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Introducing: Manor

Vocalist Caitlin Duff discusses the Melbourne duo’s unique creative process and their “showcase” debut EP.

Vocalist Caitlin Duff discusses the Melbourne duo's unique creative process and their "showcase" debut EP.

Melbourne duo Manor — comprising of vocalist Caitlin Duff and producer Nathaniel Morse — have been recording together since 2011. In that time, however, they’ve released just a handful of intermittent, one-off singles, teasing their quickly-expanding international fanbase with the sporadic schedule.

“Early on we made a decision that we wanted to create really considered, cohesive songs”, Duff explains of their limited output, adding that their long-awaited self-titled debut EP was collated together from numerous sessions and experiments in their newly-established home studio.

Duff says the three track EP (exclusively available to stream in full below) primarily serves as a “showcase”, covering the complete spectrum of the duo’s sound. “Can You Hear Me Talking At You” is an alluring ballad, rife with contradictory displays of minimalism and disguised production details, with Duff’s haunting vocals defining the direction throughout. “Grand Mal” takes a far more forceful route, riding along the gritty border of early ’90s tapedeck, boom-bap and equally frayed guitar fuzz. The clattering, free-form production giving even further weight to the despairing vocal delivery. While closer “They’ve Come Into My Home” is the optimistic counter-point to all before it. A euphoric pop jam, with Duff’s airy flow adapted to a slightly more joyful tone, yet still maintaining its captivating poignancy.

We recently spoke to Duff about Manor’s formation, their unique creative approach and future plans beyond the EP.

How did Manor start?
Nathaniel and I started writing together in 2012 when we were playing in other bands and regularly touring Australia. Writing songs for Manor was liberating for us artistically because we could sit down with each sound, idea or phrase and decide if we really intended for it to be there or if it distracted from the song in any way. Up until that point we had been writing in a live room (jamming until something sticks and then forming the structure of the song from there). From that initial batch of songs we released a few singles and were encouraged to start playing them live.

You’ve previously indicated a lot of the creative work of Manor takes place in the apartment you two share. How does this, effectively living in your studio, affect the creative process?
Early on we made a decision that we wanted to create really considered, cohesive songs. If you don’t have your own space to write in, it can cost endless amounts of money to hire one which adds to the pressure of trying to write. For us the answer was simple: build our own studio, fill it with gear that compliments our ideas and spend as much time as we can working on and developing our music. It’s the easiest thing in the world now, to come up with an idea and be able to record it in a professional studio without leaving home. The downside is that there are leads, synths and guitars scattered everywhere which really messes with my minimalist aesthetic.

You guys have been slowly dripped out songs since 2011. Is this release process a purposeful tease or are you just very particular about what you put out there?
After our earlier releases we realised that people were actually listening, which is frightening and inspiring at the same time. We took a beat, went back to the drawing board and decided to concentrate on writing music without the distractions of playing live every week or trying to keep up on social media. At the end of the day, the quality of music is what matters to us most. Now we have a handful of cards to play and we’re excited to see what people think.

Your latest single, “They’ve Come Into My Home” lands considerably more on the side of ‘uptempo pop’ than the previously released singles off the EP — “Can You Hear Me Talking At You” and “Grand Mal” — is this more of an indication of the direction you’re now heading?
During our self-imposed hibernation/developmental phase we wrote numerous songs and experimented with ideas whilst we constructed the studio around us. This EP is a showcase, if you like, of some of the directions we took. They’re stand-alone tracks that hint at a larger picture of what the Manor “sound” is and will be. There was a deliberate order to our releases too. The more experimental “Grand Mal” was anchored between it’s pop counterparts and “Can You Hear Me Talking At You” was an exercise in re-connecting with our existing audience. “They’ve Come Into My Home” has a drive and momentum that we’d love to carry through to our impending LP.

Given that a lot of your sound is embedded in a haunting quality, how difficult is this to translate live?
It would be quite ambitious for us to attempt to play these songs live exactly as they’ve been recorded. We’re currently working through them with our live band and there isn’t four of me singing, a horn section or even a percussionist to replicate all of the sounds from the recordings but we have a great drummer and bass player joining us, and Nathaniel is on guitar so it’s a different vibe. It’s quite a bit rockier, actually.

What are the plans after the EP?
We’re nearly ready to start playing shows, so that has been the focus for a few months now. We have some more bits and pieces to release before we start mixing our debut LP, but mostly we’ll keep writing as much as possible, that’s the fun part.