Interview: Albert Man – Cheap Suit, Expensive Quality
Albert Man has to be the busiest man on the live music scene right now. When he isn’t gigging prolifically, networking, blogging, being interviewed by the BBC or creating merchandise he is hard at work on new material. Phew. So despite an already full day and a schlep across town to a pub in Walthamstow, East London, Albert arrives cheerful and relaxed. Craft beer in hand, he immediately settles in and is ready to be interrogated.
Firstly, for those who have yet to discover Albert, an introduction. He is a half-German Mancunian singer-songwriter based in London who has been recording and playing gigs for over two years. He released his 11-track self-produced album Cheap Suit in May this year to critical acclaim but is no stranger to music. Somewhat of a closet songwriter for many years and part of a few bands that “didn’t really leave the confines of a mate’s bedroom”, he realised in 2014 it was time to apply the confidence he had developed and go out there and do his own thing. Fortunately for music enthusiasts, he did just that.
Albert has been described as the UK’s answer to Ben Folds, a modern day Elvis Costello and with a bit of Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon thrown in. Casting comparisons aside, I ask how Albert would describe his own music. “It’s definitely pop music but not mainstream pop.” he says meaningfully. “It’s piano-led and I care a lot about lyrics”. Which leads me neatly to my next question. One thing that struck me on first listen of Albert’s work was how the lyrics are a key feature of his artistry. In a recent interview the quality of his songwriting was described as ‘pervasive’ (in a good way!) and I wonder, where does he take inspiration from to create such captivating words? “Song ideas will come to me anywhere! In the shower, on the tube, from movies, and these are lyrical ideas.” Not all these ideas metamorphose into songs however; some tracks just don’t make the cut. “I spend a while writing a song to make sure I’m happy with everything, especially the lyrics. I’ll be iterating on lyrics for at least a week and changing things if something better pops into my head”.
This quest for perfection is noticeable in Albert’s work. His self-produced debut album, Cheap Suit, may have been released in May but it has been a few years in the making. The album’s tracks have varying lifespans; Hold On To Your Love was written over two years ago while The Dream Team is more recent. For Albert, the album chronicles the evolution of his songwriting. He explains, “I’m striving to write more universally relatable songs now than I used to. Some of my older songs have lyrics which are too quirky or abstract. I think I’ve moved away from that style of writing a bit now”. The self-production was a labour of love; although most instrumental parts were recorded at London’s famous RAK Studios, Albert worked hard on the arrangements at home, perfecting, adding extra layers, preparing tracks for mixing and supplementing guitar parts. “Thankfully the mix engineer on the project could play!” he says with a smile.
Cheap Suit has deservedly earned recognition. The single Not Yet Just One More was chosen, again, for Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net Fresh Faves. Albert is grateful for the accolades and recognises it is not just hard work alone that reaps reward. “I’m still trying to get out there and make a name for myself so it’s absolutely vital to get exposed to new audiences all the time” he explains. Exposure being a key word, what with social media having the power to make or break careers and so does Albert have to shout loudly to get his voice heard I ask? “Recording a song or album is so much more accessible today as you can make a great record from your own bedroom and reach a large global audience”. He expands on the social media part; “However, having a story is so important. It helps generate a buzz and an interest around an artist; people want to care about the artist as much as the music so personality needs to be reflected in your posts to stand out from the rest”.
On to the album’s title, I’m curious to know if the cheap suit is a metaphor for anything in particular? “The song title I originally had was ‘Bad Suit’!” he smiles. “Sometimes I come up with a title which has potential to become a song. For this one, it was just a title, then I came up with a back story about a man whose life takes a turn for the worse after a relationship breakup and he becomes homeless. Cheap Suit just seemed to work better than Bad Suit so went with that in the end.” For those who appreciate visually enticing album artwork, the cover, created by Polish illustrator and graphic designer Patryk Hardziej, is stunning. Albert is fully aware of the commercial importance of creating something prominent. “It’s so competitive getting your music heard by a new audience” he admits “so if an interesting cover entices people to have a listen over something else that can only be a good thing. Trying to have a polished brand associated with your artist profile is important to me”.
His industriousness has paid dividends in his career to date; highlights include playing the O2 Priority Lounge ahead of Muse and reaching the finals of the Coffee Music Project. What’s been his most memorable moment of 2016 so far, I wonder? ‘Heading over to Dublin to record a live song and accompanying video, out soon, was an amazing experience”. he says animatedly. “I went to the Ruby Sessions where I got to see The Academic play, had a chat with Hozier about Brexit and met Gavin James before he went to grab some chips. I even managed to do a gig supporting Líosa Murphy at the Grand Social before heading home”. Phew. Sounds like just an ordinary day in the life of Albert to me.
So what’s next on the cards? He’s recently been back in the studio (well, a boat. London’s Grand Cru Studio to be exact) recording some new material. Can he reveal anything about the new tracks? “They’re all really recent songs; a couple of upbeat ones and a couple of ballads. One track came out of a cowrite, a new concept for me, and quite a few different musicians joined me on the boat”. So should we expect a change in direction with regards to Albert’s style? “The songs still work with just me and a piano, it’s just great to work with different musicians; it makes it more fun and I think this shows in the final product!”.
After such a fruitful year so far, is Albert showing any signs of slowing as the year draws to a close? Not likely. “I’ll be releasing the new tracks and singles and then probably an EP by the end of the year” he says confidently. “Oh, and playing Oxjam Clapham Takeover at The Sun in Clapham on 22 October 2016 and hoping to play a few gigs with a band later in the year”.
As the interview comes to an end, I have just one more question for Albert to squeeze in. Just how do you find the energy to fit it all in, and still remain so positive and spirited? He answers sincerely and without hesitation, “I have wanted to do music for a long time. I’m really happy to be sharing it with everyone – enjoying what you do would keep anyone motivated and I feel lucky to be doing this”. He pauses and adds thoughtfully, “my wife (who is also my manager) and I keep each other motivated – it’s nice to have a partner to do everything with” he says with a smile.
Well, the partnership is certainly working. Albert Man – one of the most genuine, hard working artists on the live music scene with a steely work ethic.
The suit may be cheap, but this is priceless.
Albert’s latest album Cheap Suit is out now.
Albert was a welcome part of the lineup for Blogtober Festival at The Finsbury where he played with a full band, showcasing songs from Cheap Suit as well as offering a tantalising reveal of the newly recorded tracks. You can read more about Blogtober Festival here.
Interview by Nicola Greenbrook & Photography by Rachel Lipsitz