In Conversation: Man-Made Sunshine

Mental health, production and vulnerability are what he knows best…

As society begins to accept it’s okay for men to speak up on mental health, artists like Man-Made Sunshine have risen above the rest. 

Conor Mason, the man behind Man-Made Sunshine has always made sure to keep real conversations at the forefront of his music. That’s why this writer and others were excited by the news of a solo project focusing on mental health, healing and growing from the past. 

Even though the talented artist is known for his role as the frontman of Nothing But Thieves, he’s been able to produce something special. Something that allows people with mental health issues to feel seen and heard. That something has meant being vulnerable and bringing peace to the mind is here to stay.

After releasing a five-track production, one thing was clear, even though this E.P was a healing process for the artist, it was a healing process for the masses listening too. This felt like therapy for those who needed it the most.

That is why this interview was a match made in heaven. A writer who wants to bring mental health discussions more into the music journalism world and an artist showing that writing about his vulnerability can work and be everlasting.

A slight trigger warning about tough conversations around mental health and topics within that, but other than that, grab a cup of coffee and read on.

Before we do anything, how are you doing mentally at the moment?

Oh, what a nice question. I love that. Really well, I’m in a great place and really enjoying life. How are you?

Yeah I’m all good thankyou! It’s been a rollercoaster of a few years, but we’re getting there! With everything you’ve been doing with Nothing But Thieves, what led you to create this solo project?

Yeah, I mean, it was a vehicle that ran alongside my therapy, essentially. It was so obvious to me when I got to the pandemic that I had so much to work on what was happening. And just before we went into lockdown, as well. I had a lot of things kind of boiling up inside me like and floating about. I just knew I had to get down to work with it. So I started seeing a therapist, and then all these all the songs poured out of me. I didn’t really mean to do anything with them, to be honest. I just wanted to write and get them out. And, you know, kind of admit them. I would say the actual use of them as a tool for myself for healing was really, really important. I kind of wanted to actually just create a batch of songs that I personally could tune into when I was feeling that way. 

You know, rather than rely on certain songs from certain artists, certain albums, I wanted to create a body of work that I could tune into and create a frequency that really helped me and that felt like a friend. And that’s kind of the design of it. I think I did that, at least for myself. I noticed myself sticking the tunes on if I was wanting to walk during the pandemic and I felt like I was in a funk for a good couple years, like really bad. Every time I go for a walk, I’d find myself listening to the songs. So I want to hear that chord progression because it feels really good to me and the lyrics. And I thought ‘Okay, this is a good sign’. It’s like, I’m creating something that’s very, very true to myself.

Was it weird or natural to be so open about your mental health in these tracks?

It’s hard for people to naturally be open and talk about this stuff. Everyone’s saying, ‘God, the songs are really vulnerable, you must be really scared of releasing them’ and the truth is that I’m not. It’s become such a normalised part of my life over the last two or three years to just be so open. I find with being honest with myself, I don’t have to do it to someone else.

So no, it doesn’t feel doesn’t feel comfortable, it feels natural, and I’m happy to release it. I’m in such a place and like, the songs are five photographs of a time in my life. Hopefully, they offer some sort of comfort or some familiarity with someone.

The EP is all about growth, reflection, and coming to terms with yourself. Have you managed to do that yourself? Or is it still a process for you?

All healing takes a long time. You have good days, bad days. I’ve been struggling with some physical health things for a very, very long time. Then mental health comes next, where everything drops. Obviously my career requires me to be physically able with keeping up the lifestyle, probably bringing everyone else down around me, even though they wouldn’t admit it. My mental health just dropped and I was still working through these physical health things. But the pandemic gave me some clarity, from time to time off as well, to really realise the beauty in what I have.

I just am so open with everyone. Everyone’s so loving and understanding is like, ‘yeah, totally get it’. I don’t fear it anymore, I probably didn’t even need to for years while we were coming up as a band, I probably should have spoken up more. But you want to keep the ball rolling and everything’s going well. So you don’t want to let people down. But I think I almost let myself down because five years go by. I just got so Ill mentally and physically that I couldn’t do any more. And then the songs and the pandemic and a time revived me, I found a lot of inner love. Like that’s a massive part of it and love is instrumental in a level of inner self soothing.

I just choose to enjoy the moments I can control and the other stuff, the physical and mental stuff that I can’t control, then I let it be. But it’s just taken years and years for me to practise that. Yeah, so that’s kind of where I’m at with it.

You have no idea how much I can relate to all of that my friend.

I can kind of tell by the way you talk.

Yeah, I’ve got epilepsy and I’ve had cancer in the past, which has brought mental health issues into my life so I can fully relate to what you said. I’m curious though, when you first announced you were bringing this project to life, what was the reaction?

Before announcing it I was terrified, I wouldn’t have done this project, unless I’d gotten all the love and the backing from my band and management. I also write, just publishing and I write for other artists, sometimes occasionally. And that’s fun. But I just wrote the songs. And I thought ‘something feels different here’.

I kind of went hard in on the demos. I worked so hard and I had this song ‘Little bird’ that’s on the EP that I had this guy from LA, this massive producer who works with Travis Scott, and all these hip hop giants. He was like, ‘I really wanna get my hands on this and see what I can do’. 

It didn’t happen in the end, but I wanted to write a really lovely statement, like a letter to the fans. I remember my friends sent all love and positivity, and the band wrote their own one. I think everyone was just really understanding and I just told the truth. I just said ‘the songs are about me trying to heal myself’. 

Everyone was just so super overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.

Amazing. You worked with Sonder Films on the new music video for ‘Big’, what made you want to explore relationships with fathers in the video?

That song is about a time in my life with my dad. He went through a really rough patch and tried to commit suicide. I guess I was the only person in his life at that point, I was quite young. I’ve got to shift to how I’ve got to be, I’ve got to be there for you. I’ve got really it’s powerful, and you know, traumatic and sense that took a lot of healing. But what I wanted to show in the video, was all the love that I had, some of the lyrics were like, in and of course, now pick up the pieces that you left on my life.

The video was super, super simple. I had it so clear in my head, I just wanted to get a bunch of fathers and sons in a room and pretend that we’re filming them doing shit. We really wanted to capture the bits on the side when they weren’t paying attention. There’s this one kid who scratches his dad’s belly, and it just every time makes me smile. The best things are the bits that they didn’t know that we’re getting filmed. We all have varying relationships with our father figures. So whether there’s loss or whether there isn’t one or whether there’s a strained relationship, or whether there’s a good one, I just wanted to tell the story of these few fathers and sons that we’ve captured and some of them my friends, which is really lovely. Just to have some mates in there and just shoot them with their dads and yeah, it was really heartwarming to do. I’m really chuffed with that.

“I’ve realised the code for living” is a great quote from your recent Instagram post that shared a voice note about mental health, what made you want to share it?

I decided to start this project so that I can be unabashedly honest and show myself and the way I heal, whether someone doesn’t like it, or someone does like it, that’s great. I think some things like a difficult conversation with a friend, with a voice note, some people might be like, ‘Oh, I don’t agree with that, because I wouldn’t do that’. That’s fine. That’s great for everyone’s opinions. I’ve started to see it resonate with a lot of people, the next one that’s coming out is too big for that song about my dad. And that is I had to struggle a fine line with the way I talk about it. But at the same time, we’re all human beings. And there’s so many masks and veils we have over ourselves, to keep ourselves safe, again, quote, unquote, safe. But sometimes, the safe-ish rule is all the time, the safest you feel is when you release those masks, breakdown as well as and you do connect with those people. 

But those conversations I’m having with my best mate, one of our best mates, Buster. I had those conversations with him, we just decided to film it. It’s like, we talked about that with each other’s healing and because he’s been through some terrible shit, too. It’s about having those deep conversations that are the most important ones and I feel like by doing those videos, I want to encourage people to talk with their mates, and that it’s totally fine. Yeah, I just wanted to be unabashedly honest all the time, and I will continue to be Yeah.

That’s the best way to be, in all fairness. As we do this interview, it’s men’s mental health month, is there any advice you could give?

Tough, isn’t it? Because you don’t want to come across like you’ve got all the answers, because I don’t. My advice is therapy, for sure. It is just the best, and there’s so many different forms that don’t have to be talking therapy. But my advice for day to day living is, be aware of whatever you’re dealing with in the day, and accept the suffering, rather than letting the suffering rule you, because I let it rule me for five years and I was miserable. 

It’s not like the things that I was struggling with have gone away. They haven’t, I’ve just decided to let them be. Let me choose to enjoy the things I can enjoy. In terms of just like your general day to day dealing with your stress. I think it’s things that make you happy, and bring you peace and that could be anything, like we all have different tastes, but for me, I love to read like, I’m a bit of a voracious reader, I’ll read for like, two, three hours a day that brings me peace. 

If you can take the small wins in the day, and things that you really enjoy. That is my main piece of advice. That’s what really helped me over the last few months. I’m going to choose to enjoy the things I can and let’s take the small wins each day. Because those small wins add up, they really do. I believe that when someone told me this, like, a year ago, I would have been like, ‘fuck off’.

Did you ever find it difficult to talk about all of this when Nothing But Thieves started?

At the start of the band we were 21 year old lads. I was a very emotional person, always very sensitive, in a group of quiet, low key, strong like men, touring the world. I was struggling with the workload, my physical health, and those problems started to come into some kind of fruition. I did at first, it was tough. I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, if I can talk about this’. 

It took all of us, not just me, it took all of us growing up. To understand that we do need to be there for each other. And we do need to have that relationship. And I maybe forced that by just being so ill in those formative years. Kind of what ‘broken machines’ are all about really, but that dialogue had to be a thing. We had those incredible conversations. Everyone’s grown up. Everyone is so loving towards each other. 

I believe that through those times, it allowed other members of the band to have a lot more self awareness of their own mental health issues and what they’re dealing with, that they’d like to bury. 

I think at the start, yeah, it’s tough. But that’s just 21 year old lads trying to navigate sensitivity in a society that deems it wrong to show your feelings. It’s as simple as that. 

That conversation is slowly, slowly, like nought point 1% a day is getting better in society. But even years ago, we first started touring, it wasn’t, you know, you don’t talk about those sorts of things.

I have such a healthy thing. But I’m just like, ‘I need to take this week off now’. And that is the way I’ve just been, like, ‘my body needs more time than yours to catch up’. So I’m gonna take that week off and everyone totally gets it. It’s just a really, really healthy relationship we have.

‘Man-Made Sunshine’ EP is out now.

Words: Josh Abraham

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