Central And Remote: SlowPlaceLikeHome
Interview with SlowPlaceLikeHome.
SlowPlaceLikeHome is the pseudonym for one Keith Mannion, who is responsible for some of the most compelling electronica music from these shores. Across several releases during 2012 (including ‘There Go The Lights Again’, and the most recent ‘Post-Hoc…’ EP) SlowPlaceLikeHome’s star is surely soon to rise. It’s only a matter of time.
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
There’s no country for old music in SlowPlaceLand. South Donegal’s Keith Mannion AKA SlowPlaceLikeHome is making some of the most exciting and compelling electronica music, from the Knather Wood wilderness in the great North West. In the short space of one year, SlowPlaceLikeHome has been nothing short of prolific with two E.P.’s and one full length album under his belt. Most remarkably, with each release, Mannion continues to push the sonic envelope and conjure up new, awe-inspiring electronic soundscapes. It’s difficult to define the sound of SlowPlaceLikeHome. Electronica, psychedelica (psychedelectronica??), ambient, dance and avant pop are just floating on the surface of the sonic ocean of sound Mannion creates. The most recently released, ‘Post-Hoc’ E.P. is dotted with sublime electronica infused ambient creations. The production is immaculate. Multiple layers of fresh sounds are effortlessly fused together by Mannion. ‘Age Of Onset (Parts 1 & 2)’ is a shoegaze dance exploration with an infectious groove, reminiscent of ‘The Virgin Suicides’ score. The opener ‘Blondie Chaplin Is Our Captain’ has a multitude of layered sounds where something new is heard on each re-visit. Think ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ for the dance world. Dreamy synths and psychedelic flourishes, complete with vocoder echoing Air’s voyage to Venus and Mars. ‘The Station Agent’ closes the E.P. and what a fitting close it is. Lush soundscapes with sparkling guitar tones, piano, percussion, electronics creates a space-age ballad for the 21st century. Sublime chill-out music. Previous releases, ‘Coastal Hubs For Chivalry E.P.’ (Jan 2012) and full-length player ‘There Go The Lights Again’ (Jun 2012) are more evidence of Mannion’s extreme talent and electronic wizardry. ‘You’re So Square, You’ve Got Corners’ is one of the best dance tracks of 2012. A glorious refrain and anthemic beats creates a comsic dance odyssey immersed in an eerie darkness. SlowPlaceLikeHome can simply do no wrong. One listen to Keith Mannion’s music and you will soon discover a new cutting-edge sound; for music to truly capture your mind’s imagination.
What is the creative process in making these recordings?
The Creative process… To be honest, the area here in South-Donegal and the Knather wood (where i dwell) is inspiring enough for any creative process to hatch from. Usually it only takes a notion. I mean, the ‘Coastal Hubs…EP’ was inspired by de Cervantes book, ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha’.
But sometimes it’s as simple as a sound implanted in my head from just about anywhere and then it’s all go.
I’d find an instrument to try and replicate that sound. From then on, it’s fidgeting about with it and seeing what works. Proverbially, see how much mud sticks to the wall. I don’t have a studio, as such, so it’s quite a basic task in getting things done. The aim is to get that noise in my head down, before it goes A.W.O.L.
Does it change in any way for each release?
Absolutely and finding ‘your sound’ can become secondary, once you know that the limitations are near non-existant. With SPLH, I try subtlety but as each release grows into itself, I realize there are new dimensions to the game. Whether it’s simply because I just get a handle on a new instrument, or my personal situation changes, so does the track. Also, using field recordings brings a new aspect to the equation! But always, the initial theme of the record remains intact.
What were the circumstances that led to the formation of SlowPlaceLikeHome?
Basically I moved back to my home-place near Ballyshannon around 2009, when there was a family illness and I realized I needed my past-time back. After spending years away from playing music, i amalgamated a few bits and pieces and began messing around with some software. Hadn’t a clue what I was at at first but I stuck with it.
I never thought of letting the public hear it but two local guys in particular, Aido and Chris, convinced me to push the boat out and I then gave it all a title and sent it to a few more friends. One of those happened to be Albert (of Plugd records fame), whom I met through friends in Galway, over the years. He asked me to send more and it all sprung from there really. Oh, all that and I also drank from a bottle of cop-on and ceased circuit bending toys for waste-of-time noise projects.
Your album ‘There Go The Lights Again’ was my first introduction to your music. Tell me about the opener ‘You’re So Square, You’ve Got Corners’ please. I love the title and it has this utterly infectious refrain and a deep dance groove.
It was the first track I had used my own voice minus any effects. I wanted a to try and create something that would besiege earlobes and initially the track was very dark, with more muscle in the beat arena. Cue the addition of vocals and it resulted in a re-examination of it. Eventually, it was toned down until it became the steady pattern you hear. I also tried a lyric which can be deciphered differently by the listener and it seems to work. Somebody has yet to get it right!
The album is dotted with standout tracks. ‘Selkie’is gorgeous ambient/elecrtronica of dreamy synths for the moonlight hours. ‘No Country For Old Music’ is a dance anthem with shades of John Talabot and The XX. ‘Shady Jane’ is an electronic pop gem with a beautiful guitar lick, synths and vocoder. The title-track is an Air-esque sonic journey leading you to Venus or Mars. ‘Who Is…’J’? is a lullaby of swirling piano notes and lush synths reminiscent of Boards Of Canada. What is the central theme to ‘There Go The Lights Again’?
Well firstly, thank you for the kind words. Contextualizing it slightly, I guess it was supposed to be a gathering of some of the poppiest tracks I made, over a few months. I had a lot of tracks which didn’t make it. There simply wasn’t enough room. It was in danger of becoming an album and I really wanted to keep it to EP length (grey area!). Bloody long EP it became but I felt I couldn’t leave out any of the eight tracks.
They just fit together snugly. The whole idea sprung from a flippant comment made by a girl to her boyfriend one evening. I thought it hilarious at the time and the title track was done. Around it, I built a little story of childish reminiscences and anti-love tales. Both moods were prominent in the very gesture that girl made to her unwitting companion.
My current favourite is ‘Who Is ‘J’?’ The track is led by a beautiful piano melody. Was this where the song originated from?
Yup. That was a ‘late o’clock’ track. Very tired but had an opuscule in my head that wouldn’t leave all day long. My first chance to do something about it came in the wee small hours and how it flowed! I actually heard it on the radio last week and the DJ described it as it almost originated. Funny that.
How did you manage to capture that ‘sea-change’/floating sound on the album closer ‘Rearrange The Sea-Change’? It is incredible stuff.
A lot of experimenting with pedals, a clean guitar lick and a hell of a lot of trumpet-level issues. A simple plink-plonk on a synth just topped it off. It was actually recorded using a crappy computer mic! (maybe it shows!)
Your latest E.P ‘Post-Hoc’ was just released, earlier in October. It’s the latest chapter in SlowPlaceLikeHome’s sonic venture. My favourite song of yours is the opening track on the E.P, ‘Blondie Chaplin Is Our Captain’. I’d love to know what each layer of sound is and how you put it together.
I could tell you but then I would have to kill myself! There are an obscene amount of tracks that go into the make-up of that song. Initially, it was the equivalent to a pile of stuff relegated to the scrapheap. But one accidental re-listening and out popped an idea. A few days later and and the whole thing was something completely different. In short, a fluke! It’s sequel is in the next release.
I love the cover artwork. A photograph of kites flying in a clear blue sky. It suits the music very well. Who did the artwork?
A mate of mine was at a big old garden fete, down in Austin, Texas and one of her partners in crime took a few snaps. Apparently the kite festival was the highlight of the day. That image for the cover of ‘Post-Hoc… has a filter which gives it that ever-so-spooky feel.
‘The Station Agent’ closes the E.P. Is the title inspired by the film ‘The Station Agent’? If not, where does the inspiration lie?
Ha! That is a good question. In a way, it is a nod to the Thomas McCarthy film but it was given the title merely because it reminded me of a situation at Sligo Train station. Involved an old caboose, a bag of chips and a cat. Nothing to write home about really!
What are you listening to currently?
I used to have my finger on the pulse but that slowed down. I still keep my peepers open for new things. The Irish scene is more fruitful than ever at the moment. So many good artists and some great records.Internet radio is great to have but if I want to track down new local talent, I tune into a few reliable shows here, like An Taobh Tuathail and Sweet Oblivion on RTE and Stephen McCauley on BBC. There’s actually a show on UCC with Conor O’Toole, which contains great set-lists. He should be on national radio.
If I wanted to freshen up my day, I’d go straight for my good-time jazz collection. I REALLY have a graw for that New Orleans sound. I’m eagerly anticipating the next Takagi Masakatsu record. He is an amazing artist. His music makes me want to jump for joy in a dreamscape.
What are your essential tracks to include on a DJ set?
In an all-time? Well i do know if the new Louis Walsh protege doesn’t work for the floor, you’re free to play all the Sly and The Family, you need!
You are based in Ballyshannon, Donegal. What is the music scene like in the north-west?
It’s a unique spot. An acquired taste. Donegal is a pretty expansive county, so every corner of it has a different tale to tell. Sligo is geographically closer to me than any other similarly sized town. For years the gig circuit tended to stop in Galway and now and again, Sligo would fetch a couple of outlaws of the scene. Now it’s a little different. Letterkenny has come on a good deal since the 90s and I’m only finding out about the scene in Derry. That looks extremely healthy.
Acts like Shammen Delly and the Culture Glitch label are putting perspective on the electronic/experimental.
Great voices are something that Donegal prides itself on (no more than any other musical county) and Tanya McCole is one of those. Formerly of Black Magic Big band, if the Ardara girl is gigging around, she’s a must see. Good venues are of a shortage though. Here in Ballyshannon, Dicey Reillys are opening their doors to new acts and the roster changes regularly. In fact, I used to practice in their upstairs venue on quiet nights, to sneakily tease out tracks. Behind closed doors, of course.
You have told me about the music scene you have enjoyed in Cork. I’d love to hear your reminisces, your favourite spots and acts?
I was there more than a handful of times. I use to go on, what Mr. Heff would say, ‘the annual Boa Morte trip’, down to watch them play the Lobby for a few winters in a row. I only first witnessed Cork’s charms from the early 2000s. I heard a lot changed around the turn of the century?! I was a diabhal for the quiet pint in the Hi-B, on the Sunday. Also, the PingPong gigs I was at were legendary. Punters and music fans, meeting up for the same reasons. The lads are spot-on with their acts and gave the Cork music scene a real jilt.
What’s next for SlowPlaceLikeHome? Any gigs planned?
Well for the foreseeable, it’s continue to build my empire. Then contact a certain Mr. Hewson, for advice on investing in several off-shore institutions. Move my assets to the Netherlands…oh, I’ve said too much!
Before that and in the real world, SPLH will continue to be a project releasing records in 2013. A new EP entitled ‘Romola’ is being finished off and I hope to have that ready in January of next year. It has been delayed a few times but I am quite excited about it and really want to hear the finished article. I have a date with BBC Radio before Christmas, which should be real fun.
2013 will be interesting though. Depending on the offers, I am hoping to get some form of live entity together, even for a few gigs. Fingers crossed, as in the past it hasn’t worked out. I was not pleased with the live sound, so I pulled the plug on it again and again. There may be some collaborations. It’s tough to find an efficient trianglist though.