Friday, 24 September 2010

Sam Sallon

Fresh from supporting Rodrigo y Gabriela on tour, along comes Sam Sallon on a wave of expectation.

As a teenager he was listening to Snoop Doggy Dogg, Prince, David Bowie and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“just the coolest band”), none of them much resembling the thoughtful singer-songwriter style he has now developed. At gigs people tell him he reminds them of Cat Stevens or Jackson Browne or Paul Simon: “People who don’t write music think there’s nothing odd about going up to a musician and telling them who you sound like to them. They say it because it’s a compliment, comparing you to someone they like”. Sallon is clearly flattered by all this, but also, I suspect, a little fazed. Probably because he worked out his own solutions to musical problems and only started listening to these big hitters when the comparisons came rolling in.

At school Sallon learned trumpet. Now, however, the guitar is his weapon of choice. Over the years he has finely honed his finger-picking style. I asked him who his guitar heroes were, expecting a roll-call of the acoustic maestros of the last fifty years. Instead, I learned that he’s largely self-taught and his style self-invented. His earliest songs, like ‘Keep Moving’ and ‘Give’, written when he knew little about technique, can be played with two fingers. Later he progressed to using five, until he realised you don’t need the little finger. “Along the way I’ve come up with some nice happy accidents!” he reflects. David Watson, the sharp-eared producer whom Sallon namechecks with reverence, helped him refine his style by listening to other guitarists who achieved similar effects but with less effort.

His technique requires acrylic false nails, the ‘Sallon talons’, which he has renewed every three weeks at a local shop. “I don’t meet many other people who do this, but it’s the closest I can get to a natural extension of the hand.” The manicurist may suspect him of being a ladyboy, small children may be afraid to shake his hand, but his girlfriend “doesn’t mind” and the thin, tough nails enable him to maintain the sharp, clear tone he wants.

“What keeps me up till 3 in the morning with friends is trying to get some sort of handle on life,” Sallon tells me. The outcome of those late nights of existential rumination is a bunch of songs in a highly melodic, aphoristic style, free of pretension. Each one is “more of a question that’s being asked than a statement being made,” he explains. “When I sing them I do feel that there’s a sense in them, and it’s not always the same one each time”.

He cares more about the songs than about any way of recording them. So he encourages remixes of his work. “Some people say they only listen to electronica,” he says in bafflement. Well then, fortunate that Edmund Squeeze has remixed ‘You May Not Mean To Hurt Me’ as electronica, which Sallon hopes will take the song to an audience he wouldn’t otherwise reach.

His debut album, One For The Road, is set for release later this year – by which time he expects to have “all of his ducks in a row”, as he puts it. At a superb gig at the Luminaire in Kilburn, North London, I heard him run through the entire material accompanied by the musicians featured on the album, including string section. It’s sounding good to me and I confidently predict this young man will be playing the festival circuit near you before the year’s out – with his ducks neatly in a row.

First published in R2 (Rock’n’Reel)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're nearly right with your last prediction. Sam is playing Cheltenham Folk Festival on 12 Feb 2011.