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SSHH Life with the son of a Beatle

Electro-rock duo SSHH (pronounced ‘shush’) were touring Australia with Primal Scream last month, and took a few minutes of their down time in Sydney to talk with PAUL DOUGHTY about the band and new single, Rising Tide. SSHH is Sharna “Sshh” Liguz from Australia and Zak Starkey from UK, son of Ringo Starr and one time drummer for Oasis, The Lightning Seeds and The Who. The interview was somewhat shambolic owing to constant fooling around between Sshh and Zak (not unlike their compelling live show), not to mention the early timing – all participants had coffee.

Do you live here half and half, or are you just here for an extended visit with the tour and Primal Scream and all that?

Zak – Yeah well we came (over) and Sshh is from Bondi like you said.

Sshh – I grew up around here. We’re in Bondi at the moment, my old stomping ground. And Byron as well. My mum still lives up in Byron and we’d figure we’d kill two birds with one stone.

Sshh, when I saw you play with Primal Scream you came across as extremely confident, and had a lot of fun with the audience. You danced with some of my friends, and even had fun with a bouncer. Were you always a super-extroverted person as a youngster or have you developed a lot of confidence playing in SSHH?

Zak – (chiming in) It’s just drugs! Not really! (laughing)

Sshh – Are you going to let me fucking talk? For fuck’s sake shut up! Jesus! (mock indignation). I’ve always been a pretty out there person, I mean the first big word I learned as a kid was ‘precocious’. I’m sorry, but I think that says a lot. I’ve always been this person, do you know what I mean? I mean there are times when you know, I’m quiet and shy and don’t want to really say anything, like in the mornings. But no I’ve always been pretty out there; extroverted.

So a lead singer in a rock and roll band is a good match now…

Sshh – Yeah I was never really going to be, like… a waitress. I tried. I failed miserably, really badly actually. You know stepping on people, doing other things you’re not meant to do – smoking with customers, drinking with customers, basically fraternising with customers. So a long answer to a short question is – yes I’ve always been a lunatic. I also grew up going to festivals and gigs and stuff like that, from the age of about two or three.

Zak – Your dad’s a bit out there, isn’t he?

Sshh – Yeah, both my parents are a bit. So it was kind of sink or swim. I was always around creative people and performers and music and things like that so it seemed like a normal gravitational pull.

You obviously have a lot of fun playing together and with the fans. So do you take it to a different level in the studio or keep the fun up in there?

Zak – Nah I think we’re just in a band, and a lot of bands are like this. We call it a bit of argy-bargy. Roger Daltrey thrives on it, and I don’t thrive on it. I don’t particularly like it, but if you’ve got an opinion (Sshh interjecting – So why do you do it then?) and you want to stick in music you’ve got to fight through it sometimes.

I guess with your career as a drummer, the role of the drummer is to keep things locked down, the people up front can rely on you and stuff. But I guess in your own band, when you’re fronting it…

Zak – Well we’re writing it and we’re producing it and we’re both coming up with ideas, and disagreeing or agreeing or you know… Like, are you in a band?

In a previous life…

Zak – You know what it’s like then – there’s a lot of alpha males. Well – you’re not an alpha male (looking to Sshh; she pounds her chest and yells like a gorilla), but we’ve got a lot of ideas and a lot of people who want their ideas to be in the song. Lucky there’s only two of us.

Sshh – No, because it’s like a dictatorship,

Zak – But if there was four of us, it would be half as bad. I don’t really know.

Sshh – Does that mean there would be more of an opinion?

Zak – Well it’d be spread out over four ways, someone would agree with someone, get voted out.

Sshh – Voted off the island.

Zak – Every band I’ve been in, well actually – if one person doesn’t want to do it, they don’t do it.

So the current model of just you two with a rotating cast of musicians…

Sshh – Yeah it’s like Spinal Tap.

Zak – We’d like to have a permanent drummer, but if you’re a good drummer… all the good drummers are always working, basically. And we have a small band and we’re very lucky in that all the drummers we’ve ever had have been bloody amazing, honestly. But they’ve all got other gigs that pay them a lot of money playing drums.

The new single: Rising Tide. Tell us a bit about it and how it differs from previous releases.

Sshh – Well it’s original.

Zak – What have you heard? What do you know about the past of the group?

I just know the Issues covers album, and…

Zak – Well that was supposed to be a promotional tool record. An original record that was coming out on a label owned by a singer, but the label folded. But we were about to sign to the label and we’d already started Issues. It was going to be a radio show, actually. A series of radio shows and we’d already started it when the deal fell through. And we carried on and finished it and we got everyone together to come and listen to it, and everyone’s like “great you’ve got to put it out, it’s great”. So what should we do with it? And we decided to give it to TCP (Teen Cancer Program). So that’s why that came out. Otherwise it would have been the other way around.

Yeah. Well the new track has a lot of drive to it. More like a dancefloor banger almost than a traditional rock song…

Sshh – It’s definitely much more electronic than our previous performances.

Zak – Issues is definitely an organic record, right? But all the music we’ve ever done has always been like a progressive electro punk kind of thing. It’s kind of hard – we wanted to get the energy of Little Richard and the sort of, I don’t know, the likes of Richard D. James (Aphex Twin). Mixed with a bit of T. Rex.

I guess also if you don’t need to have a live band then you can have a bit more electronic backing with a big bass…

Zak – Yeah I think it sounds great. It’s very powerful and the bass player is always on time (laughs).

When do we get the full album? Is this something that’s going to be 2018?

Zak – What we’d like to do is keep on putting out EPs. I think they’re a lot of fun with the remixes, and a lot of times we will do a hybrid version. With a remix and an original to play live to. Also we’ve got a couple of songs that have been knocking around for a while, so it freshens it up a bit. We play the songs a few years before they come out. The next single coming out we wrote about… four years ago? Maybe longer. So we’ve been playing it live for quite a while and then got together with Andrew Bell, who’s in Ride and was in Oasis, and he did a remix which basically represented what he thought the song reminded him of, which was the band Suicide. So we kind of do a hybrid of both live. And what it does is that it keeps it fresh. So you play that live a bit and you do a new version of the song.

So you’re happy just going with a series of EPs. And then going forward…

Sshh – Or maxi-single.

Zak – Yeah it’s more like a painting or something, rather than “here’s 10 songs”. I like the concept of (Grace Jones’) Slave to the Rhythm, I fucking like that record.

Sshh – I fucking love that woman.

Zak – You know, it’s one song but it’s 10 unique version of it. But you’ve got to have a really good song to pull that off.

So when it comes to writing new material, how does the genesis start? Does it start with a riff or a lyric or… how does it all come together?

Sshh – It can start with an emotion. I mean, for Rising Tide, we had been at a studio down in Devon, or we were driving back from a Who gig – there was something musical that happened. And it was raining, and Zak had been acting like a bit of a jerk, to be honest with you, and it was pissing with rain and I looked out the window and I thought “I can’t stop it raining and I can’t stop this car from moving and even though he’s being a fucking wanker I can’t stop loving you.” And so it’s a love song that’s born from an argument. Which is probably how a lot of our love songs are born.

Zak – Well, you know, it’s good to have a concept. It’s good to be able to talk about this song and have something to say about it.

Sshh – It’s what happens. I mean basically – it comes from an aggressive place.

Zak – A lot of it is conceptual as well. We’ll have a concept and then we’ll be like, “ok let’s see if we can expand on it”. I think the first time we tried to write a song it had four words.

And your guitar playing, Zak. People think of you as a drummer and you’ve made a career that way, but when I saw you play you looked really comfortable and were getting a great sound from your guitar. So did you always play guitar?

Zak – I started on the guitar when I was about seven, because I saw Marc Bolan and I was like, “I want to be Marc Bolan”. And I started to play the guitar for about three years and then I heard The Who and immediately started playing the drums. I was 10. Go figure.

When you guys play live, you really own that stage. When I saw you supporting Primal Scream I just imagined you guys on a bigger stage. So do you have plans in the future to play festivals when you come back?

Sshh – It’s always fun to play on bills with different musicians and you can end up reaching a wider audience because there’s people who you wouldn’t necessarily have at your gig there. And you end up with a connection with people who wouldn’t necessarily make a connection with. And it’s always fun to play with other musicians instead of, you know, just only the two of us – so that there’s some more dynamics. So it’s playing well with others, and so: A) you hear music you wouldn’t normally hear, and B) you get to play to people you wouldn’t necessarily play to.

Zak – And C) we’ll kick the shit out of all the other bands.

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