Interview with David Sharkey of Solace
David Sharkey is an Edinburgh-born singer and songwriter, who along with Dunedin-born sound engineer Paul Sammes have founded a new funk group called Solace. I sat down with them after the shooting of their video “James Brown” to chat about their history, the new single and video and their plans for the future.
B: David, first up, where are you from and what’s your musical background?
D: I’m from Edinburgh, Scotland and I’ve been travelling for a bit, three and a half years now. I’ve been writing music in Dunedin for about 2 months, and we’ve just completed our video for James Brown.
B: You told me before that you have spent some time in Tasmania, so let’s talk about what you have done in both Edinburgh and over the Tasman.
D: I was in a few bands over in Edinburgh; the first called Sirens, so that was something I was writing for since I was about the age of 15 till about 20/21 and then I wrote with various other people for about another year or two before I left. The last project went tits-up, sorry - didn’t really work out...
B: I think we all understand tits-up.
D: [laughs] Yes, and by that point I was running a couple of restaurants in Edinburgh. By that stage I had to think “Well, I could make a career out of this, or do some travel”. I didn’t really have anything keeping me in Edinburgh, so I may as well travel now. 30 is a kind of magic age to travel without skills and qualifications.
B: Where was the first place you went after leaving Edinburgh?
D: Estonia! I was great fun, I’ve got some fantastic friends over there, then I came to Brisbane and stayed there with a friend for a few months. However the climate was a bit much for Scottish blood! [laughs]
B: I bet it feels good to be in Dunedin then? A bit more familiar to the Scottish climate.
D: Yeah, I stayed there for a few months, but it’s a big city and I wanted a different experience as I am already from a big city, so I moved down to Tasmania for a time to work on some agricultural work. There I met a guitarist and played with him for the next year and a half.
B: How long does it take to get to the point where you would feel quite comfortable staying in a place? Because you, say, may know a lot of people?
D: Well, I’m a lazy bastard, so not long! [laughs] You know when you’re somewhere that’s nice. If not staying there forever, you’ll know you’ll stay there at least a while. Brisbane didn’t give me that feeling. Tasmania was much more becoming of my mentality. Dunedin has quite a similar feel.
B: Awesome. Let’s talk about Dunedin then, as you’ve come from the bright lights of the Edinburgh of the north. What’s the attraction of coming to the Edinburgh of the south?
D: Well, my parents took it badly. [laughs] But it’s about as far away from Edinburgh as you can get. To be honest, my visa was running out in Australia, so I thought I would stay in this part of the world. And people have a romantic notion of New Zealand, and I think accurately as well.
B: Let’s talk music then. You’re obviously a driven musician. How do you feel coming to this corner of the world to create music?
D: The environment for where you create your art is incredibly important. For me, I have to feel comfortable in a place in order to create. It wouldn’t do any good for me to be in a place like New York or London where there would be more opportunity on paper, purely because of population and what that attracts. That’s not enough. You have to be somewhere where you feel comfortable, because ‘a chance’ is useless if you’re not able to seize it.
B: And Dunedin?
D: Dunedin does have a pretty good reputation. I’m not saying it is seen as a musical epicentre, but I do think it’s got a good reputation and one that outweighs it’s populace. The music scene down here from what I’ve experienced is actually much more happening than in Edinburgh. The University of Otago has a really positive influence on the city and contributes to that.
B: People talk about Dunedin having a great sense of community here. What are some of the experiences you’d had that either support or reject this idea?
D: Yeah, I think ‘sense of community’ is that wonderfully vague term people use when they don’t know how to say what they want to say. I think what people are trying to get at is that it’s not quite so cut-throat as you will come across in some other cities and such. It’s certainly been one of the places where I’ve seen musicians work together much more. That is not that common in a lot of music scenes. I personally don’t have any time for that, as soon as you turn music into a competition it becomes something about pushing against people, rather than creating something for the enjoyment of people.
I’ve only been here seven or eight months and I’ve already met a huge amount of musicians. I’ve contacted and arranged events with lots of different musicians, both beginning and well-established, and I’ve never encountered any kind of snobbery that can often come with people established in a music scene.
B: Brilliant. Let’s talk about Solace then, which is your creative project now that you’re here and settled in Dunedin. You’ve joined forces with Paul Sammes [Paul joins the interview], who has everything you could possibly want to create an outrageous funk outfit. Describe the music for us.
D&P: Funk/Rock, if that makes sense. Soul, funk, British Invasion 1960s meets American funk 1970s, Tom Jones meets James Brown.
B: Why funk? Why soul? What was the inspiration for a sound like this?
D&P: It was totally organic. We didn’t set out to write a funk/soul album. When we got in the studio, naturally the material that just came out when we started playing together it sounded 1970s funk.
The first song that we did, we did the lyric and the melody first, and then Paul put the music around it, as opposed to James Brown which is music first, then the vocals around it. It had the song idea for about a year and a half before we decided to use it. I had a go with it back then and it just didn’t really come together, so I thought I would use it here and it has come together quite well.
B: The music chose you, not you chose the music?
D&P: Exactly. The way we worked was David had the melody in his head, and I stuck the music around his vocal melody. And that just seemed to work.What we had at the end was a funk piece. James Brown is our second song off the bat, and will be our first single.
B: Great. Now with the song James Brown, most people will know of the funk legend James Brown. However, you’re not singing about this particular person with this song are you?
D&P: No, we’re actually singing about Lieutenant-Colonel James Brown of Scottish origin.
With the song, it was originally a piece of music written by Paul, but it was shelved because it couldn’t be sung. Then while we were looking for some material to write about we came across this very Scottish James Brown who was quite a thinker’s thinker and a man’s man and in the 1850s was a Canadian politician and a Scotsman, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Highland Rifles, an inventor, a thinker, a writer, a renaissance man if you will. And we started reading about this particular James Brown and he struck a chord with me because culturally, we’re not pretending who we are, we are anglo-saxon scottish people, and he was someone with a background who resonated with us and the more I read the more I felt that he was something we would like to write about.
I think naturally, if people heard the song off the bat, then they’re going to assume it’s about the American James Brown. I think what is important for me in this song is that a lot of people who have achieved remarkable things in their lifetime are rarely remembered. And so this James Brown who has done all this amazing stuff - nobody knows who he is. We felt he was a person to write a song about 150 years after his time.
B: Brilliant. So this is going to be your opening single, it’s all recorded and set to go and you’ve just finished recording a video for it [which you can find here].
Tell us a little about the video and the inspiration behind it.
D&P: We’re fortunate enough to have a studio in Paul’s house. It has lovely white walls, and we’ve always thought it would be a great location for a video in my [Paul’s] own town with my own friends and some great Dunedin musical personalities.
B: So take us through the video step by step.
D&P: So the story basically goes like this: It’s a party in a rich man’s house and the butler opens the door and James Brown (David) is having a party with his friends. David moves through various rooms of people as the man about town and then upstairs to the studio. We aimed to get it in one single shot through the whole video. We had to do a lot of work to get all the timing right.
B: What advice would you give first-time music video makers?
D&P: A bit of advice I was given by Yosh, the director, was to look like a dick and don’t worry about it. It’s a case where you just have to go for it. The less you care, the more it all comes together. Also put all your energy into it, plan it carefully and make it happen yourself. Don’t wait for the Simon Cowell to come through the door and tell you you’re great.
B: So you’ve done the recording, and the video coming out. What are you hoping to use this for in the near future?
D&P: We’re a Dunedin band, but whether we would fit into the Dunedin music sound and its traditional understanding of that phrase, probably not. We are in the stages at the moment of recruiting the band for the project. We have some incredibly amazingly musicians we’d love to recruit. There are musical professionals here in Dunedin who are amazing and sitting around Dunedin, we’d love to get them involved. It’s not just about getting people who can play the parts, it’s about the mentality that they bring to it too. They’re going to be experienced and reliable.
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