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Features

PARADISE REGAINED

Returning to Paradise with Recording Artist SAM SPARRO

By Tyler Malone

May 2012

As in John Milton’s Paradise Regained, the driving force behind Sam Sparro’s career–from his early Myspace demos (through which I met him almost a decade ago) up to the current moment (as he prepares the release of his second album Return To Paradise)–has always been “hunger.” Sparro hungers for answers to life’s mysteries (as evidenced in his Grammy-nominated single “Black and Gold”); he hungers for acceptance (as an out musician); but most importantly he hungers for new artistic challenges and directions (which is what keeps him fresh and exciting). Yet, as I sat with him during a soundcheck before his most recent NYC show, I noticed that he’s certainly changed since I spoke with him last. The hunger is still there, but he’s calmer, he seems happier, more at ease.

In the four years since he released his debut album, he’s collaborated with all manner of pop pioneers, from Nile Rodgers to Mick Ronson to Theophilus London to Basement Jaxx to Adam Lambert. He’s become a much sought-after singer, songwriter and producer. His new album, Return to Paradise, he explained to me with drumbeats booming in the background, is more mature than the first, and it is apparent that this maturity in the music reflects a similar maturity in the man. “I’m not so competitive,” he told me. Maybe that’s because he has finally realized he doesn’t need to be? With a voice as heavenly as his, why bother with competition? He’s already won. Paradise regained.

Tyler Malone: Tell me about the new album, Return to Paradise. How is it similar to or different than your first album?

Sam Sparro: Well, I suppose it is similar in the sense that I’m tackling a lot of different sounds, and trying to make them a cohesive body of work. I think I achieved the cohesiveness a bit better on this record. It’s more organic, more grown up. I think in terms of songwriting and arrangement, I’ve grown naturally.

TM: In between your first album and this one, you’ve done a lot of collaborating, with Mark Ronson and Theophilus London in Chauffeur, with Basement Jaxx, with Adam Lambert.

SS: Yeah, and I also did some collaborations with people that haven’t seen the light of day yet. People like Cathy Dennis, who’s a really great songwriter; she wrote Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.”

TM: So did that time collaborating with others influence you and help you in the creation of your sophomore album?

SS: Yeah, and also, I think what was important is that Return to Paradise is the first album I made when I didn’t have another job. So with this one I just had so much more experience. I had the experience of touring an album. And with just so much more knowledge about what I was doing, it just felt like a different ballgame. But then, because of that I also felt a lot of pressure. There was no expectation with first one.

TM: That’s always the stereotypical dilemma with second album. The fear of the sophomore slump and all that.

SS: Exactly. But I think once you get through that second album, it’s cool. Now that this album is finished, I’m like, “Oh, who cares if it doesn’t even sell.” Now I get to work on my third album. No pressure. Now I think I can be more experimental with my third album (which I’ve already started, because I’m pumped). It won’t be out for a long time, but I’m excited about it.

TM: So is it going to be another four or five years?

SS: No, I don’t think so.

TM: It’s been four or five years since your first album was officially released?

SS: Almost four years. It’ll be exactly four years by the time it comes out. It’s a long time, but it’s not that abnormal.

TM: That’s pretty average, I think.

SS: It’s like in between a Cut Copy and Michael Jackson album. It’s like better than Sade, not as good as Rihanna, as far as pacing..

TM: With Rihanna, I don’t even know when her albums are out, she just continually has a song or multiple songs all over the radio.

SS: They are always out, she has like one a year, I think. She’s like the new Beatles.

TM: Or old school Elton John, who released like a dozen albums in the 70s.

SS: When I put the first record out, dance music wasn’t commercial in America yet. Isn’t that crazy? Four years ago they would not play dance music on the radio, and now four years later they won’t stop fucking playing it. It’s driving everybody crazy.

TM: Pop is all dance now, and rap is also really dance-influenced right now.

SS: Right, which is not at all how it was four years ago. They wouldn’t play my song on the radio four years ago because it was “dance format.” Whatever.

TM: Which is why your first album was bigger in the UK.

SS: But I think music has become much more globalized in the last four years too. there’s not that much of a difference in the world music charts as there used to be.

TM: So who were some of your main musical influences on this album?

SS: Sylvester, Chic, Chaka Khan. The Paradise Garage era, and DJ Larry Levan’s record collection, was a big influence on this record. Really musical dance music. Soulful dance music. But then there’s ballads too. There’s a really pop piano ballad called “Shades of Grey.”

TM: If you could have anyone’s career trajectory–anyone, Michael Jackson, Prince, whoever–whose career trajectory would you want?

SS: Oh my god, that’s tough. You know whose career trajectory I’m really into right now? Sia’s. She just so doesn’t give a fuck. She won’t do interviews, or be in videos for her hits. I don’t know, I don’t think that’s going to be my career trajectory, but I just really respect that. She don’t give a fuck. She’s been singing her ass off for fifteen or twenty years, and now she’s just like “Fuck this bullshit, I’m just gonna write hits and stay at home.”

But I don’t know, I always feel like the trajectory I look for is from a different era where there was a different music industry.

TM: A career trajectory that’s just not feasible in today’s music industry?

SS: Well, unless you’re selling Doritos. You have to be a total fame whore to have a certain career trajectory these days. But I love and respect people like Erykah Badu who just tour the shit out of their records, and make great records every few years, and build an audience that loves their work. I’m not trying to sell stuff to people that they don’t want to buy, you know?

So I think I just wanna be doing this for like twenty years, and just getting to do it is really good. I used to get way more anxious and competitive. I think my perspective has changed.

TM: You definitely seem different, calm, more relaxed, still hungry, but…

SS: Yeah, I’m still hungry and excited. I love to work. I can’t wait to do my next album. I already have a concept.

TM: Can you share anything about that?

SS: I started by selecting and creating drum sounds because I want to have a consistent drum sound, sort of like a Jam and Lewis thing. It’s more like mouth beatboxes and industrial noises. I’m sort of drawing from new jack swing and industrial pop. I don’t know how it’s gonna go, but we’ll see what happens.

TM: When “Black and Gold” was on the charts you went on the BBC and covered another chart-topper of the moment Estelle’s “American Boy.” If you were to have the same opportunity today, what recent chart-topper would you cover?

SS: You have to be careful. That was like the perfect song for me to sing at the time. The label was so against me doing it. Not because they thought it was “gay,” but because “American Boy” was coming out the same week, and they thought me singing it would help it get to #1 over my own single. And it was actually #1 and I was #2. So I dunno, they may have been right, and it may have worked against me, but whatever, who cares about the numbers anyways? I don’t.

Wow, I’m not really answering your questions. Let’s see. Today, what would I sing? I wouldn’t sing Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” because everyone has sung it already. It’s the go-to cover song right now. What would I sing? Shit, I dunno, man.

TM: No problem. Instead, I’ll just ask you something I’ve always wanted to ask you since we became friends years ago over our mutual Prince-love, but as far as I know, I don’t think I ever asked you. What’s your favorite Prince song?

SS: I think it’s “Controversy.” I actually started listening to more of the 90s Prince recently, as a kind of research for my third album. He gets all into that sort of new jack swing era.

TM: He gets really weird, but it’s good too. I never know what to think when he starts incorporating rap.

SS: And there’s that plotline of the journalist.

TM: Yeah, voiced by Kirstie Alley.

SS: Oh, no way, that’s so funny. You know who I thought it was? Who’s that actress with that really deep voice who played Chandler’s mom/dad, trans-mum, on Friends? She’s in like Serial Mom? Kathleen? Kathleen Turner! That’s who I thought it was. But, you’re right, it’s totally Kirstie Alley.

As far as Prince goes though, I do really love his early career a lot. You know, Dirty Mind, Controversy. He’s just amazing.

TM: He’s someone else who makes a new album every damn year. Okay, so “Controversy” is your favorite Prince song, what is your favorite song of your own from this new album?

SS: I’ve been saying “Let The Love In,” and I think that’s definitely one of my favorites. I really like “We Could Fly,” and I love singing “Shades Of Grey,” because I feel I can really use my voice more since I’m not competing with a four on the floor beat behind me. The plan is for that to be like the fourth single at the end of the year.

TM: “Happiness” was the first single? And then “I Wish I Never Met You”?

SS: Well, yeah, “Happiness” had what they call a “soft release,” which is such a terrible name. It sounds so wrong. But “I Wish I Never Met You” is going to be the first official single. The second, I think, might be “Yellow Orange Rays.”

TM: Well, we look forward to all your singles, and the whole Return to Paradise album. When will it be released in the US?

SS: It’ll be out sometime in August here, I think.

Sam Sparro is a Grammy-nominated recording artist. His sophomore album, Return to Paradise, will be released this year.

LINKS:

Sam Sparro’s Official Site

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography by Marie Havens, Jonathon Ziegler, & Patrick McMullan.com

Design by Marie Havens

Captions:

Page 1/Cover:

(Underlay)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

(Top Photo)
Sam Sparro, Performance, GUCCI Afterparty for the “Gucci Icon-Temporary” New York Store Opening, Bowery Hotel, NYC, October 23, 2009, Photography by Patrick McMullan.com

Page 2:

(Underlay)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

(Top Photo)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

Page 3:

(Underlay)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

(Top Photo)
Adele, Sam Sparro, 15th Annual OUT100 Awards Presented by BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB, Gotham Hall, NYC, November 14, 2008, Photography by JONATHON ZIEGLER for PatrickMcMullan.com

Page 4:

(Underlay)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

(Top Photo)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

Page 5:

(Underlay)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

(Top Photo)
Sam Sparro, Performance, GUCCI Afterparty for the “Gucci Icon-Temporary” New York Store Opening, Bowery Hotel, NYC, October 23, 2009, Photography by Patrick McMullan.com

Page 6:

(Underlay)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

(Top Photo)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

Page 7:

(Underlay)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

(Top Photo)
Sam Sparro Live Show, Highline Ballroom, NYC, April 21, 2012, Photography by Marie Havens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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