I don’t know why, but some of the best and most interesting music to come out over the last few years has been from Wales. Amongst this breed of creative people is Stephen Black a.k.a. Sweet Baboo. Under this moniker he has released some criminally undervalued records that mould indie, psych, country, Motown and plain old good songs. These included the brilliant ‘I’m a dancer / songs about sleepin’ which was nominated for a Welsh Music award in 2011.
Now out is a collection of songs of a nautical (or at least Sea-based) nature. Entitled ‘Ships’ it’s a brass laden, Motown savvy set of songs that, in all reality, has to be one of the records of the year so far. We were lucky enough to catch up with him and get the story behind the new record, Sweet Baboo and everything in between.
If I died
Wales, eh? It seems there are loads of fantastic and interesting artists coming from there at the moment. Why do you think that is? Was there a leader of catalyst for it?
I was talking to a friend about this the other day and I think, for my generation, none of us would be making the kind of music we make without the Super Furry Animals and the Gorky’s so I’d say maybe they were the catalyst for me and my friends to start bands and I think inspiration is better than leader. Euros Childs and Gruff Rhys, as well as the rest of the members of their bands, are still making incredible music.
As for why, I don’t know really, I think there’s always been loads of great Welsh bands it’s just maybe they hadn’t come over the border and into a wider audience.
But do you know, hang out, like, respect your fellow Welsh artists, maybe more than others? Or not….
I definitely hang out and know more Welsh bands than I do other countries but that’s because I live in Cardiff and you naturally gravitate to people with similar interests. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing.
I’d like to think I respect everyone.
How would you describe your music to people who have never heard it before?
If someone described their music to me as Welsh Pop music I’d know exactly what they meant so I like to say that, and especially Brass Heavy Pop music on this album.
And your new album is a concept album – tell us about that?
So, originally I wanted to make a concept album about the sea – you know it’s easy to rhyme stuff with sea, it’s pretty big so there are lots to talk about, oh and I knew I wanted to call it Ships. As with most ideas, it was kind of half-realised and now it’s more, and what I like to call, a brass heavy, part concept album about the sea, girls and a few other bits and bobs thrown in for good measure.
Has the sea been important to you, or was it more that tradition of songs and shanties about the sea?
Yeah, the sea is important, I was brought up near the coast and have never lived more than thirty minutes away from it.
As for shanties, I thought that was more about burly lads drinking and getting scurvy?
Were there other influences when you came to write the record?
Yeah of course, like I said above I think maybe too much emphasis has been put on the sea theme.
Lots of the songs are first person, slightly self-obsessed and encompass all your normal song topics – relationships, friendship, drinking etc.
Is there a track or tracks which came first, or did you sort of have an idea (at least for the thread) of the whole album, which you then wrote the songs around?
So some of the tracks had been knocking about for a few years. One had already appeared on my last album, a few had been recorded before and never used and then some were written in the year lead up to making the album, but no, no idea for a whole album just whichever way it comes.
let’s go swimming wild
A lot of people have picked up on let’s go swimming wild – did you always think that was a stand out track?
I wouldn’t like to say.
Is there a specific track that sums the mood or flavour of the record up?
I think you may have answered your own question. I’d say Swimming Wild is a good starting point for the record.
Do you think this is a step forward from your previous album? In what way?
I’m not sure really, it’s certainly a step up in terms of more people seem to be listening and liking it but musically, to me it’s just a continuation of what’s come before it.
Your sound uses lots of different instruments, particularly brass – any reason for that?
Well I got a bit obsessed with, if an instrument is on one song on the album, it then has to go on all of them, so there was some kind of continuity. So there’s quite a lot of disgusting sounds on the record, a lot ring modulated stuff and a lot of out of tune keyboards.
As for the brass, I always knew I wanted brass on this record. I was listening to a lot of Northern Soul and Dexy’s at the time. Rob Jones, the producer, was learning how to play the trumpet at the time, I also hired a baritone sax, so I think we just got carried away. I think it makes for a fun album.
And you’re very busy out playing with different bands – tell us a bit about that?
Well, at the moment I’m not really. I’m concentrating on Sweet Baboo at the moment but yeah I’ve been playing in a lot of my friends’ bands over the years. Cate Le Bon, Euros Childs, H.Hawkline and Slow Club. I just like to keep busy.
So you’re working on something pretty much all the time?
I guess so, there’s always new tunes knocking about and like I said above, I like to keep busy.
So what’s in the calendar for the rest of the year?
We (me and the band) have just finished a 3 week tour, I’m doing a two week solo tour at the beginning of June and then we’re playing quite a lot of festivals and then who knows. I’m hoping to do another tour in November but nothing is set in stone just yet.
And how can we keep in touch with what you’re up to?
So, from the Super Furry Animals, through Gorky’s Zygotic Myci so the lineage of brilliant Welsh psych wizards continues. And all is well with the world.