Video Premiere: Sam Fowles – Butterfly Baby

Video Premiere: Sam Fowles – Butterfly Baby

Te Whanganui-a-Tara singer-songwriter Sam Fowles is on a roll! With an album ready for release later this year he released his debut single Butterfly Baby in April. Produced by The Black Seeds’ legend Barnaby Weir, the music has the warmth, blues and swagger you’d expect from such a collab, with a beautiful, very Wellington video officially out this Friday. NZM is proud to give you an exclusive first look today, and asked Sam to tell us more about the song.

The initial spark of inspiration for Butterfly Baby came to me as I was on an afternoon walk through Wellington. The melody for the chorus popped into my head and I began to put words to the melody. Initially, the words that came to mind were “be my boomerang baby” in reference to a lover leaving and then returning. I laughed to myself as I recorded the idea into my phone, knowing it was just a placeholder for what would eventually become Butterfly Baby. I discovered later that there was a garage right by where I had the idea that had a butterfly mural painted on it, which may have fed into it subconsciously at the time. Crazy!

Essentially the concept behind the song was inspired by a serendipitous conversation with a friend of mine who was describing to me how he and his partner got together. He described her as being a beautiful butterfly that landed in his hand, that he couldn’t catch her because he would squeeze out her life force and instead appreciating and admiring her for all she is for as long as she wants to stay. I thought that was a beautiful analogy for love and relationships; delicate, wild and free.

The track went through quite a few different stages from that initial voice memo to what it is now. I remember revisiting that seed one afternoon at home with my acoustic guitar and I worked out the chord changes and the basic form for the tune and it came together quite naturally.

When I wrote the lyrics I employed a version of David Bowie’s cut up technique, to writing out the lines then cutting up and rearranging them in different configurations. I knew what I wanted to say, but this method helped me piece them all together and I found this way of working to be quite liberating creatively.

At this time I was studying composition and production at Massey University and was lucky enough to have access to the amazing studios there. Recording began after I had fleshed out a very rough demo at home, and a lot of the composition and arrangement took place during the recording process. The track developed through a really iterative process, which was an epic way of exploring its sonic possibilities.

During this process my mentor at Massey, Warren Maxwell, was always encouraging me to expand my practice and to go deeper and develop the tools to subvert conventional norms and produce my own sound. After one of these conversations I remembered hearing a story about John Coltrane going mad on the circle of fifths and working out geometrical modulations of harmony. With this in mind I noticed how Kamasi Washington utilised this kind of modal interchange in his song Streetfighter Mas. It got me inspired. I studied his chord progression and worked out the pattern of modulations and used it to create a grid to see which chords I could substitute to make my chord progressions sound more interesting, but still maintaining that pattern I had connected with in the original, which was a huge learning for me!

Being still quite new to the realm of production, I reached out to my friend and now co-producer Barnaby Weir to come in and mentor me through this process. We were lucky enough to access the NZ On Air NewMusic Development grant which was a huge help in getting this track over the line. He was really incredible at identifying the sound that I was trying to achieve, which in the instance of Butterfly Baby was a contemporary take on psychedelic soul records of the ’70s, and working with me to produce this.

I had such a great team of amazing humans that so kindly lent their time and creative energies to the track. The rhythm section was Jeremy Richardson and Zane Hawkins who laid down the solid grooves on drums and bass respectively, Reuben Topzand plays the beautiful piano and added the psychedelic flair with his lush synth parts, and Sophie Cooper and Lilla Rutherford graced the track with their beautiful harmonies. My good friend Jonas Persson and I were the recording engineers, with Ryan Prebble helping out a lot with the technical side of things. The track was mixed incredibly by Lee Prebble and mastered by Mike Gibson.

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