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Sam Sparro Heads Back to the Disco

Sam Sparro scored a huge hit with his debut single Black and Gold, now he’s back with his second album Return to Paradise. OUTinPerth spoke to Sparro from his home base in Los Angeles.

I’ve been listening to your new album, I really love it. What are your main musical influences?

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On this record I was really inspired by American soul, R&B, disco from the late ‘70s and ‘80s, and the artists that my mum introduced me to that she loved like Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Curtis Mayfield, Donna Summer… I don’t know if you heard, Donna Summer died today… that’s sad, I’ve actually listened to a lot of Donna Summer while recording this album…. that whole period. I was really nostalgic for that era.

I read that you started off singing in church. How did you make the transition from singing in church to singing outside of church, and how did you find that?

While I was growing up singing in church, I was singing out of church a lot too because I had an agent as a kid, and I used to sing on TV commercials and Kids albums, in choir and all sorts of things… I used to work as a singer when I was about 12, and then after that I started performing at nightclubs – that was really the first time I performed my own songs. I had a little band and we used to do gigs in nightclubs and we’d get paid like $100, and we had to split it five ways. Everyone got $20 which barely payed for parking or drinks but that is where I started singing in public.

Could you say a bit about your philosophy behind the song on your new album ‘Happiness’, how it came about and what was on your mind when you wrote it?

Well, I had actually been reading some self-help books, you know like spiritual books. I was trying to come out of a really difficult time, I’d had a really bad breakup and I was just feeling totally lost and really sad and lonely and it didn’t make any sense to me [that I felt that way]. I actually read this book ‘The Power of Now’, and I think that kind of triggered in me the philosophy that happiness is really a decision that you make, that it’s a choice and things that make you sad are really just things that you’re holding onto from the past and if I could just stay in the present and realise that everything is totally okay, I’m completely fine—I’m just sitting in a chair talking to someone on the phone and I have nothing to worry about—then I can really let go of my fear and just be more happy. So that inspired the song.

What about the inspiration behind the video? I think they work really well together.

Because the music is so nostalgic for the 70s and 80s, I thought that visually, I wanted to take it even further back. I didn’t want to make like a pastiche disco world and I wanted to make the imagery quite polished in an old school way. It’s really inspired by the film stars of the 30s and 40s and the MGF musicals, 42nd Street and Busby Berkley who choreographed all the movies back then. So that was my idea, but obviously on a much smaller scale because I only had 4 dancers, and he had like hundreds. Yeah, I think entertainers of that era were so… there was happiness about it, a wink and a charm, like razzle and dazzle smiley-facey thing that I was inspired by.

You described your look after that video as ‘50’s Dad’. Are you still going with that look, how is it working for you?

Yeah, the bits [of the video] where I’m getting ready in the morning – they are definitely ‘50s Dad, after that I moved into 30s gangster, and now I think I’m going for ‘40s pimp.

Have you been to Perth and do you have any plans to come to Perth in the future?

Yeah, I’ve been to Perth a couple of times and I’m definitely going to be back. I was just in Australia in March and it was a really short trip, I only did two shows – but I have to come back later in the year and do the placed I didn’t go to. Perth was really great for me when I played there last time. I loved the audience there – they seemed to be like, the most attractive people in the whole country. What is that about? Why is everyone in Perth so pretty?

I don’t know – I thought it was Sweden that that was supposed to be true for!

Well, Perth is the Sweden of Australia!

Both Adele and Katy Perry have sung covers of Black and Gold, is there one that you like better than the other?

I think Adele’s is definitely my favourite… I love and adore her, and I think her version really captured the soul of the song more.

What are you listening to right now? What’s on your iPod?

Actually, I’ve been using Spotify. I kind of don’t really use an iPod anymore because I’ve got Spotify on my phone, and you can just stream anything you want—so I’ve been streaming. Today I was listening to music from Graffiti Bridge by Prince. I was listening to Missy Elliot – as you do, when you want to get your freak on. I was listening to some of the new Gossip album, and Little Dragon, oh and I was actually listening to the new Adam Lambert album because it came out this week and I have two songs on it, so I bought that.

I remember hearing in an interview that you used to dress up in dresses like a lot of little boys do. Have you ever thought about drag, and what your drag name might be?

Well, I thought my drag name would be Helena Handbasket, but apparently somebody’s got that one. I actually thought about another one…I don’t know whether you know much about Mexican food or Wilson Phillips, but I thought Carne Esada Wilson would be a good drag name.

I love drag queens by the way—I think drag queens are amazing, and I’m really obsessed with RuPaul’s drag race, it’s the best show ever!

I saw that you recorded a cover of Crystal Waters Gypsy Woman. Do you enjoy recording covers?

I don’t really do a lot of covers. The ones I’ve been know for is American Boy, which I did for a radio show, and then Crystal Waters. But yeah, if it’s a song I really love and that I don’t think I’m going to butcher… most of the songs I love are so perfect that I don’t think they should ever be covered, like Chaka Khan’s  Aint Nobody, is probably my favourite song – I’m not going to cover that, because it could never ever possibly anywhere near as good as the original. But it is fun to cover songs! Yeah Gypsy Woman was really fun – I still do that in my show actually.

Sam Sparro’s new album Return to Paradise is out now on EMI

Claire Alexander

 

 

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