English-born but now Melbourne-based singer Rob Snarski (pictured right), once of the band Chad’s Tree with brother Mark Snarski and maybe, just maybe, still a member of The Blackeyed Susans, released a new solo album, Wounded Bird, last year to much acclaim.
Rob, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist JP Shilo, then embarked on a tour which had the duo playing a sold out show at The Wheatsheaf Hotel in the Adelaide suburb of Thebarton before returning to play Aurora Spielgeltent in The Garden Of Unearthly Delights as part of Adelaide Fringe earlier this year.
To fund the Wounded Bird album, however, which was recorded by Shane O’Mara (pictured on left) at his Yikesville studio in Melbourne, produced by Rob and Dan Luscombe (of The Drones and The Blackeyed Susans) and featured such musicians as Ashley Davies and Clare Moore, the singer set up a pledging campaign with some special deals.
These included playing house concerts, meeting up for coffee and even wearing a rabbit suit. Another crowd-funding deal was that Rob would record a song request.
After recording dozens of these, with some actually written by the person doing the request, the singer realised he actually had a new album. He then tasked Shane O’Mara to clean up his quite raw iPhone recordings and the end result is Low Fidelity (Songs By Request Volume One).
When people began requesting songs as part of your crowd-funding campaign, what was your initial reaction to some of the choices?
“There were some classic songs to start with, beautiful songs like Wild Is The Wind and Witchita Lineman. Vocally they were challenging and pushed me, but once I found a way into them, a way to deliver the song, it became engaging and a real pleasure.
“What I didn’t expect was the handful of original songs some people asked me to sing on their behalf. Complex songs and songs I’d obviously never heard before. They were more time consuming.
“Fantastic songs by musicians who lacked the confidence themselves. I feel quite privileged to be honest.
“As for the other song selections, it was quite an eclectic mix in the end and that’s why I thought it worthy of releasing.”
Which ones pleased you?
“It was more songs surprised me, or I surprised myself. I like the idea of taking songs somewhere else and I think I did that with Pulp’sBabies – that happened quite spontaneously, essentially as I was recording it.
“I loved singing some of the country songs too – Merle Haggard’s Turning Off A Memory and Willie Nelson’s The Way You See Me. ”
And which songs were you concerned about covering?
“Probably the song requests that didn’t make it to the album. I’m not sure anyone else needs to hear me sing an a capella version ofDanny Boy nor John Waits’ Missing You.”
Were you already familiar with most of the songs or were there some that came out of left field?
“I certainly hadn’t heard a few of the choices before, so I had a quick listen through – via cyberspace – worked out some chords and had a bit of a play around with them. ”
Have you spoken to anyone about why they requested a particular song such as asking Matthew Woods (AKA Wolvie Trash) why he picked Bad Man, the Oblivian song?
“No, not yet. Wolvie Trash is a DJ in Brisbane [on community station ZZZ]. I first met him when he came up and introduced himself after a gig by The Blackeyed Susans. In his hand was a sheet of paper with a list of songs which we hadn’t performed and which appeared to be written in blood.
“His hair was shaped in a massive black cone and he had black mascara running down his face. He gifted me a brilliant CD compilation and we’ve been friends ever since. ”
And how did you feel about someone requesting the Chad’s Tree song, The Flood Johanna?
“That was quite an awkward and extremely sad, sad situation but an absolute privilege too. It was for a friend who has since passed away, his partner and sister.”
Were there any songs you had possibly considered covering in the past, perhaps with The Blackeyed Susans for Dedicated To The Ones We Love?
“No. Though some requests were from that record but I didn’t think they needed repeating.”
And were they just recorded on your iPhone with nothing else used such as a mic attached to the device.
“No mics or other devices, just straight into the voice memo app. My initial recordings were very simple, in a room with my guitar and iPhone, the birds tweeting outside and a dog snoring by my side.”
How long did it take you to work out what you would do with each of the requested songs? Did some arrangements or interpretations come easier than others?
“Some were easier, obviously the songs I knew well. I tried to make the recordings as spontaneous as possible. I didn’t want to labour over them and take the shine off, so I’d work on each one for no longer than an hour.”
And what was Shane’s initial reaction when you presented the raw iPhone recordings to him? Was he quite positive he could do something to them?
“He embraced the idea wholeheartedly. There was a sense of excitement as if we were heading into uncharted waters, a new frontier. How many people have made a record primarily on an iPhone?
“Shane is an enthusiastic person and that gave me a lot of confidence to continue with the idea. It’s like being surrounded by a wall of positivity.”
I understand that Edwyn Collins likes your version of his Graciously.
Yes. An English friend of mine tweeted him or whatever one does with tweets and he responded, saying how much he liked it… Especially the fuzz guitar. I supported Edwyn years ago and Shane O’Mara happened to be his guitarist on that tour so there we have it – an Edwyn connection.
“Got to say I loved his band Orange Juice when I was a kid too and all those Scottish Postcard Label bands.”
Golden Boy, one of your own songs penned with Marc O’Carroll, also features on the album. How did this come about and who is Marc?
“Marc is a work colleague of mine – I work part-time in an art shop. It’s another song about life’s cycle. Marc simply fed me one line, a line important enough to set the cogs and wheels in motion in this tiny brain of mine and turn the song title I already had into a chorus… And in turn into a song. ”
The person, or in some cases persons, requesting the song is noted on the album with the final song being requested by Simon McKenzie from Norway. Have you ever discovered how he came across you?
“Yes. I think he’s originally from Sydney and used to see The Blackeyed Susans perform in his younger days.”
You say in the liner notes that it was quite difficult coming up with the album’s running order. Has it been any easier working out a set list for the live shows?
“We’ve begun to bookend the live set with Low Fidelity songs and have our Wounded Bird moment mid-set. It’s working really well.
The album has already had some positive feedback, but were you originally concerned it might be seen as a fans-only boutique release?
“Yes I was quite anxious about this one. I definitely thought this one could simply sink like a stone… But it’s buoyant and I think it has a little life of its own.”
And what’s next. Are there other songs that may make it to Volume 2?
“I do have a few more suggestions and requests but think I owe The Blackeyed Susans some attention before they leave me for another singer.
“There’s another album coming along and they’ve started without me!” Rob concludes.
Rob Snarski and Shane O’Mara will be playing selections from the former’s Wounded Bird and Low Fidelity releases when they play Church Of The Trinity, 318 Goodwood Rd, Clarence Pk, SA, from 7pm on Friday 30 October with tickets via dramatix and Myles Mayo as special guest.