2012 was a big year for Berlin-based house producer Mano Le Tough (aka Niall Mannion), with remixes for artists such as Roisin Murphy and T.E.E.D, a Resident Advisor mix, and a glowing recommendation from Kristian Beyer (of Ame and Innervisions), who told The Guardian, “There is so much fresh-sounding music coming out of Mano Le Tough’s camp that I’m not afraid about the future of house.”
Since 2009, Le Tough has been releasing emotional, melodic tracks for labels as renowned as Tensnake’s Mirau and Ben Watt’s Buzzin’ Fly. His debut full-length album, Changing Days, dropped last week on Munich label Permanent Vacation, and its first cut, “Please,” is a lush, warm, and deeply restrained piece that demonstrates his maturity as a songwriter and producer.
Here Mannion talks with us about his inspirations, his approach to production, and the Changing Days of his first full-length.
You were born and raised in Ireland, but then moved to Berlin. Tell us about your musical background. And how did the move to Berlin change your musical direction?
The usual story: played instruments since I was a kid in bands, etc. Then later got into DJing and making electronic music. Nothing too special, just a constant interest in different types of music and being creative. Berlin has been a huge influence, being exposed to electronic music and the culture associated with it in a very pure form and working out what I really like and who I am as an artist. I grew up a lot musically and personally since I’ve moved here. Life influences the art and vice-versa.
Who are your musical inspirations?
I have a very broad taste in music. You are a product of what you have listened to, so I like to approach music with an open mind. The more variety of music you listen to, the healthier it is when you are being creative yourself.
What was your approach to Changing Days? Did you have a central theme or idea that the album centers around?
The main thing for me was just to make an album that stands up as a real album, which is something that I think is quite rare in house music. I wanted the overall vibe to be coherent in terms of mood and the palette of sounds.
How did you select the label Permanent Vacation for this album? Or did they select you?
I had done some stuff with them before, a remix and an EP. I originally started the album process with another label in mind, but they had some problems, so PV stepped in. They are great to work with and, most importantly, nice people.
There’s a lot of talk these days about imitation versus innovation. What are your thoughts on creating the sounds of a genre like house music and yet pushing that genre forward?
The reason I fell in love with this music was because it was futuristic; even old classics sound futuristic because they were so original when they were made. When people use obvious “old school” sounds in house, it’s usually boring for me. There is great freedom in this music to make music that is modern; I don’t see the point in imitating the innovators of 20 or 30 years ago.
What is your favorite instrument or piece of studio equipment?
Well, I just bought a Moog Voyager XL, which is about to arrive.
Tell us about your workflow for creating a new track. How do you start? And how do you know you’re finished?
It’s always different for me. Sometimes I start by making a beat and the inspiration comes during the process. Other times I just start singing a melody or something when I’m doing the washing up or whatever, and go and record it. It really depends; I try to be as open as possible to ideas. As for finishing things, I find deadlines are a great motivator. Knowing when it’s done is something just learned through experience—it’s done when it’s done.
What is the most important thing to making a song groove?
For you, how do you connect with the listener through your music? What are the elements or instruments you turn to in order to make that happen?
I try and make something that makes me feel something, then hopefully the listener takes something from it, too. What part affects people is different with each track. Sometimes it’s a melodic phrase, sometimes it’s a bassline. Whatever works.
You sing on the track “Please.” Did you record the vocals in your home studio? What is the trick for getting the vocals just right?
Yes, I recorded them at home. I usually just sing and keep recording until I get a good take.
Can we expect you in the States any time soon?
Yes. End of March there will be a tour [with] some dates at WMC and then a tour of a few different cities.
**See Mano Le Tough’s tour dates here.