Rob Snarski drops new album Sparrow & Swan

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Rob Snarski drops new album Sparrow & Swan

Velvet-voiced troubadour Rob Snarski unveils his brand new album, Sparrow & Swan, and is bringing it to Victoria in mid-June. We chat to Rob ahead of the shows.

Hey Rob, thanks for chatting to Forte! To start, when did you get your start in music?
I started playing music initially with my brother Mark in a band we founded as fledglings called Chad’s Tree, I was 19. I played electric guitar and sang one or two tunes ~ we emerged out of the Perth post-punk scene, moved to Sydney mid-‘80s, recorded our first single ‘Crush The Lily’ then two albums. We played support to everyone from Nico and John Cale, to The Triffids, The Laughing Clowns and The Go-Betweens.

Tell us a bit about the new album?
Sparrow & Swan was recorded at Yikesville Studio in Yarraville [Melbourne] with Shane O’Mara, along with some very fine musicians including Kelly & Jane from Broads, Rebecca Barnard, Kiernan Box [Augie March] Ben Wiesner [The Audreys] and two double bass players Ben Franz and Rosie Westbrook.

As for the songs, I’d been gathering them over the last couple of years, though my writing process changed halfway. I began tuning into conversation ~ shaping songs from late night tales and everyday conversations – footballers, cab drivers, a friend from Northern Ireland who as a teenager ventured off into the night in search of Van Morrison. That’s why the title of the album sounds a little fable-like – Sparrow & Swan – I’m half-sharing the stories of others.

Musically, Sparrow and Swan shows a bit of a shift in style compared to your earlier work, what lead to you to this, kind of, free-form type of sound?
We had a few albums that we’d refer to every so often as we progressed. My main go-to album was Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison. There was something about the piano playing that I particularly loved. Loose, yet delicate, but assured and direct. Clever. I love Astral Weeks also, but who doesn’t?

I’d never written songs that were as wordy, as loquacious… nor as lengthy, I wasn’t sure in some cases that the music needed a defined end or parts as such. There was also a little Cuban tilt – Buena Vista, Mambo Sinuendo, Ruben Gonzalez and some Ry Cooder inspired moments… it’s all in there. I like to say somewhere between Havana and Helsinki, a Cuban cigar with a licorice ice cream.

The album is rich in storytelling and lyricism, who are some of the other songwriters that have inspired your writing?
Van Morrison, David McComb, Paul Kelly, Gareth Liddiard, Guy Garvey, The Handsome Family, Scott Walker – writers who love a narrative. Vivid, cinematic, broad, evocative writers. Gareth Liddiard has lifted the bar for us singer-songwriters – his solo work is unparalleled. Unseen from The Handsome Family is a favourite of mine ~ beautiful stories within, a little unsettling.

Do you have any real-life stories which inspired one of the songs you could tell us about?
“Chasing Van” deals with two Catholic, teenage girls in search of the great Van Morrison at his peak, in Belfast around ‘74. They catch a lift from outside the city with a lorry driver, nervously venture past the peace line [armed by the British Army] and wander into a bar where Van is supposedly performing a secret warm-up gig. The story goes they were found out, spotted – one of the girls was wearing the Miraculous Medal over her sweater. They were then chased down the street by a group of men wielding chains. Chilling. The woman who shared this story insisted I then write a song and share her tale – so I did.

You’ve been playing some shows solo and some with a full band, how does this diversify your set and what do you prefer?
I’ve also been playing shows in duo-mode with Shane O’Mara [guitarist/producer who’s coming on this tour]. Solo is probably the most satisfying from the ego’s point of view. If the song works solo, it works, it’s as simple as that. Yet, the band is the most rewarding ~ the richness of the arrangements and dynamics of the music carry the songs so beautifully, the band adds colour and texture. I’m happy to move from the bare bones of the song in solo mode to the fullness of the band – to mix it up, keep it interesting from my point of view and the listeners.

You’ve already kicked off your album launch tour, how have the shows been so far and what’s the plan for the rest? Is there anywhere you’re really looking forward to?
Melbourne shows have been with the full band – incredible. Adelaide ~ duo, intimate and glorious. Sydney we had Amanda Brown from The Go-Betweens join us [Shane O’Mara & I] for a few tunes – violin and bvs – stunning.
I’ve been inviting musician friends to duet with me in each town we visit too. Juliet Ward in Canberra, Mia Goodwin in Brisbane, Catherine Traicos in Perth but really it’s the crowd that carries each show. The response from an audience can lift your performance, drive and carry the night, push and pull you along.
I look forward to all the shows, to be honest. As my musician colleague Mick Thomas infamously says “Isn’t it great that people still come out to see us play?” True. Even better when the audience is enjoying the new material.

What’s on for the rest of the year?
The Blackeyed Susans are talking about recording a new album with full string arrangements [a big project] and also preparing to celebrate our 30th year anniversary. There’s been talk of a Scott Walker retrospective I may be involved with. Idle hands do the devil’s work some say.

When & Where:
The Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine – June 14
Lost Ones Basement Bar, Ballarat – June 15