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INTERVIEWS SAM SPARRO
S.A.M.S.P.A.R.R.O.Australian-born electro-funk artist SAM SPARRO has come up with one of the most surprising releases of the year,and guess what? It's an EP. BLACK AND GOLD (MODUS VIVENDI) is a collection of six exhilarating tracks served up with JESSE VOGG's techno-electronic wizardry and SPARRO's haunting arrangements and soulful croon (with or without a vocoder). Listening to BLACK AND GOLD may bring back memories of early eighties dance and hip-hop with it's synth beats and precision, but BLACK AND GOLD is no nostalgia trip. It's hard t ocall six songs a revelation, but that's exactly what these six songs are. This is our first taste of an exciting new artist and people will be wanting more than six songs after giving BLACK AND GOLD a listen.
SAM SPARRO TALKS TO ROCKWIRED ABOUT
HIS NEW EP 'BLACK AND GOLD'
SEEING THE WORLD
MOVING ON TO THE NEXT THING
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED recently spoke with SAM SPARRO over the phone, a week following his show at the EL CID in Los Angeles. Here is how it went.
How did your show at the EL CID GO?
It was grreat actually. I think that was one of our best shows. It was 70% new faces that I had never seen before. We're now at the point where we are very comfortable on stage with what we are doing and it's great.
You say 'we'. There is an actual band behind you?
It's not quite a band. It's me and my producer JESSE VOGG and he has different keyboards, and modules and a laptop and I have a keytar and a microphone and a vocal effects pedal. It's very synth-oriented.
BLACK AND GOLD is a great EP by the way.
Thank you! It's just a relief that I haven't read any bad reviews so far.
I don't think you'll be getting any. Now that the recording is behind you, how do you feel about it?
It's always when you listen back to something that you've spent so much time on where you feel that things could've been different. Everytime I listen to it I hear little things that I would like ot change but honestly, I'm really happy with it and everytime I hear it, especially when I'm in a room full of people and they're really getting down to it. I'm really happy with it and I'm just ready to do the next thing.
Since you brought up the next thing- Is this E.P. a taste of a future LP at all or are you going in another direction with your next release?
We're going to push it a little further out there for this next one. I've just started the sessions for the full length album this week. It's still my vocals but going in a darker, electro/new wave sound. There will also be some really funny pop/hip-hop/electronica things too. Who knows? It's pretty early still and I'm just starting.
You come from a musical family. Does anyone else do music professionally?
My dad still plays professionally. As professional as my mum got was playing organ at a Baptitst church. My dad still does session work and still puts out records. He's more the sing-songwriter kind of artist.
I can gather that piano figured heavily in your musical education, or are there other instruments?
My Dad and my brother play guitar and I think that made me never want to go near a guitar. Recently I've started picking up the guitar, but yeah I'm much more piano-oriented.
At ten you moved from Australia to here. What prompted the move?
My dad was a gospel recording artist and he was signed to this label in Los Angeles. I think he always wanted to move to America, so that was how it happened, so we all packed up our stuff and moved here.
How difficult or easy was that to adjust to at such a young age?
It was really hard. I was ten and I was really settled and initially I was probably really excited about moving to LA and thinking "This is where I'm going to be a big star!", but it wasn't quite what I expected and not easy to adjust to. I think I've only recently adjusted.
In the begining, what sort of music made an impression on you?
When I first moved to America, I just thought the most amazing thing were these R&B/Hip Hop stations. I'd sit there next to my stereo and tape these songs. Before that in Australia, I was listening to a lot of pop music like MICHAEL JACKSON and WHITNEY HOUSTON before my tastes developed as a teenager and I started listening to everything.
It sounds like you loved our music but you weren't too crazy about our education system here.
Have you ever gone to school in California?
Never. I went to school in Maryland, where schools are actually good.
A part of it was just adjusting to a brand new culture and a whole new set of rules. It's much bigger and faster here. Kids grow up a lot faster here. The school I went to was really Math oriented and there was no creative outlet and I hated it. As soon as I could leave, I did.
And you started working in the music industry right away.
Yes. I moved back to Sidney. I started working for this guy who is well known in the business, especially in Australia.His name is PHIL TRIPP and he's actually American and he took me under his wing and I was his assistant in his publicity firm. That's where I started at seventeen.
Then onward to the United KIngdom.
I thought it was going to be a shoe-in. I thought I was going to move to England, meet a big time producer, sign a five record deal and that was going to be it.
It kicked my but. I never worked that hard in my life just to stay afloat. It was really the best time of my life actually but it was really hard work. I was like a kid in a candy store. I was still a teenager surrounded by all of this activity, and culture, and hustle and bustle - I loved it.
It kind of sounds like your music. It sounds like that experience motivated it.
Yeah definitely. I wouldn't be where I am musically if I had just stayed in the suburbs of Los Angeles working in a cafe and going to college.
How many songs came out of this experience?
I proably have a catalogue of about 50 songs that came out of that whole experience but there was a lot of instrumental stuff. I've got hard drives full of beats that will hopefully one day see the light of day.
What all goes into composing a piece for you? How does it happen?
Sometimes it can be really simple, like the song from the EP, SICK. That track was pretty much done in a day from begining to end. I had this little synth-y melody line that I recorded. I wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocals in my bedroom, e-mailed the session to my producer and he finished it up. Those vocals ended up being the vocals on the E.P. On the other hand, the song BLACK AND GOLD took a year to complete. I did it with a few different producers and it just didn't sound quite right to me so it took a lot of re-arrranging and changing the key and redoing the vocals and the chord structure of the song and finally getting it to a place where I loved it.
Who did the cover for the EP? I think it's a nice cover.
Thank you! It was actually a joint effort of photographer ADRIAN GILLELAND and make up artist which took seven hours to do. this guy in Paris finished it up. He worked on the logo as well. I really like the cover as well. I kind of imagined it as a GRACE JONES-type record cover.
That's what I was thinking. I was thinking WARM LEATHERETTE.
See, I know my shit!
You do know your shit! If you saw that record in the store, you would not pass by without picking it up and looking at it and wondering what the fuck it was going to sound like.
I've got that album somehwere in storage. I don't have the room for my record collection. I miss the artwork that went along with records.
Yeah. It's a lost culture. It was nice to have a solid piece of artwork that you could look at and read to go along witht he music.
You went back to Australia and were in a band called SUGAR JAMES.
Why are you laughing?
We weren't very good. We were really awful. It was kind of like a band of socialites, except for me. We always had excellent turnouts at our shows and everyone thought we were great probably because they had had too much to drink. It was like watching a high school band tank every week. At least in my mind
Then you shouldn't have put it in the bio.
It is in there isn't it. It also says that we were amazing, doesn't it?
Yes it does.
We had this great following. Maybe, I'm the only one that thought it was bad.
You returned to Los Angeles and set up shop at WHAT CLUB. What was that like?
It was like a speak easy set up. It was a club without any liquor license or without any insurance. The idea of the WHAT CLUB is "what club?" when the police would show up. All kinds of people would show up every week and play their music. DAVID JAY the bass player from BAUHAUS and LOVE AND ROCKETS lived in the back room and my dad rented recording space there. It was like a little family commune thing and everyone would `show up every week and play songs. It kind of peaked and then they got a call from the cops saying "we know what you're doing there. If it happens again there'll be a $50,000 fine and everyone there is going to be arrested." It was kind of like a big threat. After that, it shut down.
Sounds like Berlin in the 1930's.
I know it's creepy.
It is. I grew up thinking this was the land of the free and it isn't.
It's a nice idea but in reality it's really hard to actually have freedom.
But it was through WHAT CLUB that JESSE ROGG discovered you.
Yeah. We met and became friends. We had some similar experiences. Growing up, he spent half his time in the States and half of his time in Munich. We're both well-travelled and like the same type of music so we became good friends and didn't make music together until two years later.
BLACK AND GOLD is being released by MODUS VIVENDI. Describe your relationship with this label. They sound like an interesting outfit.
They're a great label because it's more of a co-op. We do our own marketing and everyone involved has complete control over what they do. It's great! At this point, we don't have the widest distribution and it's all digital at the moment but at least we're doing what we want to do and when we want to do it without being told what to do.
There are six songs on this EP. What three songs leap out at you the most?
My favorite three are BLACK AND GOLD, SICK and COTTONMOUTH, which is going to be the next single.
That's a very striking video you got there. Who directed it?
MARIAH GARNETT directed it. She is a good friend of mine. Pretty much everyone who works me is a good friend of mine. She's great. She's done a lot TV commercials and videos and she's just got this quirkiness about her and she's just real easy to work with.
Explain the track, if you could.
It's about the feeling of being alone and isolated on this tiny planet out in the middle of God-knows-where and just wanting to be connected with where we all come from and looking out into the stars and just seeing black and gold everywhere. It's an ode to the universe I guess.
How do people react to you as a live performer?
Sometimes I walk up on stage and I'm amazed. Lately it's a bunch screaming dancing people. It surprises me everytime.
What do you want a person to come away with after hearing his music?
Joy. And an opened mind. That's about it.