If you’ve ever gone to a festival in New Zealand, chances are you might’ve seen Sola Rosa in one incarnation or the other over the years, after all the name has been around for over 15 years. With originator Andrew Spraggon joined by an often changing cast of vocalists and contributors, the band’s sound combines strong voices with mellow summertime grooves, Latin influenced pop and a dash of jazz; the soundtrack of a bar by the sea in warmer climes. Spraggon has just unleashed ‘Magnetics’, Sola Rosa’s sixth album, to the world, only months after releasing a remix album this winter. Silke Hartung visited the musician, producer and composer at his home studio.
Andrew Spraggon lives in a nice suburb on a nice road, near a nice park on the fringes of Auckland’s CBD, though one could even get away with calling him a Westie these days.
It’s your typical Kiwi family home, perfectly unassuming, lush green on the outside, modern, practical and very kids-live-here on the inside. His recording studio is a tidy man cave next to the garage.
Walls are covered with whiteboards documenting the progress on the recording of the new material, as well as printed-out timelines with key dates for past and upcoming releases, the tour and other bits and bops. The man is organised.
After almost 16 years, Sola Rosa has been through plenty of changes, musically and structurally. Back at the end of last century he assumed the “bastardised bit of Spanish as his own electronic music producer name. It lent itself nicely to his debut album, 2001’s ‘Solarized’, and has served him well for the five albums released since. At the 2009 NZ Music Awards a four-strong version of Sola Rosa memorably performed their current hit Turnaround with vocals by a precariously elevated Iva Lamkum.
Sola Rosa these days has a core of three people. Apart from Andrew there is bassist Matt Short (The Vietnam War,) and Ben White (Dane Rumble band) – notably no beat keeper.
“We haven’t had a drummer for a while. Our drummer left and there’s so much involved getting someone into the band. You don’t want a drummer to come in and not be the right fit, you know? Their personality has to work with you, you’ve got to hang out on tour, and there’s the commitment level – they’ve got to be available for shows.
“A lot of drummers here play in multiple bands and that’s a bit of a concern for us. We kind’a need someone to be available to call upon that’s available. We’re on the look-out now, but we’re not giving ourselves a strict deadline.”
In absence of a real human being, the current drummer is called Ableton.
“Ableton Live is really fast to work with, to get ideas down. I used to use ProTools but Ableton is much more creative. I read somewhere that every song has the perfect key and the perfect BPM. In ProTools you could be there all day trying to get the speed right,” he laughs.
Rather than time-stretch a song, a process that takes time and degrades the audio quality itself, Ableton Live allows for simple adjustments to both on the go, Andrew explains.
“We write as a band now – we never used to, it used to just be me. Matt and Ben will say, ‘That’s not going to work live, that’ll sound all kinds of wrong if I play that on the bass at that BPM!’”
To my surprise there’s no crazy collection of keyboards in evidence – Andrew appears to be just quite pragmatic about gear. He uses online tech forum Gearslutz.com as a source of opinions and advice from fellow geeks.
“You’ll find top producers and engineers on there. Everybody’s kind of involved in it. We put up a post for the ‘Low and Behold’ album, looking for an engineer to mix it, and I got an overwhelming response – from Grammy Award-winning engineers – just nuts!
Maybe not with keyboards, but Andrew does confess that he’s a “…real microphone and pre-amp geek these days. In a flash he opens up three expensive looking boxes containing gorgeous looking mics. His go-to vocal mic is a Blue Microphones’ Blueberry Studio Condenser mic, but he also has a Studio Projects C1 and a Shure KSM313 ribbon mic. He stores them in their boxes alongside silica gel packages, having learned the hard way that moisture in the air isn’t particularly good for microphone diaphragms.
“I’d love to buy more,” he grins.
TradeMe seems a bit of vice on that front, especially things Mike Fabulous (aka Lord Echo, The Black Seeds) offers up.
“There’s not that much money in making records anymore,” Andrew bluntly points out.
In a bid to save money and have more fun making ‘Magnetics’, they went from lots of studio time back to the roots, recording themselves at Casa Spraggon, only with the addition of various vocalists, guitarist Dixon Nacey on one track, and drummer Julian Dyne on another.
“That was originally recorded for the last album though,” Andrew adds quickly.
Vocalists involved include among others Kevin Mark Trail (The Streets), Sharlene Hector (Basement Jaxx) and Noah Slee from Brisbane.
“I flew him in, and it turns out that he’s an Avondale boy! Funny,” Andrew laughs.
Facebook and the internet are also where he shops for voices these days, admitting his methodology is pretty much as simple as saying, ‘Hey I like your voice, can I send you some tracks?’”
Andrew acknowledges that he can’t write lyrics, but when approaching singers, he will have already taken time to scrutinise their ability to compose. This does of course complicate splitting the writers’ credits for royalty purposes.
“In the end it’s all about the song. For me it was never really about the money, I suppose.”
The striking album artwork to the newly relased ‘Magnetics’ was commissioned from Portland illustrator Dan Stiles who has worked on some of Sola Rosa’s previous CD covers and tour posters as well. Stiles has also worked for people like Alt-J, Deadmau5, Iron & Wine, Foo Fighters and Wilco, to name a few.
Signed to Hannover-based label Agogo, and working with fellow German booking agency Best Work, Sola Rosa are keen to take the album overseas early next year.
Andrew’s immediate future holds recovery from a third follow-up surgery on his arm. He damaged it in an accident with a car door at Splore and it’s recovery hasn’t benefited from years of coffee making – a musicians’ thing.