Pieces of a Man discuss their developing sound, debut LP, love for Gil Scott-Heron and forthcoming headline show

It was way back in November 2015 that we last had the pleasure of seeing Pieces of a Man take to the Band on the Wall stage. Much has changed for the group since then, having spent the ensuing years refining their sound away from the stage, resulting in the creation of a impactful debut album with renowned Manchester-based DJ and producer Zed Bias at the helm. Having returned their attention to their live production, we’re excited to welcome the six-piece outfit back in the new year, with a long-awaited headline show on 23rd January. Ahead of the gig, we spoke to band members DK (beats), Pils (keys), Tolu (vocals, synth), Mark (guitar), and Tim (bass) about their sonic development, debut LP, and love for the artist who penned Pieces of a Man almost fifty years ago.

More than four years have passed since the band’s last appearance at Band on the Wall, in late 2015. How have things changed for the group since then? Has your sound and working practice developed at all?

DK: ‘We’re the kind of group that’s constantly developing the sound — throw 6 creative people in a room together and things never sit still. It’s one of the reasons why POAM can’t be pinned down to one particular genre, our influences stem from so many different sources. It’s also more than likely that guys would stop showing up to rehearsals if we weren’t still developing what we do! Since our last Band on the Wall show with Cory Henry, we’ve really bedded down to figure out the sound we wanted to make. We had to come away from gigging to make that happen — dedicating time to each other and to the project in a studio setting. It’s the longest time that our line-up has remained unchanged, and it’s really starting to show now in the multi-layered nature of the tracks and production, as well as the dynamic sound we’re creating at live shows. Working with a record label has focused us more as well, learning how our output needs to be honed and packaged in order to reach its potential and find its audience.’

You released your debut LP with Tru Thoughts earlier this year. How long in the making was it, and can you tell us a little about the creative dynamic, with Zed Bias producing the sessions?

Pils: ‘The record was at least 2 years in the making, however some of the tracks had been ideas we’d been moulding for nearly 3. Meeting with Zed was a real turning point for us as it focused our minds and meant we had a tangible road map to completing the album. Initially Zed was very hands off, and allowed us time in the studio to create and record, only popping in to check we were all moving forward. However once the recording was done Zed set about turning a lot of music into a coherent whole. There were many late nights as I sat alongside Zed helping him navigate the mammoth project, and once he understood what our vision was he dug in and made each track find its home, particularly being able to focus the low end and make the tracks ‘heavy’. The mixes were sent back and forth as we exchanged ideas on how exactly each track would sound, but it was Zed who knew when a track was complete and ready for mastering.

For many, your band name will evoke memories of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 LP. How important is his music to the band, and what are your thoughts on how XL recordings have treated the legacy of his final studio album, first allowing Jamie XX to rework it, and now, inviting Makaya McCraven to reinterpret it for its 10th anniversary?

Pils: ‘It’s no surprise that XL recordings are revisiting that album, like so much of his work it is so rich and thought provoking that it supports reworking. We cover his track Lady Day and John Coltrane and we keep finding new ways to approach the track and the different layers that blend with the composition. He wrote with such intuition and insight that his material will always be relevant and speak to people. It’s exciting Makaya McCraven is being given the opportunity, as Gil Scott’s nimble approach shares many similarities with the jazz idiom.’

You’ve supported a number of incredible artists at Band on the Wall in recent years: Omar, Jarrod Lawson, Cory Henry, and Bilal amongst others. While headline shows are now your focus, if you had the opportunity to open for one artist, living or dead, who would it be?

DK: ‘I bet each one of the band members would give a different answer. Hang on, I’ll ask them on the band chat (the wonders of modern tech!). For me it would be Vulfpeck (which will make the other guys laugh as they are all I talk about at the moment). Their music, creativity and stagecraft are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.’

Pils: ‘Duke Ellington.’

Tolu: ‘D’Angelo.’

Mark: ‘Prince.’

Tim: ‘A Tribe Called Quest.’

At this time of year, everyone is reflecting upon their favourite albums of the year. Are there any albums that have flawed you this year?

DK: ‘I can always describe my favourite albums as ‘operatic’… my all-timers share a quality of having this incredible dynamic arc that tells a story and takes you on a musical odyssey from start to finish – Jill Scott’s Words and Sounds Vol 1, Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation, Rage Against the Machine (self-titled), Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book (and Innervisions!). This year, hands down it was Beyoncé’s HOMECOMING; it’s been the soundtrack to my life for a few months now – there’s so much intricacy and power to it that it never tires.’

What do you have in store for January’s show? Without revealing too much, can fansexpect to hear any new material, deep cuts or covers, in addition to the fan favourites?

Pils: ‘This will be the best show we’ve ever done – in a sense we’ve been working towards headlining this stage for a while. We’re really looking forward to be able to play most of our recent material and take the audience on a journey, as we’ll have the time and space to build the sound. It’s also a great opportunity for us to call upon friends of ours who will enrich our sound still further. Along the way we have worked with many great artists and we love collaborating with different people who bring a fresh take on our music. We can’t reveal who at the moment but we’re super excited to share the stage with some incredible emerging talent, watch this space.’

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Thursday | 23.01.20

Pieces of a Man + Kike

Band on the Wall, Manchester