The brilliant Chester-based four piece Mansun were a world apart from the other guitar groups of the 90’s. Despite being unusual, darkly humorous and distinctly non-Britpop, their excellent debut LP ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ hit the top of the charts in 1997, a golden year for music. An odd mixture of absurd lyrics, exciting melodies, string sections, singalong choruses and drum loops, it quickly converted me into a fan the first time I heard it. The 1998 follow up ‘Six’ was a hugely ambitious thing for a mainstream group to release in the late 90’s, a fascinating piece of work that had absolutely nothing in common with the musical landscape of the time. In fact, it’s very much a record that stands on it’s own, like nothing ever made or ever heard before in any musical era. It confused and baffled many, as well as putting their chances of being the next biggest mainstream phenomenon back a few steps. But artistically it may have been the greatest achievement of the late 90’s.
Their record label decided that Mansun had spent enough time having fun and that it was time for them to deliver a commercial hit album. The resulting ‘Little Kix’ has a resigned tone, reflecting a tired group whose main creative force had been pushed into a lesser role, and bullied into submission. The final, unfinished 4th album ‘Kleptomania’ is the sound of a wounded group desperately fighting against the dying of the light, and remains unfinished. Mansun split in 2003 before the LP could be completed, leaving frontman and main songwriter Paul Draper to compile and organise the incomplete recordings for the final, posthumous Mansun release.
Not long after the break-up, Draper announced that he would be releasing a solo album. One year turned into two, two turned into three, and his absence became more prolonged. Since then, other than his collaborations with Skunk Anansie singer Skin in 2006, and guest appearances with My Vitriol and The Joy Formidable, the music world has been bereft of any Draper activities. Fans asked what the hell was going on when his website, forum and social media accounts all disappeared. After interviewing Sir Paul McCartney for Drowned In Sound in 2012, people wondered whether he might have decided to become a music journalist instead, happy to observe things from the other side. Then, about a month or so ago (October 2013) Draper began to make brief radio interviews again, before returning to Twitter and causing plenty of hilarity with interactions between him and a South Central L.A. rapper who goes by the name of Mansun (more about that HERE). More importantly, after a long period of rumour, Draper confirmed news of a new project. Not THAT solo album, but The Anchoress, a highly anticipated collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Catherine A.D. which has since become a full band. So it’s an absolute pleasure and a true honour to talk to the genius Draper himself about the past, present and future…
How did you discover Catherine A.D, and what made you choose to work with her after such a long break from music?
Paul: “I didn’t discover Catherine as such, she discovered me, it was the opposite way around. I was looking for a project and so was Catherine. Catherine hired me as co-producer with her to realise her songs in the form of a band, which we did. She’s my favourite songwriter of the moment. The songs are divided between Catherine’s and ones I’ve chipped in writing with her. We both love the collection of songs she’s put together and are really excited about people hearing them!
So tell us about how The Anchoress evolved into a full band? Where did you find the other members?
Paul: “We wanted to perform the album live with real musicians, string players and a rhythm section and away from a lot of the technology that makes modern records. Catherine assembled the musicians to play with her and I knew some of the guys too and suggested them to her. It’s been great playing these songs live in the studio and capturing the performances. Although Catherine is The Anchoress she plays live with a band… I’ve watched them rehearse, it was amazing watching the songs come alive.”
What can we expect from The Anchoress? Does the music have anything in common with that of Mansun?
Paul: “The Anchoress has Catherine’s flavour of songwriting through the record, however in parts where I’ve joined in you can hear a bit of my style too on certain tracks, but its completely separate from Mansun, it’s Catherine’s project. I’ve always loved her style of songwriting, she’s one of my favourite songwriters as I say, it’s been amazing writing some of the songs with her.”
Mansun had a number one album, another that went top ten, no less than twelve Top 40 singles, Brit nominations, memorable festival appearances and notched up just as many top 10 hits as The Stone Roses. Do you ever feel bitter about not getting the credit and recognition that is always handed out to the other bands of the era?
Paul: “I’m surprised we had as many top 10 hits as the Stone Roses. What we achieved back in the day was remarkable really as we were just a cottage industry and a DIY outfit that didn’t really fit into the scene of the day. I’m really glad people like your good selves remember us, so it seems we did get some credit after all which is nice in retrospect!”
Have you got any theories as to why Mansun’s role in British music has been glossed over by the mainstream media?
Paul: “Well I doubt the broadsheets are going to talk about Mansun, but its great that sites such as yours like to remember the band still. Mansun always was a bit of an underground thing and it looks like it still is, so its really nice to know people like yourselves still like those records and remember the shows, it makes me smile. I think a lot of our better tracks came out as b-sides and were missed by the masses, so the fans of the band know about those but the mainstream doesn’t, and I don’t think the artwork of the Six album helped in retrospect with people’s perception of the band.”
When you released ‘Six’, did you have any idea that it would go on to be a cult classic?
Paul: “Not at all, although people at the time always said to me people will like this record in the future. I never quite understood that, I always asked why didn’t they like it now! But, weirdly that seems to be true, it is the future and people always tell me how much that record means to them, or its their favourite record ever, so I guess they were right, people may even like it more further into the future. Mansun were always described as a cult band, ‘Six’ is always described to me as a cult record and most people always thought I was a bit of a cult anyway.”
After a number one debut album and a string of hit singles, you could have followed trends and made a deliberately commercial second album, which may have pushed Mansun into the big league with Blur, Oasis, Pulp and Suede. Instead you stayed true to yourself, followed your instincts and made ‘Six’, a record wildly out of step with the era which is now regarded by many as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the time. Any regrets? Or are you proud that your music had an impact that runs deeper than mere record sales?
Paul: “Well, I certainly could have gone all out poptastic for the second record. I don’t know if that was a good or a bad move, I just did what I did without too much thought for the ramifications. I don’t think we thought about success or failure in that sense, it was chaotic and not thought out properly, particularly the controversial artwork because we simply weren’t friends when we made that record and no meetings were held between us to sort anything out or organise anything properly, the artwork, the finances, personal issues etc etc… You have to work together as a band to get anything done properly but unfortunately we never worked together, if we had have been it would have been a very different outcome for the record and the band. I just thought we were doing something genuinely good and a bit different at the time, but other people will decide in time if that’s true or not. As for it being regarded as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the time I personally would have traded any of that in to just be mates to be perfectly honest, that’s all I wanted really, to just be mates in a band. When the band started I thought we were mates, we used to hang out together and dream about being in a band, hang out in the grey house in Chester, listen to music together, go to rock clubs together, hang out in Dominic Chads pub The Fat Cat and stuff like that but to this day I’m not sure exactly where and how things changed and what happened, thats what bust Mansun, not Six. That’s my only regret, not Six, I don’t care about that. If we could have sat down in just one meeting together things would have been different… I don’t care about record sales any more, that’s my regret.”
Is it frustrating that some tracks on ‘Kleptomania’ could have been massive hits if you had come up with them at a different time? ‘Rock N Roll Loser’ for example, that could have been huge!
Paul: “Its a terrible shame Kleptomania wasn’t finished, but unfortunately the reason the record wasn’t finished was because of just that, Kleptomania. Other individuals didn’t want me to make the record so I gave up in the end. I just about managed to put the unfinished recordings together before I had nothing left to give due to the actions of others. It was terribly frustrating for myself for many years not finishing that record and it effectively stopped me dead in my tracks as somebody who could make records. But working with Catherine, her drive to make music has made me see a better side of making music so working together has helped heal the wounds of not finishing Kleptomania. So I’ll be eternally grateful to Catherine for that. I don’t think about Kleptomania so much now. I think about The Anchoress, The Anchoress makes me happy and Catherine has helped me believe in myself a bit more than I did when I abandoned Kleptomania. She made me believe I have some worth as a songwriter as previous people I’ve worked with claim I have no worth in that area. Leaving that aside, I think ‘Keep Telling Myself’ is the best song I wrote in Mansun, although its unfinished, technically its my best… the way the chords move every 2 beats instead of on the bar, i think that has some worth. I wrote that on September 11th 2001. I woke up with a hangover and saw the second plane hit the twin towers, I picked up my guitar which was on the floor and wrote that song. It was about keeping positive in light of what was going on in my life. I amended the words later on, at Rockfield Studios in Wales I think, but all of the songs on Kleptomania were chronicling what was going on around me at the time. Wanted so much lost it all, that one. ‘Slipping Away’, ‘Good Intentions’, ‘Cry to My Face’… all stuff going on that I didn’t understand at the time.”
In under five years time, people will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of ‘Six’. Do you think there’s ANY possibility of a reunited Mansun celebrating it with us? Even if it’s just for a one-off tour in 2018?
Paul: “Unfortunately, Dominic Chad doesn’t want to be in Mansun so that is not a possibility I’m afraid. I’m really sorry about that, we were all equally to blame, even if we did want to do it as a band other individuals would try to stop us. It’s sad for the fans who always ask me about this, but we all have different lives as people now. For myself I can only be as honest as possible and say it would be mind blowing to perform that record in its entirety for the 20th anniversary. I can say that because Mansun doesn’t hurt me any more, or not so much anyway. It was the thing that meant the most to me and it was taken away, but I’m cool with it now. So I say it from a removed position so to speak, I’m desensitised to it now. I remember the best review I read about ‘Six’ said something like “Never has so much bilge piled forward since the Herald of Free Enterprise burst its bows” or something. Reviews always hurt me back then but now I just laugh because I’ve been through the hurt. People can snigger at me, or Six, or whatever they want to do or say, it says a lot more about them than it ever will about me. I just don’t care anymore, i feel lucky to be alive. I think it would be awesome to play that entire record that was was so laughed at back in the day, in its entirety, with that review projected behind us in massive letters. I think it would be great, hilarious in fact. But sadly that isn’t possible and I’m not sure things can ever change unfortunately. Mind you, 5 years ago I was having a laugh with Dominic Chad in our local pub as we stayed in touch for about 4 years after the band split, but I doubt things would ever change and I’m not sure it would be any good playing it on my own. I can’t remember the chords anyway.”
Paul: “I’ve been there about 3 years, it’s a tiny cupboard that used to be the kitchen in the building where it is housed, hence the name. I’ve crammed all my gear in there and that’s where Catherine and I made The Anchoress as well as at her studio in South London. I originally rented the space because I’d always worked from home and wanted a separation between my home and working environment. I like going in everyday, its got a 70’s feel to it. I spend most of my time in there, I leave the house about 10am and get back in in the early hours of the morning. I don’t do much else except watch old episodes of Dr Who from the 70’s with John Pertwee or Tom Baker in them. I might buy an orange Austin Allegro to drive back and forward to the studio then my whole life will have a 70’s feel to it.”
Some interesting song titles leaked on the internet a few years ago included ‘Being A Girl Part 3’ and ‘Cancer Part 2’. Were you planning some sort of a ‘Six’ sequel? Is there a possibility of one in the future?
Paul: “They were working titles for the solo album I started in 2003 and shelved a bit later, I still have them on my hard drive somewhere but I doubt I’d release them under those titles if I ever did. The unreleased demos I have were towards the solo record and were just straight head rock songs. Not like the first 2 Mansun albums with segues and stuff, but more like some of the B-Sides. Dark Mavis told me they were more like an old Mansun B-Side called Ski Jump Nose when I played her the demos. In my mind I would love to do a follow up to the first 2 Mansun albums though, separate from the record I didn’t release where they had a conceptual theme running through them, the way Muse make some of their records now which seems a bit more acceptable these days, like the Janelle Monae record. I know what a fictitious 5th Mansun album would be about, or a 3rd in the trilogy of AOTGL and Six as some people see it. It would be about a rock star who imagines things, it would be amazing, but unfortunately it won’t happen. But I’ve worked it all out in my head anyway, I’ve always been a bit of a daydreamer.”
Did any of your proposed solo material develop into music for The Anchoress, or was all of that done from scratch?
Paul: All the songs on The Anchoress are Catherine’s, on roughly half of them I joined in with the writing process and helped develop the songs, which was great and very enjoyable and felt less pressure being the junior partner in proceedings. Lyrically it’s Catherine’s creation, I’ve chipped in with the odd line here and there on some tracks, my involvement has been more on the music and production side. I also play the triangle on one song.”
You began recording a solo album, and then withdrew from the music scene completely after realising the full scale of events surrounding Mansun’s break-up. But why did this lead to the solo material being scrapped? Surely releasing something of your own could have been a somewhat therapeutic new start..
Paul: “I lost interest in music in the way I had an interest in it before the split. I did try my best to carry on, so I would like to say a genuine sorry to everyone still reading this and who wanted to hear the solo album I wrote. Im genuinely sorry but it wasn’t of my making, I was sort of forced out of music. I felt at the time that a lot of people had taken advantage of my trusting nature and also the fact I find it difficult to see the bad in people and keep walking into disasters. I didn’t want to walk into another disaster so I gave up on making my own records to some people’s delight, and cancelled my recording contract with EMI which I know seems insane but it makes sense to me. So I went down to the local pub instead, where I stayed pretty much till Catherine dragged me out bit by bit by playing me her songs. I’m sure she will tell you when she finally speaks about The Anchoress that I’m the number one fan of her songwriting. I badgered her with emails for a while telling her how good her songs were and that they should be heard. That gave me the energy to get involved in making an album again, and other people have helped me too, they know who they are and i’ll be eternally grateful for the help. Hopefully people will hear The Anchoress and it will make them happy, so a pat on the back to everyone who helped me out. The Anchoress is the project where people will hear those songs Catherine had and that I loved. Well some of them anyway, she has about 50 more that deserve to be released and it was hard to keep listening through the wealth of material she had to narrow it down to the ones to concentrate on for her record. I hope she makes a second Anchoress record as there are so many more beautiful songs that need an outlet. I don’t know if she will do it on her own, with other people or with me again, I don’t know but there’s songs of hers that aren’t on this record that are brilliant too.”
After hearing a whisper that you would be playing with Leeds supergroup Menace Beach during a 6Music session for Marc Riley, the show received a huge amount of emails. At around the same time, fans wanting to hear your solo material launched a petition. Were you surprised? And has this revived enthusiasm for your music changed the way you think about things?
Paul: “Menace Beach have been mates of mine for a while, Ryan the singer and one of the songwriters asked me to listen to his new tracks and I absolutely loved them. I told Ryan it was the best stuff he’d done and he asked me to come and play on the track I liked the most, Fortune Teller on Marc Riley’s show. Dark Mavis who runs the Mansun internet stuff posted it around that I’d be playing on the Marc Riley show and Marc said they’d been inundated with emails about me playing with them. I was a bit surprised, but since then I’ve been asked to do loads of interviews off the back of it which has been great because The Anchoress is coming out in the New Year. So I’m happy to answer any questions to let people know about The Anchoress as I’m a massive fan of Catherine’s, its been a privilege working with her and I want people to hear it. I’ll even talk about cheese… I like Lancaster the best so don’t ask me in any future interviews. I quite like Kraft singles as well and that stuff from Waitrose with cherries in it, that’s amazing stuff. The stringy stuff you get from the newsagent I can take or leave. Unfortunately I’m not too professional these days and I’m not in a record company structure to be able to publicise my projects. I’m just speaking to you because you kindly asked, so thanks so much for taking an interest. I’m genuinely humbled that people remember me after all these years. And no, I don’t sit in a sandpit like Brian Wilson, I don’t live in a grey house anymore, but I still leave Sky News on all the TV’s so don’t even ask. As for the way I think about things, well I’m looking for an answer or answers as it were. That’s the way I think about things, not music.”
What are your hopes for 2014?
Paul: “Firstly, I want everyone to hear The Anchoress. Everton to get into the Champions League. The new Dr Who to be amazing. I might even put out that cover of ‘Helter Skelter’ that I promised Paul McCartney I’d record all those years ago, if anyone’s still listening. HELLO! ANYBODY THERE?!!!!!!! I USED TO BE IN A BAND YOU KNOW!!!!!!”
Cheers Paul, much respect and best of luck for the future!