During 2021, an artist named 'Model Man' frequently crossed my path throughout different avenues. There came a point where I felt like it was a sign for me to finally dive into his work, and I'm so glad I followed that intuition.
Model Man's catalogue is a sonic garden boasting musical opulence that's void of pretentiousness. His background in classical piano essentially planted the seeds to the current sound of Model Man (Mark Brandon). However, in his schooling environment and neighborhood Mark soaked up the influences of UK garage and house music which can also be heard in his style. In a few years, the Essex-based producer has been featured on countless editorial playlists, cultivated a loyal fan base, and has recently started touring. Throughout this interview Model Man opens up about his journey as an artist, the influence of '90s rave culture, playing shows abroad, and more.
For those who don't know your story, how would you describe your journey with music thus far?
Well, I guess you would say it started very early because my mum was a piano teacher. There were people always coming in and out of the house. And so constantly I'm hearing Beethoven and Mozart, basically all the classics. So that is imprinted early in my mind. But then on the flip side, you've got my dad. He’s also really into music, but he's not a musician. He's more of like a musicologist and record collector. He's got lots of records that I discovered while I was growing up. The first Chicago house record I heard was one of my dad's. It was like a Frankie Knuckles LP, and there was also a compilation which had names like Marshall Jefferson. So you’ve got my dad who is into the soul, house, and disco side of things, and you’ve got my mum who is into classical music. Those two sides of the coin certainly influenced my taste and I have never seen them as separate. I even ended up learning classical piano later down the line.
My school also played quite a massive role – everyone was a DJ in my class and everyone was into two-step garage. It was quite a rough environment, and because I was a bit of a good boy I was quite compelled to the freedom garage seemed to provide. When I was learning classical piano, the classical music world felt very judgmental and I wanted to escape that. ‘Model Man’ was this realization that I could bring all these opposing worlds together.
How does the moniker 'Model Man' encapsulate the sound and aesthetic of your music?
I was raised quite religious. I was attending church every week and there was a lot of like guilt that was imposed on you. Every denomination is different, but some Christianity is very strict. There was an immense amount of pressure on kids in the church I went to and I was expected to be this 'model man', this ideal person checking off these boxes like getting married by a particular time, having a certain amount of children, get a job, etc.
The term Model Man for me felt like I was breaking out of those standards, that the 'model man' is actually not that. 'Model Man' is actually being yourself or who ever you want to be, and not who somebody else wants you to be. That's where the name came from.
It seems like the '90s have quite an influence on your style. What is it about that era you're so drawn to?
People were breaking down barriers of race, gender, class, and more by going to many of those illegal raves. Where I'm from in Essex, there was a massive scene in the '90s. You've got artists like Prodigy who were next door pretty much and Squarepusher is just down the road. All these guys were the early rave guys and they helped breaking down these barriers as people were dancing and coming together. All these people that thought they were so different realized "we're all the same" when they were united on the dance floor. That was really interesting to me, especially coming from classical music where it was almost like a status thing in some regards.
I must say your catalog is noticeably musically rich. Would you say your extensive knowledge of music theory hinders your production process in any way? I can imagine it being tough to settle on one particular idea since you have a wider range of possibilities you're aware of.
I'll tell you what... It does helps me copy things easily haha. There is a song I heard recently and I was fascinated with the chord progression. Because of my knowledge I was easily able to translate it into something of my own and use it as inspiration. I wouldn't be able to continuously do things like that if I didn't know any music theory. Usually the most important thing when we're making music is to get into that zone and finding what turns you. It really helps me with that too and wouldn't say it comes with a price.
After you released your album Model Man, what are some of the ideas and lessons that stuck with you till this day, and what were some ideas that you've discarded after applying them to the album?
When I made that album, that was a really rough time for me. It was 2020 and in the middle of lock down too. I actually needed to put out an album cause that was just the next thing to fulfill as part of my contract and record deal. I was just in a dark place and so it's no surprise to hear classical and ambient stuff on there where I was just very introspective. I do feel like I've learnt a lot since then. On that project I threw a lot of ideas which don't entirely feel focused, and I came out of it learning how to clearly channel my ideas. I'm more into bringing to life one core idea instead of as opposed to having like three or four big ideas in one song.
Congrats on the gorgeous new single "Body Positive"! What kind of challenges did you come across during the creation process of this gem?
So "Body Positive" was the stepping stone to all of this since I made it relatively after I finished that album. It was actually a really fun one to make. I wanted to have a juxtaposition of two things - the piano which is sweet and melodic, and drums which are a bit chaotic and gnarly. I definitely thought it'd be interesting to bring those to elements together!
You've mentioned that it's actually part of an upcoming EP that pays homage to '90s Essex rave culture. What was it about "Body Positive" that made it the ideal single to tease the EP?
The label I'm with is amazing and they're laid back. They didn't come knocking for a single or anything, they just said they'll release whatever I put out. I finished that track and, and sent it to 'em. "Oh great, let's put it out next", they said. That was that and there was no overthinking it.
Since you've been playing more shows across different continents, what is the one thing that playing live gives you that producing can't?
Playing live is great because it takes you out of the digital world and puts you in a real space. You're instantaneously seeing the reaction of the crowd in real-time, you're in that moment. Recently it was my first time playing in New York, I've never even been to that place let alone even play a show there. People had bought tickets to come and see me and I thought "oh wow, I'd be happy if there is even 10 people at the show". To my surprise, I found out the show was sold and it was about 200 cap. I stayed and met as many people as I could since I was so grateful. Getting to meet the faces who are into my music is also another plus about playing live.
I was in Mexico the week before that meeting all these different people after and before the show. Anywhere in the world where people are into to music, I wanna go there. It's interesting to hear about people's story, their heritage, and why they're so into music. Another example was when I was in L.A. I played a show, as I was about to finish a few fans come up to me and invite me to a house party. Man, I played till about 5 in the morning! Their their minds were so blown because I'm playing two-step garage and breakbeat stuff. They had never come across those sounds before and it was amazing connecting over music with them.
What's an area in your craft where you're feeling unsure about and really looking to improve on currently?
Oh, everything. I feel every area I could be better on. I'm working constantly to try and get better as a writer, producer, mixing engineer, a collaborator, and just as a person. I think maybe that's a constant pursuit. I don't know if you ever get to a point where you are like, "this is perfect". If I make a record and I think everything about this is perfect, I think that's probably the time when I'll stop making music. You've got nothing left to say in a way. I think there is an element of imposter syndrome or just feeling nervous about you work which is special. Being vulnerable is what makes an interesting musician for the most part. I mean there's always exceptions to the rule. I'm sure there's people out there that feel great about everything that they've done.
Okay so, 1) an artist/band you’d love to collab with 2) An artist you think would be great to party with 3) An artist you would love to be your mentor. You’re welcome to select from artists who are dead/retired.
1) Kate Bush - Her voice is phenomenal. She's never really done anything in the dance world, and I love it when worlds collide.
2) Todd Edwards - I think he'd be super fun to party with. He looks like he knows how to have a good time
3) Burial or Aphex Twin