Man-Made Sunshine

Man-Made Sunshine is the new solo project from Nothing But Thieves frontperson, Conor Mason.

The project first came to fruition during lockdown when Conor found himself in a bad place filled with trapped emotions and unprocessed memories. In need of an outlet in which to express his feelings and emotions, he created five heartfelt and meaningful tracks in the form of this EP. Writing this body of work served as a vessel on his journey and became something the artist could tune into and look back on when he needed them. The self-titled EP is out now and Mason hopes that people will be able to take a sense of friendship and togetherness from the release. The first offering from the EP was in the form of the track Life’s Gonna Kill You (If You Let It). The song is a relatable ode to learning self-love, taking you on a voyage through Conor’s self-discovery and is beautifully raw and emotive. 

The lead single from the EP, Big, has a pop-sounding exterior yet is dark in subject matter, allowing for a wonderful parallel between the two which the artist has balanced perfectly. The track was written about a tough time in his life and features some thought-provoking lyricism. The rest of the EP follows suit with the final track Rosebud, acting as a sublime conclusion to the body of work. The songwriter is no stranger to the music industry, fronting Essex-based rock band Nothing But Thieves since their inception in 2012. Although I must stress–as Conor himself also has–he most certainly isn’t leaving the band, he plans to use the space he created within Man-Made Sunshine as an outlet to express extra emotions as and when he feels the need to, over time. Being used to going into the creative process with four bandmates, he describes how freeing it was to be able to put his entire personality into this EP, creating a collection of songs so personal, it almost feels as if one is listening to private notes he has written to himself. 

1883 Magazine’s Gabi Oates caught up with Man-Made Sunshine to chat about the new EP, men’s mental health, and his future plans for the project.

 

 

Hi Conor, thank you for speaking with 1883 magazine. Your self-titled first EP for your solo project, Man-Made Sunshine, is out now. I know you never intended to create an EP and said you used it as an outlet to help yourself heal but what made you decide to record and release this body of work? Do you feel as if releasing it serves as a final piece to the puzzle in regards to how you used creating the tracks to help you heal?

In a sense. I was quite persuaded by my band, actually, and by my management. I had all the songs and I write on the side as well, in general, so I said “I don’t know what to do with these-either use them with us or for publishing or should I do something with it”. Everyone was like, “These are so personal, the most personal stuff you’ve written. Why don’t you make a project out of it?” And I remember at the time, I’m not gonna lie, I was like, “Oh, that sounds like a lot of work” [laughs]. That was my laziness but then I was like, You know what, this has been so useful and helpful, it gave me a bit of energy hearing that from my band and my management. They were like, “This is really great, do something with it. This could be really special”. It gave me that oomph to really follow through and give it a go. When I showed it to them, it was all in real demo form. It helped me to creatively go wild in the demos and then obviously into the recording process, which was such a release to just blurt everything out. Not even just lyrically but everything I want to say musically and the feelings I wanted to emote through the music, the choices of nuances. 

It has definitely just been a lot of love and encouragement from the people around me, honestly, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have that. I’m not the sort of person to be like, “I’m a singer, I need to do this project” I would have just been like, “Great, I’ve just written some songs and they feel really good” and continue doing that. That amount of love and support was the main reason I did it really.

 

You mentioned in a previous interview something that stuck with you was when Kurt Cobain kept being asked how he felt about a song he would say “Well, how do YOU feel about it?”, the idea that once it’s finished it’s someone else’s. Do you feel a bit like the record is now for other people to use and take from what they need? What do you hope people can take from it?

For me, I was just trying to write. Without sounding too hippy, I was just trying to write certain vibrations I could tune into. I was crafting the songs in certain areas. If you listen to music, you’re going find a piece that is in the mood you’re in whether you’re bouncing off the walls, melancholic, or feeling depressed which was something I found with certain artists who were helping me during this time of my life. I was just like, “I want to create a singular EP, a bunch of songs that I can tune into myself, regardless of other people”. I wanted to tune into myself in those kinds of wavelengths and it worked. I found myself writing songs and listening to them at the end of the pandemic when I was in a bad place, and it was healing for me- that’s not me trying to sound egotistical, it was just the right kind of vibration I wanted to create. 

I will tell my story on what the songs are about, I’ve done some short films on each song, but I hope also that people tune into it in their own way. I’ve slowly seen that already with the first song, I don’t know what it is about the song but it seems to have hooked under people’s skins and I really love that because that’s what it did to me when I first wrote it. I found myself coming back to it because it was a comforting place. I tuned into that song. I’ve seen it a few times with people online and I just hope I can offer that to them with this EP. It can be like a friend, something they tune into when they’re feeling that way and help them feel not so alone knowing even someone in my position–I’m living my best life, I love life–still has the same issues as anyone else. Hopefully, I can add that level of friendship and togetherness with the fact they realise we’re all the same.

 

My personal favourites on the EP are Life’s Gonna Kill You If You Let It and Rosebud. You mentioned that Life’s Gonna Kill You (If You Let It) was the obvious choice for you as a first offering from the record, are there any other tracks that you are particularly excited for people to hear?

I have to admit I’m looking forward to people hearing all of them because they’re all made and crafted for a particular feeling and emotion I wanted to represent. I think whoever you are, whatever you’re dealing with, you can latch onto one of these songs individually. I would say the one that weirdly I’m super excited about is probably the most pop-type on the record. It’s a song called Big. The lyrics are so dark it was like a purge for me, that song. It was a really rough period of my life so I guess it was a trauma response writing it. I really like the fact I made this very pop-sounding song where the melodies are quite light and airy but the lyrics are super, super dark, so I’m really excited and I like the juxtaposition of that. Life’s Gonna Kill You (If You Let It) can lean on a kind of hopeless feeling. Overall it’s quite dark but I think this song [Big] has levity and balance so I’m excited for that and to see what people think of it. 

Life’s Gonna kill You (If You Let It) was for me the obvious first-choice single, I just wrote it and it’s all over the place. It has three verses, an extension in the second verse, a strange, really long middle eight, and verses that don’t repeat the same. I wanted to create that song to represent emotions, the highs and lows of healing which was why it was cool for me. I was like “I don’t care if it does anything on the charts or playlists”. I just wanted to release something I thought was very representative of the emotion I was trying to create. 

Whereas with this song [Big], I would say it’s easier to understand,  easier to listen to. I love pop, I’ve grown up listening and writing to that and it naturally came out of me with this song. I did on purpose want to create something juxtaposed to how dark the message I was saying was, the message isn’t dark but what happened is, so it’s like I feel I did a good job balancing it out. I’m excited to see what people think though they still might hate it [laughs].

 

I’m sure they won’t! Speaking of Big, I’m intrigued to know more about the section towards the end where it almost sounds like another voice comes in. It feels like it gives a second narrative to the song, was it your voice with vocal effects?

Yeah, it was me, I just detuned it. I find when I listen to a lot of Bon Iver, Frank Ocean, and in Hip Hop when autotune is really overly auto-tuned, It can be sometimes really affecting and emotional. The lyric in the middle eight is about me forgiving someone and in the original demo I belted it up a couple of octaves which was the typical thing I would have done before. I wanted to make something just as arresting but in another style so I just detuned it a few octaves down which makes it sound vulnerable yet still emotive, for me at least.

 

You created a series of track-by-tracks to accompany each song on the EP entitled “Difficult Conversations With A Friend”. In the first one talking about Life’s Gonna Kill You (If You Let It) I was pleased to hear that nowadays you feel you are asked how you’re feeling often enough and you have a group of people around you who give you the space to have a chat when you need it–which is extremely important. You’ve always made a point to spread the importance of men speaking up about their mental health so do you feel things have changed for the better over the last however many years? We must still have a long way to go?

We definitely have a long way to go. We’ve only opened the conversation, it hasn’t become normalised. It’s still a little bit uncomfortable when someone says something or writes something online but it does seem less uncomfortable in a song. 

I was talking to a friend recently who is very blokey and he said that people were listening to my song Life’s Gonna Kill You (If You Let It) on their own, in their rooms and there’s something really beautiful about that for me. We all have these shared emotions and men–in particular–hide them so much. Part of the conversation is just making it so easily accessible. I’m very lucky that my boys in the band and my close Essex mates are a good group where if anyone’s going through something, we’re immediately like “Hey, how are you going? How are you feeling, you good? Do you wanna talk about it, should we go to the pub?”. There’s none of that “Ah mate, just get on with it” kind of thing. I don’t know if everyone in my close circle has been forced into it because I spent two years kind of pushing that and struggling but everyone is just so loving with each other. I’m very lucky in that respect, I hope people find that within friends because it makes it so much easier. I don’t have to see my boys and have those conversations, but knowing they’re there, it just makes everything easier if you need it. In my close circle, my little echo chamber, it seems like it has progressed a long way but I also know that’s just one small group. Men–British men in particular–bottle everything up and don’t talk about it and the suicide rates are still really high. There’s such a long way to go. 

In the Neanderthals, when you were out on a hunt, so to speak, and your brother dies in front of you, you naturally have to bottle it to survive whatever’s attacking you. It’s a generational thing, we don’t live in those circumstances anymore, we don’t have to do that. We can talk and get it out on the day, you don’t have to have the trauma, anxiety, and depression build up because of it. I just think we have a long way to go. It’s about being open and transparent, it makes those emotions dissipate because you’ve said them, felt them, and you’ve allowed the feeling. We are on the way but not there yet.

 

 

Self-care and mindfulness are of course extremely important. I think everyone should have something they do whether it’s a whole ritual or just something small; it’s important to check in with yourself and see how you’re doing day to day. Do you have any specific rituals or things you do after a particularly difficult day or when you feel like it’s all getting a bit much that you could tell us about? I believe you are big on meditation and active with things such as working out and rock climbing.

Obviously, everyone is an individual and they all have their own sense of what they enjoy but I guess it’s as simple as finding what works for you and makes you happy. I live by a huge park so I’m always out on a long walk. If I’m feeling rough, I’m just gonna go for a walk and get some fresh air. I like going for walks in the rain actually, which is kind of counterintuitive but there’s something about constant noise and the visceral feeling of something on you that is so calming. I quite like that.

I like meditation, I love reading, I’ll sit and read for like two or three hours–there is just something about being present in whatever you are doing. 

That’s why I think a lot of people go to the gym, I think they realise how present it makes you lifting weights, it gives you a sense of purpose as well. That’s something a lot of people need when they’re feeling depressed. But for me, it’s those things. Being out in nature, I also like to work out, meditate, I like to read, but everyone’s individual. It could be anything, you don’t have to be a creative person but just something you are doing that’s new and novel is really helpful for your brain.

 

You’ve been in the music industry now for over 10 years after Nothing But Thieves formed in 2012 when you were around 19 or so. Having four other influences within the writing process, did it feel like a big leap for you to create tracks on your own this time, with no outside influence?

Not in a narcissistic way, it’s just a kind of freedom in a sense. We all do our own things outside, Dom is a wicked producer, I think that’s how he gets his crazy energy out by doing whatever he wants. Because obviously, if you bring something in, Joe and I will push our own tastes so you’re pushing and pulling and sort of compromising to an extent, which is great–I love the music we create–but I think it’s just freeing to put your entire personality into it. I guess, in that sense, it feels good because when I work, I work. I really put my brain into it so with this EP, from start to end, I was meticulous, which was a good feeling. It was probably hard work for the people who were mixing and producing it but I was just so particular that every single second affected me in the right way. 

For instance, with a song on the EP called Little Bird, I had this guy who fell in love with it who does people like Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky, and all of these hip-hop people. He was like “I’d love to have a go at producing this” so I said “Yeah sure, that sounds great, see what you can do on it”I was quite blown away I got asked. In the past I’ve been a people pleaser and been like “Oh well, he’s done an amazing job so I should leave it as is” but when it came back, it didn’t emotionally affect me, the demo did so I just scrapped it all and went back to ensure each element hit me. It’s freeing and cathartic to put yourself into every element, melody, lyric, and musical nuance. It feels good and as you said earlier, I’ve left a part of me in this EP, a huge part of me. Every piece of the EP is me and something I would want to emote musically and lyrically. It’s nice. I also love collaboration though, I love writing with the band because my very emotional brain works really well with Joe’s logic and Dom’s high energy. If Nothing But Thieves was only me, it would just be all the sad songs so I love that we have this melting pot.

For me, this EP is cathartic, I put all of myself into it and it’s definitely scary, don’t get me wrong. You don’t know if people are gonna like it or think “I don’t really resonate with this person’s song”, so to speak. It’s me, it’s my entirety, my soul, which is quite…I’d like to say scary but I don’t care actually. I’ve put myself into it and all you can hope for is to be honest and true to yourself. You would think if you were being honest and true, somewhere on the other side of the planet someone will resonate with it. That’s how I feel. As much as I say I’m scared to release it, it’s me, if they don’t like it then that’s cool, there’s other music.

 

I loved watching your ‘Sun Sessions’ during lockdown in which you covered songs you enjoy. I particularly liked your cover of Lilac Wine by Jeff Buckley. I believe you were recording them around the same time you began writing this EP? 

Yeah it was. I think I started doing those covers first just as something to do and to be honest, it felt really good but I was having my first major course of therapy at the same time. And that’s when the songs started coming out. It was all quite symbiotic.

 

It would be lovely to see you record some more ‘Sun Sessions’ but this time being stripped-back versions of the tracks from the EP, do you think that’s something you may consider doing at some point? 

Yeah I think so. With Sun Sessions, I think it was a a good time and place because during the pandemic we had nothing to do so Dom from the band mixed all of them. It was actually a higher production value than people thing because it was going through my microphone, everything is plugged in and Dom mixed it–he’s really, really good. I don’t think him me and him would have the time to do that again but I am looking to do some really lovely live versions of the songs at some point. For sure.

 

I saw in the Discord Q&A you did not too long ago somebody asked what your solo shows would be like so I have two questions: Are you planning on doing some solo shows at some point? And, do you actually play the trumpet? 

The original demo I did of Rosebud had a trumpet solo but I changed it and now it’s not in there. If I played it live–which I obviously will–I’m going to bring it back because I can extend it as long as I want. I can do what I want with a live show, so I think I will play the trumpet on that song at some point which my mum and dad will love because of all the trumpet lessons I had for years and years which I stopped doing. I think the live shows will be a different thing for me. I have been studying it in a different sense, watching a lot of different artists and for me, I would just be creating a mood with these songs. There aren’t any high-energy, hyper songs like I would have at a rock show. I’d create a mood and keep people in that for 45 minutes to an hour and just do it differently. I’ll definitely be doing some live shows at some point, I’m just working it out at the moment because there are a lot of cogs in the wheel.

 

Finally, what do you hope to achieve with Man-Made Sunshine? Do you see this body of work as a form of completion in your healing journey or do you intend for it to be a continuing space in which you are free to create as you feel the need? 

I haven’t put any boundaries or restrictions on what I do with it at all. At first, it was just a vehicle to heal through and I didn’t really care and didn’t mind whatever happened with it. I think now, people have connected to it as I have too and it’s been cathartic. It’s definitely going to be the space for an outlet and something to put my extra emotions out in, over time. Like I said, no boundaries, I’ll do as and when. I think the beauty of it is that I can do what I want with it. I tried to think of it as just depression and art in its purest form, I’m just doing it for the art and whenever I feel like I want to do it. It’s really been great to see how much people have connected to it. I’ll definitely be keeping it, for sure.

 

The debut EP by Man-Made Sunshine is out now. https://mmss.lnk.to/Man-MadeSunshine

FollowMan-Made Sunshine @manmadesunshine

Interview by Gabi Oates 

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