In Conversation, MANSUR
A Y2K dream. MANSUR knows exactly what he’s looking for. The promising brazilian singer, composer and producer has the ability to synthesize nostalgia and translate it into forward thinking emotions. Cohesiveness above all things. His love for Babyface and Astrud Gilberto comes through in his debut album, ‘Último Ano Adolescente‘. Being self taught allowed Henrique Silva Mansur to fight inner doubts and put himself first.
We spoke about his love for music, daydreaming about making a record, confidence, intimacy and what took him so long to release his first album.
My sound is a collage of everything that I’ve listened to my whole life. I grew up extremely musical, I consider myself a music nerd. When I was at school, music was the only thing that I cared about. My sound is a collage of subgenres. I do love R&B and pop, that’s my base. I do flirt with bossa nova and 80s sounds, a lot. It’s the type of music that my parents used to listen to when I was growing up.
There’s a lot of 2000s influences in my album. I am nostalgic, but I look towards the future too. It’s sunny, it’s clear, it’s bright and it’s pop.
It’s downtempo pop. It’s kind of the thing that Blood Orange does, where he takes this low frequency that’s filled with joy, but has an unexplainable sadness to it. It might be because of the arrangements.
It leaves you time to think. Sometimes, when it’s so uptempo, you just feel overwhelmed with the sound, in a good way. If you want to feel overwhelmed, that’s what you’re going to listen to and I do a lot. My sound, it makes you think when it’s playing. It lets you time to think.
Your playlist, ‘músicas que me criaram,’ encapsulates the album’s intentions. I think it’s a challenge for you to keep people’s attention by doing a downtempo and chill record. I cannot even imagine staging the live performance.
I’ve been this understudy of music, listening, watching interviews. I’ve been listening to albums, participating in that general conversation. Every time there’s a great album out, even if I’m not a big fan of the artist, I search about it, I listen to it. Art talks to me, it communicates something. It inspires me. That’s very telling when I’m making music, sound packs or putting an image to the feeling that I’m experiencing at the moment.
I do think about how people are going to listen to it. What’s the experience on the other side? What’s the experience for them watching me live? How does it work?
A concert is like theater, there’s storytelling involved. Sometimes, the story is just partying, which is great, but I have something to say in between the lines. You can feel the narrative aspect of it through the instrumentation and the way that the music progresses. The way that it starts calm and builds up. I thought about the live experience of this while producing it, but at the same time, not really.
I produced the album in my bedroom, in the house that I grew up in. It ‘s personal. I’m a Pisces, so I do dream a lot, ‘when I play this live, I’m going to do it like that’. It’s just the feeling of, ‘I want to do that because I grew up watching people doing that’. That connects people and it speaks to me. That’s what inspires me to build that relationship with the live performance, music and studio.
The ‘Habitat’ video is such a Y2K dream. It’s everything that you grew up with, even the shots and the color palette. I like the shirt, it has the perfect length. It allows you to move like a pop star.
Yeah. As a gay boy growing up watching Britney Spears? That’s it. When I’m thinking, ‘I’m a music artist, how do I present myself to people?’ My style reference is Justin Timberlake, so that’s very telling. It’s so fun to do art that inspired me when I was little. Especially, inspired me to express myself.
Now that I’m feeling confident, I express myself in the way that I wish I could when I was 14. It’s full circle.
Talk to me about this blonde era. I think you can put yourself in that head space. Even with you growing your hair a bit, it being blonde, the attitude it’s different when it’s a buzz cut or when it’s shorter or when it’s spiked. That informs the creative process as well.
Of course. ‘Wisdom Teeth’ is about shaving my head and taking my wisdom teeth off. It’s about a new beginning. Every time I’m with a new hair, I try to communicate something, not for people but for me. I know that when I communicate for myself, I could let this energy arrive in people’s hearts. That’s kind of what guides me to do this stuff.
How long it took for you to be able to be comfortable with yourself to let others get a glimpse of your process?
I’ve heard some people say, ‘oh, it was natural for me’. It was for me, but at the same time, it was pretty hard. People don’t mention that. It’s like exercising every day. People present it as a gift that just comes, ‘you’re the special one that’s going to amplify that’. In my case, it has a little bit of that because I grew up with this inner hunger. It was a process of learning to produce music without having proper Academia.
You took the internet in your hands, self taught then.
I never cared about Academia, actually. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that, but growing up that’s what I had in mind. I tried to play the drums, acoustic guitar and I do know how to play a little bit. The drums gave me a sense of rhythm, so I’m incredibly grateful for it. I shine when I am in front of my computer. I can hear sounds, experiment and create. I started producing when I was 14 on Fruit Loops. Classic. I still do though.
This album was all Fruit Loops. I started producing because my sister had a boyfriend at the time. He was kind of like a Soundcloud rapper. Classic story too (laughs). He introduced me to FL, ‘you like to play the drums and you don’t have them in your house. You have to go to the studio to play them. Why don’t you start producing?’ During that time, I heard ‘Pure Heroine’ by Lorde for the first time. Listen how downtempo it is and how pop it is. You can hear the instrumentation so clearly, ‘I could actually recreate that’. That’s when I started producing
I was learning, ‘that doesn’t feel right, but I like it’. It’s crap now, but it was the shit then. I started building up confidence. It’s so hard for you to produce, do everything yourself and try to be confident, ‘I’m going to do that, I’m going to finish this album’. I tried to produce this album three times. Not in the sense of trying just for the sake of it, but I was studying my craft. I was making it perfect, rounded, making it shine. It’s a hard process because I doubt myself a lot, but I never stopped. It’s something that I like to do. That’s my hobby, it’s my work, it’s my art, it’s the way that I express myself.
I hate writing to people. I’m very talkative and I think music does that. It combines writing with being talkative and just exploding information in your head. That always spoke to me.
What is your process for validation? Who do you recur to?
I have a childhood friend of mine. When I started producing, he was in the bedroom with me listening. He was very much like a cheerleader. He’s older than me, he’s living his life and I still text him. We talk every day, I sent him tracks, ‘Oh, do you like that? Do you think I should actually do it?’ He helped me a lot to validate and say, ‘I’ve heard better. I think you can do it better’. Leandro, another friend, guided me and helped me to make this dream come true.
‘Último Ano Adolescente’ is you coming out of this bubble. Being an adolescent means that everything is going to be alright, right? They tell us that being a grown-up means everything is going to be fine and that’s what we should be looking forward to. When you grow up, you start calling yourself a ‘20 something’ and realize that, maybe, that stage of your life was good and you didn’t realize it until now.
That’s when you put the pretty lenses in, right? I covered heavy topics ‘16,’ that’s a song about abuse, about how hard it is to grow up with that. I just like to make it dancey. I can’t go back, I can’t change history. I just can put a pretty lens on it. Sometimes we wish things would just go away, our trauma would go away, our childhood, that was hard, would just go away and just focus on the moment, but that’s not possible. You have just actually accept it and live with it, dance and cry through it.
We are really nostalgic to those times, but I think it’s because we blocked all the bad stuff and then we look at it with some unjustified fondness. Even with the music that came from the early 2000’s. We go back in this really nostalgic lens and just be really appreciative. When you go back and you really scroll through the charts, everything looks the same. Everything sounded the same, but we put it on a pedestal. It happens with our adolescent years, as well. We forget about all the bad things.
Agree, 100%. I wrote the album during the pandemic, most of it. I did what most of us did: I looked back. I looked back and was trying as a way of going away from the political climate, healthwise, especially in Brazil. It was crazy, for obvious reasons, for LGBT people, for black people, people of color. It was hard, but I think there was a collective feeling, ‘let’s try to go back because we can’t change anything now because we are stuck at home’.
I think that that’s when a lot of artists thrive. We got a lot of great albums, a lot of great art. As you mentioned, we look back to the 2000’s and everything is perfect. No! Your lips were chapped, your lower jeans are showing your back crack. It was not cute. We can look back and see the pretty side. Why can’t we do that to ourselves? Why can’t we do that when we look at our childhood pictures, when we were like 13 with pimples in all the wrong spots? Your hair is crazy and you don’t know how to dress. It doesn’t make sense.
We validate so much on pop culture when we look back. Why can’t we look back and try to take something beautiful in our own lives?
‘Palmistry’ feels like it was released a long time ago and its not even that far back. The three singles that are already out fit perfectly. Why did you decide to keep them? You outgrow music and I think it’s a difficult decision to keep it. I’m not sure if it was a nostalgic decision on your behalf.
Not really! (Laughs) I produced the album during a year and a half. I did everything creative at home and then I went to a studio to record my vocals, mix and master. I did everything creative in that period of time and then I started recording.
Ah! Makes sense. It sure feels like you had some really specific references, vocals wise, even with the drum programming and basslines. When did the album start to take shape? You could have just put out four songs and call it a day. You decided to put an album out.
In 2019, I was 19 years old and I moved to Sao Paulo. I was about to sign to a record label. They were studying me, putting me in a lot of sessions with a bunch of producers. I was learning the whole time. I didn’t care if I was gonna make it. I didn’t care if I was gonna have a contract, I was 19. Like Lorde said, ‘19 and on fire’. I was 19 and on fire.
I started seeing how they approached the studio and the things that I agreed to. Mostly, I fixated on the things that I didn’t agree with. ‘Why are you choosing this sound when you can choose this one and make everything cohesive?’ It’s just a simple change, a choice of instrument that can change an album. I learned and got dropped, of course.
The pandemic started. I wrote ‘Taboo’ and ‘Interrogação’. I started producing them, and they were very different. I remembered that time in the studio, ‘okay, but if I wanted to put this on a record, what can I do to make it work?’ That’s when it started. ‘Taboo’ is about a very specific time of my life, a very specific situationship. That’s the part of the pandemic that made me look back and made me digest stuff. Lyrics wise, it just was thinking and crying while making these songs, hearing my voice memos. A mess. It was me crying, and talking things while I’m in the bus. It was hard for me. I was digesting stuff that I didn’t feel that I had time to before. Mentally, it was a little bit challenging for myself during that time. Soundwise? I wanted to get everything that I loved growing up.
Do you listen to and think, ‘oh, I love this segment and I don’t know why?’ I tried to figure out why I liked it and tried to make it and my own. During that time, I didn’t listen to any music, I was just listening to my stuff. I just created a playlist with the songs that I liked at that time and I just listened to it. Prince, Blood Orange, The Cure, Mariah Carey, Erikah Badu, Kellis, The Neptunes. Pharrell Williams, he’s my idol. It’s crazy that it sounds cohesive because there are a lot of things there. There’s drum and bass, R&B, Bossa, Pop, Nile Rogers’ guitar. It sounds cohesive because it came from the same place. I think it worked (laughs).
‘Saudade’ represents this idea to the fullest. It takes Brazilian elements, starts with a soft Bossa and then it transitions into a full on 90s R&B with those vocals.
That song is my pride possession. papossa and Garofallo, my DJ and drummer, helped me produce that. ‘What if I had an indie band? What’s that going to sound like?’ I put this Indie band with my friends, we got some beer, tobacco and went to the studio. The amount of files and stems we have from this? I arrived home and recorded the synths. Everything clicked. It’s the only song that was created with three people, the rest was only me.
Si estás enfrente de una puerta, tocás el timbre, ¿quién te abre?
Great question. Let’s go back to the basics. It has got to be my sound engineer, Magnus, he’s the best. I learned a lot from him. Garo, my drummer and DJ, helped me a lot, guided me through it. papossa, who added all the guitars. Leo Gussem, who helped Magnus to mix my voice. Also, my friends, my designer, my filmmaker. All these people that believed in me, they open the door for me. Especially my mom and dad. I’m the combination of their music tastes, same with my sister. Family and friends. It’s so basic to say, but it is the truth.