Playing Favourites – Aired on 2SER FM mid-October 2005
Eliza Sarlos hosts a weekly radio program on 2SER called ‘Playing Favourites’. Every week she has musicians come into the studio to dissect songs which have been an influence on them.
Introduction: Sam Shinazzi is a singer-songwriter out of Sydney. Performing under the name of C-Minus Project he had ‘Long Drive Home’ released in 2001 and ‘Less Than Perfect Day’ in 2003. He has just released his fantastic new album ‘Stories You Wouldn’t Believe’ which is packed with brilliant stories that, I guess, you wouldn’t believe but coming from such a humble and honest lad as Sam Shinazzi, it’s hard not to believe them. They’re beautiful, beautiful songs with really heartfelt lyrics, which I love. So we’ll be hearing some tracks from that, as well as eight songs Sam has chosen which has influenced him. Stuff that’s made Sam, Sam.
ES: Joining me in the studio is Sam Shinazzi. How you going?
SS: Very well Eliza, thanks for having me.
ES: Thank you so much for coming in. You’ve just released your first album as Sam Shinazzi. ‘Stories You Wouldn’t Believe. Do you think that people don’t believe the stories?
SS: Well, I was really apprehensive about the title. I wasn’t sure if it was too pompous; you know like “Listen to me, I’ve got some stories you wouldn’t believe”. I asked some friends and they were like “If it was a book of poems it would be kind of arrogant”. But they are songs, so I went with it. But I was apprehensive for a while.
ES: Today you will be playing your favourites, which I imagine is a collection of new and old. Do you think you’ve picked out songs that have been a major influence?
ES: And for something to get into that major influence category what do you think it has to have?
SS: For me personally, it has to have a lot of heart, a bit of soul, bit of passion and just something that strikes me as something that is worthwhile on my stereo for a long time. Everyone gets albums that might not be what you think it is, but for them to be classics it had better be damn good.
ES: That’s very true. It’s a CD that’s going to be with you for a long time. I think that everyone that goes out there and records an album should approach it that way…this has to be on Sam Shinazzi’s record player for a long time.
SS: (laughs) I definitely agree.
ES: Okay, well first off you’ve chosen the Lemonheads, who I don’t think anyone has played so far on Playing Favourites.
SS: That’s disgraceful.
ES: Maybe they’re out of favour at the moment? I know for me the Lemonheads have always been there.
SS: I think they’ll come back in favour.
ES: The song you’ve chosen is ‘Stove’, which is a song in which Evan Dando turns the mundane into something really interesting and heartfelt and passionate, which is something you said you like; but I also think it’s something that you can do with your songs to an extent.
SS: Yeah. It was the first thing I noticed about his songwriting, and obviously not every song is about an object but the fact that he could sing about an old stove that was taken out of his house left on his lawn…and to make it sound so sad…or…with that sense of longing is a real talent. There’s a line coming out of the middle part and it gets all dramatic and he sings “I know I shouldn’t think about her anymore, what’s the point you say?” and for all we know he’s singing about a stove, and it just gets you right in the heart.
Stove by Lemonheads plays.
Stove is from their Atlantic album ‘Lovey’.
Soul and Fire by Sebadoh plays.
Soul and Fire is from their Sub Pop album ‘Bakesale’
ES: As chosen by Sam Shinazzi who joins us today, a song by Sebadoh that goes back to the early nineties.
SS: Yeah, I think that was around 1993. I first heard that song on a 2SER show believe it or not, a really old show called Amplifier which a guy called Aaron Curnow used to do. He’s gone on to do Spunk Records. But yeah, I heard it close to midnight and I thought “Gee, that band sounds really good” and it was right when I was starting to learn guitar and writing my first ever songs, and I had a song which sounded exactly like ‘Soul and Fire’. I thought that was a good thing though because Sebadoh were a great band and a lot of people like Lou Barlow.
ES: Lou Barlow is pretty astounding. Was your song that sounded like ‘Soul and Fire’ written before or after you heard it?
SS: That’s the thing, it was written before. I didn’t know who they were, I didn’t know he had been in Dinosaur Jr because I liked Dinosaur Jr at the time a lot. But yeah, it just sort of jumped out. Musically it’s the same and kind of the same sentiments but not as heavy or anything because I was still just a kid.
ES: Aww, things can be pretty heavy at that time.
SS: Yeah, but he was breaking up with his long time partner so…he probably wins over my teen angst (laughs), but yeah, it was literally the same song. It was sort of frustrating thinking “Who’s that guy? Why’s he writing a song I’ve already written?” but then it was like…he’s Lou Barlow and I stand down.
ES: I can’t imagine what that feeling must feel like?
SS: Particularly because I only had two or three other songs at the time (laughs). I was going to scratch it out but I didn’t, I kept playing it and no one really picked up on it.
ES: Does it ever get a run these days?
SS: No. Never. It was bad.
ES: But it sounded like Lou?
SS: Well (laughs), musically it sounded like that…but some friends actually request it every now and then but that’s more to embarrass me than to hear it I think.
ES: What was it called?
SS: I can’t even say that because it had a really bad name. I can’t, I’m sorry.
ES: You’re keeping your credibility.
SS: Well, I’m trying (laughs)
ES: No, you are. You have had two very creditable song choices. I’m glad you played ‘Stove’ by Lemonhead because I hadn’t heard that version in a long time. You were saying the sentiment before with Lou Barlow and the sentiment in both of them is just so there.
SS: Yeah, it will probably be a theme in most things I play today. I mean not everything I put on in my house is sad and overwhelming but you know, if you look through my CD’s the ones that mean the most probably are.
ES: The ones that strike a chord with you.
SS: And when I play my songs and music, I’m not trying to make people feel a certain way necessarily but people tend to call me a little but…not dramatic but you know, a bit over the top or melancholic or any of those clichés you want to throw at me. And I can’t really deny it because I do tend to listen to that music and it inspires me and that’s how it comes out and I’m rambling now so…
ES: No, you’re not rambling at all. I think it’s great you can see it in yourself as well. I’m sure it’s a strong point in your music. You’re willing to embrace that and acknowledge it.
The next artist you’ve picked is Buffalo Tom.
SS: Oh yeah, they were a very big influence on me. Probably the three biggest influences on me were Evan Dando, Bill Janovitz from Buffalo Tom and Bruce Springsteen. But Buffalo Tom I remember sitting in my room listening to on headphones thinking “Wow, this is amazing”. It’s just three piece rock but has such a great voice and his lyrics are amazing …they are still a band I fight tooth and nail in a conversation with someone if they say “Oh, they had a few hits or it’s not 1995” but to me it’s just timeless music.
ES: So if I said to you right now (laughs) “Buffalo Tom…they’re past it” what would you say?
SS: I’d walk out.
ES: Wow. I’m not going to test it (laughs). You said they were a band you’d sit in your bedroom and listen to on headphones.
SS: And I’m not that sort of a music listener, not really anyway. Like I have headphones but they don’t really get much use. I think it was because, along with the Lemonheads, they were a band that very noise…you’d go to their shows and they were as noisy as anyone else but on their recordings they had a lot of acoustic instruments and there is this great layering of instrumentation and that’s what kind of fascinated me at the time because no one else at the time were really kind of doing it. Everyone was either grunge or purely acoustic…it’s almost like alt-country but not as country. Like an alt-country band does have a lot of country in them…I think if Evan Dando and Buffalo Tom as almost alt-country because there is a lot of acoustic instruments on there…
ES: It could be alt-alt.
I’m Allowed by Buffalo Tom plays.
I’m Allowed is from their Beggars Banquet album ‘Big Red Letter Day’
Straight Face Down by Smudge plays
Straight Face Down is from their Half A Cow mini EP ‘Superhero’
ES: Smudge. Tell me about the love affair.
SS: Hmmm. How long have you got? I got into them in high school I think, very young and fairly early in their career so I got to see a lot of shows. Tom Morgan is just a phenomenal songwriter. I would say he is the best songwriter in Australia ever. A big call I know but that’s just how I feel. He’s still writing great songs now, whatever he does whether it’s with the Givegoods or his latest demos I have heard. They’re all just killer songs. The guy’s just got some sort of weird talent. I don’t know what it is but I want some of it.
ES: Wow, that’s a huge wrap. Who are his competitors?
SS: That’s a hard question. Probably no one. No one comes close. No, that’s not true but you do hear big, bold statements like that. I’ve read some recently about certain people I’m not going to mention because I don’t want to get into a whole thing with you about (laughs) but yeah, for me it’s Tom Morgan. And I love the fact that he is the sort of guy who would laugh that off and say “Don’t be stupid”. He doesn’t know how good he is. That’s why I feel like I have to come in here and play it to everyone. Not that I’m the only one that feels that way (laughs).
ES: I was telling you before off-mic that I think I kind of missed out Smudge and hearing you say that makes me really sad I missed out on them.
SS: Well it’s there in the Lemonheads…he’s probably got two strong albums he co-wrote at least. He’s not hard to find which is cool. He has this back catalogue of songs. But hopefully he will do more in the future.
ES: Whenever I think of him I think of this prime time in Sydney and all around Newtown and everything was so great. Was it great?
SS: Yeah, well I was still a kid so my eyes were very wide. He was my hero so; and we’d talk to him but in a very fan-like kind of way.
ES: Were you a fan-boy?
SS: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
SS: He would tell you that. There were more bands around doing the same kind of thing but I couldn’t tell you if they were any good or not. Not many are still going. I don’t know if that says anything or not?
ES: It probably does. I guess it’s an indication in the passion Tom Morgan has, still making music and still doing it well.
Next we have Husker Du.
SS: They started out as a very heavy, fast and loud band but they always had a lot of melody about them. I got into them through the song we’re going to hear which is towards the end of their career and by then they were this intense guitar band.
ES: I think this song we’re going to hear is incredibly pop.
SS: It is, but I just love how brutal it sounds. I think that was their thing. They had this wall of sound but just really melodic vocals and melodies.
Don’t Wanna Know If You’re Lonely by Husker Du plays.
Don’t Wanna Know If You’re Lonely is from their Candy Apple Grey album.
Highway 29 by Bruce Springsteen plays.
Highway 29 is from the Sony album ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’
ES: Bruce Springsteen. As chosen by Sam Shinazzi on Playing Favourites 2SER. That was the moment, apart from knowing what has been influential for you, I am going to take with me today. Bruce Springsteen, The Boss, is a lot more than Born In The USA.
SS: He is, and it’s the most important lesson of the day.
ES: Or maybe ever? No.
SS: Yeah, it could be.
ES: Wow. I feel the need to find out how you got to know this side of Bruce Springsteen.
SS: He’s my hero, hands down.
SS: Yeah, ‘cause when I got into him ‘Born In The USA’ was a hit. I think it was the first album I ever bought. It was so political but I didn’t know that; I just knew it was in the charts and was better than whatever else was in there at the time. Since then, on and off, I’ve always loved the guy but at different times in my life it’s been really obvious. It’s sort of hit me like a bolt of lightning. It’s at the point now where I just love the guy and I always will ‘til the day I die. The song you just heard was from an album called ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ and that came out in 1996 I think. It was a real turning point for him because it showed the mainstream what he was capable of. He’s always had great albums. He started out doing almost big-band music I guess, and then he went into the ‘Born To Run’ era…I mean ‘Born In The USA’ was a massive hit but it presented an image which maybe wasn’t him. It made him a lot of money and won over a lot of new fans; I mean that’s how I got into him so I can’t really complain about it. It’s a very political song ‘Born In The USA’, it’s just been so glamourised. He is my hero, I say that unashamed.
ES: Why do you think that song ‘Highway 29’ is the song you choose out of all his?
SS: Most people just couldn’t pick one Springsteen song but I just think it tells an amazing story and just the way he presents it. He sounds so relaxed, quiet and casual. It’s this great story about this guy and he’s on the road with this girl…lyrically it’s phenomenal. I can actually play it, I’ve played it live a few times and it’s an easy enough song to learn so it’s not like the greatest song ever in that sense but that what’s I like about The Boss. He writes songs you can play along to; I mean no one is going to sing it like he can.
ES: You can try.
SS: I do try.
ES: Why’s he called The Boss?
SS: I don’t know this for sure but I know he hates that name.
ES: How could you hate being called The Boss?
SS: I’m pretty sure it came from his band mates. He’s the Boss and he writes the cheques.
ES: Awww, it could have been more glamourous than that (laughs). A bit like maybe he looks a lot like Tony Danza. Is Tony Danza the boss?
SS: He’s from Who’s The Boss?
ES: Is the answer Bruce Springsteen? (laughs)
SS: He’s done a lot more than Tony Danza.
ES: The next guy…Bruce Springsteen’s songwriting…I think Will Oldham might challenge him.
SS: Yeah, absolutely.
ES: And the next song you’ve chosen is Will Oldham in his Bonnie Prince Billy ‘guise.
SS: Actually there’s a story about Will Oldham and The Boss which I know for a fact is true. Will Oldham was out here on tour, and I can’t disclose where I got this information from, but he was out here and leaving to go back to America and was in some sort of lounge in the airport. Bruce Springsteen was here as well, on a solo tour…it would have been 1996. And Bruce Springsteen went up to him and said “Excuse me, are you Will Oldham?” and he says “Yes”. Bruce then says “I just wanted to say I’m a really big fan” and that’s a dead set true story. So what you say about him is pretty true. If The Boss likes then…
ES: He must be alright by Sam Shinazzi.
SS: Yeah (laughs), exactly.
ES: How would you feel if Bruce Springsteen came up to you and said…
SS: To me? I would just fall over. You’d have to get me a bucket of water.
ES: I would just melt.
SS: I just wish I was there in that lounge, hanging out with the two of them.
ES: You’ve chosen the track ‘I See A Darkness’ . Is it redundant of me asking you why you chose it?
SS: It’s just a very intense song. It’s very well written and like all great artists, he goes somewhere where you probably don’t want somewhere to go. Lyrically and mood wise. If you listen to it, and there is no pun intended but it’s probably one of, if not the darkest song you will ever hear. Johnny Cash covered it…again, he’s getting respect from everywhere (laughs). You don’t have to say much about it, you just listen to it and think about it…
I See A Darkness by Bonnie Prince Billy plays.
I See A Darkness is from the same titled Drag City album.
Okay (With My Decay) by Grandaddy plays
Okay (With My Decay) is from the V2 album ‘Sumday’
ES: Grandaddy, as chosen by Sam Shinazzi, the final song in his Playing Favourites which has been very thought out and chosen; and pretty much chronological in terms of when you first loved them.
SS: Pretty sure, yeah.
ES: What we just heard was ‘Okay (With My Decay). Is it relevant at all?
SS: It could be, depending on one’s mood.
ES: No, just a great song.
SS: It’s a brilliant album. I can’t recommend it enough, called ‘Sumday’. It’s probably a bit underrated actually. Everyone talks about the album before it, ‘The Software Slump’, which is a great album but ‘SumDay’ is just a proper album. From start to finish there isn’t one dud song and there is this great mood throughout it. They put on a really great live show.
ES: Yeah, they do. They definitely do. One thing that surprised me the most of that song we just heard was that five minutes just passed, it went so quickly. Is that the sign of a good song? I’m not sure. It makes the time disappear.
SS: I think so. They’re a very atmospheric band. There is so much going on in the recordings.
ES: But you kind of don’t notice.
SS: Most of the songs on average are maybe five minutes but it doesn’t feel like that. I’m not really into epic records as such, but yeah, they do it really well.
ES: I guess this has been a rather late influence to your songwriting?
SS: Probably not an influence musically, I just really like what they do and how they go about it. People always ask me about my love for Elliott Smith and they think it’s a musical thing, and it kind of is but it’s more about the way he went about his business. With Grandaddy they just seem like the greatest bunch of guys, they seem to care about the people that listen to their albums, they put on great shows, they hang out at their shows…you can go talk to them. In all their interviews they seem like great guys. They were very humble at their show. I saw them at the Metro and I think it was sold out and song after song they were thanking people for coming out, and to me that sort of thing counts. I don’t really want to pay my hard earned money to see someone…sulk…or whatever…for an hour and a half…unless they’re…great at it (laughs). But when someone takes the time to say “We really appreciate this”…for me, I walk out thinking “That’s great”. On top of a great show though.
ES: We do have to go very soon…
SS: No! Let’s keep going…let’s take over the airwaves.
ES: Sorry next show, doesn’t matter! I’m really interested though because all the bands you played today are very much about the vocal. Or the lyricist is always very present.
SS: It’s pretty important to me. Especially with my music; I mean people will tell you I’m not the greatest musician in the world (laughs), but for me the number one thing is the lyrics. I have to be able to sing them in public and not be embarrassed by a rhyme or whatever…and it’s not so much that I labour over them but if it’s not good…or what I think is good, it’s not going to make it…and I hope the people I have just played now for the last hour were the same way. Grandaddy are probably more musically driven than lyrically driven but they do have great lyrics.
ES: They’ve got a good negotiation between the two… Well Sam, thank you so much for coming in today…
SS: Thank you, and I will be back next week (laughs)
ES: For Sam Shinazzi part two (laughs)…but we are going to out on a song now from your new album which is called ‘Stories You Wouldn’t Believe’