Catching Up With Mansun's Paul Draper

Draper was kind enough to speak with me detailing everything about The Anchoress, an L.A. rapper also called Mansun and the real story behind his mysterious solo album.
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Paul Draper rose to fame in the '90s with UK alt-rock outfit Mansun. Known for hits like "Stripper Vicar" and "Wide Open Space," Mansun enjoyed worldwide success before calling it quits in 2003 (to learn more about Mansun, check out my retrospective here). Following the band's split, Draper re-emerged from time to time working with acts like the Joy Formidable and My Vitriol. Recently, the Mansun faithful were pleased to learn of Draper's involvement with a new project called The Anchoress. Draper was kind enough to speak with me from England via email detailing everything about The Anchoress, an L.A. rapper also called Mansun, and the real story behind his mysterious solo album.

Paul Draper outside of Abbey Road Studios, fall 2013

Kayley Kravitz: Tell me about The Anchoress, your new project featuring the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Catherine AD.

Paul Draper: Well, Catherine Davies as I know her, or Catherine AD as she's known professionally is a singer whose voice and songwriting I've really admired for a long time. She's what I call a classic bedroom artist, someone existing as a musician for the love of it outside of the major label system. I wanted a singer to work with to put a record together. She wanted a producer and off we went. What we created was a project called The Anchoress. We recorded it at my London production room, The Kitchen. It's tiny but it's full of great vintage gear that we used to create the record. I produced the record and Catherine helped out with the production as she's pretty technical and hands on. There are a dozen songs on the record. I co-wrote eight of the 12 songs with Catherine. We wanted to record as a live band. No Beat Detective or auto tune or tricks like that, but a real band. So we put a band together. In the end The Anchoress became a band.

Catherine is the singer and I'm the producer. It's an idea that grew from the music we were passionate about. There are great musicians playing on it. I went to watch The Anchoress rehearse the other day and they blew me away by how tight they are as a band. We discussed a lot of what we were trying to achieve with the record and we kept coming back to the fact that we wanted a dozen killer songs on a record with no regard for the latest fashion and to perform those songs brilliantly. I hope we achieved that. I can't wait for people to hear it. I love the songs.

KK: How did you start working with Catherine?

PD: I knew Catherine's manager at the time. She had been working with various producers. I'd heard her demos and always thought she had something melodically that I could work with. I'd just moved into my production room in West London - The Kitchen, as we call it -- and I asked Catherine to come in and do a song to test the studio. It mushroomed from there. One song became two, then three, four and before we knew it we were having such a great time it was obvious this was going to be an album. The songwriting became better and better as we went along. I took a break in the middle of writing the album to talk to Sir Paul McCartney about songwriting and that really fired my interest in writing songs again. I've written songs since I was 11 -- they're still all in my mum's loft! I think I've written some of my best ever for this record with Catherine. There is a Facebook page for The Anchoress and the people who have liked it will be the first to receive information on the songs. I'm well excited! [The Anchoress is also on Twitter.]

KK: I know you've been working as a producer in recent years, so how has that affected your approach to recording The Anchoress?

PD: Well, I'd put it like this: I started writing songs when I was 11, but I started recording when I was 11, too. I never stood in front of the mirror as a kid with a tennis racket wanting to be a pop star. I had two tape recorders, a nylon stringed guitar, and a Casio VL Tone so I started recording the songs I'd written by recording one cassette onto another and adding and overdubbing. I wrote songs to make records -- that's what I do. That was my earliest interest, and it's still my main interest, putting tracks together. I did that on the first two Mansun albums. The others weren't happy with that though so it was taken out of my hands and ultimately we had to go our separate ways.

I never thought of myself as a singer as such. I just became one because it was my project that I started and invited everyone to join. I still don't know what a producer is; I just make records. My approach to making The Anchoress is identical to making Attack of the Grey Lantern and Six: write songs, go into a studio, produce them, build them up, etc. It's just I'm not the singer any more, although I do contribute backing vocals to The Anchoress. I hope I've got the approach right. I feel like I've gone back to the start as a record maker. People always remind me that Radiohead said Attack of the Grey Lantern should have won all the accolades instead of their album OK Computer so I just think of that and that makes me think I'm on the right track. Radiohead were always kind to us even though we were the underdogs.

KK: Do you see yourself as more of a musician, or as a producer?

PD: I see myself as a record maker. That's what I did when I was 11 and I'm still doing it now. I don't write songs to go down to the jam night near where I live and perform them. I write songs to make records out of them so because of that I've always ended up as a producer. I feel alive when I'm making records. Everything else is boring to me, except Everton F.C. and Dr. Who. I'm fascinated with record production. I never bought Smash Hits (pop magazine) as a kid. I bought Sound On Sound (recording magazine) and still do. I'm fascinated with studio equipment: compressors, microphone preamplifiers, even cables. I think I've just pissed everyone off I've ever worked with because of my obsession with recording studios and producing, but I can't do anything else. They should have embraced it instead of stifling it, but that's only my opinion. This will be the first full album I've produced since Six in 1998, so I'm excited about it!

KK: How have the songwriting duties been divvied up in The Anchoress?

PD: There are 12 songs on The Anchoress record and I'm extremely proud of them all. They're some of the best I've ever written. Writing with Catherine has been amazing. We wrote all the songs in Blackheath in South East London, me on acoustic guitar and her on her 1930's baby grand piano. I took my recording gear down there and recorded that old Challen piano - I love it, it has so much character. The best songs I wrote in Mansun were "Keep Telling Myself," "Until the Next Life," and songs like that. I think I've equaled them with Catherine as a co-writer. She's certainly dragged me up as a writer. I co-wrote eight with Catherine, and she wrote the other four with me producing. I am emotionally involved with all 12. Even though I'm the producer of the record, I feel the songs are my babies, too. I've nurtured them, shaped them. I know them inside out. I know their meanings, who they're about. Every word means something, but only we know who they're about. We tried to sum up the record's theme and Catherine called it "revenge pop." That's so true!

KK: Will The Anchoress appeal to Mansun fans?

PD: I'm the producer, but yes, people who have come to the studio and heard what we've being doing have said there's a fair dollop of me in there. There are Mansun-esque movements to the melody in parts. Put it this way: if you liked the melodies of Mansun records, I think you'll like this. Though I'm only a part of this project, my guitar playing and backing vocals are there. I've certainly left my mark on this record; I'm in its DNA.

KK: The Paul Draper solo album legend has been floating around the Internet for years now. Can you tell me about that?

PD: Ahh, the question that has followed me around for a decade. I've not said any of this before but I'll try to be as accurate as possible. Yes, there was going to be a solo album with EMI. It was me that decided to pull it. I took a gap year out and that became a gap decade, haha. I became a normal person, found a local pub, hung out with friends, normal stuff. I loved it. I came to the States to write my debut solo record. I went to Nashville, New Orleans, the Haight-Ashbury [in San Francisco], New York, and the Sun Studio in Memphis. America inspired me -- it always has and I love it here. I lived in hotels and motels while I wrote it. Some of it was dark shit -- painful, like John Lennon's primal scream therapy on Plastic Ono Band. I hated the last Mansun singles "Fool" and "Electric Man." They were a joke to me on many levels. I wrote the solo record from a dark place.

I came back to England and many of the events that led to the split of Mansun came to the surface. I discovered a lot of stuff I had been oblivious to and I lost all faith in human beings and human nature. I wanted nothing to do with putting out a solo record after certain events came to light: people, the human condition, deviousness, evil, confidence trickery, negative emotions, enjoyment in hurting or attacking others. I got all my songs, archived them, and vowed never to return to them. It was the toughest thing I ever had to do, giving up on a dream, but sometimes other people can batter you into submission. They get their victory, but I go by this motto: if you try and destroy someone else, eventually you will only destroy yourself. What goes around comes around and if you embark on a course of revenge, dig two graves. It's a theme on The Anchoress -- "revenge pop."

So yes, there's a solo record. I had no intention of ever putting it out but things have changed recently, so who knows? Weirder things have happened haven't they? Now I never say never. Maybe I'll just put out one song. I can be an obtuse bugger so maybe I'd do just a vinyl thing, maybe resurrect my old label Sci Fi Hi Fi that Mansun put out its first record on, and release a limited edition grey vinyl seven inch. That would be cool. It would have to be grey, though. Sci Fi Hi Fi is the most exclusive record label in the world -- it only ever released one record! Maybe I'll do another, that's why there's this petition going now I suppose, to get hold of those songs.

KK: Speaking of the petition, who launched it and do you sanction it?

PD: I'm not exactly sure who launched it. It's on Facebook and wants to get me to come out of retirement and release a solo record. Fans "like" the page, convince me that there's a love of Mansun or me or whatever, then persuade me to go and get that solo record and put it out. The Mansun fans launched it. They run fan groups, websites, mailing lists, etc. still to this day in celebration of the band. I mean, let's face it: what we achieved was amazing considering we were a cottage industry of no-hopers. We made two crazy records then got manipulated into being something we weren't. We tried to rectify it by making a fourth record then halfway through we just split up for no apparent reason. Well there was a reason, a few actually, but in the eyes of the public, we just disappeared. I've kept the story of what happened to myself, so far.

I knew nothing about the petition at the start but I'm cool with it. I thought it was a joke! It came about because I played on the Marc Riley show on BBC Radio 6 back in the UK with a band I'd been involved in producing in an earlier guise called Menace Beach. Marc Riley and his producer were literally stunned at the volume of emails they got asking about Mansun reforming or touring again. We had a great reputation as a live band. People were asking about performing the Six album in its entirety one day at the Royal Albert Hall and crazy stuff like that, asking about what I'd been doing, was I a recluse and above all else, will I release my solo album. I was pretty shocked so I wrote a letter to someone involved in the petition to tell them how touched I was that they remembered me. I thought I had been totally forgotten and was happy working as a producer, working in The Kitchen every day, going to gigs, being normal, but the BBC received hundreds if not a thousand emails. It seemed massive. Neither Marc nor I could believe it. Everything changed after that.

This is the second petition I've faced to release music. The first one was in 2003-04 to get EMI to release the unreleased fourth Mansun album, Kleptomania. That worked. EMI called me in and we decided to get the tapes and put the record out, unfinished as a record of where we were as a band when it died. It was soul destroying putting those tapes together, knowing we'd never hear them finished or play them live, but I got it done. I was pretty professional about it but it killed me inside doing it. I loved some of the songs on it. It chronicled the death of a rock band; I just didn't realize it at the time. We all destroyed each other. The last song on the last Mansun album, "Good Intentions Heal the Soul," was a beautiful way to bow out. If you were into Mansun, or even if you were in Mansun, go and listen to it. It's unfinished but it's great. I look back now and am happy to see that stuff as being great stuff, lost stuff. Me and Chad [Dominic Chad, Mansun guitarist] could be great together in the studio in our day.

Now I'm facing a new petition! I thought they'd only get 50 names or so but apparently it's growing, according to Dark Mavis [Mansun webmaster]. I don't know what to do to be honest. It's sort of thrown my world upside down a bit. I don't have a record label breathing down my neck like I did with the Kleptomania petition so it's just me vs. fan power. Let's see who wins!

KK: You've made quite a name for yourself since you recently joined Twitter and discovered that a rapper in South Central L.A. nicked the name Mansun. What are your thoughts on @officialmansun?

PD: Ahh, @officialmansun. He's more famous than me in the UK at the minute! Every time I walk into a pub everyone asks me how @officialmansun is. The answer is I don't know. I can't even decipher half of what he's saying. I think he's working on his Mansun featuring Mansun track. I've never laughed so much since I was a teenager. When I saw that Photoshopped picture of Mansun with @officialMansun sticking his head out at the back I laughed for about an hour. I cried it was so funny! It seems like he's made a lot of people very happy for a little while so good on him. There's definitely a cultural gap between @officialmansun over here in the US and Mansun back in the UK. When the US media started reporting on him I thought I was going to laugh so much my kidneys were going to pack in!

KK: So are you planning a trip to L.A. to collaborate with @officialmansun?

Not in the immediate future. I love L.A., but I tend to avoid South Central to be honest. @officialmansun's been shot three times so I don't fancy hanging out with him on Sunset. Check out my Twitter feed to see his bullet holes. I'm staying well away!

KK: Fair enough! Can we Americans expect to see you on our side of the Atlantic either with The Anchoress or as a solo artist?

PD: Well I don't know if I'm going to be a solo artist, so who knows? I'm not in The Anchoress but I'm not opposed to making a sneaky guest appearance. They're going to be a great live act. The first rehearsals have been great, really tight. I can't wait to see them play those songs live. As I say, things have changed for me a bit so I guess it's in my mind now about doing things myself but not live shows. I'm interested in making a record, possibly a seven-inch, but who knows? I'll have to see if this petition is above 50 yet, hahaha!

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