Interview: Man Without Country

Man Without Country - Photo courtesy of Man Without Country

Man Without Country – Photo courtesy of Man Without Country

It took everyone by surprise when the Postal Service first arrived on the scene in 2003, establishing itself as a project between two members living in separate places. But now, projects of that nature are much more commonplace, and South Wales electronic chillwave duo, Man Without Country, is another shining example of songwriting and music production defying conventional standards.

The two core members, Ryan James and Tomas Greenhalf, first met in university some five years ago and knew right away they wanted to collaborate.

“At the first lecture, I think it was, we kind of got talking and realized we had similar interests and aspirations,” James recalled.

But although they weren’t on opposite ends of a country, they still began to work alone; whether a conscious decision or not, it was and is simply something that suits them best.

“We try to work seperately a lot,” James began.

Greenhalf agreed, explaining how working alone eliminates any kind of self-conscious fears that prevent musicians from trying out something new, weird, or bizarre, that may or may not work.

“You’re aware of other people around you,” he said, referencing working on new ideas with a group.

Even now, the two live in separate towns and still write music apart from one another, although the songwriting duties are shared relatively equally across the board, and there definitely exists a moment when the two have to bring what they’ve worked on separately together.

That’s not to say they both haven’t changed their songwriting styles, or grown as musicians. In fact, in the process of working as Man Without Country, Greenhalf admitted he has finally learned how to finish a song without letting it go past the point of “done.” Meanwhile, James shared that he feels as though he’s finally found his own voice, as opposed to relying on other influential musicians as inspiration.

Until recently, the band only had last year’s “King Complex EP” and a handful of singles to its name. All of that changed with the June 4 release of debut album, “Foe,” an album the two recorded entirely in their bedrooms and without the help of anyone, save for Ken Thomas’ hand at mixing.

And overall, they admitted that the album is not exactly the most uplifting piece of work.

“It’s quite dark. Well, mostly dark, I’d say [and] quite hateful, hence the title,” James shared with a laugh. “I wouldn’t say it’s all doom and gloom but, yeah, most songs are pretty negative lyrically.”

Without divulging too many details about what exactly fueled the self-described negativity, the two quickly moved to explain that it creates an interesting sort of dichotomy between the meaning of the lyrics and the contrasting ambiance the music itself creates. With danceable beats and oscillating synths, the feeling the music evokes doesn’t necessarily coincide with what the songs by themselves mean.

Meanwhile, the mood the two attempt to create with live shows stands in as a middle man between lyrics and music, with a backlit stage drawing more upon an atmospheric, ethereal aesthetic in an attempt to reconcile the content and the sound.

Additionally, a live drummer, Mike Monaghan, helps the songs make the leap from dreampop bedroom project to live band.

“Just all electronic is quite pinnacle and we need the spontaneity from the drummer,” James said, explaining why the two made the decision to add Monaghan to the mix.

Man Without Country played Berlin this weekend, with what could be considered a warmup show, while en route to this year’s Melt! Festival.

Now with the album finally out, the two hope to keep things going full-speed ahead, with shows on the horizon and work beginning on a follow-up.

“We always strived to be like that from the start,” Greenhalf said, speaking to the ambitious and focused nature of the project. “We never took things half-heartedly…we just went for it.”

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