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Interview by Melanie Jones
Photography by Nardip Singh

I have seen you perform. On stage you look very at ease, you have a good command of the audience, captivating them and holding their attention to the end. The nerves of some acts seem to get the better of them or struggle in maintaining their interest. So you seem quite at ease?

I think so and I almost think that I am more at ease doing that than I am in every day life. Once I get the guitar and I am singing, I am away. I am somewhere else. Like I am asleep.

In your own world?

Exactly.

Your label, Sweet Luigi Records, which was created in 2005, is it producing just you or other artists as well and where did the name originate from?

It is the title to one of my tracks. We created it just as an outlet for me – just for now but we will see where we get to. If we can get into a position where we can stand up on our own feet I don’t think it would be out of the question to be looking at other acts but its early days so far.

Apart from you who else is behind the label?

Livingston Brown (my producer) James Lawrence (my manager) and Patrick Haveron are part of it.

How did partnering up with them come about?

James has been my manager for quite a few years now and we began working together in 2005. Shortly after I signed a deal with a major record company, Sony. Then that kind of ran it’s course. It was just a few years of you know fighting and battling to get things that I wanted to do. It wasn’t really very good creatively for me so we decided to walk away from that deal. I like working with Liv (Livingston Brown) because he is just a fantastic musician. He is very musical a lot more so than me. I can only wish to be as good as he is and he brings different things out of me

You didn’t have creative freedom?

No, I was kind of shoe horned into a place I didn’t really want to be. So we decided that I was young enough and energetic enough (laughs) to leave that deal and try to start afresh. We decided to club together and create our own label and James (Lawrence), Patrick (Haveron) a colleague of James and my producer, Livingston Brown, a well-known musician.

The way Sony operates it is very much formulated?

I signed with Sony when I was very young, around 15 or 16. It was just a constant grind between what they wanted to do and what I wanted to do. They saw me, just cause I was young, played an instrument and sung; they envisioned a Bieber kind of a guy, which was totally against what the music was. I couldn’t really deal with that, as an artist. I had a hard time explaining to everyone that it’s the right thing to do – to leave a major (label) and unless you are in there, people don’t understand exactly what it is. For some artists, a major record company is certainly the way to go. Some people have the raw material but no vision or formula to move forward. So I think they will alway--s be there. There will always be a place for major record companies and who knows maybe later down the road I will be part of a major label again but it would have to be on my terms.

On your website we notice something unusual, a record club. How does that work?

Yes. It comes out of necessity really. When we decided to go ahead with this label, we didn’t want to get lost in the mire of putting out an album and a single. You are kind of selling to no one unless you are engaging with your fans; they are the most important people. Unless you have a great fan base you really are selling into nothing. So we kind of had a meeting and out of this meeting we had the idea to go retro, which given the age of digital, would produce a CD and send them through the post like old fan clubs used to work. It forces me as well as the label to work to deadlines. So creatively that has allowed me to get better and better as well as work under pressure. I have grown so much since we have been doing this. So it basically works in that we do 2 to 3 tracks a month and people subscribe for a year and we send a CD out each month. Each month is focused on working on what is being released at the end of the month so it is pretty intense. To begin with there was a meagre number of less than a hundred, but then in the next month as people got to hear about it and were talking to each other, it just kind of shot up. Took us all completely by surprise. Now it is getting to a point to where I like to individually sign the CDs but it is getting really hard to do that to keep up with the numbers. But you got to keep going because it’s a special thing. People like that.

I have noticed you done stuff with Burberry. You modelled as well as performed for them. What came first? The modelling or Burberry Acoustics?

The music kind of came first. Christopher Bailey the Art Director at Burberry spotted me. I think it might have been at a gig or something like that. He got in touch with my management and asked if I would be up for a campaign that they did in 2009 which is all about British actors, musicians and artists. We did a shoot with Mario Testino for that campaign and yeah it is not a world that I particularly feel comfortable in - yet but it was great to do and it widened my audience. 
We’ve been in touch over the years and recently they set up a Burberry Acoustic that they do on YouTube. So I did one of them a few months ago and it was great.

So modelling wasn’t necessarily something you planned on getting into it seems more of a by-product for you?

Yeah it’s a happy accident. I never aspired to that and I still quite… (pauses) I feel, I don’t feel gifted (laughs) in terms of looks and that to be in that world. I guess it’s a comfort thing, you know. I don’t feel relaxed.

From that acoustic how has your audience been affected?

Its grown kind of immeasurably really. Just from a youtube video and the latest report has been like 30000 viewers in two days. It is still growing and growing. People watch the video and come straight to the website. We get subscriptions through and we have noticed a huge impact on the subscriptions since the Burberry thing and we have been speaking to them saying you know you are really making a difference here with unknown acts. You are almost “taste makers” in a way and you are introducing these things to people who wouldn’t otherwise find it. The impact of that people coming to gigs and subscribing to the record club has been phenomenal really.

When did you start singing?

I started really really early and I have always been writing little tunes and silly little things. Funny enough it wasn’t really something that I was looking at going into. It kind of happened you know. I played in a bar quite regularly just for fun and a producer was in there one day and said, ‘listen, come into the studio and lets see what happens’. The tracks we then cut in the studio then got heard by people. Then things happened. All of a sudden I was in it. Yeah, again a happy accident.

Do you remember the first song that you ever sung?

I think it was “I am looking through you’ by the Beetles, it’s a song that my dad taught me.

You just mentioned your dad. Do you have a lot of support from your parents? Did they provide music lessons or was it more innate?

They are very relaxed about the whole thing, with a whatever you want to do kind of attitude. They are not pressuring me or anything. My dad’s always been in and around music. He’s been in bands and he is a fantastic singer. He is someone that I look up to as a singer. The family is into music a hell of a lot so that’s rubbed of on me.

Who inspires you musically?

It’s a difficult question. When I was younger, I would always hear Jeff Buckley which my Brother was into. They are the kind of a records where I wouldn’t know what he was doing. I couldn’t really read into it too much because it was so evolved. Even today, it still retains a mystery to it that I can't really work it out. Musically, lyrically and vocally, I could never imagine myself being able to get close to that even though I hope. I don’t know in terms of production and how he writes his songs, how he has done it. He’s like a magician that doesn’t tell his secrets. And that still fascinates me and he is really one of the only ones left that I have that special thing about.

Apart from Jeff Buckley, who else do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of Stevie Wonder, that’s someone that I always return to. The Beetles, Paul Simon, Ray LaMontagne, Neil Finn, Crowded House and all that stuff. Quite eclectic. I listen to a lot of things you wouldn’t expect me to listen to as well like Hip Hop and electro but I keep that quiet (laughs).

Where would you love to perform?

I would like to one day - and this is very far - to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. Its somewhere I’d always have liked to perform whether it is in the hallway (laughs) or on stage it doesn’t really matter. I really like that place. It’s almost like a church and I like that. Anywhere that I perform is important and I hope to gain new friends I guess every time I perform.

Picking up on your comment of the hallway. You have a thing about performing in smaller spaces as well?

That kind of came from being in a place - in the very genesis of this Luigi (Sweet Luigi Records) thing. We couldn’t really go to promoters and say: ‘Listen, we got a record coming out and we need to go on tours. We didn’t have any real traditional forms of getting out there. So we ended up having to play anywhere, pubs, bars,nights that do acoustic music. Luckily people happily wanted to come to those things because they loved the music. So we thought we're not getting enough time on stage for these people. They are coming from far away places. So we decided that after I come of stage we find a room, cram them all in there and carry on the gig.

What other instruments do you play aside from your guitar?

Piano, Drums, Base, most things that I pick up, I can get something out of. Violin, I can play a very tiny amount, just enough.

Did you take classes or are you self-taught?

Self taught. I find with the way that I work, I like things to be a mystery. For instance I never really write down my music. I like to just leave it. It helps with the song writing to get into an unknown instrument and pick something out of it. Its what I was on about earlier with Jeff Buckley, the mystery - I would like to keep that. I think if that went away I wouldn’t be as prolific and inspired I guess.

If you would get into another musical genre what genre would you get into?

That’s very hard. I guess it would be (pauses) I always fancied Jazz.(laughs). I know it sounds quite traditional but I like jazz a lot and its hard to put it in a particular place. If I could have a self-indulgent time for a year then it would be spent doing that.

What do you prefer in the creative process, the lyrical side of things or the instrumental side?

I think the two are so close that I can’t really tell them apart because the melody informs the lyrics so much. I can never write lyrics without a melody.

But you can’t have a melody without lyrics?

Yes. And its never been something I have been able to do: trying to write something without the music in it. It doesn’t seem to work.(laughs)

What is the best advice you have been given in your musical career?

Don’t give it away too soon. Don’t give things away to soon. As an aspiring artist what one person said to me was don’t be to hasty going with major labels, PR firms or whatever it be. You‘ve got to make sure you have your own thing first. Make sure you have a suitcase full of your own ideas, your own artistry before you go into something like that because its so hard to keep a sense of self in a big place like that. It’s a lot of people telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. You got to have something solid to stick to. That’s an advice that was given to me that was listened to but not heeded all the way. But now it makes sense. Now I am kind of doing what I should have done from the start.

So what is your advise to other aspiring artists out there?

Be inspired by other artists but make sure you have your own thing. Make sure it’s you, it is just inspiration and not a copy. If you don’t have your own original voice, original sound, original ideas, it then kind of renders the thing pointless - though that’s a strong word. I think that would be the advise that I would give. Try to find something that is you.

What is your opinion on the state of the music industry now?

It’s in the midst of changing and it’s hard to see where it will end up. I do think it’s a positive thing in a way. Like me its forcing people in different ways, but that always breeds creativity and originality. Innovation. People have to start working with each other and collaborating. It almost kind of like one tree dies and another comes up. I don’t know if the decline of the major record companies is something that is going to continue as fast as it is. I really can’t see what’s ahead. I think we’ll see a lot more joining of the art forms you know like film, music, phones and technology all kind of blend into one.

Do you find new media like facebook, myspace, youtube etc gives you more of an opportunity as an independent artist?

Absolutely, if you have the ideas and the energy to harness it. You now can do anything you like with very little amount of money. Now, more than ever before, it’s about you, needing the drive to make it happen yourself and people will begin to take notice. It’s an open forum with so many platforms to do things. Like for instance the little silly things that we do with little gigs in tiny rooms. It takes no effort at all but we film these things then put them on youtube and people are drawn to them. 

So it’s a case of holding your audience, captivating them and keeping them also?

Yes. That’s a really good point because the record club subscription has a bit of that thinking in it. Because now it’s so easy to just download one track. People have loads of different favourite artists. You kind of pick and choose what you like. You don’t really buy into an artist any more. With the subscription you either do or you don’t. In a way you buy into me for a year. You put your faith in that it’s going to be good for a year. That in turn makes me change in how I approach it. You know it’s got to be good. We have an opportunity to have fans for life. If it’s good.

What are you plans for this year?

Working on tracks for next record club volume. Spreading the word about my music and seeing how we can interact with radio with a record club format. Traditionally you would have a single to go with a release date and an album release date. We’ve thrown that all out and it’s a constant thing. So how do we interact with a radio audience? I am lucky to have people around me in the record company that are not afraid to try new things you know. Patrick in particular is always coming out with fantastic ideas to use the internet. Sometimes it can be a scary thing because you can arrange things and no one knows what may happen. Things will fall through but we got to go through it to see what works.

Do you find people are getting more tired of the homogenised electro music genres?

I would hope they are (laughs) because every genre has its time. With this stuff it seems like we had that in Europe with the dance kind of sound all the way through the nineties. It never really happened in America. So now it kind of got there now and they are sending it back to us. It is one of those things that breeds plagiarism so much so that you can never really distinguish on track from another. It just gets to a point where creatively there isn’t really anything happening. I think when you get an artist like Lady Gaga who does the whole thing and is kind of at the pinnacle of all that, that kind of signals the death now because anything that comes after that is kind of imitation. So I like some of that stuff but I think its about time that there is a change now. It always seems to go that you go from one extreme to another. So maybe we will start seeing a return to real music at least for a bit. (Laughs)

Who would you love to collaborate with? Pick three different genres. Something totally out of the box but you would love to see what happens?

Oh ok. That’s interesting (muses). I would like to work with the Preservation Hall jazz Band new Orleans. That would be great! I would love to do that. I have always been a big fan of that traditional kind of music. So that’s one and then… I know! Someone completely wild like Naz or Dr Dre someone like that. I would love to do that just to see what would come out of it! It might be big rubbish but it would be so interesting. And then who else? I guess Nine Inch Nails or something like that. Why not? If I am thinking completely out there… Because I think I have a little bit of a gift for melody, as long as you have that (laughs) there is really no stopping you. It’s all sounds, its all music.

Have a listen: www.sambeeton.com

As featured in Unfolded Magazine Issue 03

 

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