Welsh beatmakers Man Without Country create us an In Transit mixtape of their most loved on-the-road tracks.
It’s been three years since Welsh duo, Ryan James and Tomas Greenhalf, broke onto the scene with their debut album Foe. Recorded, produced and mixed entirely by the band in their home studios in South Wales, their latest release Maximum Entrophy mixes a dark 80s inspired synthpop with lush melancholic electronica. Contributing the vocals to Röyksopp’s recent single Sordid Affair, and having remixed everyone from Interpol to Moby and Factory Floor, we caught up with the boys to find out more about their crusade against small town mentality, why they want to score Under The Skin and how they ended up playing a gig for MIC.
What’s up with the name? Not particularly big fans of Wales either of you?
Ryan: We are fans of Wales, contrary to what the name may imply! However, it did derive from a sense of not belonging, but it’s more to do with social acceptance. Every small town comes with it’s prejudices and narrow-mindedness. But it’s not a reflection of Wales. We’re solely referring to a small minority of people who fear anything they see as ‘out of the ordinary’, or anything they don’t understand. It’s also important to point out that we chose the name around seven years ago, a lot as changed since then!
How did you meet? What prompted you to start making music together?
Tomas: We both grew up in Wales but didn’t meet until we started studying at university together. We were sat by each other in our first class of term and just started talking about music. We realised we had a lot in common musically. From that day forward we started sending each other demos we’d both been working on and the band progressed from there. I grew up in a very small village so there wasn’t much of a music scene or local venue to play at, but my friends and I would often organise shows in various different town and village halls around the local area and invite all our school friends down. It was good fun.
How have things changed for you since the release of Foe? Do you feel more confident making music now?
Tomas: When we wrote foe we had a lot to learn in terms of producing and mixing in order for us to achieve exactly what we wanted. We decided to write, produce, record and mix the majority of the record ourselves with no previous experience in any of those fields. Since writing foe we have learned so much and I think we are more confident songwriters now. There is always more to learn and the journey will never end but that’s part of what makes it exciting. Now that we have a much better understanding and grasp of the techniques involved with recording it has enabled us to explore new depths within our songwriting, and it has aided our experimentation. I think this new confidence is evident in Maximum Entropy.
Do you have a favourite track from the latest album? Where do you like to listen to it?
Ryan: My current favourite is ‘Loveless Marriage’. It’s probably because it’s one of the more latterly written songs on the album. The lyrics are quite transparent in contrast to some of the other songs, which I find resonates with me personally. My favourite song to play live is ‘Deadsea’. I’m also looking forward to playing ‘Entropy’ on our UK tour, which begins this month.
You’ve built up a fairly sizable back-catalogue of remixes and collabs. Any idols you’re dying to work with?
Tomas: We’ve been very fortunate to remix many great artists we admire. In the beginning we just approached them and asked straight up if we could do a remix. More often than not they were more than happy for us to do so. We really enjoy the process of remixing. It gives you the opportunity to take a song to a totally different place, creating new musical environments for the listener to experience. We find that very exciting. I’m a big fan of the latest The War on Drugs album, I think that would make for an interesting remix and maybe something by Anthony and the Johnsons.
Dark, epic, trippy, somber, a mix of man and machine – the album could quite easily be the soundtrack to a modern day Blade Runner. Do you get inspiration from movies?
Ryan: Often yes! And even documentaries I find. We’d love to score a movie or a TV series if there was ever an opportunity to. Preferably something psychological, and possibly dark. I saw ‘Under the Skin’ recently. It’s a slow-burner, but I love those kind of movies. We’ve never been afraid to test our listeners’ patience, and I personally admire that approach in movies too.
Inevitable social decline and the end of the world are pretty bleak topics. What prompted you to decide on Maximum Entropy as the title?
Ryan: I first learned about the theory of ‘entropy’ a few years ago through Brian Cox. I was immediately obsessed with the idea of it. It’s not often that I become obsessed with things for no apparent reason, so I felt compelled to make it the album’s theme. It was almost like I didn’t even have a choice in the matter. Sometimes ideas just present themselves, and there’s no point in trying to fight it. There is a mixture of subjective and objective material on the album. I never feel the need to explain any of the lyrics, as I don’t want to discourage people’s freedom of interpretation. The ambiguity is deliberate, unless I decide otherwise.
You’re about to start touring. What are the best and most bizarre gigs you’ve played so far?
Tomas: One of our favourite shows we’ve played so far would have to be Paris Olympia. It’s such a grand venue in the heart of the city with a rich musical history. It was a lot of fun playing there. One of the most bizarre shows we’ve been asked to perform at must be for the TV show Made in Chelsea. It was a live broadcast show in front of an audience at Stamford Bridge. Very surreal. We had never done anything like that before but it was definitely an experience!
In Transit tracklist:
Jon Hopkins – “Open Eye Signal”
Man Without Country – “Romanek”
Washed Out – “Before”
The Appleseed Cast – “Fight Song”
The National – “Conversation 16”
Fionn Regan – “100 Acres of Sycamore”
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – “Atomos IX”
Björk – “Hyperballad”
Emiliana Torrini – “Speed of Dark”
Bruce Springsteen – “Dancing in the Dark”
Words: Thomas Curry.