published: 29 /
Fiona Hutchings chats to Susy Sapphire from Australian/New Zealand but Italian-based duo Pete Ross and The Sapphire about 'Rollin' On Down the Lane', which is their forthcoming debut album together
The first time I heard of Pete Ross & The Sapphire was when I received an email sent to my blog's address entitled: 'What if Nick Cave did the soundtrack for a Sergio Leone movie?'
It transpired that the wonderfully named Susy Sapphire had sent me a very nice email explaining how she had found my blog, made me jealous by telling me she had a pink ukulele and asking if I would like to check out the video for 'Devil Inside', the first single from the upcoming album 'Rollin' On Down the Lane'. It's Australian singer and guitarist Pete Ross' third album but his first with bassist and vocalist Susy. "Take one abandoned psychiatric hospital, add a bizarre, derelict casino on a hill overlooking Lake Como in Italy, and you have the location ingredients for the new music video" I was told. Intrigued, I did check it out.
There is a definite Nick Cave vibe about both Ross' vocal style and the lyrics, but he has smoother delivery and while this link might provide an easy reference point to start with it quickly becomes obvious that Pete Ross & The Sapphire are not a derivative tribute act. The video is suitably Gothic and there are shades of duelling guitars.
When I told Susy I had enjoyed it she forwarded me a link to the whole album. 'Rollin' On Down the Lane' is based on a 'dark and deadly' trilogy written by Ross and Sapphire. It opens with 'Pleased to Meet You' which does feel like the next chapter of Cave and Kylie Minogue's 'Where The Wild Roses Grow'. The ten track album also includes a cover of Tom Waits' 'Jesus Gonna Be Here' and 'Rake' by Townes Van Zandt. The album mixes the up and down beat with almost gospel choir backing on 'Corinne' and more ghostly whispers of 'Shadow (Man)'
I interviewed Susy Sapphire to find out more about the band and its début album.
PB: The band is comprised of an Australian in Pete, a New Zealander in you and features two Italians named Gianluca DeRubertis on keys and Andrea Rizzo on drums. You live in Italy. How did Pete Ross & The Sapphire come together?
SS: Pete and I started writing together in 2009. At the time I had just moved from Berlin to sojourn in Melbourne, and Pete was making his first forays into playing solo across Europe. By the end of that year I had moved back to Europe, to Italy in fact, and we discovered that we had quite a good writing mojo going. In 2010 Pete released his solo acoustic album 'Midnight Show', which we had worked on together, and in 2011 we went on tour to promote the album, but with a four-piece electric band.
After the summer of touring we thought, "Well, that was a pretty cool sound", and wanted to record an album with the same sound and vibe as what we had been playing live. Over Christmas we went into a studio in the south of Italy, with our good friend from Paris, Dimi Dero, as producer, and recorded the album live, with all four of us in the same enormous room. In fact two of the songs even had (late night) live vocals.
In the end we recorded mostly all new material, and the album doesn't represent the way we played our live shows last year, but the evolution has really allowed us to develop a much clearer picture of our direction as a band and how we want to present our shows and develop the sound from here.
PB:It sounds like the way the album developed was quite spontaneous. Do you plan to record more albums together or will you just wait and see what happens?
SS: It would be great if we were fortunate enough to keep the project going long term, with more albums and touring ... we already have enough new material to start talking about going back into the studio to record, but for now our main focus is getting as many miles and concerts underway as we can and see how it goes.
PB: Who are your musical influences?
SS: I think we listen to the same music in a quite different way; my primary focus is normally on the lyrical content, and Pete always remembers the melody, the guitar riffs or the sound of the drums, and that pretty much represents our respective contributions to songwriting. So, to answer your question collectively, and if I take in-car air time as the first yardstick, being that we spend a lot of time driving on tour, I would say the most important musical influences are Lee Hazlewood and Johnny Cash, and a lot of old Americana/Cowboy music.
Of course Pete would add classic Australian rock and roll bands like Radio Birdman, the Beasts of Bourbon and the Hoodoo Gurus. I had a Doors 'Greatest Hits' cassette stuck in my car tape player for six years, so I probably have to include that too, along with Dolly Parton, June Carter and Nancy Sinatra.
PB: What inspired the trilogy within 'Rollin' On Down the Lane'?
SS: We watched an episode of 'Midsomer Murders', and as the credits were rolling I started telling Pete about this girl Jenna I used to work with in England about ten years ago, and how she used to love the show, and I really couldn't stand her, and by extension anything that she liked. Pete picked up his guitar and we started making up this long winding story about what had happened to her in the last ten years, and that idea became 'Pleased to Meet You', which I might add is nothing at all like the life of the original Jenna. Perhaps I should have changed her name!
From there we got a little bit obsessed with our three fictional characters, and talked about them constantly, until we decided that each of them needed to tell their own side of the story, and that all of them were unreliable narrators.
PB: How would you describe the experience of seeing Pete Ross & The Sapphire live?
SS: Most people are first and foremost impressed by Pete's voice, because he is a dynamic and powerful singer. Second to that, people always like the communication we have on stage, how we interact; we have a lot of fun playing live and people can see that and feel a part of the performance in a way. Even with only four of us on stage we manage to create a strong sound with real clarity of instrumentation, and have a show which sits on a foundation of the traditional music that we love, so the audience can really listen to and understand the music.
PB: Will you be touring and where can Pennyblack readers catch you?
SS: Next year we will be on the road as much as possible. So far we have programmed March, April and May tours to take in France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Repulic, Denmark and Spain - not necessarily in that order! The dates are yet to be announced, so there are still more to come.
PB: Thank yoo.
The lower photograph was taken by by Philippe Erard. The single 'Devil Inside' is now available for free download on Bandcamp, and the full album will be released this month on 12" vinyl through French label Beast Records.