“Damn, that white boy can sing!” Chaka Khan, circa 1994
There aren’t many artists able to elevate themselves from the confines of musicianship and into the consciousness of popular culture. There are few that are as creatively talented as they are musically, Sam Sparro is one of the few.
As inspired by Jeremy Scott and Gareth Pugh as he is by SWV and Hot Ch!p, the 25 year–old is utterly engaging. Firstly there’s the voice; a big and beautiful scale–defying vocal that dips from bold and beautiful to low, sultry and slow. This guy has serious soul. Sam has also more than mastered the art of melody and knows a killer chorus when he hears one. Just listen to the sublime new single ‘Black and Gold’ to see for yourself.
Armed with a pen that is both poetic and perceptive, ‘Black and Gold’ is credible, cutting–edge even, yet appeals to the popular. “I thought no one would get me. But they did. It was such a surprise,” says the man himself about praise from the likes of Mark Ronson, Pete Tong, Annie Mac, Jo Whiley, Zane Lowe and thousands of MySpace fans and bloggers. They’re all drawn to the same thing; a sound that is as distinctive as it is unusual. Blending a host of influences from all ages and genres, Sam has managed to create something that is somehow his own. To describe the sound as simply electrofunksoulpop just wouldn’t quite be doing him justice.
Not only a brilliant, multifarious musician that writes, performs, produces and arranges all of his own material, he’s one crazysexycool character too. His style can be summed up as Sam Sparro meets London glam via Parisian fashionista Jean–Charles De Castelbajac; it’s sharp but definitely not too serious. Continuing in the artistic vein, Sam designs his own artwork, makes funny behind–the–scenes videos for YouTube and DJ’s the occasional warehouse party. Oh, and recently he released a mixtape, ‘Songs Not Bombs,’ featuring everything from his own music to cuts from Snoop, Soul II Soul, Montell Jordan and MIA.
His great–grandfather was a professor of music and his Maltese grandfather is a professional trumpet player who performed with, among others, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Sam’s grandmother continues to sing and dance, while his father, Chris Falson, is an accomplished gospel singer. “I know, I know, you hear the word gospel and you think big and loud and definitely black; but my dad is more on the folky side,” grins Sam. “Imagine Bob Dylan doing gospel and you’re kind of there.”
After a brief childhood acting career in McDonald’s commercials, Sam joined the family business by singing loudly and at every opportunity. Citing gospel as one of his early vocal influences, he was also drawn to Italian house and British soul. Indeed, he may have been born in Sydney and raised in LA, but Sam takes many of his cultural cues from this side of the pond. Since a young boy, Soul II Soul, Kraftwerk, Grace Jones, Sade and Nenah Cherry as well as Euro–dance hits like ‘Ride On Time’ have captivated him. “I honestly think that’s where I got my vocal from,” he decides. “I’d sing along to Black Box, Whitney and C&C Music Factory, and slowly this big voice just emerged.”
His vocal was developed further when he was 10 and his family moved to Los Angeles. His father was there to record a gospel album, and would take Sam to a church in Tujunga, LA to hear some of the genre’s greatest singers. It was there he was introduced to the McCrary family, incredible vocalists who had performed with everyone from Michael Jackson to Whitney Houston. One day, while they were visiting the McCrary’s family home, a woman called Chaka Khan happened to stop by for tea. Someone told her about a new gospel song she should consider recording and Sam volunteered to sing it for her. Khan, soul singer extraordinaire was blown away. “Damn,” she exclaimed. “That white boy can sing.” The seed was more than sown. Sam threw himself into singing, touring with a gospel group and writing music in his spare time. He also helped out the McCrary’s by singing back–up and guide demos.
He returned to Sydney for a while but soon after Sam left for London, a city that had entranced him from a young age. Here, he announced, he would finally find fame and fortune continuing to write in his spare time, Sam lived the London life, going to parties and gigs in Brixton, Soho and East London and generally immersing himself in the British music scene.
Eventually he was forced to leave London and headed back to Los Angeles and took a job at a coffee shop. It was during some low moments that the existential track ‘Black and Gold’ was written. “I was feeling totally lost,” he remembers. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was making cappuccino’s when I felt I should be onstage singing. That track came out of me looking up to the stars and seeing myself as a tiny speck in this infinite solar–system.”
Life began to look up when Sam discovered an underground LA scene that was more like London than Sunset Boulevard. When his father mentioned putting on a speakeasy style night in the loft of David Jay from Bauhaus, Sam jumped at the chance. Alongside Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, people would turn up with food and drink and check out new music from the likes of Sam and Morello’s Nightwatchmen. It was at one of these sessions that Sam met Jesse Rogg from record label Modus Vivendi. Impressed with Sam’s covers of Bill Withers and Chaka Khan, the two tentatively began working together, and, three years ago, Jesse signed Sam to the uber–cool indie.
Which brings us, basically, to today. About a year ago, the guys slipped out an EP on Modus as a tester; record labels from across the globe came knocking and the likes of Mark Ronson emailed Sam telling him how much he loved ‘Black and Gold.’ In recent weeks, a raft of Radio 1 DJ’s has been playing the track. It’s just a taste of what’s to come. “I’m just a guy who likes to sing and wear fun clothes, who wants to have a laugh and wants everyone to get along,” decides Sam. “I want my music to take people out of their own life a bit and make them feel happy and feel that they’re more than what they think they are, whatever that is. The world is not as ordinary as people want you to think it is. If the music can make you forget about your stupid job and your bills and your relationship problems for half an hour, I’m happy with that.”
Truly, one of a kind, there’s nothing about Sam you won’t like. Cool, creative, iconoclastic and cutting edge, Sam Sparro is undoubtedly about to strike gold. Make sure you’re there before the rush.