Marcus Warner 11/12/2008
Northwalian born, now Cardiff based cult solo artist Sweet Baboo a.k.a Stephen Black, has been quietly building a reputation with his darkly comical brand of bittersweet, acoustic alt country. It has drawn admiring glances from everyone from Mark Riley and Tom Robinson (BBC Radio 6) to Daniel Johnston who asked him to back him up on the Cardiff leg of his European tour. With the release of his debut album 'The Mighty Baboo' on his very own Business man records earlier this year, GIITTV's Marcus Warner caught up with Steve, for a chat about his past, present and future of the Sweet Baboo.
Lets begin at the beginning, how did you start piecing together songs and ideas that culminated in 'The Mighty Baboo'?
I'd never recorded an album before, only singles or eps and thought once I'd started I may as well end up doing a whole album. The songs come from about 2004 to last year so that's probably why there is not much cohesion between the songs. I quite like that fact though cause generally all my songs written around the same time, especially lyrically, deal with the same kind of thing, 'The Mighty Baboo' has pockets of similar information I think. I finished recording it last September so the even the recorded versions of the songs are quite old now too.
Your album sounds very authentic and organic, despite American influences being there, I couldn't help but hear your welsh roots shining through, would you say home has been an influence on you?
I imagine so, band wise, definitely. All my formative years were spent listening to Gorky's, Super Furries, Murry the Hump. I come from North Wales, in the mountains, and it's a great place for inspiration (sorry hippy bit) it's also a great, slow way of life so in that respect yes it has been a big influence on me. Speaking of influences - name some for me.
Ok - always it goes Gorky's, the beach boys, Daniel Johnston, Jonathan Richman, Johnny Cash. At the moment (these are bands who i love at the moment) - Frederick Stanley Star, Louvin Brothers, Elizabeth Cotton, Bon Iver to name a few.
I first heard of your music through the enthusiastic support you have received from DJs like Adam Walton and Tom Robinson, does such support make you happy?
Definitely, any kind of recognition is always greatly received especially when it comes from someone who is supposed to know what they are talking about. (This was supposed to sound positive) Mark Riley and Huw and Beth have also been really supportive and helpful. It's also nice to meet people who genuinely care about music.
You play in Spencer McGarry, are the pleasures and pains of your solo and band work totally different?
I think so; I worry a lot more playing for other people. I want to get it right for them and don't really enjoy a gig until I definitely know they have. It's also a much greater high when you know everyone in the band have had a great gig. With Sweet Baboo, I've been doing it since I was sixteen and although I take it a lot more seriously now than I did then, I think I would write and record songs regardless if anyone ever heard them.
That doesn't really answer the question very well I don't think?
As a South Walian, I perhaps am naïve to the scene up in North Wales, an anecdotal observation is that there doesn't appear to me as many great acts coming from the region as perhaps five years ago, what is you view on that?
I'm in North Wales at the moment actually. It's a bit weird for me cause I was never really involved in any kind of scene when I was growing up here but as far as I can tell there is definitely a great community of musicians here. It's a lot less competitive I think than south Wales (Cardiff) people just like playing music with no kind of expectation other than to enjoy themselves. Eitha Tal Ffranco are a great band, Alun Tan Lan, Gwyneth Glyn, Yucatan. Hmm that's off the top of my head. I still think it's pretty healthy.
So Businessman records? Give us the lowdown on how it came about?
It was just a conversation I had with a couple of friends (Keith, Pete and Spencer) one day and we thought we'd release a single by Spence cause no one had and it pissed us off. Our other friend Charlie came on board and we took it from there. I never really know what we're doing but it's fun and we've done ok I think. When we started I think we all said we'd like to release Spence's album, my album and something by Gindrinker and in just over a year we've done that. I don't know what's next, find some more money somewhere and hopefully just build on what we've been doing. I'd like to get Gindrinker more gigs outside of Wales and hopefully just keep releasing records of bands we like.
To round up, what has 2009 got in store for you?
There are lots of things that might happen in the near future (I've been on the phone a lot today) but none of them are confirmed so I don't want to jinx them. I am gonna record a new Sweet Baboo album in the new year and hopefully release it before the summer (somehow), get some gigs, hopefully go on tour, try and not get a job, loose weight and become slightly more literate. I can't imagine this is gonna happen though.
Sweet Baboo's debut album 'The Mighty Baboo' - is out now, available here: