INTERVIEW: Sugarcane

Hi Robin, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Not bad, thanks. I just spent a few weeks in Berlin, idling around, reading novels – so I’m feeling nice and recharged.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Shambala Mess”?

Our producer Raphael Mann called it ‘a requiem for the festival season’ – I liked that. The song’s about the hedonistic messiness of a festival, and the messiness of the week after – both the muddy boots in the hallway and the inevitable psychological mess.

When I first started thinking about Sugarcane, I wanted the sound to be Serge Gainsbourg meets Jorge Ben. I think that’s there on this track – it’s doomy, European and sad, but also has its own adrenalized Brazilian groove. Our drummer Xande really threw some fire on this one.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

It’s quite autobiographical in some ways, but it’s fragments of events more than one event. It’s about nice and nasty things that happened at Glastonbury as well as at Shambala.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

I write theatre and TV scripts from a deskspace at Vivid Studios in Manor House. I’m pals with a brilliant cinematographer there called Max Brill. He filmed it there, and we used pieces by a painter at the studio called Adam Bartlett (Tigers of the Universe)- I’ve always loved his stuff.

How was the recording and writing process?

I went away to Lisbon for a few weeks last year, and went to the Botanical Gardens every afternoon to play the guitar in the sun among ornamental lakes and tropical plants. That was a very happy creative place. I think where you are makes a massive difference to how creative you feel.

We hadn’t played this song live. I went to Ramsgate with the producer Raph, the drummer/percussionist Xande, and we started a heap of tracks – but this one was completely new. Then we did sessions either in London for Teddy (BVs, percussion), Sian (steel pan, flute, melodica) and Klaus (double bass). I added plenty of guitars, ukes, Korg and cavaquinho.

What role does London play in your music?

I’ve travelled a lot in the last ten years. I like the feeling of looking back at London, from somewhere else. There’s a tension in Sugarcane between home and away. I always liked the concept of a frozen icy samba – making sambas and calypsos that suited the London winter.

You could say the whole album is a document of my time in London. Growing up in Nineties Birmingham, I read about Blur, Suede, Elastica and Pulp drinking at the Good Mixer in Camden, then adored the sitcom Spaced set in Tufnell Park. A London dream was probably born then. Now, years later, I’m standing on the other side of that dream – dimly remembering all the parties and the doomed romances. I think our sound comes with that feeling – it’s world weary but still swooning.

How much of your does Latin and Caribbean roots influences your work as a whole?

Well, my mum is from Barbados. I was a mixed-race Caribbean/English boy at a mostly white and South Asian school. The people on the cover of Brazilian CDs looked like me and my brothers – barely anybody else did. I felt a really strong connection to Brazil because of that – it wasn’t very thought through. Then later, my brother and an ex-girlfriend gave me more Brazilian stuff from the Sixties and Seventies to listen to, and it had an immediate effect – especially Caetano, Chico and Jorge Ben. Now, our drummer Xande and Double Bassist Klaus are both Brazilian.

Then I’m writing a TV script for the BBC about Trinidadian Calypso recorded in London during the 50s – so that looped back quite naturally to my West Indian family background. I’ve loved bringing some more of those influences in. I’m a massive Lord Kitchener fan.

Do you tend to take a whole different approach when you are writing for a series rather than for your own musical material?

Yes and no. Screenwriting is more cerebral – you have to work with logic a lot, as well as emotion and intuition. I think with songwriting, you don’t want logic to get too involved.

Does the new single mean we can expect a new material – how’s that coming along?

Yes, we’ve been recording our album with our producer Raphael Mann at Arco Barco studios in Ramsgate. It’s sounding really exciting.

Any tentative release date or title in mind?

There’ll be two or three singles leading up to an album in September 2020.

They include a beautiful song that Mr. Hudson wrote back in the old days in Kentish Town. I thought it would be perfect fit for my friend Antonia Thomas (Misfits, Lovesick), who guest sang our first single “One Specific Thing”. I’m stoked that she has come back for another feature, she is brilliant.

Any plans to hit the road?

Not before Christmas, we’re trying to finish the album, then we’ll get back onstage. I’m missing it.

What else is happening next in Sugarcane’s world?

That’s it, the album. And writing some new songs.

WATCH Sugarcane ‘Shambala Mess’ |

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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