On her debut mini-album Only Child, Brit Manor explores issues such as femininity, depression, loneliness, death, reincarnation and loss. In reflecting upon such heavy topics, the singer-songwriter learned how to tap into her inner power and look for the silver lining in even the darkest of clouds.
Manor in indeed an only child, raised in South Los Angeles and Baldwin Hills by a single mother, a jazz singer and vocal coach. On her journey of self-exploration, Manor reflected on the loneliness associated with growing up as an only child of a single mother, and realized that “loneliness” doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. In fact, solitude can be a gift, one that allowed her to develop a strong sense of individuality and ambition, and a wild, active imagination.
“The downfall to all this might be too much solitude or self-critique, or thinking we can do life alone,” Manor muses. But being an only child shaped the woman she is today, so it became the name of her project, and the title track. “It sets the landscape for the stories I wanted to tell and the type of feelings that needed to be expressed.”
Manor's teen years were split between Chino Hills and East L.A., where she attended LACHSA (L.A. County High School for the Arts) for theater. She danced competitively until age 14, learned piano and saxophone, and taught herself how to sing by harmonizing to the radio and performing in churches, talent shows and show choirs. After graduating, Manor went to New York to attend the Tisch School at NYU, where she studied acting. “As a wee tike, all I wanted was to be Janet Jackson and act in movies.”
Following college, Manor toured with a hip-hop theater company, out of which sprung Her first band, Profit$, a hip-hop jazz sextet. She also started producing concerts and throwing underground parties in New York under the moniker B/Hive. After six years in New York, she returned home, where she continued to promote concerts and sing, as a member of the band Yellow Alex & The Feelings and, since 2013, backing up Nick Waterhouse.
Despite all this activity, Manor battled depression on and off throughout her twenties. “I think mental illness is often misunderstood and it’s taboo because people don’t really know how to discuss it,” she says. “It comes in many different shapes and sizes. It has to do with coping amidst trauma and understanding how to be OK in the 'not knowing.' We don’t always have to be happy. We don't always have to have the answers. It’s OK to feel sad and angry and confused when we experience loss, and it’s healthy to explore those emotions.”
When she began writing the songs that would become Only Child with her college friend, producer Chuck Wild aka Captain Planet, she dove headlong into those emotions. “I lost a lot of people in the last few years,” she explains. “So these songs allowed me to explore those feelings and not feel like my feelings were condemned. Writing allows you to move through the pain. Music is the best therapy.”
Not that Only Child is a downer of a record. On “Wheels of Eternity,” Manor explores death and reincarnation to an uptempo, disco beat. “Death doesn't have to be this morbid, harrowing event, especially for people who are left behind,” she says. “It can be celebration because it's inevitable.”
The song was inspired by one of Manor’s best friends, who committed suicide in 2013. The untimely death of her friend, along with the death of three grandparents and godmother shortly after, compelled Manor to meditate about death and the afterlife. “I had to host a memorial for my best friend, which was extremely difficult,” Manor reflects. “But it ended up being this incredible experience. We were shouting into the hills of Malibu, and we spread her ashes on the shore there, just how she would have wanted it, and it felt complete.”
Another key issue Manor explores on Only Child is femininity. “I often feel that women don’t give themselves enough credit for the amount of emotional power and attention to detail and the nuance they have living inside of them. I know I didn't for the longest time. I think women are so delicate, and we sometimes lose our shine because of this crippling fear of not being accepted or loved for who we really are.” The song “Diamond in the Rough” is an anthem for women to find and trust their power and their inner light.
When Manor began to write the songs for Only Child, she didn’t think much about what it would sound like or what genre it would fit under. Her label, Bastard Jazz, is calling it electronic future soul, but Manor isn’t concerned with that. She simply wanted to tell her stories through music.
“The record was just really a way for me to explore stories that I wanted to tell and however that kinda came out musically was what it was gonna be. The producer Chuck Wild and I absolutely love all kinds of music. The only parameter we set for ourselves was to make sure the songs lived in the same cosmically charged world and had electronic undertones.”
Only Child is out May 20. Manor hopes that it moves listeners and that maybe a certain song will remind them of a familiar story, feeling or place. “I think the songs on it are different enough that hopefully everyone will have a favorite,” she says. “But I don’t know. I can’t expect any kind of response. I just hope that people are moved and can relate.”
For more on Brit Manor and Only Child, visit www.bastardjazz.com.