One might speak of a one-man orchestra when introducing Clockwork Orchestra, an amazing project by young Irish songwriter Paul Mangan, whose first release “Friends Without Names”, entirely recorded within the confines of his bedroom studio, was put out by White Label Music, an independent Windsor-based record label, co-run by Ann Shenton, a founding member of seminal art-rockers Add N To (X). My baby nephew happens to love this stuff, and yet I’m pretty sure his meaningful and funny mix of lyrical storytelling, vintage keyboard instruments and nursery rhymes are going to be appreciated and welcomed by many mature listeners as well!
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Paul. How are you?
Paul Mangan: Tired after a very busy few months but looking forward to Christmas and a less hectic period ahead.
Chain D.L.K.: If my little nephew (who’s turning 1 in a few days) were to recommend a bunch of records on the basis of his reactions during me listening, your last album would rank very high on his list, whereas he got nervous when I was listening to child plays or Raymond Scott’s “Soothing Sounds for Baby”… how come? 😉
Paul Mangan: That’s very nice to hear! Sometimes it’s the less obvious which things appeal more to the senses I suppose. I’m greatly influenced by memories from my own childhood such as TV show theme tunes, nursery rhymes and even things like the music that would play on those coin operated rides for children that you sometimes find inside or outside of shops. Perhaps children should be my target audience?
Chain D.L.K.: Could you explain why you named your one-man project “Clockwork Orchestra”?
Paul Mangan: The name originates from the clockwork musicians featured in the film The Abominable Dr Phibes which stars Vincent Price and it also relates to the complex and sometimes orchestral nature of the music itself. Actually, I’m not very fond of the name but everyone else seems to like it and I’m stuck with it now!
Chain D.L.K.: You were raised in North Dublin… how did that vibrating city influence your artistic path?
Paul Mangan: I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a child, reading old books and playing with old toys which certainly helped to shape the rather nostalgic person that I am today. I went to Mount Temple Comprehensive, which is probably a more fertile ground for creative people than most schools and after that I studied at the National College of Art and Design. Everyone is influenced by their surroundings but in terms of the Dublin music scene I don’t think that anything I heard made much of an impression on me. I was always more interested in things further afield.
Chain D.L.K.: What about your musical background?
Paul Mangan: I was never formally educated in music so I just learned how to play guitar and keyboard instruments through trial and error. I began making music in my teens using half-broken keyboards in conjunction with a 4-track recorder and subsequently produced a lot of very weird and hissy demos on tapes. I was quite weary about making these recordings available to anyone outside of my immediate circle of friends but in hindsight the music I was creating back then would be comparable to what lo-fi artists like Ariel Pink and John Maus were doing around the same time. During my art college days I recorded a fairly primitive album which was distributed amongst friends on black CD-R’s but it wasn’t until after I graduated that I felt capable of bringing the quality of my recordings to a level I deemed presentable to a wider demographic.
Chain D.L.K.: You said that most of your lyrics were inspired by personal experiences that you turned into various fable-like stories… well, what about stories behind bizarre songs such as “Paper Purse” (one of my personal favorites) or “The Book That Won’t Be Read”?
Paul Mangan: “Paper Purse” is about the difficulties of sustaining relationships in the present day. It’s also concerned with the notion of perfectionism and suggests that even when we find perfection (in this case, when a frustrated girl makes her ideal man out of paper), we can mistreat and ultimately destroy what we have created. “The Book That Won’t Be Read” is largely based on my own experiences with recorded music but I decided to switch the role of the song’s protagonist from a musician to a writer (which incidentally is the opposite of what director Luchino Visconti did with Dirk Bogarde’s character when adapting Thomas Mann’s “Death In Venice” from a novella into a film). It largely deals with the uncertainty and self-doubt most creative people go through at some point. In the final verse I couldn’t decide whether I should use the word “geniuses” or “idiots” so in the end I kept both vocal tracks with the two words overlapping which is a technique that the band Love used for several songs on “Forever Changes”.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you managed to name some of those friends? Did some of them come from dreams without numbers?
Paul Mangan: The title “Friends Without Names” comes from a lyric in “Zebedee” but it also relates to the fact that many of the songs on the album are at least partially based on aspects of my friends or relatives, so after a while it became obvious to me that this would be a suitable title.
Chain D.L.K.: Besides lyrical contents, one of the nicest aspect of your music is the way you embellished pop-songs with 8-bits… or would you rather say you embellished 8 bits with synth-pop structures?
Paul Mangan: The 8-bit element is just one of the many ingredients that make up the sonic assault of “Friends Without Names”, so I would say that the former of the two statements is more accurate. I’m wary of being labelled as an 8-bit musician as while many of the “true” 8-bit artists are extremely talented I find that the genre is somewhat limited and lacking in personality.
Chain D.L.K.: On “Skeleton Skeleton”, you sing “Skeleton skeleton inside of me/Show me the person that I’ve always wanted to become/In you I confide/What would you do if you could get outside?” …any replies?
Paul Mangan: This song is sung from the perspective of someone close to me who lacks self-confidence. It’s like a cry for help, calling on your skeleton to show you what to do. This was the last song recorded for the album and tends to go down quite well at our live shows.
Chain D.L.K.: Along with the more obvious influences you listed (Serge Gainsbourg, Brian Eno, Wall Of Voodoo, The Residents, Yello, Roxy Music, The Stranglers and so on…), some might think you were partially influenced by some undefined vintage video games’ scores… is it so? Do you have a passion for electronic games?
Paul Mangan: I think it’s inevitable that musicians from my generation are influenced by video games as they’ve been a big part of so many childhoods from that era. In my case, I was an ardent SEGA follower and obsessively played my Mega Drive in the early nineties. Soundtracks from that period which I’m particularly fond of include Decap Attack, ToeJam & Earl and Kid Chameleon. There was also a scene in the game Dynamite Headdy where you had to battle a gigantic balloon dog to a demented version of “March Of The Toy Soldiers” by Tchaikovsky which made a big impact on me at the time.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you played some concerts yet? What was the audience response?
Paul Mangan: We’ve played a couple of concerts in Germany as well as in my native Ireland and the response has been surprisingly good so far. I think that even if it’s not necessarily the type of music that the audience would normally listen to, they appreciate the melodies and catchy hooks in the songs. I am typically joined on stage by the very tall Sean Maynard-Smith on bass and the very hairy Paul O’Byrne on laptop so visually we make for an interesting trio.
Chain D.L.K.: Any chances to see you perform somewhere in Europe or in the USA or is it too early to plan it?
Paul Mangan: This week we will play a couple of gigs in the UK and on December the 8th I will perform at the thirtieth edition of Gifgrond in the Netherlands. Gifgrond is an independent platform for experimental music and art rock artists and they apparently make their own brand of “toxic” alcoholic drinks which I’m looking forward to sampling!
Chain D.L.K.: One of the aspects I like the most about your sound is your personal re-styling of synth-pop… there’s no trace of silly generalization or banalities in order to please as many people as possible… do you think today’s music is lacking in content?
Paul Mangan: There has always been music that lacked content but previously it was sometimes possible for the cream to rise to the top and become commercially successful. For example, would a band like Roxy Music be as successful as they were in the seventies and early eighties if they came out in the present day? What seems to have happened in recent times is that whilst the mainstream has become increasingly predictable and drab, the underground appears to be unearthing more and more interesting characters. A prime example would be the YouTube sensation Tonetta who has utilized the Internet to become a cult phenomenon after decades of obscurity. As for electronic music, I feel as though many electro artists seem to be more focused on production values and the desire to sound like a robot rather than putting their own stamp on their material. The last thing I want to sound like is a robot.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think it makes sense to speak of copyright or plagiarism in electronic music? What’s your point of view on those matters?
Paul Mangan: I have no problem with sampling in principle but it’s never been something that I was particularly intrigued by. Everything on “Friends Without Names” was played manually and edited or manipulated afterwards. In terms of plagiarism, obviously I’m against knowingly ripping something off and presenting it as your own but at this point in history, after so many years of written and recorded music it becomes increasingly difficult to be one hundred percent certain that you are not covering old ground. Nothing was ever completely original and everything was influenced by something that came before so as I see it, creating music is just a matter of arranging different elements in interesting ways.
Chain D.L.K.:Any pieces of advice for my nephew?
Paul Mangan: Listen to your skeleton!
visit Clockwork Orchestra on the web at: www.clockworkorchestra.com