The Michigan born Sydney based R&B/Soul singer Johnny Manuel got his first record deal at the age of 14 in the US. Lost In The Music sees Johnny enter a new era, defining his own artistic vision and writing and recording music that is true to a lifelong commitment to his craft. The synth layered, bass-forward single embodies the highs and lows of lovers in turmoil with Manuel’s stellar voice at its beating heart. Working with producer Michael Fatkin and writer David Ryan Harris (ZAYN, James Bay), this track displays the artist in his element – making the music that he loves, on his own terms. It is the first track in a string of new releases that he will drop across this year, signalling a massive 2021 for this much loved singer songwriter. He will be doing some live shows in June in Sydney (OAF) on the 18th and in Melbourne (The Toff) on the 25th. Hi Fi Way speaks to Johnny about the single.
Congratulations on your new single, Lost In The Music. You must be really thrilled with how that one turned out.
Oh, beyond excited. Yeah, very, very happy, and thank you.
Are you feeling optimistic now that things are starting to open up and you can get on the road to tour?
That’s exactly right. It feels like the right time, so that’s good. I’m very excited.
What’s the story behind your new single?
It actually came very organically. Just a couple months after I did The Voice, I was home in Terrigal with Michael Fatkin who produced the song, and David Ryan Harris was on Zoom. We had just set up a writing session, no idea what we were going to create, and then we just started talking through ideas. We started talking about relationships and I was actually talking about my brother’s relationship. He would kill me for telling the exact thing, but I was talking about my brother’s relationship and how he and his girlfriend had been together. They had been together for a few years and they really, really love each other, but they just couldn’t figure out how to get back to the love that they had at the beginning of their relationship. I then started thinking about how that related to my relationship with music.
I’ve been in music for years and obviously it’s my first love, but for a few years I couldn’t figure out how to get back to my original love for it. We just wanted to create a song around that and put a fun beat behind it, a sick bassline from David Ryan Harris, so grateful for him. So it was just supposed to be for people to feel like getting lost in the club and the music, but it’s really about finding your way back to the love you once had.
How much has your life changed since being on The Voice?
Yeah, a lot. I was just telling someone else earlier that now when I go out here in Australia, people recognise me. I went for a walk earlier and someone yelled out, “Oh my God, I love your voice!” People come up to me and say that they have adopted me, so I’m Australian now. It’s great.
Well, we’re happy to adopt you. I guess what will stand out for me, when you did the Earth Song in The Voice, I thought that was fantastic, and there were some really, really great moments. What stands out most for you when you look back at your time on The Voice?
Yeah, definitely the performances. I love performing with Bukhu. He’s an incredible musician. I love doing that, and just the people that I met, the other artists and the people who work as part of their production team. I’ve made real friends from working on the show, and so that’s very special. Then obviously, the fan reactions. I get so much love still on the internet from people and in the streets, like I said, just passing by, saying how much they enjoyed it and how it touched them, so I’m very grateful.
Did COVID also turn things upside down and your best laid plans went out the window?
Definitely. I’ve done a couple of TV shows before I did America’s Got Talent and I did Eurovision, and I know that once you come off the back of those things, you hit the ground running. People really, really want to interact with you face to face after that, and for us here after The Voice, we couldn’t really do that. So a lot of us just went online and tried to connect that way. Now things are slowly starting to open back up and I have a couple more shows scheduled so I’m really excited about it.
Did that also, to look at the silver lining, give you the opportunity to think about what sort of direction you wanted to take your music?
Yes, that is definitely the silver lining. Because we couldn’t go out and do things, it was time to just be at home, get creative and that’s what we did. That’s how this project came about. I have Lost In The Music that’s out now, but we have a few more things that we’re going to release throughout the year. All of that, we created during COVID so I’m grateful for that actually.
Are you building towards an album or an EP, or is it this at the moment, just take out a few singles and just see how it goes?
We started off saying we were going to put out a couple of singles, but because the music was coming so easily to us, we decided that I’m definitely going to release an EP next year.
Wow, that’s exciting.
Is the single a bit of a taster of what’s to come, or are there a few surprises in there that will probably show some sort of light and shade in terms of your music style?
Yeah, I think there’s definitely going to be some things in there that people will be shocked about, but there’s also going to be things that people know and love me for, which is just the whole big ballad, love song themes. I have a couple of those that I’m really excited about. I’m just so excited at this point because I’ve been wanting to do this for so long and just express myself to original music. Now I’m finally getting that opportunity and I hope people enjoy it.
Is that hard to keep a lid on the excitement with the number of songs you are creating?
We’re constantly working and we have more sessions scheduled. I think the way that I distract myself is to keep my head down and focus on one thing at a time, because you’re right, I tend to get really excited about what’s to come and I just want to enjoy every moment that’s going on right now because it’s a good time for me.
What are the sort of artists that you look up to for that inspiration?
It really varies. When Michael was coming over to my place, we would just turn on some music and let it play to see what we got inspired by. Things like Harry Styles and Shawn Mendes and some Dua Lipa. I love pop music. Then there was also R&B, like Giveon is somebody that I really, really love right now. H.E.R., she has so much incredible stuff. So yeah, just a little of this and a little of that really.
It’s great that you’ve got a couple of shows locked in soon. Are you planning to tour around Australia?
I would absolutely love to travel more. I want to go to The Gold Coast, I definitely want to go to Adelaide. Adelaide is actually the very first place in Australia that I ever came to you. I did the Adelaide Fringe Festival years ago. It was 2015 or 16, I think with the California Crooners Club with Hugh Sheridan. It was so much fun and I have friends in Adelaide, so I definitely want to get back there to perform.
Where to next for Johnny Manuel?
Hopefully just more of what’s going on right now and people enjoying the music. I’ve gotten a lot of amazing feedback. I want to tour and see as many people as possible and perform as much as possible, and do it for as long as possible. I just love singing.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch Johnny Manuel on the following tour dates…