Despite the distraction of villa renovations, Scott Mannion has finished a very personal project.
Scott Mannion has been working on the intensely personal Loving Echoes for the past seven years, drawing on the pangs that came from ending a nine-year relationship. But in that time, the multi-instrumentalist/songwriter’s European OE turned into something more permanent: he found a €175-a-month rental house in the picturesque mountain village of Chelva, 70km from Valencia, then bought a building down the road, married a Greek artist and discovered the painfully slow process of amateur DIY.
There have been other challenges, too. A few years ago, a bush fire tore up the valley and he was forced to flee, freaking out about the instruments he’d left behind and his lack of insurance.
Then there were the visitors. During our chat on Skype, I recognise the room and the view from an interview with Auckland band The Beths a few months earlier. They stayed seven weeks, and are just some of the many Kiwi musicians who know there’s a Mannion bolthole for downtime during European tours.
Loving Echoes is very much Mannion’s own work, but will be vaguely familiar to those who remember his time with Auckland duo The Tokey Tones. This time, though, the music has bold, multilayered production, lush strings, haunting synths and kooky harmonies and melodies.
It also bears some hallmarks of many of those visitors. As the co-founder and big chief of Lil’ Chief Records, the 41-year-old is still very connected to the New Zealand music scene. Over the past year, for example, he’s been involved in releasing two highly acclaimed albums by label-mates Princess Chelsea and Jonathan Bree. And lots of familiar names – Ryan McPhun, Lawrence Arabia, Jonathan Pearce, Bree and Chelsea – crop up in the credits on Mannion’s album.
However, Loving Echoes’ long gestation has been as much to do with the tinkering of a confessed perfectionist as the visits and the shared music files.
“It was different from the past with The Tokey Tones and having all those people from Lil’ Chief there,” he says. “Then, we could all be in the same room to work on ideas as a band. Most of the time, this was more of a lonely venture.
“Four years ago, before we had this house, I had the songs I was happy with – it’s just taken this long to get them finished. I still listen to the record and hear things I want to change. But I have to let go. I can’t keep tweaking.”
Another feature is the input of Spanish friends. Xavi Muñoz (who usually plays with Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier) is his touring bassist, Clara Viñals adds french horn and duets on Somebody’s Else’s Dream and Your Kinda Love and artist-neighbour Ben Lustenhouwer provides the cover art.
Mannion will tour Loving Echoes in Europe later this year, but as for coming “home”, he’s not sure he could afford New Zealand prices, not sure he could make music here and not sure how his new-found happiness translates to songwriting.
“The breakup of my relationship was so important to how the record came about that I’m struggling with writing music now that things are stable. I tend to write a lot when there’s the madness of new situations or change.”
LOVING ECHOES, Scott Mannion (Lil’ Chief/Rhythmethod)
Released June 7.
This article was first published in the June 1, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.