An informal chat with worlwide acclaimed drummer Manu Delago
He’s one of the most acclaimed drummers/percussionists in the world, he has played with Bjork and is probably the most brilliant hang player around. Austria-born Manu Delago spends several months of his life in UK and travelling all around the world. On February 12 he joined Zara McFarlane during her concert at the XOYO in London where he performed a couple of live pieces on the hang that left the audience speechless. On April 16 he will be back in London to play an execptional one off festival at the Brunel Tunnel in Rotherhithe, an evening that is not to be missed (TICKETS FOR THE EXCLUSIVE EVENT CAN BE PURCHASED HERE >> ). I met Manu for a coffee in Rotherhithe and we had an interesting conversation about his career and what’s it like to play the hang.
Q: Why did you choose to play the hang?
A: I’ve always been a drummer and a musician, I play the accordion and the piano and when I saw the hang for the first I thought just I’d like to sound that instrument because it actually combines… you get the melodic harmony and the percussion element. I loved the sound and having a new instrument also opened up a lot of doors, just thought there was an opportunity also, to explore a new instrument.
Q: They say it’s very difficult to play as an instrument, is it true?
A: It’s hard to tell, I mean, you don’t have to tune a note when you play it, like a wind instrument where you have to learn a lot of technique, but with the hang if you tap on it you get a nice sound coming out of it, but it takes more time to really get to know which sound is gonna come out of where. So yes and no, it’s not a difficult instrument to play to get a nice sound, but it takes a lot of time to get to know it well.
Q: They say it’s also rare to find, is it true?
A: Yeah, it’s a very small company that builds the hang in Switzerland.
Q: You also collaborated with Bjork, how was working with her? Did you go on tour with her or walk on her album?
A: Both, first I recorded a track for her recent album Biophilia, back in 2010. And in her band I played electronic drums, but also some percussions and two songs on the hang. Working with her was great, I’ve always been a fan, it was great to work close with her, she’s very inspiring as an artist, as a person, but everyone in the show was amazing.
Q: You’re playing at the Brunel Tunnel this April. Any particular reason why you chose that location?
A: I’ve played there a few times before, and it’s an amazing space, already going inside you have to climb through a really tiny door and climb scaffolding stairs. I think the whole experience entering the venue and the sound is gonna be great too
Q: Is it for acoustic reasons too?
A: Yeah, we were playing acoustic as we don’t have amplification down there, there’s quite a reverb down there.
Q: How do you compose your music?
A: It can be anything. Sometimes it starts on the hang, sometimes it starts on the piano, sometimes I start on the iPad… there’s so many amazing apps now that you can create cool sounds. I don’t always want to start from the same place so I usually end up with a lot of variety.
Q: Where do you take your inspiration from?
A: I think you get inspiration from the things that you experience. In my case I experience a lot of travelling, different countries and places, I listen to a lot of music, extreme kinds of music, extreme differences, I listen to free jazz and then the next day go to contemporary classical to a clubbing or electronic music, and the sometimes I go out and take up a pop mainstream thing, I really like going to the extremes and find a creative language somewhere, rather than going just in one direction only.
Q: So you said that you play other instruments in addition to the hang…
A: Yes, I play the drums, I play 50% the hang and 50% other stuff, which means I play drums or the piano sometimes.
Q: Did you learn by yourself or did you study music?
A: I did study, yeah, for a long time.
Q: Any particular instrument that you prefer?
A: Not really, again, I like variety, the percussion family is a huge thing, I also use daily-life items on stage sometimes, I’ve written a piece with tooth brushes, I’ve written a piece with pencil drawing, so these items are all part of the percussion family in some sort of way.
Q: You recently released a new album, are you touring with that album and what’s next?
A: “Bigger Than Home” was released in April 2013, and we’ve done about 50 shows most of them in continental Europe and this was my main thing in 2013, now I’ve already started working on new material. The London show is a one off festival, where I just bring together different musicians, and they will be playing with each other. There will be some new material but also old material.
Q: What would you say to someone who wants to start playing the hang?
A: It’s extremely hard to get hold of the instrument, and that’s what a lot of people are struggling with. It’s not really the money, it’s more the availability, it’s only two people who make them, but the best thing is for people who are looking to get hold of it they can visit hangblog.org. It’s extremely complicated, but you can try to get it second hand or even more likely to get an imitation. There are about 10 companies in the world, in Russia, Spain, America, Switzerland, Germany and I don’t know where else. They make something really similar to the original hang. It’s so young as an instrument, it was only made in 2000, so it’s really early days, and there’s still a lot of development going on.