‘It’s not normally in my nature to be so footloose and fancy free,’ says Stephen Black, aka Sweet Baboo, on the making of his brand new LP Wild Imagination.
As a soloist and collaborator, Sweet Babs has built a frenetic career around comedic live turns, heartbreaking melodies and indie-pop brilliance.
For his latest offering, which lands via Moshi Moshi on 2 June, he called on his collaborators Paul and Rob Jones to pitch in with ideas and help set things free.
Hitting the studio without everything decided in advance allowed him tap into a new sonic spirit and revive the ‘lethargic writer’s block’ that had struck him.
Further inspiration apparently came from an old compilation of homemade disco, funk and soul, which inject heightened pop, warming brass and good-time vibes into his sound.
With swirling synths, French pop and Nick Drake’s acoustic reveries also bubbling under, this new set promises to be the perfect antidote to a weird world.
We spent some time with Stephen to find out how he first fell for music and what’s in store for the new record…
How and when did you first get hooked on making music?
I followed in my father’s footsteps and took up the clarinet when I was 11. I divided my time between football and wind band, and when my dreams of playing professionally became less and less likely I started writing songs instead. Probably at about 16.
How do you think your sound has evolved since your first record The Mighty Baboo?
Hopefully it’s got better, more sophisticated and middle of the road.
What’s the thinking behind your new album Wild Imagination?
That I should stop thinking and get on with making a new record.
Where and when was it recorded?
It was recorded at my parents’ house in Trefriw, North Wales, while they were on holiday. We bunkered down at the beginning of September and all but finished it in a working week.
Additional recording was done at our respective homes. We finalised mixes about two months later at Rob’s (Jones, Wild Imagination engineer, musician, producer and mixer) house in Kinver in the Midlands.
What were you listening to/influenced by when you were making it?
There’s a compilation called Personal Space which came out a few years ago (2012 according to the internet) which is full of soul, funk and disco songs recorded at home between 1974 and 1984 (also according to the internet).
When I asked Paul (Jones, Wild Imagination, arranger, musician and songwriter) and Rob about making an album with me this is the record I sent them as inspiration.
I’ll let people make up their own minds about the other influences. If you hear the songs I think some are pretty self-explanatory.
How did the process differ from your previous records?
This record is a lot more collaborative than previous records. I had a bit of writer’s block (lethargy) so needed help to get the record made. Paul and I bashed out a lot of ideas together before we started recording.
When we started recording we all had equal say (Rob and Paul might care to differ). I would be positive and say, ‘Yes, let’s do it!’ no matter what the idea was.
It was also the first record where not all the songs were fully formed before going into the studio and the lyrics were not set in concrete. It’s not in my nature to be so footloose and fancy free but it felt pretty liberating and made the album all the better for it.
You’ve always collaborated with others – is there anyone you’re dying to work with?
Hmmm, that’s a tough question. I’d really like to work with a lyricist as I find it increasingly hard to find the words. Tony Asher, Bernie Taupin, Randy Newman or Van Dyke Parks.
What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you?
The album is out in June and there’s a short tour planned to promote it. Hopefully more gigs will follow. I’ve nearly finished an album of clarinet and piano with Paul which will hopefully be out at the end of the year and I’m going to learn to make oat milk and sell it to the masses.
Wild Imagination is released via Moshi Moshi on 2 June. Pre-order it at http://www.sweetbaboo.co.uk/
Monday 12th June – Boileroom, Guildford
Tuesday 13th June – Ramsgate Music Hall, Ramsgate
Wednesday 14th June – The Prince Albert, Brighton
Thursday 15th June – The Lexington, London
Friday 16th June – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
Saturday 17th June – Thekla, Bristol
Sunday 18th June – Soup Kitchen Manchester