Interview: Chad Valley

What do you need to know about Chad Valley? Well, despite the name, he’s not named after a potent strain of cider (much to my dismay), he’s also not really a fan of George Michael’s music, but he wouldn’t mind being serenaded by Janet Jackson one day. Who’da thunk it!?! It’s shit like this that will get me the Pultizer Prize one day.

Chad Valley aka Hugo Manuel has just released his début album Young Hunger, which is a warm, glossy pop/electronica album with more hooks than a Captain Hook and Abu Hamza convention. Taking a break from his day job with Oxford based band Jonquil, Hugo’s new project sees him showing off his big vocals and punchy choruses which are interspersed with a host of guest appearances including Totally Enormous Dinosaurs, Twin Shadow, Glasser and El Perro Del Mar. He’s currently in the middle of a UK Tour with Passion Pit but I caught up with him a few weeks ago whilst he was in America to have a little get-to-know-you session.

Hi Hugo!

How did Chad Valley come to be?

I just made some songs on my computer in my bedroom and I wanted to fill my spare time doing something other than my other band Jonquil, so I put the tracks online and hoped for the best. I hate not being busy.

Are you named after Cheddar Valley cider or is this a coincidence?

Wow, not at all and I don’t know if you could call that a coincidence! Cheddar Valley is near where I used to live – never went there though – and I wasn’t aware they had a cider. It’s actually a little area of Birmingham not too far from where I’m from, pretty nondescript place, but it’s the sound of the name I liked, not the meaning

What were the musical milestones, influence wise, on the road to Chad valley becoming the Project that it is today?

When I first started I was really into Italo-pop, jazz funk and disco from the 80s. I was sampling a lot of that stuff for my early tunes, and so that’s where a lot of the influences lies. I guess also the Italians Do It Better scene was a big influence on me and still is. That style of production pretty much nailed it and gave me a validation to do electronic music lo-fi. Recently I’ve moved a few years to the late 80s and New Jack Swing stuff like New Edition and Bobby Brown and currently my obsession.

What music did you listen to when you were going up?

Television were my favourite band for a long time, just for their album Marquee Moon. I played that album to death between the ages of 15 and 18 and I tend to only hear it at bars and such these days, but every time I do I sing along and get all nostalgic. I was heavily into that New York thing – I was also a huge Velvet Underground fan – and generally just stuff from the 70s and late 60s. It’s funny because when I was younger the 80s to me were the time that all my favourite musicians started making shit albums. How wrong I was.

What are the most important aspects of your music when creating your own original sound?

I have a deep love of synths and synthesis and to me one of the most interesting aspects of creating music is creating the palette of sounds you are going to use. I love discovering new synths that are mostly forgotten and unused. There are a few key synths that are all over Young Hunger and probably had the biggest influence on the sound of the album. I am aware as well that my strongest asset is probably my voice, and I like to use it in an unashamedly BIG way which I think is something that similar musicians to me don’t do so much.

You’ve done quite a few remixes for other artists, including for people like Lana Del Rey. What is it about remixing you enjoy? If you do enjoy it?

I do enjoy it indeed: it’s very good practice for my production and it means I can experiment with different ideas and styles in ways that I can’t with my own music. I love the challenge of writing a track and completely mixing it and everything in a couple of days, I think I am addicted to being stressed out. There is of course there is a monetary reason for doing remixes. They pay well and I am doing Chad Valley as a full time job and I need to pay my rent.

You’ve done some re-workings in the past like the ‘R&B Edits’ last year; are there any tracks out there that you’d like to remix in a similar fashion?

I think I am over the R&B edits idea. I started doing that because there was so much good R&B that was spoiled by overly glossy production and stock sounds, so I thought I would do my best at re-doing them with this kind of hazy, 80s referencing production which I think compliments it really well. I have been really into disco edits for ages and I started trying to do something like that but ended up just making a load of sample-based house. I’ll be releasing some of that at some point, so I think I have enough on my plate.

On your début album Young Hunger they are a few collaborations, how did these come about and how did you write and record them?

It was mostly a case of asking friends for favours. I had always had the idea to make an album like this, referencing the kind of hip hop albums where there are a gazillion guests. Thing is, when I started I didn’t have enough friends to make this possible, but in the two years of pretty much constant touring I made some friends, so that’s where a lot of these guests came from, and unfortunately there is not much to talk about with the recording process. Most of them were done just over email and recorded at home. I did however come to a point quite late on in the recording process where I wanted more female voices on the album and so I called around and found that El Perro Del Mar and Glasser were both up for contributing, which was very exciting for me as I am a huge fan of both of them. Both of those parts they sing were originally sung by me, but I always envisioned them as duets so it was amazing to hear that come together.

One thing I couldn’t help but notice about the album was your voice and its similarity to George Michael. A) Are you a fan? B) If so, what do you like about him?

I am not a huge fan but I have been amazed at how many people have been comparing me to him! It’s that and Tears For Fears (who I am a huge fan of) that I get all the time. I like the occasional George Michael ‘older’-period song and there are a few Wham! hits that I love, but I’m not the biggest fan, no.

How do you manage your time between Chad Valley and Jonquil? (And do you prioritize one over the other?)

They just take it in turns. Obviously I dedicate more time to Chad Valley because there four other members of Jonquil and they can share the workload. I had been working really hard on Jonquil for years whilst working full time in a shop as well, and I had plenty of time then, so now that I am doing Jonquil and Chad but no job, there is no reason why I can’t do both. As I said, I like to keep busy, I hate having nothing to do in a weird sadistic way, I feel happy when I am working and working hard.

If you had the power to make the impossible possible, what dream music moment you make happen? (Serenaded by George Michael perhaps?)

Haha I don’t think serenaded by George Michael would be up there, maybe by Janet Jackson in her earlier years… but seriously I would like to have a day in the studio with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and just learn everything I could from them.

Words: Woody Whyte