Interview: Maverick Sabre
Published on December 12th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
When Rocksucker spoke to Will ‘Status’ Kennard of Chase & Status fame in March, we asked him if he had any big tips for 2011. Right off the bat, he told us: “Maverick Sabre is a particularly big tip for this year and next year. He’s actually signed to the same label, Mercury, as we are, so we have a lot of his stuff. He’s got an iconic-sounding voice and such confidence, such depth to his songwriting as well. He’s something special and I think he’s going to be massive.”
How very prescient this turned out to be. With his debut album Lonely Are the Brave set to land on 6th February, the Hackney-born, New Ross-raised singer/songwriter looks to be on the cusp of not just superstardom, but that rarest of eminences: that is, appreciation from all corners, from different age groups, musical backgrounds, social backgrounds, locations and creeds. Truly, this Maverick has a gift for bringing people together.
Rocksucker enjoyed a hearty chinwag with yer man – whose accent incidentally, and disarmingly, comes across as equal parts Hackney and County Wexford – on such topics as musical inclusivity, touring with Snoop Dogg and the gradually lifting suppression of regional accents in mainstream hip-hop…
What have you been up to today?
I’ve been listening to some old soul records. When you called, I’d just put on the Otis Redding record Remember Me, and I’d just finished listening to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, one of my favourite albums.
You’ve got your own album finished and set for a February release. Does it get frustrating, even nerve-wracking, when you have to sit on an album that’s ready to go?
It’s not nerve-wracking, it’s more frustrating, because some of the songs I’ve had since I was 16 or 17, you know, and I’ve played them at every show I’ve ever done, and I listen to them every week. I just want to get the music out there for people to hear, and tour off the back of it, so people know the tunes and can get into them more when I do the next tour, in March. It’s just the process; if you want to get a record out in the right way, you’ve got to set up a schedule to push it, rather than just throw it out there. It is a bit frustrating but that’s how you’ve got to do it.
The album sounds quite different in mood to The Travelling Man Mixtape. Was it in any way a reaction to that, or is it simply the case that you felt different when recording each?
The Travelling Man Mixtape I recorded all in my bedroom at the time in Finsbury Park, and it was more of a raw feel. I wanted to set people up to not expect anything from me. There are all these different sounds in it: there’s the soul sound, the acoustic sound, the band vibe that you can hear more on the album on tracks like “I Need”, and then there are dubstep tracks, hip-hop tracks, grime tracks featuring people like Wretch 32 and stuff like that. I wanted to set people up to not expect any particular thing sound from me, just as long as it’s good music, and when I moved onto my album I just wanted to make a universal body of work that no-one could really say was not their type of music, because I try to get all of my influences in there.
I say that I’m making hip-hop-inspired soulful folk music because I don’t want to section anybody off from being able to listen to my music. Music’s always been about unifying people and telling stories to the masses, but I think that recently it’s become about sectioning people off; like, you can only listen to a certain type of music if you dress a certain way, or you have to be over 50 to listen to classical music. I don’t like that concept of music at all so, when I sat down to finish the record, I wanted the whole vibe of it to be universal, you know? I wanted my mum and dad to be able to play it to their friends and they enjoy it, me play it to my friends and they enjoy it, and hopefully people will play it to their kids in a few years’ time and they’ll still be able to connect with it, it’ll still be relevant.
There are quite a few comments on your website left from fans in their forties and fifties, so it would seem that you’re doing a good job of that already.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that quite a lot. We just came off a seventeen-date tour around the UK and Ireland about three or four weeks ago, and the audiences were varied. That’s what I love to see: people from all different backgrounds, from 60-year-old women right at the front standing beside 15-year-old boys and girls, groups of 20-year-old lads, lots of couples. That’s what I want to do with my music. The music that my dad played me when I was growing up – people like Bob Dylan and Bob Marley – for me, it’s timeless music. I’m sure Adele has a wide-ranging audience that comes to her shows all around the world, and I think that’s what music should be about: people coming together and enjoying it for the emotion and the expression at that moment.
You performed a beautiful acoustic cover of “Fairytale of New York” on the Chris Moyles show the other day. Do many of your songs begin life on an acoustic guitar?
Quite a lot. I write in various different ways. Sometimes I might spend four weeks at home with a guitar and come out with ideas that I then bring on with either my band or a producer to build up. Sometimes I write over hip-hop beats that people send me. Sometimes my keys player might play a riff on the keys and we write from there, or the producer plays a riff on the guitar and we write from there. But, whether it’s mine or the producer’s at the time, it’s normally based on an acoustic guitar at the start.
“Fairytale of New York”
Yours seems to have been a fairly rapid ascent over the past year. How has the sudden increase in attention and recognition affected you, if at all? Do you enjoy it? Does it unsettle you?
You know what, I put everything into my music. Music is what I fall asleep to, what I wake up to – I love music – so to get recognition from people for my music is always fantastic. As long as people are liking the music and enjoying it, that’s what I’m here for.
Do people ever tell you that your voice is quite similar to Finley Quaye’s?
Yeah, always. Funnily enough, I’d actually never heard of him until I did a gig in Camden when I was about 17 or 18, a half-hour acoustic set. There was this couple standing by the left-hand side of the stage, and they had their eyes closed. I thought, “That’s a little bit weird.” They were holding each other’s hands and smiling at each other but they had their eyes closed. When I came offstage, they were like, “Oh my god, you sound like the great Finley Quaye! It sounded like he was onstage!” I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t really know who Finley Quaye is.” They were shocked, maybe kind of offended, that I didn’t know who he was!
You’re always going to get people making comparisons – I’ve seen my vocals compared to numerous people – that’s just human nature. There are people that I listen to and straight away compare to other people as well. It’s an honour to be compared to artists who I respect but I’m doing my own thing, not trying to copy anybody else’s sound.
It’s strange that Finley Quaye’s most popular album was called Maverick a Strike!
Do you know what, I found that out and thought, “Oh no, this isn’t going to help my case at all!” It’s weird how things work out.
I’ve got to ask: what was it like touring with Snoop Dogg?
Touring with Snoop Dogg was fantastic. He came into my dressing room on the first night, off his own back, and just said, “Thank you for supporting,” and shook mine and everybody else in the room’s hand. He came across as a very humble man. I got to go into his dressing room on the last night with my backing singer and we sat down and had a talk with him. He’s a very warm and personable man for someone who’s achieved so much in his career. For a young Irish lad who’s come from nowhere to pop into his dressing room and for him to give the respect and warmth that he did…it was really humbling and a great experience to meet someone like that. It restores faith in the music industry, and in people. It was definitely an experience that I’ll never forget.
“Look What I’ve Done”
You came up through the Irish hip-hop scene. Why do you think there aren’t that many Irish rappers – or even rappers from the other home nations – to have broken the mainstream?
I think it’s an accent thing. If you look back at the start of the UK hip-hop scene, a lot of MCs started MCing in American accents. I remember when Dizzee Rascal brought out his first album Boy in da Corner, I played it to a few friends in Ireland and they said, “I don’t want to listen to this, it doesn’t sound right.” Now it’s the norm and, with the likes of Mike Skinner, regional accents are coming out more in the UK and people are becoming more accepting of that. Hopefully, once that works, people will become more accepting of the Irish accent in Ireland, the Polish accent in Poland, hip-hop all around the world.
If you look at American hip-hop, they do so well because the south is supporting the south, the west is supporting the west and the east is supporting the east, and they all have different vibes, different sounds and different accents. So I think we just need to support our own and steer away from what the mainstream media tells us we should or shouldn’t like, what’s cool and what’s not cool. We should have people speaking for us in our accents, talking about things that we can relate to. Hopefully that will happen in time.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
There are three, actually. There’s a singer called Delilah who sang on the Chase & Status track “Time”. She’s released two singles now and she’s fantastic. I brought her on my UK tour as support and she got great responses. There’s a new production team who did one of my remixes, a duo called New Machine – one of them used to be Plan B’s guitar player – and they produced a remix of my last single “I Need” with Chipmunk and a rapper called Benny Banks on it. Benny Banks as well; he recently got signed to 679 Records under Atlantic. I think he’s a fantastic rapper and can offer the UK scene the bit of substance that it needs. So yeah, those three, definitely.
“I Need” (New Machine remix feat. Chipmunk and Benny Banks)
Finally, what would you consider to be the most underrated album or albums of all time?
Ooh, that’s a hard one. Let me have a little look, I’ve got my record collection here. D’you know what, the Sam Cooke collection Man & His Music is one of my favourites. To be fair, I feel that Sam Cooke in general as an artist is massively underrated.
You covered one of his songs, didn’t you?
Yeah, I covered “A Change is Gonna Come”. Also, the first Stone Roses record; it’s a classic in a lot of people’s eyes, and it is in mine, but I feel that, in the general spectrum of mainstream music, it isn’t. So, yeah: Sam Cooke and the first Stone Roses record.
“A Change is Gonna Come”
Do you plan to catch The Stone Roses live this coming year?
Of course, definitely. That’s without a doubt. I’m going to have to see them!
Maverick, thank you.
Lonely Are the Brave album sampler
Look out for Maverick Sabre’s brilliant debut album, Lonely Are the Brave, set for release on 6th February 2012. For more information and a list of live dates, please visit mavericksabre.com