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by Silke Hartung

Q & A: Bartells

by Silke Hartung

Q & A: Bartells

Auckland songwriter Sam Bartells is hardly prolific – it’s around a year since he last released original material, and even longer between that and his prior single. There’s good reason, namely struggles with addiction – and life in general as he reveals. Not to mention the old chestnut of determining just what is the right kind of music to write? Released at the end of July, Our Love May Go Away is an appealingly honest tribute to that time. 

What’s your musical background, Sam?

My first love of music began listening to music with my father as a kid. It was a special time spent with my father and my love for music blossomed. I began to teach myself guitar at around age 14 and sung to myself for quite a while.

My first experiences on stage came with Rockquest at school when I filled in for a singer that dropped out of my friends’ band. I had to write two songs in a week and perform them! The experience was amazing and I knew this biz was for me. Over the next decade, I continued with cover gigs/bands and plenty of solo gigs, and won a few competitions.

But it’s only been in the last two years I have really started to write and produce with my greatest passion so far. I would credit most of my writing and new inspiration from getting sober almost two years ago. I will be releasing a few singles this year and follow those up with my debut album in 2019.

Your previous two singles were released back in 2015 and 2017. How come such a long wait between releases? 

I was on and off with the music and struggling with addiction… and life. I was trying to force creativity and what I thought was the right kind of music to write. Nothing was really flowing musically for me around this time.

What inspired Our Love May Go Away?

The song sort of fell into place with the words coming out of my mouth before I even realised what they were. On reflection, after nearly losing everything, you seize what is powerful – your music, loved ones. The spirituality of those things. Celebrate loss and redemption, but what’s after redemption?

“I’m not waiting for tomorrow I’m just praying for yesterday”

It was more of a feeling about losing or trying to hold onto love and I just sort of let it out. I wrote this in one quick sitting pretty much.

Who did you work with on the song? What do you appreciate most about their contribution? 

I worked on this with my friend and producer / bandmate Mitch French at his studio. We have played on and off together a lot over the years, but only recently our musical abilities are working well when we bring them together. He has a huge knowledge of the technical side of recording and amazing feel as a muso and artist. I can bring him a rough song and he will get the vibe and just run with it and throw ideas in all the way along, which we discuss and try out. I’m hugely grateful to work with him and for our friendship.

Musicians’ health is very topical. When producing the song what were your goals for it? 

We just decided to keep it honest and give it some feeling. I don’t write for the trend du jour, it’s just what’s inside of me that has to come out. Radio is always something I think about before laying the track down but it’s not the be all and end all for me. I just wanted it to sound, and be recorded, with as much of the emotion as I first felt when the chords and song first came together for me.

Generally in the production of my own songs I’m after quality, honesty, stories and a natural feeling. There’s always an underlying sense of, “I’ll know it’s there when I feel it.”

Is there something that you think distinguishes your sound? 

My voice maybe but that’s probably a better question for Mitch. My thoughts are that I love my Maton acoustic guitars and nice strong chord combos, and Mitch does have some pretty cool effects he runs with his guitar pedals that gives everything a real dreamy positive feel. But I’m probably too close to it all to answer that, maybe!

Your voice does really stand out in your songs – what do you do in terms of voice hygiene? 

Thanks! Instead of six shots of Jager and cigarettes, these days I always warm up for at least 30 – 40 min before recording and gigs. I keep it pretty simple and usually would sing anything like a few Guns’n’Roses’ classics in the car and run through my originals also until I’m good to go. If I’m doing more than three or four shows in a row I would probably start to drink some hot tea before each gig, but that’s about it.

There are six people in your live band, correct? How do you co-ordinate times to work on the music with so many people?

This is a pretty new band with some amazingly talented guys. We all have a group messenger which is a lot of fun and just work out times when possible. I’m extremely grateful to have this cool bunch of guys that believe in the music and the passion for playing. We are currently working towards being ready for live shows and being gig ready for an album tour later in 2019.

Spotify – friend or foe?

Once I got my head around it all it’s pretty cool I think. The global reach and stats are cool and I find them pretty supportive so far, so I can’t complain.

What’s the last local album you bought and what do you like most about it?

Ciaran McMeeken did a lovely job of his latest album. I think the production is lush on it and like his writing.

People might enjoy Our Love May Go Away if they also like…?

Anything from the Eagles to James Bay, or Macy Gray…

How can we find you on social media?

Bartells Music on FB and Instagram and I have a website going up soon too.

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