Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Singer-songwriter Steve Abel is extremely well-known and highly regarded by fellow New Zealand musicians and a loyal following, but perhaps completely unrecognised beyond that world.
That he doesn't release albums often is in no doubt part of his low profile, but after an absence he returns with his laconic, melancholy alt.folk on a new album Luck/Hope (released August 5 on his own Kin'sland Records).
His previous albums Flax Happy and Little Death announced him as a unique voice in the musical landscape and the credentials of those on Luck/Hope confirm the high regard in which he is held: On hand were Geoff Maddock (Goldenhorse), Gareth Thomas (Goodshirt and he of the excellent recent solo album), Buzz Moller, Ed McWilliams and others.
The clip for Best Thing (see below) was shot by acclaimed filmmaker Forian Habicht and the genesis of some songs date back to sessions in New York in late 2009.
Long time coming then . . . but worth the wait.
Abel has a couple of release shows scheduled (Saturday August 6th, Wine Cellar, Auckland; Thursday August 18th, Meow, Wellington) but before them and the album's release we offered him the Famous Elsewhere Songwriter Questionnaire.
This is what he made of it . . .
The first song which really affected you was . . .
My father took me to the cinema numerous times apparently, to see the movie of Jesus Christ Superstar when I was about three. So it would have to be the Judas Iscariot song Heaven On Their Minds – great guitar riff, genius lyrics by Tim Rice, and brilliantly sung by Carl Anderson… check it out here.
Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .
All the fashion role models in the 80s were wrong. Circa age 13 I had a left ear piercing and bleach blond fringe – Shocker! Musically the 80s was rich as hell though, so amongst the dross of stock aitkin waterman there was flying nun and post punk/new wave then hip hop and pixies before the horror of Brit pop in the 90s ended the era of rock n roll forever. I was into all the guitar music in adolescence so Hendrix and Neil Young and then Bowie kind of took me to another place that led to Velvet Underground, T Rex, Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen.
The one songwriter you will always listen to, even if they disappointed you previously, is?
As songwriters: Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards; kd lang or Katy Perry; Madonna or Michael Jackson; Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson?
Lennon-Richards, Katy Perry, both Madonna and Jackson are pretty average songwriters but certainly their contemporaries Cindy Lauper and Prince I rate, Johnny Cash.
The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear because they are well crafted are . . .
Jealous Guy (Lennon) – follows his songwriting principle - say what you mean, make it rhyme, and put a beat to it.
Bewlay Brothers (Bowie) – Just cause I’ve always loved that song and it retains its enchantment after all these listens
Jobseeker live on Jools Holland (Sleaford Mods) – eviscerating! Like the youtube says – “How to make everything else sound redundant”
Melody first? Words or phrase first? Simultaneous?
I am often words first or basic lyric idea first. Usually very quickly the line will have a melody. But the sooner you get to simultaneous the better.
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
Never really read any sorry. Well, I read Hammer of the Gods about Led Zepp when I was a teenager – in fact that probably put me off books about musicians forever. Though I did cry when John Bonham dies.
I suggest read a good novel or essay or some poems or something. Don’t read about bloody musicians.
If you could co-write with anyone it would be . . .
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
US Girls - Half Free. Bought vinyl at their Whammy gig with Aldous Harding – excellent gig and album!
One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you would be . . .
Can this still happen? I’d be stoked with anything but lets say one from the new album – Best Thing.
One line (or couplet) from a song -- yours or someone else's -- which you think is just a stone cold winner is . . .
I don't mean to suggest that I loved
you the best
I can't keep track of each fallen robin
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
That's all, I don't even think of you that often
Songwriting: what's the ratio of inspiration/perspiration?
In the writing bit its 70% inspiration I reckon, but in the capturing of the butterfly – the recording, production etc, it’s definitely a flip to predominatly perspiration.
Ever had a song come to you fully-formed like it dropped into your lap?
A few times they’ve pretty much dropped like that. Dreamt a couple. Lonely Babylon was sung by a young Maori guy in a dream I had by lake Rotoiti at a friends family bach. He was playing a guitar in front of me and then I woke up and pretty much remembered what he did and wrote it all down.
And finally, finish this couplet in any way you like: “Standing at the airport with an empty suitcase at my feet . . .” (You are NOT allowed to rhyme that with “meet” however)
Standing at the airport with an empty suitcase at my feet
If you’d been in it before we’d got there would have been more discreet