When No Mana announced that he would be doing his first headline tour, Secret Something, and then released his debut album “Secret Level” shortly after, it generated a lot of attention. With so many successful tracks, appearances and collaborations, anticipation for this upcoming release caused much excitement as this talented artist has proven himself over the last four years under the mau5trap label. With an unapologetic approach to music production and performance, No Mana achieved Electro House perfection with his work and in his performances on the Secret Something tour.
No Mana gave us a preview of “Secret Level” by releasing “Strangers” featuring Jantine. This track was just a small sample off an extraordinary collection. “Secret Level” not only checks off all the marks in composition, form, and balance but it also provides a unique journey into the intricacies of No Mana’s creative abilities. Listening to the diverse track selection is a joy as the songs include an exploration of modern-day life relatable to all of us. Song titles “Bottle Service”, “Distance”, and “Fragile Human” appear to express the life experience of the artist with sensitivity and realism. I had the pleasure of talking to the dynamo right before his set in New York’s Elsewhere Club during his first headlining tour.
Hi, It’s RiMo from Fresh Music Freaks and I’m here today with the extraordinary music producer No Mana. Since 2014 you’ve proven your abilities, not just in your work (mau5trap label), but also in your performances. How did you come up with the concept for your first album and your first headline tour and why was now the right time?
I think the concept actually came from a movie that I watched called Ready Player One, and there’s a scene from that where the main character plays (a game) called Adventure. It says that the whole point of the game was just to play it and it just really resonated with me. The whole aesthetic of the game was this whole maze thing and I was pretty inspired by that and so I thought I could take that on.
I wanted to know what some of the differences that you experienced creating your album versus your EP creations. What was different or the same in each experience?
It’s funny you that you brought that up because, even though I’ve thought about how the tracks follow up along with each other, I always thought of it as a subtle detail. But I think the way that I’ve thought about having the tracks go on from the next track is that I wanted each track to stand alone by themselves and not have one track relay on the other because I know other artists, and I think I’ve done this myself. If I make a fade from the end of one track to the beginning of the next track, it would just create this reliance one on track to complete the next track. I just wanted to make each track stand on its own.
You’re soon to release your debut album Secret Level. Aside from the release of your new album, what are some other reasons why you are doing your first headline tour Secret Something, and why was this the right time?
I think it was just a good time (now) because I’ve created so much music. The time where I was the only releasing singles and it wasn’t enough (material) for me to output the music that I was making behind the curtain. So doing this tour will give me the opportunity to showcase that music.
Is there a certain process that you use to create and complete a track?
So I think an equal amount of tracks on the album have a fair share of the different variations of ways that start the track with different methods. One of the methods is just to start with a certain sound and then just kind of build upon that. I start with a synth that I found somewhere and then put drums under it or maybe it’s the other way around. I’ll find a cool kick and then I’ll put more elements upon that or I’ll have a vocal to work with and I’ll put that first in the playlist and then I’ll put synths that relate to that vocal. And a lot of the tracks that I make actually. Sometimes I go into it thinking that I’m going to make a bootleg and then, later on, I realize that I can make an original out of that song.
So your debut album is wonderful. I can’t help but marvel about how lovely the tracks are. You did the song “Secret Level” with Chipzel. It has a really nice 80’s Synthpop feel to it. How did you get the idea for that track and how was your collaboration with Chipzel?
I think my collaboration with Chipzel, the way that I saw approaching that collaboration was, I think it would make a lot of sense doing that because it goes along with the whole branding of me doing the whole pixel art thing and the whole 8-bit video game stuff. So doing a collab with Chipzel would make the most sense because she does Chiptune work. And you know anyone would say that Chiptune is a necessity in the video games of the eighties and nineties.
You already released one song from your album called “Strangers”. It has a lot of elements that people are looking for in a hit song. What type of response have you gotten from your fans regarding “Strangers?”
I’d like to think of it as positive but as an artist, I like to stay as realistic as possible. So I think going on the extreme end of that, it kind of blinds me from thinking that the feedback that I get is positive or negative if that makes sense. But I mean overall I think I’ve got pretty positive feedback. I’ve never received any shitty YouTube comments that say “this is trash and I never want to see this again.” What matters to me is if I’m happy with it. And I think, what does it matter what anyone else thinks?
Another track on your album “Fragile Human” you did with Eddie. I felt like the song had a sense of romance and wonder. You’ve collaborated with Eddie before. So how was it, to work with him the second time around?
It’s very interesting because I think we share a very common theme that we like in music. I don’t know what it is. It may be some kind of aura or something. We both like Electro, we both like Progressive House that’s very melodic and we both like Trance and that’s and there’s a sound that we can grab from each of those genres and say its something that we have in common and that we like those three genres. Going into that second collaboration was just another way of creating something that defines our taste in music. the first one was some type of electro style track and we can both agree that types of music we both like that hard gritty electro house. The second time around was almost like a palette cleanser on both of our music tastes because we both like that Trancey Progressive House. I think that’s why we came up with that track “Fragile Human.”
Your song “Bed of Stars” is a dreamy escape into the wonderland of Electro House reverb with a hypnotizing sound that leaves you feeling joyful and alive. Is there a sense of hope that you were trying to capture in this track?
The experience that this track derives from kind of has that theme. It’s a very long story and I don’t know if I can explain it in an interview. It’s the experience of being in a bed of stars, it’s eye-opening and it had to do with the universe. It’s a trip, long story short.
In “Bottle Service”, the repetition of the lyrics “the world can be ours” is a positive message in a world full of negative undertones. Is this a contrast with the overindulgence of getting bottle service?
It could have a positive side and a dark side. It’s an indulgent track.
“Distance” for me provides a pure expression of that feeling of loneliness when separated from someone you love. Its intelligent beat drives through the mundane details of life and it will keep you going on the dance floor. I’m almost wondering if there might be a theme of experiences being on tour and traveling but also for so many of us?
Maybe not so much on tour but the first thing you said “provides a pure expression of that feeling of loneliness when separated from someone you love” in general. I think It’s crazy how accurate you said that. It’s like wow, were you reading my mind? It’s definitely what you expressed in the first part of your question.
How much time are you spending in your studio these days and what is your set up like?
So, I think while I’m touring I don’t spend much time in the studio. Most of the time I’m just doing paperwork, office work and maybe I’m working on visuals and stuff. When I’m on tour I spend about 2-3 hours a week on music. When I’m not touring it could be the whole day every day.
Are you going into other forms of artwork or other areas of performance art?
I’ve always enjoyed other forms of art. I wouldn’t say that’s it’s something I want to make a career out of, it’s just something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve used MS Paint way longer than I’ve done music. It (MS Paint) goes hand in hand with what I’m doing today (music). I’m pretty lucky that I can apply it and I make my own visuals. I don’t have to outsource someone to do that for me.
How do you keep healthy while traveling and performing?
Two or three years ago I was on tour and I was really shitty about my health. I think I just didn’t know what to do. On my rider, it was energy drinks and alcohol and it was like the worst thing. Energy drinks, at this point I don’t drink them anymore. Every night of the tour when I would drink them I would just have a terrible stomach ache afterward. So now I just have ginger ale, which helps me with my stomach, and I mix the ginger ale with whiskey and it seems to be doing pretty well. I’m trying to be vegan as much as I can and it’s been helping. I brought my videographer, Diego, on tour with me, and we both share the same interest in pressed juices and smoothies and stuff and that has been helping.
Your live Shambala set in 2019 was spectacular and has become what many of your fans expect. I want to ask you about your idea and approach to how you successfully draw the crowd into your experience during a performance. How do you balance it all to make it come to fruition?
How I’m feeling is synergistic with how the night is going and that has an effect on what I’m going to play tonight. What I’m going to play tonight is gonna be based on a handful of music that I would like to play if I had all of the time in the world. Depending upon how I’m feeling I’ll be pretty selective on what I’ll play. Another side of the story is that if I’m gonna be a supporting act I’m more inclined to read the crowd and see how the crowd reacts. But if I’m headlining I’m gonna be more inclined to play what I like because I feel that people are there to give in to the set and give in to whatever I have to offer that night.
Is there anything you’d like your fans to know?
Electro House will be great again in 2020 🙂
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, No Mana.
Check out No Mana on his “Secret Something” Tour:
“Secret Level” is available Friday, February 14, 2020 via mau5trap