20 May Interview: The Manor are a British music collective like no other
South London trio ‘The Manor’ provide us with a fly on the wall insight into the life of a ‘geezer’ with their music. Their work paints a picture of party holidays, weekend benders and waking up for work on Monday morning wishing it was Friday again.
Since releasing mixtape Welcome To The Manor in 2011, their cult following has never stopped growing and no longer do MC’s Johnny Dutch, Scotty Stacks and Danny Graft perform in random pubs and clubs to 50 friends. They have sold-out shows in the likes of The Brixton Academy, played to 20,000 people at Leeds Festival and inciting a 1000 man march during their encore at ‘KOKO’, causing the Police to shut down Camden high-street. They’ve also graced a host of top festivals, including a lively set at Wireless a few years back.
The group pride themselves on being relatable and this is partly why they’ve been able to build up such a loyal following. They have chosen not to glamorise a life they do not live but to instead celebrate the reality of everyday life of three young British men.
But they don’t look a life with rose-tinted glasses, as their 2019 release ‘Free The Geezer’ delves into some of the negatives of life, once again giving listeners another reason to relate to the group so much. This 7 track record combines quality production with genius storytelling and coincided with the ‘Free The Geezer’ Podcast, where the boys tackled the pressures of male stereotypes, gave advice to fans and discussed heavy subjects like addiction and gambling.
Plugsville spoke to Johnny Dutch of ‘The Manor’ to discuss how the trio started, the pros and cons of being signed and what’s to come from the South London Collective.
Where did the name Johnny Dutch come from?
When we were coming up with the names, Scotty Stacks made sense because Scott’s always been a bit entrepreneurial and always been a bit of a hustler but Danny Graft and Johnny Dutch made no sense because Danny Graft was unemployed and he had no intention of working and I was on a self-imposed weed ban so I don’t know why I was calling my self Johnny Dutch. But then it started to make sense, for example, I was a big Dennis Bergkamp fan. I kind of grew into the name but when I first come up with it I don’t know why we gave ourselves those names but it just worked. It was just a random night getting pissed, I think it was the same night we came up with the name ‘The Manor’.
How did you come together as a group?
Me and Dan have known each other since we were kids, since about 10 and we went to the same schools and colleges as Scott. We were in a Grime collective together back when we were 16/17.
What was the name of the grime collective?
It was called Realistic Sounds, but you won’t find any evidence of it online ha-ha, we did sets and recorded tunes and whatnot, then drifted apart. Me and Dan went to uni, came out of uni and felt a bit, I don’t know, disillusioned, with the working world and also knew we didn’t wanna grow up at the time. One day I was supposed to be at Wireless, lost my ticket before I got up there and I ended coming back to Dan’s and chilling, I think we must have started drinking. Scott was in the area, he was always about at that time and he passed through with a CD full of instrumentals his cousin Drifta had made, who made some tracks on our first mix-tape and we just randomly wrote a song one night, I don’t know what caused it, we hadn’t written together or made any music together for about four or five years, it come out alright, it had a good response on Facebook and we sort of went from there.
What was that first song you guys made together as ‘The Manor’?
The first song we made was about fancying your best friends girl ha-ha, and it’s mad how life has sort of panned out since that song cause it happened quite a lot, not with us but we’ve seen that happen a lot. It’s mad, I don’t know why I don’t know which one of us fancied one of our girls on that day but yeah that was the concept. That was toward the end of that summer, then we just worked and worked and worked, started getting a bit more of a reputation for our music. Thing is we’ve always thrown parties, Dan and me, in particular, had always thrown parties or been at parties, jumped on the mic at parties, that was our thing, we were known for being quite sociable and being about, so we started incorporating that in our new songs, and throwing our own events, then about a year later we dropped out the first project, which got a decent reception.
How do you class yourselves -- as a group, collective, band, sound-system?
Its hard, Scotty doesn’t like the term collective, but I suppose we are more of a collective these days cause we all do different stuff. We’ve started doing a lot more on the production side of things, but we’ve always gone off and started songs on our own then bought them back to HQ and finished them together so we all bring different things. I would say the closest way to classify ourselves would be a collective but I don’t know if that sums it up, its weird, we’re just The Manor, init. Thing is there’s three of us but there has always been so many people around us that have been involved.
How do you describe your sound?
It’s relatable, British and it’s fun. We’ve always tried to be very relatable, very topical, its like reality TV in music, we try and tell things as we see it, we don’t dress it up or glamorise it or play it down. It originally started as us recounting stories from our area, things we’ve seen, phrases that we hear and trying to shine a light on our local area and what happens in it, it was based around having fun or seeing a lighter side of it. We used to write songs about going to work on a Monday, relatable stuff that everyone was doing. At the time there was a lot of people talking about things they didn’t have, glamorising their life to more than what it was, we were never like that, we’ve always told it like it is.
What are some of the positive and negatives of being independent?
Well, we’re not independent at the moment, but if you are an independent artist and you’re making any sort of money, make sure if anyone offers you a deal, it has to be an enormous offer for you to hand over your streaming revenue and whatever else to these people, cause right now if you can afford to invest in your self, its a very good time to keep hold of your streaming revenue, merchandise and your money from live shows… at least before corona!. Right now is the time to be an independent artist. The benefits to being label artists are the budgets, if you have a good label as we do at the moment, we’re with Virgin, you can go to the label with an idea and they will fund it. Obviously, you pay for that in the long term, but in terms of you being able to deliver music consistently, you need cash flow for that. Lucky for us we’ve always had a cult following which has just grown and grown and grown, they’ve supported us and been the lifeblood of The Manor and so if we do get out of this deal we’ll be fine cause we’ve got a good cult following that supports us and wanna come and see us perform. To anyone getting into the industry I would say do not sign a deal until you’ve built a cult following, then decide if you wanna sign a deal which you might not want to.
What’s the reception been like to your ‘Free The Geezer’ EP?
Sick reception, I think it was about time after speaking bout one side of life for so long, which was the partying, drinking and drug-taking. It was important to address the consequences that come with that and take a more responsible stance on that, we were all going through our individual problems at the time and it felt like the right time to start addressing these things, also we were doing the Free The Geezer podcast, interacting with our fans on what they’ve been going through as well and sharing. A lot of people talk about mental health at the moment and it is very important especially right now during lockdown, but as well as talk about it you’ve got to do something about it. So we talked about it in the music and interacted with fans, who a lot of them are just like us, young males who may have certain issues with life in any capacity, and it helped, the podcast did very well, nothing but positive feedback about it and I think we’ll be getting back to that at some point.
The name ‘Free The Geezer’, where did it come from?
Scotty was in Goa on holiday and he kept putting up stories of him getting pedicures and manicures, so Dan started responding to him with the hashtag “Free The Geezer”, which opened up the conversation, is there anything wrong with him getting manicures and pedicures? It helped open the forum for debate about what can men get away with. What do men do secretly behind closed doors that they’re a little ashamed to admit to? So it opened that convo which led to the podcast and the EP.
What were the highlights from your sold-out show at KOKO?
The highlight for me was doing the march in the street after the show and getting the police to shut down Camden high-street, that made national papers, that was a big moment. That’s where we kind of made our name in terms of, “The Manor can sell out KOKO then actually put on a mad show, a lot of people at KOKO said, “this was the night of the year, I’ve never heard of you lot before but you lot turned it upside down”. So it was important to start the reputation from then of being mad party animals. That was the highlight for me, the massive march during the Encore.
‘Ibiza’ was a big single – How did it come to be?
We made the original to ‘Ibiza’ about seven years ago, this is before I’d even been Ibiza, although Dan had been. It became one of the biggest songs in our set and on our mixtape I think. Then maybe five years later, we sat down and said ‘let’s write a better version of it now we’ve all been Ibiza bare times and done madness’s out there. Let’s write an updated version of the song’ and that’s how. We were in the studio with Michael Angelo, I think it was the summertime, just before we were gonna go Ibiza again, I think it was 2017.
So the whole song was different?
Yeah, the only thing that was the same was Scotty kept the same flow on the first half of his verse so there was a bit of familiarity for anyone who had heard it but it was a completely different song other than that.
How did Splurgeboys collaboration come about for ‘Swazz’?
Splurge are good friends of ours, they are from around our area, we know Snowy Danger really well who’s part of that firm, so we’ve been working with them for a while. Splurge Boy T who produced it works with everyone, but he also makes loads of random stuff so when we started our session he said: “I’ve got this track I started years ago and don’t have anyone who it’s for, but you man are perfect, it’s really unique and will suit your sound”. It comes from there and was a very organic process after that and very quick from start to finish. We also had it for a while before releasing it, we were waiting for the right idea and time to release it cause we really had to bring that song to life with the video.
Your latest release is ‘Young Sinatra’, how did it come together?
Christmas the year before last, Scotty put out a mad 64 bar freestyle at our big headline show, on an instrumental by Michael Angelo, the same guy who produced ‘Ibiza’. The freestyle went slightly viral and the fans kept asking us to do a ‘Manor version’ of it and turn it into a song, the fans sort of A&R’d that one, then me and Dan sat down with it around Christmas to get our bars finished for it and then we put it out.
You performed a big set Wireless in 2016, but what’s been your favourite live show?
Opening Leeds festival at the Relentless stage the year before last. We had just come back from Ibiza I think so we were all hanging, we spent loads of time in Ibiza 2018, and it was the World Cup so we were out drinking every single day and we didn’t even remember this show was happening. So we had a call that a car was coming to get us and take us up to Leeds, I think Dan was still half asleep, we had done Leeds before and knew it wasn’t the main stage so we didn’t think there would be many people there, we thought we could just go and have a laugh. On the way up there we get a call from our friend at relentless and he said, “you know there’s like 15,000, 20,000 people here?”, we were like “What?!?”, these times we hadn’t even put a set together, so we were in the car on the way saying “We’re gonna have to sort out a set here and put a show on”. Dan was still half asleep, I was drunk, it was a shambles, but we got up there and the vibe was unreal, we somehow got a set done. The crowd went back so far you couldn’t see the end of it, it was night time, it was freezing and it was the most mental show we had ever done.
What can people expect next from the Manor?
No one knows were gonna be dropping an Indie song in mid-May based around the vibe in Britain right now during lockdown, which we’ve played a couple of times on our live shows but we are gonna have a proper release. Before that, I’ve got a very Ibiza-y song that I personally did with a house producer called Chainy, a good friend of mine. I’ve got a really deep house-y record coming out a week before that, and ye… we keep promising people this album, hopefully, by the end of this year we can give people a full project, we’ve got enough music to do so now, but we’re waiting for the right moment.
Finally, where do you want to be in the next five years?
I want to sell out the O2, we’ve sold out Brixton once and three Brixton shows is an O2 show so we’re a third of the way there. I want to have a top-five album, that’s important to me, more so than a number one single, I want a classic project. I want to have my own label, whether it be a Manor or Lad Boat label, where we start looking after other artists and managing the fates and development of other musicians as I feel we’ve got a lot of knowledge to share, and I want an eight-bedroom house somewhere in deep Surrey ha-ha… you’ve got to be ambitious.