Johnny Manuel In Conversation With FAULT Magazine

Words: Miles Holder

Johnny Manuel’s vocal talents have impressed audiences across the globe and while covering some of the toughest songs ever written first impressed the masses – it’s his new EP ‘Younger Skin’ that has everybody so excited.

With a new body of work that showcases his talents, his style and his artistic freedom, we caught up with Johnny Manuel to find out more.

Since Younger Skin has been released, have you had time to stop and reflect on the EP or has everything passed by in a blur?
I honestly think it will be years from now that I’ll fully come to realize exactly what Younger Skin has done for me, not only as an artist, but as a person. I feel that it’s my true introduction into the music industry as my authentic self and I’m very energized by where it will lead me.

What would you say was the most emotionally taxing track to record?
The entire process felt freeing actually. I felt weight being lifted from me as we were creating each song. I would have to say emotionally I feel the strongest connection to The Others though. When Aidan (Laprete) and I were creating it I felt very guided, like the ancestors were close by. The melodies and lyrics flowed easily, Aidan and I were in sync about where it should go sonically, and there was a palpable energy in the room. It was exhilarating.

Would you say there was a particular message you were trying to deliver with this EP?
I definitely feel that the overall message is perseverance. I didn’t go into it with that in mind but it naturally became the underlying theme. I’ve been at this a long time and experienced a vast amount of ups and downs, but I refused to quit. I have consistently whispered the words “keep going” to myself throughout the years and Younger Skin is the culmination of that. I’m very proud of the fact that I decided to use the rejection I experienced as the kindling to set my artistry ablaze. Persistence is paramount.

Many have seen you on television belting some of the toughest songs ever to be written, did you find it challenging to discover a way to evolve past what people have come to expect from your appearances?
Absolutely. That’s been one of the most interesting challenges I’ve faced since being on the shows. I thought singing those songs would serve to highlight what I’m capable of vocally but I didn’t anticipate they would pigeonhole me and lead people to believe that’s all I’m capable of or interested in doing as an artist. I’ve always loved singing those big songs because it’s fun for me, and there is a place for them in my artistry, but they aren’t a complete representation of who I am as an artist. Younger Skin serves as a foundational piece for me. A true introduction to who I am as an artist and not just a singer. It was extremely important to me that I showcased my songwriting as well as the nuance of my voice on the project. Yes I can hit high notes but that’s not the embodiment of singing to me, and it has much less influence over my artistry than people might think. Some of my favorite artists are Sade, Sting, Nina Simone, Maxwell, Grace Jones, H.E.R…the list goes on and on but vocally I’d say those artists are more about texture and feel than they are about just hitting high notes. So I definitely wanted to make clear that I’m an artist with layers and musical sensibilities that have been shaped by much more than big love ballads alone.

The Others music video is a creative marvel, are you able to stay close and retain control of the visual side of your artistry?
Yes I am, which is new for me. It’s a collaborative effort now and it’s refreshing. It’s also challenging because I’m learning as I go and it’s forcing me to push myself. It’s actually how the concept for the video was born. As an artist it’s important to me that I try things outside my comfort zone, things that help me grow, and I’d never done anything like this. We discussed several concepts before we settled on this one and it made sense to us that I shouldn’t be seen in it. No one should. We wanted it to be a visual representation of what it felt like when the song itself was being created. It felt bigger than any one individual. It was about following the signs coming from the people that were here before us and paved the way, and I think it was beautifully executed.
Also, thank you for referring to it as a creative marvel. It was a labor of love on the part of my creative team and your acknowledgement means a lot.

What would you say have been the greatest musical hurdles you’ve had to overcome?
Internally I had to overcome my self doubt. I had to get out of my own way about what I was capable of as a songwriter. I doubted that I could ever be an artist that wrote songs that accurately and authentically told my experiences, from my perspective. I’d never really gotten the opportunity to do that so I assumed I couldn’t. But creating Younger Skin shifted my perspective. I’m much more confident in my songwriting now. Largely because I finally got the chance to create, in a supportive environment with people who encouraged me to be myself and speak truthfully.
Being black and queer in R&B music has definitely been an uphill battle for me as well. I felt like I had to hide that part of myself if I wanted to succeed in music.

As a musician, do you make long/short term goals or do you prefer to go with the flow?
In the past I was more of a go with the flow type of artist. I would wait for opportunities to come my way and cross my fingers one of them would stick. Over the years though I’ve learned how important having goals is. It’s helped me a lot in keeping my head in the game and not veering off course. It also helps that I have a team to strategize the best course of action to execute my goals with. I didn’t have that before and I’m very grateful I do now.

What are you most looking forward to this winter?
I’m definitely looking forward to creating a new project with Aidan (Laprete) this winter, that’s exciting for me, and also wearing layers again! Growing up in Michigan it was one of the only things I looked forward to about winter. I loved piling clothes on. Lol

What is your FAULT?
My FAULT is that I’m a tv binger! If I start a show, even if I’m not enjoying it, I have to finish it. Every single episode in one sitting. It’s a problem haha