"Needles," the debut from London-based artist BAD WITH PHONES, plays out like a series of small surprises. It starts with one acoustic guitar and builds with unexpected elements added piece by piece, the most striking being that voice. BAD WITH PHONES, real name Manny, has a gentle warmth to his voice that gives the song an intimate feel, despite the layered chorus, some wandering flute-sounding touches, and a little cowbell.
"I don't really classify myself as a singer," Manny says. "I'm not technical or anything like that. I think maybe having something to say makes those aspects to singing not relevant. I don't think about it really, I just try and have fun with it."
With such a wonderfully odd introduction, there's no telling where BAD WITH PHONES is going next. Manny is an ex-hacker, space enthusiast, and photographer, and he isn't holding himself to the sound of his debut. Speaking about what the rest of his music sounds like, he tells us, "It's all very different. I'm influenced by so many different sounds but I think the glue that keeps it all together is the writing."
"'Needles' is about this really sweet girl I used to date who was super cool but also really insecure and wanted me to live in an insecure bubble with her," he says. "After a while, I was basically ready to move on so I did and came up with the song realizing how much the relationship had drained me."
Listen to "Needles" below, and read our interview with BAD WITH PHONES below.
You mentioned that "Needles" is about a girl you used to date. Does she know that? Has she heard it?
I don't think she has a clue about any of it but I hope she hears it. That'll be fun.
Does most of your writing come from real-life experience?
Yeah, mostly stuff I go through or sometimes just ideas I try and put myself in other people's shoes too. I try a bunch of different ways but the most effective way to write for me is just to live.
Does this song give any indication of what your other music will sound like? What is the common thread that runs through all of your music, if there is one?
No not really. It's all very different. I'm influenced by so many different sounds but I think the glue that keeps it all together is the writing. I love writing, it's very therapeutic. I'm a sucker for good story.
Has your singing voice always been like that? It's strong, but also really gentle.
Thank you. It's funny, I don't really classify myself as a singer. I'm not technical or anything like that. I think maybe having something to say makes those aspects to singing not relevant. I don't think about it really, I just try and have fun with it.
Who are some singers you've looked up to or been inspired by?
Oh snap, this list might be a little weird and I could go on for a really long time, but I'm inspired by these guys for a bunch of reasons: Little Dragon, Sade, Aaliyah, Notorious BIG, Richard Branson, Michael Jackson, 2Pac, Joni Mitchell, Niles Rodgers.
I don't really classify myself as a singer. I'm not technical or anything like that. I think maybe having something to say makes those aspects to singing not relevant.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to, and what are you into now?
I'm really lucky—my dad played a lot of the classics in the house like Bob Marley, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye. I can be quite the hypebeast, but I really like what Daniel Caesar is doing, Jorja Smith, Skepta. I've got "Sky Full of Song" by Florence and the Machine on repeat right now, such a great tune.
Can you tell us about your name, BAD WITH PHONES? Where did that come from?
It came quite naturally. I think I hadn't paid a phone bill in a long time it didn't really bother me, but my friends couldn't get a hold of me which was annoying. I prefer just sitting and daydreaming to be honest. It's nice to be disconnected from all the information we get bombarded with, but the flip side is your mates can't get in touch. They're used to it now, they know where I hang out.
I'm looking at your Twitter now and you have 5 followers, but it seems like you have a lot of things in place already—branding, a music video, an aesthetic that's starting to take shape. Is this stuff that you've thought about for years? Did you come into this knowing what BAD WITH PHONES looks like and feels like?
I've been thinking about BWP for about a year or so now I have a few close friends who are really bad with phones too, but really clever. It didn't take long to put the pieces together.
I don't have much other info on you, but I read you were from London/Berlin. Can you break down how you split your time between those two cities, and how you feel about each of them?
I was born in London, grew up in South East and have pretty much lived there my whole life. I just needed something different, you know, to get out of my comfort zone. Berlin had come up in a few conversations with friends so I just went, rented out a place in Charlottenburg for a few months and just hung out. I started meeting new people and things just started to happen. It just all made sense, I met a lot of new friends so Berlin is my second home now, but London will always be my baby.
The other thing I was told about you is that you're a hacker. That's sick. How'd you get into that?
I used to be quite nerdy in school. I did a bit of web programming but also got into a lot of trouble messing around with the computers at school. I sold unlimited space to kids I didn't like, because I usually just gave it away to my friends. I was using this spy program called Netop to hijack the teacher's computer whilst they we're trying to do a presentation or something. It was a lot of fun watching them get into a panic and having whole assemblies where the teacher would talk about these kids who were really fucking with the systems. It was petty stuff but I use that same approach when programming music.
What else are you into other than music?
Photography. I'm old school, I always carry my camera with me wherever I go. I am also a bookworm, currently I'm reading Elon Musk's book. The guy is such a beast, insane.
Is music a full-time thing for you now? Are you still considering other careers, or is music it for you?
I'm into a lot of other things but right now music is the main focus. Maybe I can realize a few other dreams, but we'll see. If it wasn't for the music, I'd aspire to become an astronaut. Space always fascinated me. I'd love to be out there and experience the feeling of being a tiny human in a big ass universe.
What can we expect from BAD WITH PHONES in the next year or so?
Well, fingers crossed, more music, cool videos, and shows.