Caradoc Gayer interviews Nottingham singer Cam Mannix...
In July 2023, Notts based artist Cam Mannix will play Splendour in Wollaton Park. The festival is a beloved fixture of Nottingham’s musical calendar, which allows local acts to play alongside pop-heavy hitters. It’s a big milestone for Cam who, for the past year or so, has been steadily playing bigger Notts venues, from Metronome to The Bodega. When I call him over Zoom on a June morning, he explains "it’s been a bit of a case of right time right place. Bigger stages are just better to play. Getting more movement onstage is something I keep try to do. The Bodega was so great, as there’s a great sound there. I’m also looking forward to Splendour in the sun.’"
There’s no shortage of acts that he’s keen to see there, as he remarks: "When I go to those things, I just soak it up and ping pong around. Madness will be good. Vaccines will be cool too. Last year, I caught a bit of Sam Ryder at Boardmasters as well. He did a Metallica cover and I remember running out of the toilet to see it like, 'Oh my god he’s doing Metallica'. He’s a great singer."
The longer that I talk to Cam, the more obvious it becomes that his musical knowledge is pretty encyclopaedic. His early musical inspirations were pretty high brow, as he explains, "growing up I was a huge 60s, early 70s person. I didn’t know anyone from this decade until I was sixteen, and then I discovered there was loads of great music nowadays. Pink Floyd were a big one. I saw Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets a few years back with my dad and they were so good. I try take elements of that stuff and moving forward I want to remain unpredictable. I love bands like Talking Heads, because of the driving rhythms. But then I incorporate the psychedelic, ethereal aspect with Pink Floyd."
Cam’s listening habits informed his later approach to song-writing. In secondary school he honed his guitar-playing and lyrical skills, always with reference to the music he most admired. He eventually uncovered a style distinctively his own, which I’ll pretentiously describe as colourful, joyous, trippy, and infinitely catchy. This style is evident in his two-debut singles St Grapefruit’s Day and Electric Minds, both of which are lovely indie pop songs, with watertight structures and added doses of psychedelic weirdness.
When I go to those things, I just soak it up
"I wasn’t made musician of the year in the book, at the end of secondary school, so I thought 'I’ll prove these people wrong,'" Cam reflects. "I got a strat, and played Hendrix, Vaughn and Page. I could play any Led Zeppelin song: if people said 'play that one', I’d be like 'this is the riff.' Lyrics came later, just before the first lockdown. I was trying to emulate Jim Morrison. Then I realised that I wasn‘t American. I wrote St Grapefruit’s Day as a reflection of lockdown. Then I wrote Electric Minds, where the melody goes all over the place. No idea what I was thinking there."
His newest single is called Our Days. It’s a catchy, summery and joyous indie pop banger, produced by Thom-Yorke collaborator Mikko Gordon (if that doesn’t sound like an interesting combination to you, I don’t what will). The lyrics are joyously off-the-wall, and carry forward those ‘psychedelic’ qualities that are integral to Cam’s creative process. Those qualities are, lyrically, evident in the first verse: "If the future seems to lie under manta ray skies, the asteroids sphere becomes a cosmetic killer. I’m out of my mind but I’m doing fine. I’m losing myself but I feel fine." I forget, during the interview, to ask Cam what these lyrics mean. All the same, I still think they’re awesome.
I ask him what it is that he likes about ‘psychedelia’ in music. "I feel it’s to do with the sounds within nature, and all of the delays and modulations within it," he replies. "I’ll often point to a bit of music and say, 'that’s quite psychedelic,' and my mates will be like 'What! No it’s not.' With so much music, it’s about how it makes you feel. When I’m working on a song, the words don’t mean much, but at the same time they do, because you’re painting pictures with them. When put with the music, the words can project images. That’s often how I write - lyrics come last. I think that in the pre-chorus of Our Days, it opens a bit, and gets fairly ethereal and psychedelic like that."
I like when artists have different periods of time that are set
Cam’s relaxed and free-flowing attitude to making music was tempered a little in working with Mikko Gordon. In a sense, he describes it as ‘reigning’ himself in. "When I was producing in my bedroom, I’d spend like five hours on a snare sound. Mikko’s more like ‘bang’ ‘bang’, ‘down’s because he’s a professional. In the verses, I had a bassline that was more syncopated, and an older one. Mikko liked the older one, whereas I liked the newer one. So, what he did was alternate between the two and ask me to play it back. Sometimes I’d be like 'I like this' and the several other guys helping out would be like 'nah'. Instead of going down pathways, and just turning around again, if I didn’t like what I’d made, I had to make decisions and stick with them. It was so great. I wish I could work with Mikko on a song that was more of a crazy six seven-minute prog rock expedition."
Our Days also has a striking, LSD-trip of a music video, which Cam worked on with a guy elusively named ‘Melancholic Ecstasy’. Cam says, "we went out and storyboarded it beforehand. We knew we wanted to make it like early Flaming Lips videos, tongue in cheek, not too serious, and playing with colours. I hate it when videos are too ‘clear’. I wanted everything to be blurry and grain up, and be filmy. Like some Beatles music videos, when they’re not doing anything in particular, just walking around. Kinda like the Pink Floyd Syd Barrett era too, when there’s lots of projections on walls." One of my personal favourite parts of the video is when a tiny dog randomly comes into shot. Cam says, "there were more dogs than humans in that park (where they filmed). The dogs were walking humans. You could go up to dogs and say ‘how’s your human doing today.' It was funny, so we thought we’d leave it in."
I ask Cam what he’s listening to at the moment and he lists an array of artists and genres, from Talking Heads to Do Nothing, to Australian Punk and psychedelic jazz. It’s clear that his future tunes will be packed with an array ideas and inspirations. Our Days is, after all, only an early chapter in a story that he’s got planned out in his head, which will lead to a debut album. "The idea is to do a run of singles, which will go on an EP. That EP will be out for a year, and will then expand into an album. I like when artists have different periods of time that are set. You look at Tame Impala, and he’s got Inner Speaker, Lonerism and then Currents. You can see the progression really nicely," he says.
While chatting to Cam, I never really know where his next bit of musical inspiration is going to come from. He’ll first reference one thing, then something totally different. It’s all pretty cool. This seems clear when, after the interview, I remember to direct message him, and ask about those aforementioned cool lyrics, in the first verse of Our Days, about ‘manta rays’ and ‘asteroids’. He replies, and tells me that they’re about climate change, which I didn’t expect in the least. All the same, that element of the unexpected and ambiguous is what makes Cam an exciting and distinctive new artist in the relatively crowded realms of indie pop. Catch him at Splendour, in July: you’re almost guaranteed to think the same.
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