The Oxford-based crafter of sad synth pop and his collaborators, including Active Child and El Perro Del Mar, share some insights on the making of his debut album.
Hugo Manuel/Chad Valley: “Here are a few little thoughts from some of the guests on my record ‘Young Hunger’. Every experience was very different with recording these vocals – from the very distant, cross-continental like with Pat (Active Child), to the intimate with Anne Lise (of Harrys Gym). It was always in my mind to create an album like this, with guests on loads of tracks. I like the collaborative element of it, which is something I had to push myself to do as I am naturally very introverted I think, and I generally like to work alone. The whole experience of making this album involved pushing myself to do things I wasn’t so comfortable with, and luckily I had people around me to encourage me in those directions, otherwise I think I would have disappeared very far up my own backside.”
Jack Goldstein “It was so kind of Hugo to ask me to be part of his record, I felt so flattered. I had been good friends with Hugo’s girlfriend since we were kids and I think it was around about the time I began making music with my band, Fixers, that I took an interest in what Hugo was doing too. We had never met, he had just begun to do Chad Valley and I caught him supporting Real Estate at a small venue in Oxford. We met shortly afterwards and became friends. When we came to record the track together, I went to a small studio in Oxford where Hugo was recording parts in one room whilst an engineer mixed actual album tracks in the other; it was very cool.”
Hugo: “This song to me was the perfect fit for Jack – he and I share a love of sugary sweet pop music that most of my friends really don’t get, and this song My Girl was all about me trying to go as pop as I could. Jack popped down the the studio in the outskirts of Oxford where I was mixing the album and it was all rather rushed – as Jack says, Jonathan Shakhovskoy was mixing another song at the same time as me and Jack recorded the vocals for My Girl in the other room, and within an hour or two it was all done. No faffing around… that’s how I like it.”
Sarah Assbring / El Perro Del Mar: “I remember Hugo getting in touch with me over a year ago asking if we’d co-write something together. He sent me some of his influences for his album and I remember one of them was a New Edition track that really hit me. I have such a weak spot for that 80’s R&B boy band thing. Much later Hugo sent me the song Evening Surrender and I was so happy to hear the influence was there.
“I struggled a bit with the recording as I was having a stubborn cold and my voice was really strained. I recorded the vocal in my closet.”
Hugo: “For me, getting Sarah on this album was a very special moment. Me and my managers got in touch with a lot of people to see if they were interested in singing, as I had a few songs which needed female voices on them, and Sarah was top of that list in a kind of in-my-dreams kinda way. So it was a pretty special moment when Sarah emailed me her parts over and I listened to it for the first time.”
Anne Lise Frøkedal: “When Hugo asked if I wanted to sing on his song he’d already done a remix of my band Harrys Gym, and I felt pretty sure we could do something good together. We decided to meet up in my studio room in Oslo when he was coming over to play the Øya Festival. The track arrived fairly late, I got it just one day prior to our studio session, and it still had no vocals on it. Nevertheless, in his email Hugo wrote that we’d probably need less than two hours to record. I guess I thought he was a proper time optimist – or that he was trying to keep me on my toes. Even though I’d liked the track immediately, it was quite strange being just the two of us in a room recording my voice, as we didn’t know each other very well and I am more used to working on my own projects. But I think the strangeness in a good way contributed to bring out the fragile qualities in the vocals. And the time? A little less than two hours flew by, and it was all done. Almost like it didn’t happen, but we were left with this nice little musical memory even so.”
Hugo: “Fathering Mothering was the very first thing I did for this album and Anne Lise was the first guest vocalist that I had gotten involved, so it was kind of like an experiment to see if it would work, and I was terribly unprepared, writing the lyrics on the plane over to Oslo, and still unsure about all the parts as I went to the studio to meet Anne Lise and as she said it was a surreal experience, but one that I got very used to in the process of making the album.”
Pat Grossi/Active Child: First off, I was truly flattered that Hugo had invited me to be a part of his album. Initially we were going to just record the vocals backstage at my show in London, but due to a lack of a backstage at St Giles, I waited until I got home to LA to record my section. I sat back, soaked in the track, which was right up my alley – lush, romantic, synth bliss – and I threw down my vocals pretty quick. Working on the track took me back to last year’s tour with Chad Valley, which turned out to be one of the greatest US tours I’ve ever done. As it was Hugo’s first time touring the US, we showed him the ropes so to speak by introducing him to nearly every fast food chain this great country has to offer. Nothing quite like a Big Mac to grease those vocal chords.
Hugo: That tour with Active Child was one of the best things I have done as Chad Valley – the guys were very kind to me and I think they got a kick out of introducing the the American touring life which, yes included a lot of fast food and some pretty amazing shows with the guys. I wrote this song completely with Pat in mind, and very soon after coming back from that tour, so I think the influence of Active Child is very present in this, so it was very fitting to get Pat to sing that verse.