INTERVIEW: Man Without Country | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Duo Man Without Country have made a name for themselves as being akin to a Welsh Royksopp. But there’s more to Tomas Greenhalf and Ryan James than meet the eye. Like The Knife on ecstasy or Hurts on downers, their new album Maximum Entropy combines sleek and minimalistic electronica with a love of catchy pop music. They’re on an adventurous quest to redefine pop music one step at a time, attempting to bring back some of the sheen and glamour of 80s electro-pop, without any of the cheese. They’re now heading out on a UK tour and are stopping at Newcastle this week. I caught up with the duo to ask them more about Maximum Entropy, their work with Royksopp and their plans for the future.

Tell us about the album; what were thematic inspirations behind it?

Ryan: The album’s title is Maximum Entropy. It’s generally about acceptance and moving forward, with a subtle underlying hint of bitterness. For those who don’t know ‘entropy’ is the measurement of how things naturally deteriorate. Therefore, ‘maximum entropy’ means the end of the universe and everything in existence. It doesn’t get much more powerful than that does it?

Maximum Entropy tows a line between contemporary electronic music and classic 80s pop; I take it you are big fans of both? What attracts you to this sort of music?

Tomas: We listen to a wide variety of music, everything from modern electronica to classical music. We are just music fans. We do love the unashamedly big, bold production and songwriting of many classic 80s pop acts, I find the songs very powerful.

You recorded the album at home in South Wales; what was the process like?

Ryan: The process was quite organic. The initial ideas happened almost accidentally whilst we were rehearsing, or at home in between touring, or even whilst travelling on the road. The idea of Entropy didn’t come until slightly later in the process. Once we’d chosen a theme our ideas started to flow more involuntarily. All of the recording and production was done at home in our separate studios. We’ve got to the stage now where we’ve found a working method which works really well for us, so there’s less trial and error involved in our process now.

Were there any difficulties in recording the album? Any hitches along the way?

Ryan: Not so much to be completely honest. I’m not saying that it was a walk in the park for us, but it was our first album that we found really challenging. There’s the whole “difficult second album” cliché, but for us it was the other way around. We’ll never stop learning, but we have a lot more confidence in ourselves and our music now than we did when we first started out.

The album contains your own reworking of The Beloved’s Sweet Harmony. Why did you decide to cover that song in particular?

Tomas: It was a song that I listened to on repeat when I was a child. I loved it, and still do! I heard it on the radio for the first time in years over the summer and it instantly brought back all these memories of being young. Once we both heard the track again we really wanted to record our own version.

Are there any songs on the LP that you are particularly fond of? If so, can you tell us why?

Ryan: I’m quite fond of Loveless Marriage at the moment. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the more latterly written songs on the album. But I think the song sums up the melancholic tone of the record. An overall favourite of mine would probably be Deadsea.

man without country 2

There’s the whole “difficult second album” cliché, but for us it was the other way around

Ryan recently provided the vocals to Royksopp’s single Sordid Affair; you are constantly being compared to them, so how was it to work with the duo?

Ryan: It’s definitely a comparison that we’ll happily welcome. It was incredible working with them. We have similar work processes, except they’ve been doing it a lot longer than we have. It was an invaluable experience and I felt like I learned so much in the brief time I spent in their company.

You’ve also remixed a huge range of artists from different genres, including Two Door Cinema Club, Moby and Band of Skulls. How do you approach remixing the work of others?

Tomas: There is never a set method when approaching remixes, we try to create something new and interesting that takes the song to a different place. We often keep some melodic idea from the original to keep it familiar but that’s about it!

What do you think makes a good remix overall?

Tomas: It’s always exciting when someone takes a remix somewhere totally unexpected. It can feel like a completely new song and sometimes, it gives the lyrics a completely different meaning.

What can we expect from a Man Without Country gig? What makes you special live?

Ryan: We like to believe that out live show is a perfect balance of loudness and intensity whilst still maintaining the music’s clarity and detail. We also have a synchronised light show which adds a visual stimulant to the experience.

Finally, what does the future hold for Man Without Country? What have you got planned?

Tomas: Continue to write and collaborate. Work on album three and tour as much as possible!

Man Without Country play at the Head of Steam, Newcastle on Monday 23rd February.

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