“In terms of doing my own thing, I never thought I'd do it again,” Paul Draper says of his return to music after more than ten years. “I only fell into being the singer in Mansun because I was the only one that could fucking sing.”
Appearances from Draper have been rare since Mansun released their post-split fourth (sort of) album Kleptomania. He popped up to play a few songs with The Joy Formidable as the Astoria's closing gig back in 2004 and recently co-produced and guested on The Anchoress' Confessions of a Romance Novelist. Following Mansun’s split in 2003, there’s been a steady hum of speculation online about what he would do next as much as the reasons behind Mansun's split.
“I literally walked out of the band during a recording session in 2003 in the middle of a song called ‘Cry to my Face’ that we were recording, Draper tells me. “I went straight to America and a lot of hell broke loose. A lot of mental insanity and drugs. I did try and make an album for Parlophone for four years and I just couldn't do it. I just didn't have it in me.”
“I'm not really a record producer or a sound engineer and I'm not a singer/songwriter either,” says Draper. “I just put tracks together. Mansun was really a very cryptic studio project that became a really great live band in the end - but I never thought I'd carry on with me doing it as the frontman or the singer. In the end the band kicked the shit out of me and I didn't have any self-confidence at that point.”
Draper's long-teased return finally came this month with the spikey revenge anthem "Feeling My Heart Run Slow". It's as you'd expect - the songwriting force behind Mansun amped up several notches. Draper's distinctive vocal and stuttering songwriting are there in full effect with a production that will keep fans of Manun's Six happy and win him over a whole new bunch of adoration too.
"The song began a long time ago as on of the first things to be demoed for my album. It began with me jamming melodies and lyrical ideas over vinyl drum loops that I sampled,” Draper tells me. The track was originally shelved along with others while Draper pursued his fascination with studios - one that led to a six-year stint running his own studio in Acton, West London. “Acton has always been neglected and it's a mostly an old-school blue colour part of London but one particular area is a real creative hub - there's loads of writing rooms, production teams and rooms over there.”
Draper rented out his studio to the likes of Frank Ocean, Savages and even Pixie Lott between stints co-producing The Anchoress’ Confessions of a Romance Novelist. “Catherine had been doing some work with Bernard Butler for an album when I met her,” he explains. “I told her I was looking for a project to do where I wasn't the singer and she was looking for a co-producer - so we did The Anchoress record - and that led into picking up my solo album. Catherine's album was absolutely a springboard into doing it.”
"Feeling My Heart Run Slow" was eventually resurrected and is the first track on Draper's debut solo EP. A song about "taking a good kicking and being stitched up by one or two individuals, then lying low for a while, regrouping and living a life beyond that experience," it's difficult not to speculate on the song as a comment on Mansun's own dissolution. "It's the arc of my life and dealing with the obstacles in my way to finally complete whats been my passion for being 10 years old: making music," Draper says.
Mansun’s Six remains one of Britpop's most idiosyncratic releases. The album, frequently hailed as a work of genius ahead of its time inevitably enters our conversation more than once. It always felt to me, I say to Draper, that Six had more substance than a lot of the records during Britpop: that as more time passed it would inevitably become revered.
“I can see that, yes,” he responds. “For me, when I was growing up, it was Love's Forever Changes and Television' Marquee Moon that were those kind of records. It's always bands that split up early, never reached the heights, and left one good record behind - and it sticks because it's a good record."
“Radiohead were in the next room to us when we recorded Six," Draper tells me. "We were on the same label and we had the same A&R guy. We went to a whole other place on Six but it was more by accident than design. More to do with PTSD than genius.
“Someone said to me that Mansun were to the '90s what the Small Faces were to the '60s: a few hits, bit of success but never like The Stones or The Beatles. People will get it over time and I always think it's to do with the EPs. We did fourteen EPs - more B-sides than we did album tracks. There's a substantial amount of stuff for people to get into. Because we split up in a hail of psychotic-drug-mental illness - not me, I might add; that all came later - people look back and glamourise it.”
We talk about Prince, an artist Draper’s loved since childhood. I asked if the segues on Six and Mansun’s debut Attack of the Grey Lantern were something he took from Prince’s production? “Yes, and The Beatles did it too,” he says. “It was out of fashion at the time of Britpop though. '1999' starts with talking then it segues into 'Little Red Corvette'. It's amazing. I also used to put little Prince riffs in Mansun records too.
“I saw him on the 1999 tour which really cemented what he did for me. Even with the last few albums, there's always one good track on every single album. Paul McCartney's got that too (Draper actually interviewed McCartney a few years ago for Drowned in Sound) - he did that 'English Tea' track on Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, the record he did with Nigel Godrich. He can still bring out a brilliant track amongst the sea of McCartneyisms.”
I ask if he'll ever play live again: "I have had a few rehearsals with my band and we are happy to move forward with shows now we've road-tested ourselves," Draper says. "Mansun had a reputation as a fierce live band and I wouldn't want to do anything unless it was of the same calibre."
“At the start when we started touring, I did find it stressful - but I was quite a shy person. Later it became stressful because the others in the band weren't my friends. I'm looking forward to it though.”
Do the bad experiences of the Britpop years still sting? “My philosophy is different now,” he says with absolute certainty. “Back then I turned down NME covers. Who turns down that in the '90s?! My younger self was a fucking prick. My level on the angry-young-man scale was pretty fucking high.”
What does he think is the biggest change to music since those times?
“It's a generalism now but people approach music more as a career choice than they ever did,” Draper says. “Noel and Liam, whatever you think of them, transcended pop music and spoke to people. Britpop was a massive cultural movement and there was a centralised system for music in the media and that's collapsed now.
“Tech leads the culture. Zuckerberg and Jobs took the place of the Gallaghers and now kids wanna start websites and write about video games and create apps. My best mate growing up was Simon Nixon who set up moneysupermarket.com. He's a billionaire now and lives in Jersey. I went and became a rock n roll star. That's the dichotomy of the modern age.
"The modern rock star isn't a rock star anymore!”