Friday, April 18, 2014

Steve Balsamo -interview juli 2th 2011

A new television series starts tonight looking at just what special qualities go into making a truly timeless pop song. But Swansea singer-songwriter Steve Balsamo tells Nathan Bevan that he believes one Welsh band captured that magic more than 40 years ago and are yet to be bettered

Whether it’s London Calling by The Clash or Agadoo by Black Lace, the mark of a good pop song is one that will sink its hooks into the listener’s brain and refuse to let go.

And, be it the work of punk upstarts railing against the socio-political mores of modern Britain or a Eurovision-begetting novelty act given to dressing up as giant pineapples, all those songs started life in exactly the same way – as scribbled ideas on a notepad, the back of a cigarette packet or a cocktail napkin.

It’s precisely that journey that will be explored on the BBC from tonight as the network launches a two-month long celebration of and investigation into the craft of songwriting.

Called Secrets Of The Pop Song, the three-part series sees Guy Chambers – the man whose starry CV includes the co-writing credit on Robbie Williams’ mega-hits – dissect the art of penning perfect pop by collaborating with different artists to write a new song each week, while we at home track its progress from the written page to being performed live.

The series, featuring contributions from musical heavy-hitters like Sting and Brian May, will also see Chambers attempt to create a radio-friendly anthem with soul-rockers The Noisettes and team up with celebrated record producer Mark Ronson to score that elusive breakthrough single.

In the first episode though, Chambers will collaborate with American singer Rufus Wainwright to produce a timeless ballad, a skill that would appear to require an ingredient best referred to as ‘The Ex Factor’ – the ability to tap into one’s own heartbreak and channel it to pen a bona fide tear-jerker.

It’s something a lot of Welsh acts are more than acquainted with.

When his relationship with actress and society girl Sienna Miller went into very public free fall, Ruthin-raised actor Rhys Ifans threw himself into working with his rock band Y Peth, whose debut LP The Golden Mile included a tortured confessional called Stonefinger.

“Every little thing you said would break me. All of it came true. Every bit of love I give. You mock it, yes you do,” sang Ifans, before subsequently denying it was about Miller and adding that the lyrics had been penned before they’d even met.

Meanwhile, Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones, more used to singing about the minutiae of Valleys life, turned the spotlight on his own private affairs come album number four, You Gotta Go There To Come Back – the gravel-throated Cwmaman vocalist writing Rainbows And Pots Of Gold about his split from a childhood sweetheart.

But surely the peerless pop yardstick by which all else should be measured is Without You, the seminal effort from ill-fated Swansea band Badfinger.

Their 1970 chart-topping smash has since been recorded by more than 180 artists including Shirley Bassey, Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey and was once described by The Beatles’ Paul McCartney as “the killer song of all time”.

Fellow Swansea star Steve Balsamo, for one, couldn’t agree more with the former Fab Four legend’s accolade.

“I suppose Macca’s more than a little qualified to comment as to what makes a good tune,” laughs the former West End Stage star-turned rocker.

“Without You is one of my favourite tracks of all time and a prime case of someone using a terrible heartache they’d suffered to inspire a musical moment that connects with everyone who hears it – which is what every songwriter worth their salt tries to achieve.”

Adding that its poignancy was only compounded by the group’s own tragic story – financial and legal woes led to two members of the group committing suicide tragically young – Balsamo says that the old adage of writing about what you know was crucial in creating something memorable.

“You have to pour yourself, good experiences and bad, into your work because all of us have the same feelings, wants, fears and needs; that stuff’s universal,” he smiles, recalling how he also took tips from another master of the trade.

“When my last band The Storys supported Elton John we’d all stand at the side of the stage watching him every night with our jaws on the floor.

“It was incredible just how many brilliant tunes that man has, from ballads like I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues to out-and-out pop numbers like I’m Still Standing – it was like being given a free pass to the best songwriting school in the world.”

So where do his songs find life?

“Like every other lyricist I used to jot ideas down whenever they came to me, so my house would be crammed with bits of paper with ideas written on them,” reveals Balsamo.

“Now it all goes into my Blackberry so my wife shouts at me less, and if I get inspired on the train or something I’ll lock myself in the toilet and quietly sing melodies into my voice recorder.”

He adds: “But that’s the beauty of it – you go into a room with nothing and, hopefully, you come out with something that’ll move people – alchemy, basically.

“True, you can be scientific about it, and a lot of jobbing songwriters watch the current trends and learn how to craft tunes to order for various different artists, and Guy Chambers is a great example of that.”

But Balsamo believes serendipity could have a role to play in what makes a song special.

“A mate of mine called Steve Booker had a huge success writing with Duffy on her first album and that only happened because he put his London flat on the market and she came round to view it and they got chatting,” he says.

“So perhaps it’s destiny that great tracks like Mercy are born, but maybe that’s just the old romantic in me.”

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