Sam Genders, critically acclaimed songwriter, founder member of Tunng and currently working on solo/collective project Diagrams, talks to us about his time in Changsha as part of our Musicians in Residence partnership with British Council, his new album ‘Chromatics’ and the music he’s enjoying at the moment…
PRSF: Sam, Happy New Year! Thanks for being our first guest of the month of 2015.
You were one of our Musicians in Residence in China last year, what were your highlights from your time in Changsha?
SG: Playing to 300 locals at a busy traffic intersection in the ancient city of Phoenix has to be one. One minute I was standing watching local folk opera being performed by elderly performers – the dance movements and voices captivating despite being relayed via a distorted old karaoke machine – the next, I was being handed a rusty, old, out of tune guitar and being ushered on stage. I’m not quite sure what the audience made of me but they made me feel very welcome. Our local hosts took me and my guides out for a slap up dinner of pigs’ brains afterwards! The food in general was a highlight – amazingly good almost everywhere…with the occasional pig’s brain or duck’s foot challenge to contend with! My final concert in the city of Changsha was another high point. I played with a 5 piece Chinese backing band to a full house at the city’s 46 Club and after lots of logistical challenges, false starts and altered plans it felt like a real achievement to make it happen and a great way to celebrate with the wonderful musicians and local people I’d met during the preceding month or so.
PRSF: What is the most important thing you learnt while you were there?
SG: My experience was that there’s quite a different culture in terms of how things are organised. Quite often plans would change at the last minute or wouldn’t happen at all. I’ve learnt to live more in the moment and that often the real adventure lies in what you weren’t expecting or hoping for.
PRSF: Did your time working with musicians in Changsha affect your attitude to writing and playing music?
SG: I think I’m a little more open to taking risks or committing to something without knowing how I’m going to make it happen.
PRSF: Your brilliant new album, Chromatics, came out in January – what was the inspiration behind it?
SG: Thank you! A lot of my writing process is quite unconscious so I’m not 100% sure where the inspiration lies but some of the strongest themes are relationships, self-questioning, hope and making the most of what life brings us.
PRSF: If you had to choose one, what would you say is your favourite track on the album?
SG: I think title track ‘Chromatics’ with its lyrical mixture of slight existential angst, joy and hope. Musically it’s an early 60s influenced ballad with a touch of electronic psychedelia and some lovely synth programming from Leo Abrahams.
PRSF: What are your plans for 2015 and beyond?
SG: I have some Diagrams touring in February and March and some festival shows in the pipeline…then I’m hoping to do some more co-writing for some other artists and I also have a couple of other projects on the horizon that I’m not allowed to talk about yet. Plus I’m teaching guitar two days a week in Peak District schools, so there’s lots happening.
PRSF: Which artists are you listening to at the moment?
SG: Samantha Crain, Cheek Mountain Thief, Jon Hopkins, Wild Beasts, Spectral Chorus, Jackson Browne, Smoke Fairies, Sweet Baboo, Low Roar, The Byrds.
PRSF: Are there any shows or festivals coming up this year that you’re particularly excited about?
SG: I’m really looking forward to the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen gig on March 5th and also to playing in my new home city of Sheffield later this year if we can make it happen…and festival shows are always lots of fun.
Diagrams are playing four dates around the UK in February and March and will play Deershed Festival this summer.
‘Chromatics’ is out now via Full Time Hobby.