Sweet Baboo’s music is quite frankly heaven to ears, there I said it. With a string of tour and festival dates and a new album out this year, we the good people of Hold Up Now thought it was a very good time to catch up with Stephen Black the creative genius behind the music. So without further ado…
HUNOW: Describe your music to someone who had never heard of you and had no idea who you were?
STEPHEN BLACK: Welsh pop music and, for the new album in particular, brass heavy Welsh pop music.
HUNOW: I first heard of you when listening to Huw Stevens on Radio 1, when you were nominated for the 2010/11 Welsh Music Prize and was instantly blown away, to the point where I’ve been hooked ever since. How has this experience of being nominated and getting air time on Radio 1 helped you, if at all?
STEPHEN BLACK: It was really great to be nominated and the ceremony was brill. Being told by anyone that they like your album is a good ego boost so being told by “professionals” that they like it too means you’re doing something right. I’m really proud of what Shape Records and I managed to do.
As for helping, well Stephen Bass, who runs Moshi Moshi Records, was on the judging panel. He told me he liked it and we’ve subsequently become friends and Moshi Moshi are releasing my next album. I’d say that the Welsh Music Prize was pretty instrumental in that. I also think being able to write “nominated for the Welsh Music Prize” on a press release or biog, although shouldn’t make a difference, gives the band a bit more credibility or gravitas maybe.
Huw Stevens has always been very supportive of Sweet Baboo. I think if I would have known as a teenager that my music would be played on Radio 1 or 6 Music then I would have done a little wee so I hope I never take it for granted. In today’s interweb obsessed environment, you can see an instant difference too – views, listens, likes and what not always significantly increase when your music is played on the radio and that’s all you can hope for really.
HUNOW: Talk to me about your creative processes and where you gain inspiration for your lyrics from?
STEPHEN BLACK: That’s a tough question, especially as I’m finding it harder and harder to write songs the older I get. I think my creative peak was about seven years ago. I could knock out a song in a couple of hours then but it takes a lot longer nowadays. There are too many distractions: ebay, hoovering, Great British Menu for example.
In essence though, the creative process has always pretty much stayed the same. I’ll sit watching TV or a film playing my guitar and, if anything sticks, I’ll start repeating the chord pattern or riff over and over again until I have a basic structure to a song. As for words, I tend to jot down a lot of notes, words or phrases I hear on the radio or read in books. One of my favourites is mishearing other bands’ lyrics and then using them as your own. When it’s time to write the lyrics proper, I’ll find all my notes, make a list and see if any of them stick. Luckily so far, something always has. I then flesh the song out and play it to death until it’s permanently ingrained in my brain forever. As for inspiration, my songs are pretty self-obsessed, even the ones that don’t really make any sense – my surroundings, the Welsh countryside, the coast, friends, relationships. You know, normal song stuff that’s all inspiring. At the moment, I’m trying to write positive songs. No ‘my baby left me’ or ‘I’m all alone tonight’. It’s proving to be quite a challenge. Yesterday I wrote a song about the joys of owning a Motorhome. It’s a love song to my girlfriend. We’ll see if that ever sees the light of day.
HUNOW: You have recently spent time touring in America, has this experience influenced your new music at all and how did you find the scene out there compared to Britain?
STEPHEN BLACK: I don’t think it’s influenced the sound of the record and most of the songs were written before I went away but the experience of getting to play music every day and travel and be with friends and likeminded people must have influenced me. If not musically, definitely in other ways. The scene in the states is pretty similar to anywhere I think. We played some great gigs in front of lots of people and we played some not so great gigs in front of no one and we played with some great bands and some slightly less great bands. I met some really great people, independent promoters, other bands, all sorts but Britain has that too. The two main differences were, the drives are a LOT longer and I ate Mexican food every day (when I could).
HUNOW: Do you think starting your music career in North Wales disadvantaged you compared to someone who might have started say in London? Do you think you had to work harder to make yourself known, if so how did you do this?
STEPHEN BLACK: No, definitely not. All the best music comes from provincial places, and although I’d like to think I’m hard working, conscientious and helpful, I also hope I’ve been true to myself and stuck to my guns. I like to think if other people don’t like it then that’s their too bad cause I think it’s pretty good.
HUNOW: What’s next for Sweet Baboo?
STEPHEN BLACK: It’s all getting quite exciting. There’s the next single and album coming out on the 22nd of April. We (me and the band) go on a three-week tour around Britain. Once that’s finished, I’m hoping to do a solo tour around of the more unusual places in Britain, in a touring sense. Then it’s festival season and we (me and the band) are luckily enough to be playing a fair few this year including Latitude, Festival No6, Green Man, amongst others. Then hopefully another single, another tour and then we’ll see. I’d like to make a new record too but I better write some songs first.