one, so I'm interested in trying to bring these things together, whether it is in music videos or our live shows. From day one, I always saw the artwork of ‘The Ray Mann Three’ as important as the music; in trying to create my own little world. For the first few years I developed that aesthetic with our gig posters and promo art, until last year when I tried animating my drawings for the music video to our single 'Opa Opa'. So this for me is the next logical step: incorporating the visuals into the live music show, communicating not just what I hear, but also what I see in my head. I get excited watching a gig that has that extra element, and I don't see many other local bands doing it at the moment, so why not?
CC: What does it feel like to have your own art exhibition in Sydney and are you planning to have exhibitions overseas?
RM: So there were these two guys I didn't know walking around my very first art exhibition, this time last year in Sydney. They stood in front of one piece, shook their heads, and kept walking around the gallery. I remember thinking, "This is real! Strangers are looking down their nose at your art! In a gallery! Your art! They're critical! You're in the art world now!" The experience of putting on the show was even more nerve-wracking than playing my first gig. I couldn't really explain why; it's probably just that I have a few years more experience as a performing musician than as an exhibiting artist - so the visual artist part of me has a lot of catching up to do. It was also really important to me that people view my art in a gallery space and not a music venue – it is one thing to be creating artwork purely in the context of promo material, but there's nothing like exhibiting your work on its own, to tell you what it’s lacking or if it needs improvement. I'm hoping to get out one more exhibition soon, before I take my art - and my music, of course - overseas again in 2011.
CC: Was it difficult to leave 'Kid Confucius' and form your own band? Discuss.
RM: Leaving Kid Confucius was difficult purely because I'd spent most of my 20s in that band; stepping out on my own was daunting, but inevitable. I had a lot of affection for the guys, the music and the lifestyle, but Kid C was not my baby; and I knew I had more in me artistically, that there was room for in that group. The Ray Mann Three had been going for a couple of years before I left, but I'd been treating it as a side project, even though I wasn't writing or singing in Kid C (there were three other guys in Kid C taking care of that). My role in Kid C was purely as lead guitarist, in which I enjoyed and learned a lot from, but my own musical ideas were a little more holistic. Kid C was a very demanding thing; time and energy-wise, juggling life around it in general had always been pretty hard. So my decision to focus on the Ray Mann project meant having to "leave home", as it were, and take a chance on something I knew I had to at least try.
CC: Japan is a country which every much admires your music, is there a huge comparison between Japanese and Australian crowds?
RM: Oh man, Japan audiences are something else! We visited Japan for the first time in May this year, and our first show was at Greenroom Festival, playing to 3,000 people - and they knew all the words! Surreal! It was the same thing, at the much smaller club show we played at; they seemed fanatical and reverential all at once - not just toward us, but what we saw of them in general. You start a song and there's this thrill of recognition, then they quickly settle down and become just so attentive; they do not want to miss a thing. Funnily enough, the Australian audience I'd compare them to is Melbourne - really responsive, digging the details, nuances, little moments, everything. For us, the shows are intimate and full of improvisation, it’s really rewarding.
CC: You have a vast list of artists that you've played along side; do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount or the tremendously talented people you have met?
RM: I feel blessed, more than anything, to have met so many talented people. From folks like Jamie Lidell (who was all class and approachable at the same time) to Al Green (he talks just like he sings!), to the really wonderful, talented musicians in Sydney and in Melbourne I'm proud to call my friends, I feel... yeah, blessed.
CC: Are you excited about playing at Red Bennies for Melbourne's Fringe Festival? Discuss.
RM: We're really looking forward to being a part of Melbourne's Fringe Festival. What hooked me was Red Bennies' deco-theatre-on-an-intimate-scale vibe; I definitely feel an affinity with that. After spending this year experimenting with the "Multimedia Show" concept, and looking for an opportunity to get back to Melbourne, this invitation to be involved in the Fringe Fest and in this wonderful room, felt too much like the stars aligning to say no. We don't visit Melbourne anywhere near enough and these are our only shows for this year! We can't wait to share this with you!