Music interview - Paul Draper on his solo album: ‘It’s more a cathartic process about healing the wounds of being in a band’

Paul Draper. Picture: Tom Sheehan
Paul Draper. Picture: Tom Sheehan
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More than a decade on from the demise of his old band Mansun, singer Paul Draper has finally returned to the fray.

Spooky Action, his debut solo album, is out now – and he’s accompanying its release with instore sessions at independent record shops across the country followed by a string of live dates at intimate venues.

Having spent ten years writing and producing for others as well as running a studio in west London, the 46-year-old admits this record was something he “never, ever thought” he would do.

“It wasn’t shelved for a future release, it was shelved indefinitely, really, because I came out of Mansun and I started doing a lot of studio work, a lot of production work, a lot of writing work, I was just stuck in that world for a long time.”

It was the success of a collaboration with the Welsh singer-songwriter Catherine Anne Davies – aka The Anchoress – in 2015 that prompted him to consider fronting a project of his own.

“I did some interviews and a duet with the artist herself and that’s when the record company offers came in. To be honest I had so many songs and demos stored up from so many years ago it wasn’t too hard a decision to make. I just dug them out, we booked a studio, we got a band together and we enjoyed playing it so it evolved into an EP originally, but it went to Number One in the vinyl chart then we thought we’d put a tour on, including Leeds, and the whole thing sold out. The obvious next logical step is an album.

From the outside people look at being in a band as this amazing bubble of travelling around but do you know what, you become desensitized to everything, in the end everyone’s sick of each other and there was a lot of hurt left after Mansun.

Paul Draper

“Nothing’s gone wrong yet so I’m just waiting for something to happen.”

Backtracking to the end of his former band during the recording of their fourth album in 2003, Draper says: “I think we were all burned out. I think the other guys sacked me after the third album but they forgot to tell me and then tried to trick me into doing a fourth album with them but I walked on it.

“Like all these things, they say musical differences but translated into English that means money. Probably money, general hatred of each other and completely burned out I would say is a rather broad representation without getting into the legalities.”

Such was Mansun’s cult status – their first album Attack of the Grey Lantern had reached Number One in the latter days of Britpop – their unfinished fourth album, Kleptomania, was eventually released. It seems that same following has stayed loyal to Draper, with a significant buzz on social media accompanying announcements of his solo recordings.

The singer says making Spooky Action had been “more a cathartic process about healing the wounds of being in a band”. “From the outside people look at being in a band as this amazing bubble of travelling around but do you know what, you become desensitized to everything, in the end everyone’s sick of each other and there was a lot of hurt left after Mansun. And there’s no better therapy than writing it all down, I think.

“I didn’t think long and hard about the lyrics of this album, a lot of them were just the feelings and thoughts I had whereas a couple of the Mansun albums were quite detailed, conceptual, quite odd things. This was just so different.”

Draper has said the songs began “quite vengeful” yet ended in a happy place. Today he explains: “To start with I was just writing about things that happened to me in the band and my general unhappiness of how everything ended but I think the physical process of making the album the past just sinks further away then in the end you’re working in the now. It genuinely was a cathartic process. I think it probably will be for me for quite a bit going forward; I think the gigs will be as well.”

He sounds genuinely grateful for fans’ interest, crediting them with helping to keep Mansun’s legacy alive. “When Facebook came out people started drawing together again and Mansun’s got a big listenership on streaming services – I think it’s 50,000 a month on all the different streaming services, there’s a lot of access to the band. It just sort of grew with time. Then fans decided they wanted to put on a convention. To start with I didn’t know what to think about it but now I’m totally positive about it. It was a lot of people’s favourite band, when they do these things people get nothing but enjoyment from it all and they did a petition for me to do a solo album. I don’t think I quite had it in me at the time but at one of the conventions I gave them one of my solo tracks to play then it snowballed from there. NME reported on it then the record companies started turning up. Now I’m back in it.”

Now Draper is able to look back on the last 14 years as a natural progression. “It’s not the arc that I would have chosen to be honest, to be the frontman of I suppose a major British rock band at the end of the 90s then to go into production and writing and to never think you’d come back then to have the level of interest in coming back so many years later, it’s not the usual journey that people take, but it’s a journey I’m coming to accept.”

Paul Draper plays at Brudenell Social Club on Thursday September 14. http://pauldraperofficial.com/

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