10 Questions With… Myele Manzanza

10 Questions With… A series that delves into fresh new releases from some of our favourite artists. With a focus on our Melodic Distraction hosts and wider community, this lil natter gives us an insight into their musical escapades when they’re in their studio, not ours. 

This time, we chat with world-renowned drummer and composer Myele Manzanza, as he announces new album ‘Crisis & Opportunity Vol. 2 – Peaks’. Following an incredibly captivating Lockdown Live Lounge last year, we’re super excited for Myele’s latest offering, which follows Myele’s artistic journey throughout the global pandemic. If first single ‘Quinnies For The Boys’ is anything to go by, we’re sure in for a treat. Find out more below…

Hey Myele – we’re loving your latest single ‘Quinnies For The Boys’! Can you tell us a bit more about it?

The track came out of an open jam session I had as part of the process of the upcoming album, where we just shed a bunch of quick-fire ideas and I’d edit them into a more focused & concise piece. For the music nerds out there, the groove is based on a ‘quintuplet’ subdivision, basically in groups of 5, rather than the more conventional 4’s or 3’s of most music you’d hear. The nerdier among us have often used quintuplets as a way to quantify the loose straight-but-swung feel of modern hip-hop producers, like J Dilla and Madlib and especially in the modern inventions of drummers like Chris Dave. There’s a breed of musician who loves to show them off (often unnecessarily) so they can to prove they know how to do them! The title is a bit of a jokey piss-take of antipodean rugby jock culture superimposed onto modern jazz nerdery – hence ‘Quinnies For The Boys’.

The single anticipates forthcoming LP ‘Crisis & Opportunity Vol.2 – Peaks’ – how is this record different from the first volume of ‘Crisis & Opportunity’?

It’s different in many ways – for me it was an entirely different process to get to the end result. On Vol. 1, the music you hear on the recording is more or less exactly what you would have heard in the recording session. Vol. 2 has a lot more production and editing brought into the creative process. About 60% of the album came from an open jam session where I’d offer a basic template like some random chords, or a tag from a jazz standard we all knew, but flip the harmony to an alternative tonality and let the musicians play. From there, I’d review the recordings and edit them into something cohesive. Effectively ‘digging’ through the session in the same way beat makers dig through classic records to find the best breaks and loop them into something new. The result is something halfway between a conventional live jazz record and a producer beat-tape.

Who have you been listening to a lot whilst making it?

he re-release of the Ge-Ology album ‘Ge-Ology Plays Ge-Ology’ was pretty influential to the direction of this album. I was initially hoping to compose a bunch of compositions for the band prior to the session, but was in a bit of a creative writer’s block.

The album features collaborations with Ashton Sellars, Aron Ottignon, Matt Dal Din and more – what’s the most you get from collaborating with other artists?

Whilst I’m a pretty diverse and eclectic musician, I’m fundamentally a jazz musician at heart. The magic of that music is in the collective communication and improvisation that comes with playing with others. The trade and exchange of ideas, of service and leadership, of being in the moment with your fellow man is something that will always be a fulfilling and joyful act. If anything, collaboration is a necessary force to get the kinds of musical results I’m after, and ultimately offers a sense of meaning and purpose to my musical life.

Hailing originally from New Zealand but now residing in London, do your surroundings have an influence on your music? Has this change in environment had much of an impact?

I’d say it definitely does. One of the biggest things London offers an artist like myself compared to New Zealand is the sheer size and diversity of the population. There’s so many talented musicians seemingly crawling out of nowhere here, and that keeps me motivated to push and grow as an artist, as well as creating a sense of community amongst like-minded artists.

There’s a healthy audience culture here too – a lot of people are passionate about music. Not to say you don’t find this in New Zealand, but the population (5 million total in the whole country, compared to 8 million in London alone) means a festival like ‘We Out Here’ for example, that puts a relatively niche genre like Jazz at the forefront of it’s programming, could never sustainably happen beyond an audience of say 1000 people at the absolute maximum. So, just the ability to find a healthy audience for the kind of music I play means I can continue to focus and develop it further.

Having shared the stage with the likes of Hiatus Kaiyote, The Bad Plus and Alfa Mist, what’s been your favourite gig so far? Dream venue to perform in? 

I had a great concert in early September at Ronnie Scott’s alongside Rosie Frater Taylor, which was pretty special. In terms of a dream venue, I had my first visit to the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year for the BBC Proms, and it’d definitely be amazing to play a concert there! Carnegie Hall in New York is also one of those prestigious hallowed grounds that has hosted the best of the best, and it holds a pretty special place in the hearts of many musicians.

Speaking of which, with live opportunities taken away due to the pandemic, did you manage to stay creative throughout lockdown and if so, how?

Yeah the pandemic was definity a bummer initially, but it did give me the space to write the ‘Crisis & Opportunity’ album series. I likely never would’ve been able to find the time otherwise, so whilst I’d never wish a global pandemic on the world, there was some personal silver lining there for me.

As well as the drums, can you play any other instruments? Dream instrument to learn?

More often than not I compose on piano. I’m definitely not a competent pianist, but it’s a useful tool for figuring out core compositional ideas. If I were to take formal lessons on an instrument beyond the drums it’d definitely be piano.

Are there any up and coming artists you’re keeping your eye on at the moment?

There’s several – I really like Jas Kayser. She’s a young drummer/composer rising in the London scene at the moment, who seems to have her head on straight when it comes to her musicianship. My friend Lewis Moody (who worked on the C&O Vol. 2 album) had a project called ‘Good Mood’, which will likely turn some heads soon. I could go on and on but there’s two good ones to check out!

What’s next for you?  

I’m about 95% finished on ‘Crisis & Opportunity Vol. 3’, so will hopefully have the music completed by the end of the year for a mid-2022 release. I’ve finished composing the music for Vol. 4, which I’ll be recording properly in early 2022, which should be a lot of fun. Hopefully we’re at the tail end of the pandemic so we can get stuck into the roaring 2020’s properly and get this music out to the world. Very much looking forward to being able to travel and tour freely again soon!

‘Quinnies For The Boys’ is out now on DeepMatter Records – check it out below and stay tuned for the release of ‘Crisis & Opportunity Vol. 2 – Peaks’ on 19th November.