Observer (Newspaper) - 1999 - Interview
What planet is he on? The biggest Asian pop star in the world is back, but he still feels like an alien. "I suppose I was asking for it," ponders Jas Mann, remembering the time he turned up at Top of the Pops in a stretch limo containing a swimming pool and nine Chinese lesbians in bikinis. It was a joke, but no one else seemed to get it. What he was asking for was to become perhaps the most loathed and laughed-at pop star of his generation.

Derision on this scale does not come easily. You have to be really talented, really lucky, really successful, and really arrogant. Jas Mann aka Babylon Zoo was all those things. Mann, now 27, is half-Indian, half Sioux, wears make up and sarongs, and looks like a supermodel. He was a backlash waiting to happen.

Three years on from Spaceman, he is back with his single All the Money's Gone and the realisation that he will never be loved or understood in his own country. So is this the story of the Mann who fell to earth? Not entirely. For a start, the title of the single is another joke, ("It's an absolute piss-take - you have to be a buffoon to throw away the money I earned.") while the song itself is so madly catchy that it's sure to be a hit. A second no.1 cannot be ruled out.

Not only that - and some people are going to be choking on their cornflakes as they read this - but the new album King Kong Groover is really very good. The cover of Honaloochie Boogie is perhaps ill-advised, and Mann's lyrics have not lost their gaudy, sub-Ziggy sheen ('Return of the chrome invader / Asian kid with eyes electric blue / He's a crazy dude, oh, oh"). But it is witty, sharp, occasionally touching, and full of glorious hooks.

It is odd that Mann feels the need to smother his lyrics in ludicrous sci-fi imagery - because the bare facts of his life are so effortlessly surreal. Meeting him, the first thing you notice is the contrast between his dazzling, exotic appearance and his soft West Midlands burr; the second that his Anglo-Asian background is what defines him. Mann's obsession with extraterrestrials is a barely disguised metaphor for his own unresolved feelings of alienation. "I sometimes feel like a fly in a bowl of milk," he says.

His father came to England from Shimla in 1962 and has worked in a Tipton steel foundry ever since; his mother makes sarongs and bindis. Young Jas was always a fantasist - he loved comic book heroes like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, later the films of Stanley Kubrick and Fritz Lang. He got a guitar for his 11th birthday and learnt to play piano, his music tastes shaped by his mates (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin) and his father (Ravi Shankar, Muhammad Rafi). "You're brought up in that environment where the door's shut and you speak Indian," Mann explains. "You put Paranoid on the record deck and you dad goes, "What the hell is this?" There's this conflict between the two sides... it's completely mad, your brain goes all over the place."

By his mid-teens, Mann's great passion was cinema. It began with sneaked viewing of his friend's dad's bizarre 70s Mexican porn films and led to Jas writing music for his own short films. Movie soundtracks seemed a more respectable pursuit than pop stardom to a young Wolverhampton Asian. "The biggest fight of my life was to convince my parents that being in the entertainment industry was not lower-classes, because in India you clap your hands and they perform for you. Entertainers are servants. I don't think my dad got over that attitude until he saw me performing on the TV."

At 15 Mann started sending out tapes to record companies. After two years of rejection slips, he was visited by Clive Black, the MD of EMI. Soon after that, he was in Kate Bush's recording studio, with her dad making sandwiches, and soon after that he had a record deal. By this point he had written Spaceman and most of the other songs which eventually surfaced on his debut album The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes. But six years passed before they were released. The years between 18 and 24 are formative in most people's lives; Jas Mann spent them in various recording studios making music and following his mentor, Black, from EMI to Warner's and back again.

By the end of 1995, everything was in place. Arthur Baker's high speed remix of Spaceman was a club sensation and Jas Mann was poised to take over the world. Then he made a fateful decision. While in New York visiting Baker, he had been asked by the directors of the new Levi's advert if they could use 30 seconds of the remix. Mann's response was "yeah, ace." He came back to nervous boardroom meetings, analysing the potential negative effects of doing the ad. "I said, f**k it! If it was a cheesy toilet paper commercial, I'd agree with you, but this is cool - and it goes well with the music. Bollocks to what people think!"

"And obviously they were right," he smiles now. "I did get slated. From my point of view, it was incredible. You make a great record which is hugely successful everywhere you go, and then it's 99% negativity towards you." Yet he claims to have no regrets. "Well, I don't think 1996 is going to be remembered for many other things than that Levi's advert. I know that sounds really arrogant, but..."

But that's Jas Mann. He's a crazy dude. And he's still asking for it.

31 Jan 1999: Observer (Newspaper)
Interview by Sam Taylor

This article was typed and submitted to Babylon Zoo Online by accadia. Thanks!

Other Information
Jas, fully named 'Jasbinder', was born in Dudley in the West Midlands on the 24th day of April 1971

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