Electronic music has been mainstream since the late 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that electro-pop finally became hip with the indie cognoscenti. Today, wildly popular digital sub-niches like chillwave and Balearic pop abound, rising and falling on the fast-moving tides of Internet popularity. What makes the unabashedly bright, unashamedly glitzy music of Chad Valley stand out is that it’s lovingly crafted by Oxford, England, native Hugo Manuel, who’s fronted the equally upbeat but decidedly more traditional guitar-drums-bass band Jonquil since 2006.
Manuel admits that his love of R&B, boy bands, European house and dance music was a motivation for starting Chad Valley. So for the solo project’s last album, 2012’s “Young Hunger,” Manuel combined his beautiful falsetto with a love of vintage synthesizers and samplers, entering a professional studio for the first time in his life and emerging with a danceable, sun-kissed, kaleidoscopic set of meticulously arranged pop songs. But unlike so many electro bandwagon-jumpers, Manuel is doing far more than just following trends. Folio Weekly spoke with him about remix culture, his free-for-all creative process and the next surprising direction for Chad Valley.
Folio Weekly: How did Europe treat you, Hugo?
Hugo Manuel: Really good. We had a few days off here and there, but the shows went very well. It’s really fun to travel around and meet lots of new people.
F.W.: Have you ever toured in Florida?
H.M.: I played some shows in Miami last fall, but it was raining the whole time because Hurricane Sandy was coming up the East Coast nearby. I’ve never experienced weather like that before — certainly not in England. It was crazy.
F.W.: Chad Valley’s last full-length, “Young Hunger,” came out in 2012. Do you have new material in the works?
H.M.: Yes, in between the remixes, which I’m doing a lot of, writing the next album is at the forefront of my mind. I have a lot of songs and ideas, but I’m trying to work out what I want to do. It’s more a case of knowing — once I work that out, I’ll probably get to work and finish it quickly, because I have a lot of stuff to work with. But I want to be really considerate about what I do next. It’s going to be an important decision.
F.W.: Given your long history fronting pop band Jonquil, was the point of Chad Valley always to be that measured about branching out?
H.M.: With Chad Valley, I had a specific sound in mind — I was really looking to do stuff with electronics. I had spent a long time not using them in my music, relying on acoustic instruments and playing stuff more organically. And that was really not how I wanted the last few years to go. So Chad Valley was definitely inspired by technology, and also by bands like Born Ruffians, Air France and Out. I listened to a lot of that stuff, liked it and realized, “Hey, I could do that, too.” [Laughs.]
F.W.: How does the writing process work, especially considering the fact that you’re used to being in a band?
H.M.: I do find it quite hard to sit and work on the same thing, because I can endlessly pore over my music and think about where it can go. I have to say in my head, “OK, I’m going to write a song that’s got an idea like this.” That can start with a drumbeat, or a digital riff, or any idea, really. It’s a bit of a free-for-fall.
F.W.: You’ve become a well-known and in-demand remix artist. How do you approach a reworking of someone else’s song?
H.M.: If possible, I’ll scrap the traditional song or completely tweak it and build a new one from scratch. It’s a challenge just to write a song, so re-imagining or changing the order of one can be even harder. I hate remixes, though, where they take a section of the record and just do something similar over it. The last thing on my mind is making it impeccable like that.
F.W.: On “Young Hunger,” you worked with heaps of famous electro artists: Twin Shadow, El Perro Del Mar, Active Child, Harry’s Gym. Did you enjoy that kind of collaborative back-and-forth?
H.M.: I loved it — it was a really exciting and inspiring experience for me to see how other people work. Those are all people I respect musically, and to do the album with them was such a rush.
F.W.: Do you think you’ll duplicate that on future Chad Valley work?
H.M.: I could see myself doing it again, but I also want to reach my own highest creative aspirations. So I feel like the next album will probably be just me. I might even use more instruments on the new material — somehow go back to exploring drums, bass and guitar.