Beauty can be found in many places in life, sometimes even the dark ones. For Conor Mason, famously known as the lead singer of stellar alt-rock group Nothing But Thieves, it was the ruptures of the global pandemic that brought him to understand that sometimes you have to accept the darkness for the clouds to make way for the light to break through. Taking his unprocessed emotions and turning to music as a release, Mason went on a journey that can now be listened to and enjoyed as his debut solo EP ‘Man-Made Sunshine’ – a project that once began as a path of solitary healing, turned into a magnificent musical masterpiece of communal vulnerability and unapologetic honesty.
Music can be many things to people. For Conor Mason, the act of writing and creating music has always served as a form of therapy, a way of working through the feelings that are sometimes harder to grasp than others. That is also how his surprise solo outing as Man-Made Sunshine came to be – born out of the need to find inner peace in a time that offered anything but. Speckled with cut-throat sincerity and the aim to be as honest as one can be, his newly released five-song strong self-titled EP takes the listener on an emotional rollercoaster ride that sees Mason offer a piece of himself over to whoever decides to go on this journey with him. Twirling its way through heavy-weighted relationships, personal struggles to push through the pain that once was and the urge to grow past the glass ceiling that has been built, every track feels like an intimate conversation with the enthralling artist, with each needed to be savoured in its precious completion.
“I’m waking up for the very first time” – the row of words that not only serve as the beginning to the opening track ‘Brain In A Jar’, but that also give the impression that Mason can finally breathe out after holding everything in for a long while. Starting off rather quietly, with warm harmonies welcoming the listener in, the bombastic song quickly takes a turn in an explosion of high falsettos and a beat that makes it hard not to put it on an instant loop. With lyrics like “And I don’t think, so therefore I’m alive / I’ve been surfin’ on a simulated silver surfboard / Tell me this ain’t where I’ve lived my life”, the rhythm-infused track almost feels like watching Mason gaze through the haze of today’s society, ruled by the communal loneliness of social media and loss of hope through the years. A wake and birth at the same time, it’s a deserving opener that gives a first taste of what is to come.
Falling straight into a bed of soft piano lines, the second hit of the EP, the poppy yet dark ‘Big’, has Mason take it one step deeper and discuss his own experiences and struggles during a time when one of his family members was suicidal. “I stayed with you all night / As you spat out your sleeping pills / You were swimming in the in-between / Mumbling that she ain’t coming back”, we hear Mason sing before the track erupts in a whirlwind of electronic pulses and a deep bass that gives the addictive number its special emotive glow. Recently topped off by a cinematic music video, the song gets another layer added to it, as the talented vocalist states: “I wanted to make a video with some real fathers and sons, catching their candid interactions and the spectrum of their relationship. I wanted to capture the pieces we pick up from our parental figures, the nuance is what makes each relationship unique.”
What follows next could be considered Mason’s most outstanding vocal performance of the whole EP, as ‘Little Bird’ has him delve into the deepest lows and highest peaks of his riveting voice. Once again embedded in a base of stellar electronics that often move in a way of creating an immersive soundscape for the listener, the song appears as a profoundly personal conversation Mason is having with himself – “There’s a little bird / Sittin’ in my chest / And it calls to me / It sings to me / Saying Little boy / You don’t look your best / And it’s dark in here / You could use the rest”. Sombre when it needs to be, but still lifted by unwavering hope, the mammoth of a track is proof of just how far Mason has come in terms of not only his vocal and songwriting skills, but also his musical talents in general.
Rolling over into the beautifully fragile ‘Life’s Gonna Kill You (If You Let It)’, we meet the first song to ever see the light of day from the magical vaults of Man-Made Sunshine. With a delicate piano weaving its way through the track like a red thread, Mason’s soul-soaked vocals once again uncover themes of his struggles and the urgency to push through the obstacles life throws at you, “I won’t let you get ill / I won’t let you give in / ‘Cause this life will only kill you if you let it / Don’t you let me get ill / ‘Cause you know that I will / My pain loves the company / My life only kills me when I let it”.
It is the rip-roaring ‘Rosebud’ that then brings the musical endeavour to a close. Supported by the talented production-hands of Nothing But Thieves comrade and lifelong friend Dom Craik, the multi-layered hit number twists and turns through mazes of stark beats and glistening harmonies. Featuring lyrics like “And how can I get out of the cold / When that’s all that’s left of you now? / How can I get out of the cold / While clinging to my shivering soul?”, the song serves as the grand exit to the Man-Made Sunshine EP and the perfect closer to Mason’s journey we get to follow him on.
Dipping into realms of alt-indie, psych-pop and soul-studded electronica, ‘Man-Made Sunshine’ sees Mason dig deep into the emotional turmoil of his past and wander through waves of self-discovery, inner growth, and the relationships he has with himself and the people around him. Glistening with the purest honesty and cathartic vulnerability, the singer-songwriter puts a mirror up to his own face and the listener and urges us to face what has long been pushed away. Showcasing musical greatness and a unique approach to the process, the EP invites everyone into a safe space that you didn’t know you needed while establishing Mason as a musical powerhouse whether that is in a solo space or within his NBT family.
Written by Laura Weingrill // photography by Lewis Vorn