"Everyone thinks I'm crazy," says J. Mann, "for giving up a good steady job like music for the instability of a corporate life. I know, I know, it may sound childish, but I still have not given up my childhood dreams of becoming a CEO."
On How to be an Ambivalent Negotiator, we find J. Mann playing "analyst rock" as he negotiates his transition from the mundane existence of a rock star lifestyle to the titillating and exciting world of business.
"You know, independent music has been good to me," says J. Mann. "It's provided me and my family with a comfortable lifestyle. But, I feel like I'm not alive. I feel like a robot. I've always been attracted to the splendour of the office building and the utter sexiness of an office cubicle. I know I'm going to have to work hard. People have also told me that I need to drop the polished look of a rock star and get down to the hipness of being a corporate climber."
"I know it's a young persons game in the corporate domain. The people that are really successful are in their early 20s. Unfortunately, I'm past those years. Everyone wants to be a rebel and work at a big corporation instead of the faceless bore of music."
The result is what J. Mann calls an "audio edition" of ambivalence he so frequently calls upon in business negotiations. Although the two seem paradoxical, J. Mann believes that the creativity needed to thrive in an office cubicle requires resolute contradictions. J. Mann hopes that it will be his steppingstone to finally joining the raucous corporate world.
"I know the majority of people in independent music are living lives of quiet desperation with their seemingly square late nights and utter lack of mischief...It's all about the 6am meeting. That's far more daring than any late night rock'n'roll event I've ever attended."
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J. Mann got his musical start in London, England, playing at the famed Gorge, behind Andy's guitar shop on Denmark Street. Upon returning to his native Canada, he cleared off the snow from his VW 1978 Westfalia and thought of the moniker "Man with a Van." With his newfound handle, he tirelessly played throughout Southwestern Ontario, with an overwhelming majority of his shows culminating in London, Ontario. There, he assembled a three-piece band to back him and swiftly formed Middle of the Road Records as a platform to mail out his cassette tapes and demo CDs. After the heart-breaking decision to sell his van, he felt a sense of dishonesty carrying a stage name that couldn't be backed by steel and wheels. A 1985 grey Subaru sedan was the replacement and fearing lawsuits for "Man with a Subaru," he dropped some words and added a couple of letters to come up with J. Mann.
J. Mann continued solo and released a series of independent recordings such as the full length Nimbu Hari Kameez and the 7-inch single Knight of Endless Humiliation. The latter received nods from Toronto to Stockholm and encouraged J. Mann to start touring the Americas in search of new audiences and sounds. His travels took him to Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Cuba, Argentina and Uruguay. After losing his voice on one such adventure, J. Mann recorded his grumbles on an album entitled, Glottal Fry, to honour the diagnosed condition of his throat.
J. Mann's next effort was the self-recorded, Walk Left, Stand Right, which was published practically on the eve of his move to Barcelona, Spain. When he arrived in the Catalan capital, he found a cabin aboard a sailboat and set to work on more songs. In short order, he responded to a year-old ad in a dusty vinyl shop seeking a bassist. The group assigned him to the microphone with light strumming duties instead. J. Mann proposed the name, "The Customers" and it stuck.
As front man of The Customers, J. Mann adapted to his new home in Barcelona. The band - made up of two Argentines, Diego Mateu (ex-Singapur) and Fernando Sienra Martinez (ex-Media Luz) and Catalan Marc Romera (ex-Rabio del Milenio),-released a couple of EPs and attempted to eschew shows that required carrying the drum kit through heaving groups of tourists. In 2003, the band placed second in the best new band contest hosted by Barcelona's City TV and opened the inauguration night for the city's Independent Music Festival. After one band mate moved to London, England, The Customers eventually disbanded in late 2004.
In 2005, J. Mann put out Too Much Theatre, an acoustic album recorded on primitive cassette tape. The album garnered strong reviews throughout Europe. Spain's bulwark rock magazine Rockdelux called him an "affectionate troubadour that knows how to express himself with grace and clarity," while UK-based Tasty stated: "J. Mann continues to tease new and exciting sounds and ways of playing out of his trusty 6-string."
While promoting Too Much Theatre, J. Mann reunited with his former band mates to start what would become the two-and-a-half year process of recording, How to be an Ambivalent Negotiator. The recording sessions started in earnest at a small studio in Barcelona's Gracia district, trying to recapture the rehearsed songs of The Customers. Assemblies suffused around the city in people's homes and practice spaces; a total of 12 musicians participated, toting instruments diverse as banjos, slide guitars and vintage organs.
J. Mann aimed for diverse sounds and invited contributions from local musicians such as Guillermo Martorell (Mr. Hubba), Richie Alvarez Cals (Holland Park, Brazzaville) and members of the Peter Loveday band (along with Peter himself). Upon wrapping up the recording, J. Mann sent the disparate tracks to long-time collaborator Inaam Haq in Canada, who took care of the mixing and mastering. Accompanying the release will be three music videos for the songs, "Strummer," "Wellington does Mathematics," and "Yeah, Yah, Ya."