A songwriter based out of the midlands, S. T. Manville found plenty of success as a writer of pop songs, penning tunes for artists like Burna Boy, Mabel and Mø. A few years ago, burnt out and processing the end of his ten year marriage, he decided to take some time out from that world, before in 2019 returning to making music under his own name for the first time. At the end of last month, he shared his latest offering, in the shape of a six-track EP, How To Belong.
Discussing the inspiration behind How To Belong, S. T. Manville has spoken of it as a record about the idea of home, how it means different things to different people, and how, “it became amplified in importance once he felt he no longer belonged anywhere”. The record seems to exist in an in-between place, trapped between memories of the past and a desire to get on with whatever future life is waiting around the bend. Musically, How To Belong is in the classic bedroom-folk oeuvre, bringing the likes of early Bon Iver or Sufjan Stevens to mind with its layered string instruments, minimal percussion and hushed, heartbroken vocals. Perhaps the record’s finest moment comes just as the record is reaching an end, Best I Can Do is a gorgeously honest reflection on the struggles of being a parent in the midst of a relationship breakdown, “I can do this alone if I really have to, I’m doing the best I can do, but I’d rather I was doing this with you, I’m doing the best I can do, oh I’m doing my best without you”. Music can come from many places within a person, yet somehow when it comes from them looking inside and putting their life onto the tape it always seems to resonate more, S. T. Manville is making records from the heart and they are records that shine as a result.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is S. T. Manville?
I’m a singer-songwriter from the Midlands. I used to play in punk bands, then I wrote pop music for other people and now I make soppy emo-dad / alt-folk songs on the boat where I live with my daughter.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
The first time I played in front of anyone was at my year 6 leavers assembly when I was 11. I was shitting myself. The room was full of students, teachers and parents. I played a really dreary, out of tune rendition of ‘Cast No Shadow’ by Oasis and the mic stand broke half way through. It tilted backwards so the mic was pointing at the ceiling, being the consummate professional that I am, I kinda got on my tip-toes and tried to sing into it at a weird angle. To be honest I think the audience were relieved that my voice wasn’t being amplified anymore.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I was talking about this the other day. I’ve always been fascinated with the emotional capacity music has. Even without lyrics or context, just a certain formula of notes and rhythm can force a very real emotive response. I think in general the art that appeals to me most is stuff that captures emotion, I love the idea of documenting a feeling. I’ve been writing songs for a long time and for me it’s a process that helps me intensely contemplate something, whether that’s a personal experience or a wider touching concept. You have to really think about the subject and then fit it into some kind of structure. I rarely reach a conclusion but it does help me order my thoughts and at the end of the process I feel like I can leave the subject alone, for a while anyway…
I write outside of music too, a lot of poetry (mainly nonsense poetry) and short stories. I’ve also been working on a documentary series that has been released in episodes over the last few months and ties into my latest musical releases. It’s about the concept of ‘Home’, how we all have a very different experience and varying definitions of what home actually is.
FTR: What can people expect from the S. T. Manville live show?
A guy sat on a stool singing and playing acoustic guitar, telling bad jokes in-between songs. I like to try and make it a pretty open forum to talk about the topics around the songs and encourage people to share opinions etc. Sometimes it works great and you end up with a really fun and interesting dialogue, sometimes it goes terribly and everyone just sits there staring at me blankly as I embarrass myself. I really like intimacy at shows, I actually try and play open-mic nights as often as I can for this reason. I love playing live, always have, apart from when it’s bad, then I hate it.
FTR: What’s next for S. T. Manville?
Well I just released an EP and finished a UK tour. There are still forthcoming episodes of the documentary I mentioned earlier that will be released over the next few months, the episodes also include live performances of the songs on the new EP. I’ve got a book of nonsense poetry being released at the start of next year with accompanying audio and video stuff which is really exciting. Then I’m on tour again in March/April with the mega talented ‘elkyn’. Beyond that I’m not sure, I’ve started formulating what I want to do with the next record and I’m always coming up with stupid projects to keep myself busy with so we’ll see.
They Listen To…
Dan Wriggins – Dent
Tré Burt – Sweet Misery
Oklou – Fall
Beezewax – Play It Safe
D.C.R. Pollock – Rat’s Nest
How To Belong is out now. For more information on S. T. Manville visit https://www.s-t-manville.com/.