FOUR years ago Sam Sparro released Black and Gold.
The Sydney-born, LA-based singer watched with as much surprise as anyone when it reached No.2 in the UK and No.4 in Australia in 2008.
“I’ve always thought I was hot s—-, I’m not gonna lie,” Sparro laughs, “but I always thought it would take me 20 years to build up a body of work before people went, ‘This guy’s really talented’ instead of being the flavour of the month. That was weird.”
That month lasted a year. He rush-released a debut album, with hit 21st Century Life and songs he was “forced” to co-write at the last minute. He told himself he’d never rush an album again. He wasn’t kidding.
After promoting the record (his live shows included a note-perfect cover of Black Box’s Ride on Time) Sparro slipped off the radar.
There was the occasional sign of life. He provided vocals for Basement Jaxx’s 2009 single Feeling’s Gone. Co-wrote a song for Idol star Adam Lambert. Saw Black and Gold covered by everyone from Adele (it’s incredible, YouTube it) to Katy Perry. Recorded as Chauffeur with Theophilus London and Mark Ronson.
“Mark and I met on MySpace - that’s how long ago that was,” Sparro jokes. “He’s a musical matchmaker. He’s really good at putting the right people together.”
Chauffeur fulfilled their destiny by playing with Duran Duran and singing the song they were named after with Simon Le Bon.
Sparro was in the midst of a musical evolution. First, an aggressive rock phase.
“Well aggressive for me,” he clarifies. “It wasn’t Henry Rollins or anything. I was into the idea that post-punk would be this huge commercial scene that would take over the radio waves. I have obviously been proven totally wrong. But I felt the dance/pop craze would be over by 2010. Totally wrong.”
Then he went indie. Then ’90s dance. “There’s so many songs people will never hear.”
All the while the relationship with his record label, Island, was deteriorating. Only one of them wanted another Black and Gold, pronto.
“It was a bad marriage,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot of respect left. They didn’t know how to get me to operate. If I’d made a record under their supervision I don’t think I’d have made this record.”
This record is Sparro’s long-awaited second album, Return to Paradise. Partially inspired by ’70s/80s New York disco club Paradise Garage and its resident DJ Larry Levan, it’s a modern retro statement.
“I’ve always really loved ’70s and ’80s soul, disco, funk and pop. I decided now or never was the time to make a record with people playing real instruments on it. So I spent all my money on that.”
It’s also inspired by a break-up. Don’t be misled by first single Happiness.
“Writing songs like that is part of the medicine of healing myself,” Sparro says. “I was totally miserable when I wrote Happiness. Really depressed. I went through a lot of personal hell to find a place of serenity through a difficult period.”
Sparro is vague about the pain behind the songs.
“It was relationship stuff, among other personal challenges. A lot of the songs on this record are about break-ups. A break-up. One break-up in particular. Good songs come out of bad break-ups. Look at Adele. Singing those songs every night will be interesting.”
At the age of 29, Sparro is now revitalised and ready for round two.
“The last album was a schooling for the rest of my career,” he says. “I’m going to be doing this for a really long time. Every mistake I could have made I probably have made it in the last four years. I totally sabotaged myself in the past. In every area.
“But you almost have to lose everything to know what you really want. It sounds so dramatic but it has been really dramatic. Personally and professionally. I’ll write a really good book about it one day.
“But I still think I have things that need to be communicated to the world and I’m doing it on behalf of lots of people who don’t have a voice. It’s a responsibility. That sounds righteous but there has to be some dignity in it. This industry can be so undignified. People have no idea. Just don’t ever Google yourself. I’m not whinging like a member of Oasis. But a bit of respect would be nice.”
After recent co-writing sessions with Kimbra (“We’re both obsessed with Prince”) and Adam Lambert, Sparro’s next step is finally returning to live performance to showcase the new album.
“I’ve worked so hard on this record. I’ve been so frustrated by the music business. Now all of this frustration and creativity needs to get on to a stage and explode.”
HEAR Happiness (EMI) out now. RETURN TO PARADISE OUT MAY 27!!!