Hugo Manuel, pka Chad Valley, is a soft-bodied crooner whose bedroom recordings have garnered much attention — often from the fairer sex — on both sides of the Atlantic. The consummate musician from Oxford, UK is a founding member of Jonquil, has remixed songs for The Drums and Active Child (among others), and recently collaborated with Twin Shadow on the lead track of his 2012 LP Young Hunger. But as most fans will agree, it's Valley's major pipes on these independent recordings that are at the heart of his success.
Manuel took the time to answer a few questions during some rare down time this winter. Young Hunger is available now on Cascine.
Chad Valley is a great name, but so is Hugo Manuel, why did you feel the need to perform under a pseudonym?
Its a good question, and to be honest there is no real good reason. It just felt like a necessary thing to do; I never even considered using my own name. I think I felt that using your own name brings with it the connotations of that being your definitive work. I think especially since I am in Jonquil as well, I wanted to make it clear that Chad Valley was simply another string to my bow, so to speak. I'm currently looking for another pseudonym for another project of mine... any ideas?
I'll think on that, but can you give us any details about this project?
Its a more dance-orientated project. As I have dealt more with pop music as Chad, I wanted to explore some other sides of my taste in music, which encompasses a lot of dance music and repetitive, long-form music. It started initially straight after finishing Young Hunger, where I wanted to escape completely the album that I had spent the whole year making. It was a kind of therapy at first, and I very quickly wrote a bunch of tracks, sent to my friends and got the ball rolling. Anyway, thats enough of that, you'll hear it soon.
What's the current music scene like in Oxford, and how do you feel you fit into it?
There is a lot of good stuff. A weird amount considering how small the place is. There are like 150,000 people there, so its like a town really, but there are way more bands than there should be. A few years ago me and my friends set up a kind of collective which we called Blessing Force, and we have been putting on events and releasing records under than banner as a way of giving ourselves a collective voice. Trophy Wife, Pet Moon, Solid Gold Dragons, Cyan Vena, Jonquil are all strong parts of this collective, and then there are bigger bands like Foals and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs who are all part of our group of friends. So basically its very very healthy and vibrant, the only downside of Oxford is its size; people, myself included, can get bored easily here, so they tend to dessert Oxford to fry bigger fish in London.
You've played with members of the Foals, and remixed their songs as well as the Drums, do you guys have your own sort of clique going? Has their music influenced your development at all? And how do you decide which artists you want to remix (or do they come to you)?
I grew up with the guys in Foals. Yannis and I used to spend hours discovering music together and obsessing bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor and Slint, so his taste in music and mine are very much intertwined I think. Anyway, I love what Foals do, their new album is an absolute smash, and I feel very honored to be close to their creative process. The Drums, I have never met but I am a big fan. Unfortunately, I never approach artists I want to remix, it just doesn't work like that. It normally comes from a bands management or label. A remix is seen as a commodity above anything else, and although thats a shame in a way, I am happy to be a part of that because remixes act as a great exercise for me, and keep me working constantly, which is a good thing.
Is there any friendly rivalries / professional envy between you and the bands you're friends with? Any specific stories?
I think I used to before I had really any level of success myself. It was quite hard seeing Foals get huge very quickly when I was struggling to get anywhere with Jonquil all those years ago, but I was young and naive. Nowadays its all very friendly. Down the pub in Oxford we can have Foals, TEED, myself, Trophy Wife all talking to each other about what we are up to, where we are touring, who's playing us on the radio, and it can get a little competitive I guess, but all in good humor.
I have to assume singing ballads wasn't earning you many cool points, did you find it difficult trying to hone your craft while also trying to play out and build a following?
I don't think about cool points, which is probably why my music can be so sickly sweet sometimes. I have never written music with the aim of gaining fans — or at least I have never sacrificed any of my integrity to gain fans. I have just done what comes naturally to me, and I guess the ballad is one of my favorite kind of songs, so I am naturally going to be swayed towards that kind of music. When I started Chad Valley, the music was way more longform and experimental. I started it around the time that Animal Collective's Merriweather came out and I wanted to replicate the jammy-ness of that, but its not something i can do very convincingly, so I gradually moved towards a more pop setting for my work, and I am happy with that.
Your music reminds me a bit of a young Rick Astley. Would you be offended if some day people we're getting "Chad Rolled?"
I would love for that to happen. I'm a fan of Mr Astley, people should delve into his back catalogue, there is some really good stuff.
If Chad Valley were still a toy company today and you were in charge, what kind of toys would you be manufacturing?
Well they are still a company! They are making all sorts of shitty toys for Argos here in UK. I was never a huge toy person when I was a kid, I just had loads and loads of Legos and a model railway. So maybe I would make.... Lego trains? Actually hell yeah, why doesn't that exist? You could make crazy space-ship-like trains which run around a track. I'm doing it.
You love singing duets; if you had the chance to have a singing duet with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
Joni Mitchell. She's done a couple of amazing duets herself — with Michael McDonald and Peter Gabriel — so I know she's into them too. Also, Bjork for obvious reasons. Vespertine is one of my favorite ever albums.
Rihanna or Beyonce (you can only choose one)?
Beyonce. Rihanna seems like she'd be too much hard work.
Lastly, what would you like added to your Wikipedia page?
I would like a Wikipedia page to be created please! I don't have one and every day I think about how much I want one, so when my old school friends say 'what are you up to these days' I can just send them a link to my 'pedia page. Someone please create me a Wikipedia page and exaggerate everything so it sounds like I'm super massive.