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  • Writer's pictureHIDEOUS Magazine

In Conversation With: Sam Abbo

Words by Angelika May

Photography by Kyle McCarthy

In the bleak mid-winter, caught between the clutches of dry January and the allure of cosy pubs often gets the little devil on our shoulder yapping away, Sam Abbo’s latest release ‘Pass The Fiddle to The Beast’ perfectly captures the tug-of-war with temptation. This warm and snug honky-tonk single echoes Abbo’s additional partnership in Opus Kink (bassist, vocals) and Strange Neighbours (guitar, vocals) yet hones Abbo’s sole voice. The track weaves a beautifully crafted story, skilfully navigating the tumultuous relationship between creating music and alcoholism. With a discordant blend of string instruments, the track relishes in its chaos, having a clear-cut order of thought. A glimmer into his upcoming album ‘Add to The Noise’, produced by Jake Smallwood of Farm Road Studios, it boasts a lineup of talented contributors alongside Abbo’s ‘everything laid bare’ direction.

When alluding to 'The Beast,' are you implicitly referring to 'The Devil'?

In a sense, but, this 'beast' isn't about being evil—it's more like a representation of self-destruction and joy. ‘The Beast’ embodies my relationship with alcohol and ‘The Fiddle’ is my relationship with music. The two coincide with each other as a pendulum, both containing their ups and downs. 

How does the quasi-biblical notion of a hierarchical representation of evil and temptation inspire your songwriting?

While I’m not personally religious, I find the dramatic contrast of good and evil in Christianity quite alluring as a songwriter. My devil isn't coaxing me into evil (I don't believe in that), but rather embodies the playful mischief akin to Behemoth in 'The Master and Margarita.' Being a musician in today's chaotic world feels a bit like that cheeky devil trope—struggling with limited funds, endless tours, and the constant dance with alcohol. It's a balancing act, trying to navigate the joy music brings while grappling with the grief and anxiety that often accompany the lifestyle. 

Was it written amidst a hangover after one particularly heavy night?

No, the album unfolded over six years. It commenced in the aftermath of a friend's passing and a breakup, which was a period of heavy drinking. It delves into the intricacies of my own journey and those around me, capturing the emotions of the time. Spanning such a significant timeframe, the album can be an emotional listen for me. What makes it intriguing is that it’s not ordered chronologically. In the earlier tracks, there's a sense of naivety and terror, while the later ones offer more clarity. It's a compelling journey of highs and lows scattered throughout the album.

Considering that 'Pass The Fiddle to The Beast' is a honky-tonk composition addressing themes such as alcoholism, and given the genre's notoriety for its lyrical focus on drinking, was the choice of this genre predestined due to the thematic nature of the lyrics?

Yeah, so, the overarching themes of not only this track but the entire album revolve around concepts of death and disorder, which is in keeping with the honky-tonk genre. When I initially brought these tracks into the studio, they were just acoustics. We then collectively decided that infusing the bar-room honky-tonk sound would be the ideal fit for the album, given its exceptional ability to explore the joys found in seemingly dark times. Despite the sometimes bleak sentiments, I was keen on ensuring that the album doesn't come across as gloomy. It was crucial to maintain an uplifting sound, portraying the album not as a dwelling on thoughts of death and destruction but rather as a celebration of life in all its facets. It’s also a VERY fun genre to work with.

The guitar twang, harmonious chorus, and airy backing vocals evokes a warm, almost pub's folk jam nostalgia feel to it. Could you share the emotions the track elicits for you? I’m also curious about your envisioned narrative and characters, not just for this track, but the whole album.

Emotionally, once again, it's the constant ebb and flow in the tumultuous relationship between mayhem and destruction. Character-wise, this album takes a distinct departure; it's not akin to Opus Kink or Strange Neighbours, where I always had a character to hide behind. There is no 'character' it’s just simply me, which is both terrifying and revealing. When I first set out to write it, it was purely for the joy of creation, with no initial thoughts of a release. In terms of the pub folk-jam feel, we brought in musicians based on who happened to be around at the time, which gives the album an authentic, raw disorder akin to the ‘jam vibe’.

Crafting this album amidst a period of grief, you've noted that the act of writing provided substance for the 'nothingness' to ‘chew on’. Could you elaborate on how this loss influenced the nuances of your songwriting?

This period of my life is quite hard to talk about, but that's why I poured it into an album. It transported me into a place where I became acutely aware of the fragility of life. Prior to this awakening, I was bumbling along carefree, and then everything came crashing down. It wasn't a wholly negative experience; I gained invaluable lessons and ended up extensively documenting this period through art and music. It feels strange to reflect on it now. This journey made me grasp the inherent lack of meaning in everything, but within that realisation, I found a peculiar joy, which is why I titled the album 'Add To The Noise'—it's about contributing to the vast expanse of noise and sound. This album is also a testament to the people around me, and that in a world devoid of any meaning, creating your own with the people around you is so fucking important. 

What motivated the decision to incorporate a diverse array of string instruments into your composition?

It was always the intention to make a folk album, so the vast amount of strings is purely for that reason. Actually, it’s quite a sweet story how I found one of the string players for the album. Becca (violinist) was actually busking in ‘the lanes’ in Brighton, I heard her from two streets away and invited her to play on my album, and two days later she recorded all of the parts, layering harmonies and me and Jake (Farm Road Studios) were left pretty blown away. 

What made the decision to collaborate with Farm Road Studios and Jake Smallwood for the recording of the upcoming album, 'Add to the Noise’?

Jake and I, have been friends from our teen years on the Brighton gig scene, we were seventeen and eighteen in different bands, rival bands, some would say. We started the album in his home studio and learned and grew together, refining our skills. Half the album was crafted in his bedroom, and as he moved to Farm Road, our collaboration became more professional. When I bring my songs into the studio now, we have a very clear cut idea of what we intend the sound to be, which has evolved from a long period of experimenting together. 

How did the partnership with Smallwood contribute to the cultivation of the album's nostalgic and vintage sound?

I'd bring in the songs in their raw form, usually on acoustic or piano. Quickly, we both agreed on the honky-tonk barroom vibe, favouring a vintage and raw recording style for that warm, authentic sound. Jake's collection of old preamps and compressors adds to our love for the vintage aesthetic. While we aim to modernise the sound without losing its raw energy, finding that balance is challenging, maybe the answer is experimenting with some synths and making a folky little synthy track.


Listen to 'Pass The Fiddle to The Beast' here

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