Sam Sparro Talks ’Return to Paradise,’ Inspiration, and LGBT Youth
Sam Sparro came to global prominence with the massive success of "Black and Gold" in 2008. His soulful, controlled delivery combined with a unique retro vibe earned him an instant niche audience. On his debut album, Sparro cemented his reputation as an over-the-top funk character, a gay incarnation of the sound Prince brought to prominence in the 80s.
Sam is on the cusp of releasing his second studio album, "Return to Paradise." Reaching even further back, joyful disco-era funk landscapes permeate his new material, notably the eccentric first single "Happiness." Fans get a large helping of his new material pre-release at his energetic live shows. Synchronized behind-the-mic-stand dance moves alongside soulful back-up singers bring to mind artists like Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire, while the sound nods heavily at Chic.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Sam during the first leg of his tour in the US, prior to his album release. Dressed in an eccentric Japanese-inspired one-piece number ("This is a Niarci jumpsuit. I am kind of a fashion victim."), we settled in on his green room couch where he remained surprisingly energetic given he’d just finished a lively set.
Fans are eagerly anticipating the US release of ’Return to Paradise’ and details have been scarce. But Sam assures them it’s coming: "It’s going to be a little bit later, just so I can be here when its coming out. I think in Europe and Australia... It comes out June 4th... We are probably going to set the release date next week... We are going to go to Europe and do festivals and things like that and this is the first time we are trying out all this new material. That’s why I am calling it a rehearsal tour."
The album itself finds joy in heartache. I asked Sam about the inspiration for ’Return to Paradise,’ noting that the lead single brought to mind the iconic song "Got to Be Real" by Cheryl Lynn.
"Thank you! Love that song," he enthusiastically responded. "The theme emerged naturally as I wrote about what I was experiencing. The concept of Paradise is a place of happiness and peace and it’s also a reference to New York’s Paradise Garage nightclub from the late 70s to the mid 80s. I went through a break-up and wrote a lot about that and the changes that brought on in my life... It was partially a reaction to what I felt was a lot of aggression, narcissism and hedonism in pop music and it’s also a sound and era that I really love. Re-discovering that music is a part of what helped me out in a difficult period."
When asked about his favorite musician of the era, he couldn’t name just one, "They are [mostly] late 70s. Chaka Khan, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, I love the disco and fun stuff she did around then. Earth Wind and Fire, Chic... Marvin Gaye. This album was really inspired by seventy-eight to eighty-five soul disco-funk. Inspired by live instruments and early electro-funk." Doubling down on funk is a consistent Sam Sparro theme.
He breaks out a big smile when called the gay Prince. "Prince is also very cheeky and writes with a lot of double entendre. He also had many different musical influences from rock to soul, jazz, disco, funk, and classical. And I admire that a lot."
We chatted a bit more about the contemporary trend toward hedonism. "It seems a bit vacuous," he noted before a characteristic frank observation: "There’s more to life than humping and throwing your hands in the air. I think pop music can be really great, but it’s gotten so stupid as well."
Sparro’s winking nature is a staple of both his recorded material and live shows. He manages to toe the line without ever coming across as condescending, "I think it is a fine line. I think I enjoy cheekiness more than cheesiness. I don’t believe you can reference the past without giving a little wink. But I don’t like it being called ironic - It’s very sincere. I’m very playful with my work - but also quite serious."
Sam escaped a restrictive first record contract before signing to his current label, where his vision is better realized. He shares an unlikely comrade in that regard: Marilyn Manson. "I like Marilyn Manson... He’s really smart. He’s like a fully realized artist. He thinks about everything. It’s a whole vision... I was fortunate enough to get out of my first contract and renegotiate with a new label where I actually control my masters. "
That unusual connection aside, Sam’s presentation brings to mind another cheeky pioneer: John Waters. The two share an interesting connection: "We were both in the Sylvester documentary... [He was] a gay disco singer. You should look him up, he’s amazing. He’s actually a big inspiration of mine." I assured him I’d do so.
On the John Waters mustache: "[His] is way thinner." I observed that it thinned over time, but Sam still wasn’t feeling it. "It’s gotten really scrawny," he said with a mischievous grin. It’s all in good fun though."I absolutely love John Waters," Sam is quick to announce. And he has a bit more to say on his own controversial mustache, "It won’t be here forever so enjoy it while it lasts... or not. It’s my face and I’ll do with it what I want. (laughter)."
Sam isn’t all cheeky banter. He opened up about his personal struggles when I asked about his message to LGBT youth, and all youth who feel out-of-place. "I’m a big believer in being yourself," he said. "Sometimes it may be the hardest thing to do, but in my experience, staying true to myself has been ultimately rewarding. There were many years where I felt alone, confused and isolated. That experience has taught me to be a kinder and more understanding person and has made me much stronger."
On his message and essence, Sam got contemplative, "It’s about being on a journey and looking outside of the monotony of life, like somethings that are bigger. I guess there is like a spiritual element to my music because I’m a spiritual person and I’m always on a quest for enlightenment... Self-actualizing and just becoming a more realized person that can contribute something."
Sam Sparro is currently on tour in the US. Purchase your tickets here at Ticketmaster.