Interview with Sweet Baboo

Sweet Baboo’s fourth album ‘Ships’ caught the attention of many in 2013, with its impressive beefy brass arrangements and heartwarming tales of love, it led to a well-deserved nomination for the Welsh Music Prize earlier this year. 

I caught Stephen Black (a.k.a. Sweet Baboo) before his gig at the Belgrave Musical Hall in Leeds; where we chatted about multicoloured cats, rogue hecklers and camping trips. 

I was very intrigued by the concept of your new EP ‘Motorhome’, where did theidea come from to write about a fictional road trip?
Its because I wanted to do something slightly different from a normal EP, a) because I didn’t have enough songs and b) because I thought it would be a fun thing to do. The songs are supposed to evoke certain things that you do and see on a road trip. There’s a song called ‘Animals Crossing’, that’s supposed to evoke going down a country lane when you get stopped by lots of animals, then there’s one about a traffic report. It was just supposed to be something different really, apposed to doing something completely straighter.

Listen to 'Motorhome' played live at the Green Man festival

You recently produced Islet’s new album, did you find that fun?
It was amazing yeah. I’ve known all of them for a long time and Alex from the band has played on a few Sweet Baboo records, he also used to be in an amazing band called Fredrick Stanley Star, which Mark’s label put out. He has also put Sweet Baboo records out. I don’t think you can call it producing; I kind of just pressed record. It was just hanging out with my friends really. I think we’re all surprised by how many people like the record. 

Your album cover for ‘Ships’ is probably the best thing I’ve ever seen, why did you decide to dress up as a multicoloured cat? 

There’s an artist from the turn of the 1900s called Louis Wain who was famous for drawing cats. Unfortunately he started losing his mind, and his work got more and more psychedelic and crazy. My friend Casey who did the artwork also likes Louis Wain, so we were just trying to recreate some of these really crazy psychedelic cats that were reminiscent of Wain’s.

‘Ships’ seemed to mark a change in musical style from your early work, was that a conscious decision? 
Yeah it was. Before we started recording, we had a talk about doing something loud, brash and poppy. So to me, when I think of music, I think of big brass arrangements, which is why we did it. I don’t think the songwriting has changed that much, it’s just that we tried to do something new with the arrangements. 

You were nominated for the Welsh Music Prize earlier this year, how did make you feel when you heard that your work was getting recognised?
Yeah it was amazing. It’s just nice that anyone likes it really. I know some of the other bands that were nominated and I really love some of their records. You can’t say that you don’t feel proud about it, it’s nice to be recognised for what you do. 

Would you say that you are a confident performer? Because I’ve read that your girlfriend said the only time you ever look genuinely happy is when you are onstage.
I guess so. I feel relaxed when I play, I don’t know if its confidence, but I definitely feel at ease when I’m onstage. Whereas at all other times I feel mildly anxious. 

Judging on the YouTube comments left under your videos, your fans seem rather nice, what’s the best heckle you’ve ever received? 

That’s a tough question! I don’t tend to get heckled. There was one where I did a gig in North Wales, where it’s quite notorious for people talking at gigs. I was playing and no one was really listening, and after a song this woman who was standing in front of me waited till I had finished and just shouted “BOOOO!” We’ve also had a few “Hurry ups” which are quite good. 

Words by Joe Woods