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Sam Sparro – Full interview

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A version of this article appears on Subba Cultcha.

2008 may well be the year of the Sparro. The world straddling, Aussie born soul singer has been destroying the charts with the phenomenon that is ‘Black and Gold’. Following a year on the road that has taken him across the world Sam and his merry band are continuing to take the party wherever the bus stops. The ascendant success of his eponymous debut album and in particular single ‘Black and Gold’ has seen him recently collecting a string of accolades in the year end award season, including 5 Aria nominations from his native Australia. Sam took some time out before a recent Norwich show to discuss awards, Lindsay Lohan, duets and new material.

Hey, so first off I wanted to talk about the big news at the moment being the awards nominations you’re getting, namely the 5 Aria’s you’re up for and I was going to ask you what your reaction to that was and how you take it?

Um, it’s great to be nominated for things like that, especially in my home country of Australia obviously, because I haven’t been back for so long, and actually they’ve really taken to me and been really king to me. Going back to Australia has been really good. It’s been a really nice surprise actually how much they’ve latched onto it in Australia…I mean awards are nice, it’s a nice validation. I mean I don’t really watch them very often, so I’m kind of indifferent to the actual event, but going back to Australia will be nice so that’s cool.

It seems like from an artists perspective the cool thing about Awards ceremonies is the chance to get together with your peers and see people who you may not get to see all year because of touring commitments or whatever?

Yea, that is cool. It is good to get together and see people and get some booze and just have some fun, but it is kind of like work, it is work doing those things, but it’s kind of like the last day of school vibe.

So how is the tour going?

Well we’ve just pulled in Norwich ready for tonight. It’s going well, yeah this has been a really fun tour. I couldn’t really be happier with it. Each show… it just keeps getting better every night.  You know we’ve been playing together for a while now and we’ve got to the point where we are just really, really comfortable on stage together  as a band you know and it’s just a lot of fun, we enjoy playing the songs and …I don’t know, it’s just good fun.

Do you have anything special planned for the final night of the tour in London? Any special guests?

Nothing too out of the ordinary really, we’ll just have our costumes , oh actually we might do a couple of extra kind of vibe things for the London show. Just kind of people who might be in the audience that we were talking about we might throw some of their songs in just for fun. I don’t want to say too much really.

How do you get on with the day to day business of touring, how do you keep yourselves entertained?

Oh well we just have a lot of fun really, we’re always joking around, I mean me and the backing singers are always singing and making up songs about  everyone. But IO mean I like to read and go to the gym, do some writing, check online to see what there is to do, like keeping up with business stuff on emails and shit like that, but um, you know it actually goes really quickly by the time you wake up, get off the bus do sound check go grab some food.  The day’s pretty much gone.

Do you  like the touring, transient lifestyle, is it something that excites you waking up and seeing a different place everyday, or do you find yourself craving a bit more grounding and some more home time?

I wouldn’t mind some more time at home actually. I haven’t really been at home at any point this whole year so I am kind of getting to the point where, yeah I do love travelling but it’s not like I can’t really desperately can’t wait to go to Norwich to check out the greenery.

You played, well you attempted to play Bestival recently but due to stage subsidence you had to actually pull the show. Do you like the festival circuit or do you prefer to be playing club shows like your current tour, and is that the weirdest gig experience you’ve had so far?

Well we didn’t get to play which is the bad thing about that, but I actually love festivals I actually think that our best show to date was Glastonbury this year. I don’t think we’ve topped that yet, but yeah obviously I mean they are a totally different vibe. I like the small indoor show as well because you’ve got control over the mood and you get to experiment and really show off the nuances of the music a bit more and it’s got a bit more soul and you can pay more attention to the pitch of your voice, whereas with a festival show I’m just trying to be loud and bold and deliver as much as possible so the people 60rows back are getting just as good a show as the people on the barrier.

So what’s next for you once you’ve finished this leg of your UK tour?

Well we’re pretty much touring until February, we’re going to Japan, and doing  a European Tour, spending some time in the States and then doing a festival tour in Australia in the summer, well in their summer.

Cool, Big Day Out?

We’re doing Good Vibrations which is the more kind of electronic, dance, soul kind of vibe tour, which is a really good one actually, I think that last year Kanye West and Calvin Harris headlined it and this year, well this year I’m headlining it and it should be really cool. After that I’m going to get to lay lo for a while and start cooking up the next album which I’m pretty keen to take my time on it.

Ok, so in terms of that new record and writing material do you find that you are the kind of artist who writes constantly, who has ideas on the road etc and so it’s a case that when you come back off a tour you already have an idea of where you’re going next or do you need to be grounded and focused and in one place to do your best work?

I think that I do my best work when I’m relaxed and comfortable. I’m like a creature of comfort when I’m recording because I just work better that way for some reason. I just find it difficult to write on the road. I mean all the pre-production and the recording I’ve done before was done in my bedroom, so you can’t really get more comfortable than that!

Is that something that you want to replicate going forward or do you have a yearning to try the mega studio approach and really go to the opposite end of the spectrum on the next record?

Well my plan is to actually start building my own studio, which is kind of going to focus on when I come back to recording. I mean based in LA you can get cheap studio time so I’m going to do that in the meantime and just concentrate in setting up my own studio. But I mean I do like big studios as well. There’s one we just recorded in a couple of weeks ago in London called…I think it’s called the Toybox or the Toyshop it’s where Oasis recorded ‘What’s the Story Morning Glory’, and it’s just this room full of vintage keyboards and  precussion instruments and so you know maybe starting it in my home studio and finishing it in a big studio like that.

Sounds awesome…so do you have any idea of people you might like to work with, like producers etc? Or even other artists? Would you have any interest in doing something like the Jack White and Alicia Keys  Bond theme duet? Does that kind of collaboration interest you and would it be more of a one off thing or something you might bring under the banner of a Sam Sparro album?

Who was it? Jack White and Alicia Keys, is it true? I haven’t heard that yet actually but I really want to…I mean yeah I would be interested in doing stuff like that, but kind of on the side, I like for my own work, for my body of work like an album to be kind of self contained. Probably even moreso on this record than on the first album really. But I definitely love working with people and doing bits and bobs on the side, like doing something with Adele would be fun or Roisin Murphy, somebody like that.

In terms of videos you’ve had some pretty interesting treatments. How involved do you like to get with that and does your acting past feed into that if at all?

Well I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to that aspect of things as well. Most of the time I’ve been pretty involved with the treatment and working with the Director on the video. Which I enjoy. You know I’ve been very fortunate to work with people who I get on really well . Though theirs is one video which we shot which has never been released and we had to put away.

Which song was that for?

It was for the latest single, ‘21st Century Life’, so we went away and did another one which I was much happier with. But, yea the first one never saw the light of day.

Cool, given the marriage of video and music and the fact that your songs have been used on various TV shows, as well as your fathers soundtrack work, would you ever be interested in doing soundtracks, either as composer or compiler, maybe in an RZA role or Trent Reznor roll like they did on Kill Bill 1+2 or \Lost Highway?

That’s so freaky I like literally watched Kill Bill 2 on the bus this morning. But yea, I actually worked for a music compiler in LA years ago and he worked on some movies and stuff like that. So I can see myself going down that route, I mean I love making mix tapes and DJing so I could definitely see myself scoring a film or doing a soundtrack one day yes.

You’re names obviously attached to the Lindsay Lohan record, do you see yourself working with anyone else like that and would you ever ghost write for people?

Yea, but I haven’t done anything yet. But yea, sure. I mean I’m up for anything as long as it’s fun and interests me. I’m not too proud to turn down anything just based on the project,. But it’s been hard to co-ordinate I mean I’m busy and she’s busy so we’ll see what happens when it happens.

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Johnny Foreigner – Full interview transcript

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Johnny Foreigner interview conducted at madame Jojo’s for Who’s Jack?

Hey, so the first thing I wanted to ask you about was your dynamic as a 3 piece and the way that works for you and how it came about. Were you influenced by any of the epic three pieces of history like Hendrix or Nirvana etc?

Alexei: It wasn’t really a reference to any other bands, it was more just convenience, it was just the minimum amount of people that you can make a big noise with and it’s easy for arguments and shit like that, you know, having an odd number, so that’s cool.

Do you find it’s a fairly easy democracy within the band or do you have huge arguments and then everything’s ok?

(Laughter) Junior: Oh I think when we were more worried about money., well, we still are, but when we were more stressed about money we used to have a few arguments, but never serious.

So how do you guys get on with the phenomenon of touring? How has this tour been so far?

A: Well this tour has been amazing . This tour has been great because we’ve had stage divers and…I went crowd surfing to my own band which was the most emo thing I’ve ever done ever! It’s been a pretty  good buzz the whole way through.

Do you find that people are really getting into the stuff off the album or are people really into stuff off the EPs which they’ve known longer?

J: Album
Kelly: I don’t know because things like ‘Sofacore’ always gets a really good reaction.
A: Yeah I guess , but I also think there’s that thing, like if I like a band and they play a song that’s a little more obscure or not as well know it means more.

That’s true, because you put out that collection of demos, ‘I Like You Mostly At Never’, do you still slip some of those more obscure songs into the set?

K: Well some of that stuff actually made it to the album and EP so there is stuff off there.
A: It’s weird, because that was like a collection of every song we had ever written to that point, which was just sitting on our computers not doing anything so we just wanted to put that put there.

Cool, and was the intention just to draw a line under that, to document everything up to that point and then start fresh?

K: Probably.
A: Well there’s about 3 different versions of that cd with different track listings on it, so it was just a collection of songs that we were like, “these are the songs we’ve recorded that we aren’t embarrassed by”, and so we just made it so that as many people as possible could hear it. It’s not like, well we’re not really making money now, but it’s not like there was anything to hold us back from giving them away free to people.

Ok, so has that changed , as in when you look at some bands, bigger bands like Radiohead who are giving away their music for whatever people are willing to pay for it. Is that something you agree with or you feel like as artists just starting out , “this is something I created so it has to have a worth on it”?

A: I think, everyone steals music off the internet and everyone loves music, there’s nothing you can do about it. I’d rather people downloaded our songs than didn’t hear of us you know what I mean? I think like, I mean personally if I like something enough then I will go out and buy it or you go to the show , buy a shirt or something but that way the money goes back into the band, that’s how they succeed. I think that 10 or 15 years ago teenagers would tape stuff off the radio and you’d have your compilation tapes. ..

J: …and Minidiscs!

A: Now it’s just like you download 70 million bands and the ones that stick in your head are the ones that pass the test as it were. I mean it’s a nice level playing field. Obviously if you spoke to our record label you’d  get a completely different answer!

(Laughter)

But it’s hard to see how it affects us really. I mean there are people at the front of the show singing every single word.

K: And that’s what we want so…

Cool. So you feel like it benefits you?

All: Yeah, completely.

Ok, so do you set list shows or do you just feel the energy?

J: Well we will tonight I think.
A: Yeah if there’s a few more people there we can’t really be as amateurish. But like this tour we have three songs that we open with and then we see where we go. We like people to shout songs at us and then argue with them as to how much they want us to play them.

What are the three openers?

A: Oh like a new song and then ‘Hennings Favourite’ and then ‘Salt, Pepa and Spindarella’.
J: Opening with a new song though.

How is that working? How’s that feel kicking off with  a new song, has there been a good song?

J: Amazing yea.
A: Yea, it’s been brilliant. I mean we’ve had the same set pretty much since we signed the deal so now we can change it up it’s really fun.

In terms of new material, obviously you’re feeding it into the set but how far along are you? Do you have enough to be thinking about new releases when you get off touring?

A: Yea we were talking about this today actually. We might re-record one of the songs of the album, In a completely new style, and then put it together with some new songs and have it as a bridge between the two albums. The plan at the moment is to go in in February to start on the next one. We’ve written about half of it already and it’s been going very well.

…and subject wise is there anything new that you’re exploring with the new material?

A: Yeah, weirdly I was thinking about this the other day. Like when we started all our songs were just about Birmingham and getting fucked around Birmingham and living in Birmingham or whatever, and now it’s about getting fucked and destroyed all over the world. So there will probably be a lot more references to airport lounges and our tour bus.

Cool, and do you find a tangible difference between Birmingham and the rest of the world, when you’re getting fucked?

Laughter.
A: Well I’d rather be fucked in a strange place…
Pregnant pause.
K: Did you really just say that?
Obscene laughter.
J: Oh god I have to put that on the Myspace.

Ahem, sooo. Where’s the favourite, ‘strangest’ place you’ve been so far?

J: Japan.
K: Tokyo, probably, Tokyo was amazing.
A: Yea, we played a mini festival out there.
J: Reading as well, playing Reading was awesome.

Was that the fulfilment of childhood dreams? Did you go to Reading as punters growing up?

J: Yea, definitely.
A: Yea, but before the band. It’s weird the last couple of years I’ve really wanted to go but because we’ve been doing gigs or  just can’t afford it I haven’t been able to go. Because it’s like if you have a spare couple of hundred quid or whatever  then it goes into sorting guitars out not festival tickets. So the fact that we got to play there. It felt like quite a moral victory.

Cool, In terms of playing in Tokyo how did the Japanese audiences take to you , there’s this kind of opinion that they are a very intense audience?

A: We were told that, god it sounds a little bit racist. But our tour manager told us that the audience likes a signal that it’s ok to let go , so  if they see you letting go then that’s when they go off.

Well it’s the same in other places as well. I’ve been to gigs in Scandinavia where the crowd is almost still, just really intensely watching the band when they play. Then as soon as they finish the song they go nuts.

A: Cool…well I think we kind of cheated as we came on to ‘Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe’ by Whale, so everyone was in the best mood from the off and then everyone just went nuts right from the start. It was very cool. Also the door staff had to crouch down between the monitors to stop people spilling into the stage so it kind of felt like being in the Beatles.

Nice. So in terms of playing London how do you find that? It seems like the great divider, some bands love it and some bands hate it.

J: I don’t really like it. I mean we’ve played some shows at the Camden barfly, they were good shows.
K: Yeah, the Camden Crawl was really cool too.
J: Yeah that was a great show. It’s just that some shows you get the folded arms types.
A: I can see why it happens though. I mean London’s just like any other major city just more so. You could probably go out every single night in London and  see a band that you really like. So I wouldn’t say spoiled but I think that you build up a tolerance to it, so we could take our show to some small town in the middle of crapsville and the whole place will go mental because we’re the first band to pass through there in two years.
K: Although saying that I think to say that the crowd don’t get into it is a really apathetic statement, if you look at a band like Dananananaykroyd they take on the audience and make them do ridiculous things to get them in the mood, you know what I mean?
J: Yeah, but even they …like in Brighton they got everyone to do this hugging thing and afterwards they were just standing there again like gormless people even when they’d just been running around hugging each other.
A: I think with London though I’m going to say that a lot of people make up their mind about the show before they even go, though that’s probably a gross generalisation, but you do get the feeling that people will go to the show  and they’ve already decided that it will be the best show ever or that the band is shit and so…and what actually happens at the show is pretty much irrelevant unless someone gets naked or dies.
But having said that I mean the first Camden Crawl show that we played was amazing.

So in terms of tour mates, other than who you have on this tour is there anyone that you want to tour with in the future?

J: Calories, I definitely want to tour with Calories. They’re from Birmingham and the guys used to be in Distophia and are now one of our favourite bands so  it would be nice to take them, well take them on tour basically and see where they go from there.
A: Yeah, because there are a few local bands that are just as good as us that are a little further down the ladder for whatever crappy reason and we’ve had so many bands, not take pity on us but be really kind to us and taken us out with them and built us up and it’s made such a difference to us and now we’re in a position to reciprocate that.
K: Absolutely, yeah it’s quite a nice little change to be able to pull bands up and help us like we were helped.
A: Yea, so there’s Copy Haho, Fight Like Apes, Tubelord, William who we have got tonight are fucking incredible. So yea…
J: …I’d be happy to just tour with Dananananaykroyd forever you know.
All: Definitely.

So would you ever do like a Fantomas superband?

All: Oh absolutely.
J: Johnnynonnyakaroyd!

OK, so a final couple of questions. In terms of the hometown show when you go back to Birmingham, how are you finding the reaction, are people really getting behind you as you get bigger or is there that thing where like you’ve almost become too cool for school?

J: Ah well it’s Birmingham isn’t it.
A: Yea so you get a lot “Wankers! What are you doing, you ponce, going to London, with your band.”
J: But we’ve started to get a lot of the students coming to gigs, so actually a lot of our biggest fans in Birmingham will be students from London. We had the wicked  show with los Campesinos at Academy 2 though  and that was like, well that might have been the only thing going on. (Laughs)…and we’ve got one in a small venue so it’s going to be good. But we purposely play the small venues  to get the vibe.

Cool, because you played with them (Los Campesinos) in the States didn’t you? Is that somewhere that you see yourselves really devoting the chunk of time that it takes to crack it. Is that something that interests you?

A: We’ve already done the pre-nups, “Do you promise to come over and tour your album for…”

…the next 7 years?

A: Yea that’s totally what it’s like.

Ok, so finally whilst you’re abusing your rider is there anything that you don’t have or maybe can’t command yet on your rider that you’d like?

A: That girl from last night!
Riotous Laughter
J: We ask for sandwhich materials right, and what we get is pitta bread and homous, now I’m not being funny but that’s not a sandwich! Meat, cheese, butter, baguettes and it’s all cheap that’s what I don’t get, it’s not like we’re asking for Tescos finest.
K: I want black olives, sliced black olives!
J: We’ve yet to get what we want on the rider but even when we do get it there’s usually some industry cunt who comes in and eats it all.
A: It’s usually the people who works for someone who works for someone who works for someone who works for someone who works at our label, it’s just like, “Oh Johnny Foreigner’s in town!” And you’re thinking I’ve got no food in my fridge at home, I’m going to make just enough money from the tour to get a weeks shopping, but it’s ok because I’ll get off stage and there’s this amazing platter of meats, and you get there and there’s some fat  pointy shoed cunt going “phwoar this is delicious”, and it’s like so what do you do?
J: I mean I’ve even asked people to leave some beer for me after one show and they didn’t.
A: Yea, it’s like help yourself just don’t touch my gin and I come back and there’s like…
K:…half a bottle left.
J: We went mental though.
K: Aww god we sound so precious don’t we, “Don’t touch my shit!”
A: Everyone there was from a record company not directly attached to our band.
J: Parma ham though, buffalo mozarella, it weren’t no joke, and we got nothing.
A: We took a photo of it was so good.

Join a band…eat mozarella.

K: Seriously I was so impressed though it was so good. It was like “look mum…” It was such a nice platter.
A: then you get some places though, like the last time we were in London we played at Proud Gallery and they wouldn’t even give us a rider. They were “sorry we’re not really a venue,” and we were like, “no it’s just the way that you’ve sold tickets based on our band and everyone’s coming to see our band play here.”
J: Tonight we’ve got loads of beer and loads of vodka, better bring it in here though or all the industry types will get it.
K: Form a human shield around it. Shall we empty it and fill it up with water and spit? Be like, “you want some, sure here you go, help yourself.” Aww god, that’s so gross, I’m sorry.
A: We’ve been wringing out our tshirts into cups after shows.
K: No lex has, wringing it out into a cup and, where was it, after Derby, you gave it to someone, some girl.
A: Apple juice?

So you Like to maintain an intimate relationship with your fans.

All: Oh Yeah. We like to share everything on tour.