Manu Delago Interview – by Travis Marc – 2014.
Sometimes, if you look close enough there’s a lot more to a lot of drummers than what we might initially think. One such drummer/percussionist is Manu Delago who is able to perform beautiful melodies in rhythmic forms on numerous percussive instruments including his mighty hang drum. Manu definitely thinks outside the box and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Heck if anything, it makes him quite refreshing. We had the chance to talk with Manu earlier this year, read on to see what he had to say.
Let’s start with the most obvious of questions and talk a bit about how you got started as a musician. What inspired you to pick up an instrument?
My father is a musician and so is my uncle who I grew up with. I’ve always been surrounded by music and I got a drumkit when I was two years old. Ever since I’ve played some sort of instrument.
Would you say the same things still inspire you now days or what would you say inspires/influences your creativeness?
I think as a teenager the goal and inspiration was to play in bands which I found the best thing to spend my time with (apart from football). Back then, I was checking out a lot of bands and musicians and tried to improve as a drummer and percussionist. Since playing the Hang, I also started composing more and more and got away from the drumkit for a bit. Studying orchestration and spending a lot of time with electronic music changed the way I approach the drums now. I think the most important thing is to be open and try to be inspired by many different things.
Are there any drummers/musicians out there that you feel have something special and that our readers should check out?
I can’t mention all of them but here a few of my favourites… Dave King from ‘The Bad Plus’ is a very creative and dynamic drummer. Luke Flowers from ‘The Cinematic Orchestra’ plays amazing airy beats. Chris Daddy Dave creates beautiful chunky Hiphop beats. Abe Cunningham from ‘The Deftones’ has got so much power, and the drum programming of ‘The Prodigy’ just make me smile, awesome sounds and grooves.
Let’s briefly discuss music education. Did you have any formal training as a drummer and what are your thoughts on music education in it’s current state?
I studied classical percussion at University Mozarteum in Innsbruck (Austria) but at the same time had private lessons with a very good pop drummer (who happened to be my uncle). I think that combination worked well at the time because it prepared me to play in bands but at the same time I learned reading music and played tuned percussion. I’ve always tried to work on my weaknesses, so in 2007 I moved to London where I studied Jazz drums at Guildhall School and then composition at Trinity College. I’m still trying to learn and improve with each project. To be honest I don’t know too much about music education in its current state but my impression is that there should be slightly more openness between genres etc.
You’ve been touring with Bjork for the last little while and are now back on the road with your own band ‘Manu Delago Handmade’. Firstly, how was the last Bjork tour and secondly, could you describe how your role changes within the two groups?
It was an amazing experience to tour with one of my favourite artists for more than 2 years. Everyone in the production was really amazing at their job and I have learnt so much about music technology, touring and production. I was very lucky to have quite a featured role since there were only 2 musicians in the band. Of course in my band I’m featured too, but there is by far more responsibility since it’s my music that we are performing. That can be stressful but usually is also more rewarding.
How does your set up/gear you use change for the different groups, and what is the one piece of gear you simply cannot live without?
With Björk I was mainly playing electronic drums, Hang, Xylosynth and some small percussion bits. In my band there is slightly more focus on the Hang which is sort of my trademark instrument. But I’m also operating a laptop and some other items such as a musical metronome, acoustic toothbrushes, Mozart bells or a solinophone.
You’re obviously known as both a percussionist/drummer but which role do you prefer?
I don’t really mind but I guess percussionist is a slightly more open term.
Let’s talk about your ‘Hang’ playing for a while. For readers who have never heard a ‘hang’ how would you best describe the instrument and when did you first discover the ‘hang’?
The Hang was invented in Switzerland in 2001 and I started playing just 2 years later. It looks like an inverted steel drum but the sound is somewhere between a harp and a tabla.
With your busy schedule, do you still ever find time to practice and if so what do you practice?
I wish I had more time to practise but in reality the only non-touring time I use for writing and producing music. But in a way that turns into practising since not everything I compose is something I can play straight away. It’s not really practising rudiments or drum exercises, it’s more trying to come up with something new.
The music industry has changed loads over the last few years, what advice could you offer up and coming musicians on ‘trying to get out there’?
Obviously Youtube, Facebook and other social media networks open everyone to opportunity to put their stuff ‘out there’. I think those videos not only have to be good but be innovative in some way. Also I think that videos have to look real, rather than overproduced (unless the production is incredibly good and a feature of the video).
Of course just play, play and play which helps to meet new people. It’s still important to have a real network of people that will call you.
In turn, what would you say has been the best advice you have ever received in your career, and who gave you this advice?
Right now I can only think of something I heard two days ago: “The only reason to say yes to a project, is when you can learn something from it”.
What advice could you offer, in regards to trying to get work as a touring musician, and staying healthy on the road?
These seem to be 2 very different questions. The work bit I partly answered earlier, but unless you’re a big rock star, try to be a nice guy. As for staying healthy, I can only recommend getting enough sleep. I personally don’t drink or smoke but I’m not sure how much difference that really makes.
Listen and play along to as much different music as possible. And by different I mean different.
For more information on Manu please visit www.manudelago.com