Portishead, Painting and Penned: My interview with Bird Mask

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 By: Harrison Giza

With mixes of chamber pop, electronic static, and pop-rocked-bliss, Bird Mask manages to make each track evolve before your ears. Manuel Gagneux is the man behind it all, which just boggles my mind completely. His lyrics are monumentally personal, but with enough mystery to keep you coming back and listening for songwriter clues. “Penned,” the last of Bird Mask’s June releases, is like a twisted nursery rhyme drizzled with enough genre-bends to make Les Claypool crack a smile.
I have yet to find a sub-par song from Bird Mask. All are early Zimmerman quality. “Hunters” leaps out with hearty-clapping, wailing vocals, and an opening reminiscent of Princess Mononoke. The entire “CLAWS” album is great (probably my favorite of Gagneux’s works) because it refrains from staying grounded in the ideals of it’s pop music predecessors. Songs like “Onomatopeople” and “Little Off Key” beat anything I’ve heard on the radio this summer.

I got to talk with Manuel earlier this week, picking his brain for influences, cherished chords, and what Bird Mask eats for breakfast. It was pretty good, but maybe it needed a little more DUCK.
HG: Where did “I’m Fine (and other lies)” come from?
MG: That song came from me feeling mopey on a gorgeous day. I didn’t want to be overtly mopey, so I decided to
have pair sad lyrics with a euphoric musical vibe.

HG: Describe your perfect breakfast.

MG: My perfect breakfast begins, ends and mainly consists of coffee. There would be a table meticulously set with
succulent fruit, golden brown pancakes, different kinds of bread and cheeses. A decadent heap of delicious food
behind which I would sip three cups of coffee.
HG: How do you feel about popular music today? What do you think about the radio?
BM: I think popular music today comes mainly in two varieties. They are either cathartic or euphoric.
In a market where everyone is trying to get your attention on an emotional level it makes perfect sense.
No one will remember that song that made you feel “kind of alright” as much as the one that made you
squeal with glee or even cry. It’s an odd, binary landscape that ironically becomes homogenic on the radio.
Even though it’s jumping from emotional breakdown to anthem of joy, the transition of the two is often barely noticeable.
HG: Who are your favorite artists? Who has influenced you the most?
BM: I grew up listening to a lot of metal and experimental artists.
I try to be open to as many kinds of music as possible.
Currently I’m listening to a lot of Satie, Stravinsky and a band called “Hot Head Show”.
The last opened for Les Claypool and I just happened to see them. I loved them ever since.
I think what influenced me most is Portishead, Tom Waits, Björk and the Bird and the Bee.
Not strictly in a stylistic way, but they all have a playful way of approaching music that really is enchanting.
HG: What is your favorite chord? Favorite lyric?
BM: This is may sound pretentious, but my favorite chord depends on the chord preceding it. A chord alone is boring. A series of
chords is a story. That ended up sounding like I’m completely full of myself.
Maybe this doesn’t count as a lyric, but Sepultura opened a concert saying: “Greetings from the third world! 1,2,3,4!”
That’s pretty super-duper.
HG: “Penned” is just fantastic. When did you write that?
BM: I wrote “Penned” on a rooftop thinking of my friends in Europe. I wanted to incorporate an odd time signature without people
really noticing. I may or may not have succeeded.
HG: What is one song you will never grow tired of?
There is a song called “A ton etoile” by a band called Noir Desir. They teamed up with Yann Tiersen and made a semi chamber orchestral,
semi folk version of it that I can simply not hear often enough. It’s in French, but I think even not understanding the lyrics it will strike a chord with most anyone.
HG: Where does your album art come from?
I draw the album art myself. The girl on the cover (yes it’s a girl) is called Sabrina.
HG: What can fans expect from seeing you live?
Since I perform alone I think my live shows are very personal and somewhat intimate. Because I have terrible
stagefright I drink ungodly amounts of coffee and yerba mate and end up confident, but very emotional on stage.
The songs stay very close to the recordings thanks to looping and computer trickery, but since I had a chance
to get more acquainted with the songs the vocal component is more emotional live.
HG: What. is. next?
I’m currently working on a new album with more out of left field elements, but a familiar vibe. Also I’m working on a truly disgusting video that will be out very soon. And there’s a collaboration I’m very excited about in the works.
If you want more music CLICK HERE: http://birdmask.bandcamp.com/
If you want more information on Bird Mask CLICK HERE: http://www.bird-mask.com/
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