The Ray Mann Three are exactly the band you should never leave your girlfriend alone with. They fuse the sweets soul of Al Green with the raw sex of D’Angleo and their grooves are sexier than a busload of French maids broken down by the side of the highway.
They have become a bit of a Kings Cross fixture due to their monthly residency at Kellet St’s favourite brothel-esque cocktail lounge Tonic, but following their sell-out album launch at The Vanguard, the boys are heading out east – playing the upstairs of Bondi’s Beach Road Hotel every Tuesday in July. I sat down with singer and guitarist Ray Mann (who has a voice that could make even Dick Cheney make a pass at him) before they took to the stage.
“Yeah, we sold out the album launch, and since then there’s been a bunch of buzz, so we’ve been playing a lot of gigs in new venues as well as our usual hangouts. But tonight is our first night playing here at the Beach Road, and we’ve got all kinds of gigs coming up in the next few months. We’ll be supporting some big name international artists, whom unfortunately I can’t mention at the moment, but we will be making a lot of noise about that when we’re allowed to start announcing it.”
But Kings Crossians don’t despair; the lads still got love for Tonic. “We played our first gig there and we’ve played there once a month since then, so that’s been three years now. So regardless of other gigs or what’s going on in our lives, we always made sure we snuck in one gig a month at Tonic, to keep that going because it’s a nice ritual for us.”
It’s hard to imagine a venue more suited to the band, especially seeing as though it was, in a way, part of the inspiration for the band. “I discovered Tonic before I even put the band together. I had the idea in my head for the Ray Mann Three, I don’t think it even had a name at that point but I knew I wanted a particular type of band that I hadn’t seen in Sydney before. I remember thinking to myself ‘if only I could find the right space for it I could continue to imagine the band’ and when I first walked into to Tonic I was just like this is the place. They’ve been very supportive of us since the beginning and our connection to that is integral to our identity and is close to our hearts as well.”
“It’s an old terrace house that has been sort of done up as like a red-light type bar, so it’s sexy but very sweet at the same time,” he tells me. “All the DJs play dance-floor soul music, it’s a really sort of a walk in a discover it type of place and it’s got a really warm atmosphere rather than hitting you over the head with anything lewd or in your face, which I find is really lacking in Sydney. So it stuck out to me, it’s a subtle place, it’s got a lot of character and the people who go there make it.”
And Ray is all about the people. Go to one of the Tonic shows and you’ll see Ray mingling with the crowd, chatting, trading CDs and just generally fostering an open and welcoming atmosphere. “The vibe, in my mind at least and I think in practice as a result, is more like a house party than a performance.”
The band seems to thrive on intimacy, and the sort of friendly and communal attitude which seems so rare in Sydney. “It’s the sort of thing you can find much more easily in Melbourne. We seem to have drawn people out of the woodwork a little bit, and consequently we’ve kept all our gigs small since. Even when we’ve had the opportunity to play bigger rooms, we like to keep it small because that sense of intimacy and community it really core to what the Ray Mann Three is about.”
They’re self-titled debut is a stunning example of economy. Nowhere will you find the sort of indulgent musical-fornication so common in the funk/soul genre. Its minimalism at it’s most sensual and makes the music all the more involving. “It’s the idea of creating a dialogue with the audience, whether they’re watching us or listening to the album, I like there being room in the sound for the listener’s imagination to play a part as well. I find whether it’s live or on record, the less we do, the more people feel engaged, they feel like they’re a part of it. It’s surprising how little you need to play for it to sound full. After a while people begin to forget about the ingredients involved in the sound they’re hearing and the just listen as it is.”
But don’t think that they’re then boring live. The band shines when playing live grooving with the crowd, breaking their songs apart, jamming out and putting all back together again. “We’re not really filling in the spaces when we play live, it’s still just the three of us as is on record, but we are a bit more dynamic live because we’re responding to the barometer of the room.”
“If you come see us at Tonic you’ll see us in party mode, because we are predominantly a working band, we need to do our job as we see it and play to the vibe of the room. But if you came and saw us at a different type of gig, like when we supported Kate Miller Heidke you know, her audience didn’t need to be impressed by dynamics because they knew Kate was coming on, so instead the more we kind of laid back, the more people became more attentive. So we probably didn’t even rock out half as hard at Kate’s show at the Annandale than we would at Tonic, which is a small room where people aren’t expecting to hear something rock out.”
“A big part of it is improvised and that’s really important to us because when people come to see us I want them to feel like they’ve seen something that didn’t happen last night and isn’t going to happen tomorrow night, because the music that turns me on makes me feel like that.”
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