Rivers And Plains: Traversing Musical Landscapes With Rob Snarski

Image: Rob Snarski and band – supplied.

Author: Melody Menu

‘Creeks and rivers look like veins, cracks in the plains, from way up high / Clouds drift without a sound, cast their shadows on the ground, wisps of white / The roads are broken string, highway black ribbon, rolling, rolling, rolling…’ So begins Rob Snarski’s latest album, Sparrow And Swan, offering a glinting bird’s eye view of some scenic view real or imagined, dusted with Shane O’Mara’s rustic lap steel guitar and tended to with gentle piano chords. Snarski’s vocals are a warming balm, sweet, intimate and charming; casting environmental vignettes and domestic dialogue into vivid portraiture.

As he readies himself for the upcoming tour of so personal and detailed an album, Rob Snarski reflects on his new album process after publishing his memoir, You’re Not Rob Snarski – Crumbs from The Cake; the talents of his many and varied musical compatriots; and their lasting influence on himself and his writing.

“Shane O’Mara doesn’t shy away from doing anything strange, or left-of-centre. And I was adamant that we should have Kiernan Box play the piano, I thought he could bring something interesting to the album. He’s a lot more diverse than you imagine, and has a welcome knowledge of music. One of the highlights for me is the piano solo in ‘All God’s Creatures’ where I vaguely directed Kiernan into a Cuban realm, and Shane shaped it a bit more by suggesting going from low to high and building it; and it just puts a smile on my face every time I hear that song. It’s something that Kiernan could only do in the one take, and he doesn’t even know to this day how he did it.

I wasn’t the sort of person that felt the need to be in front of a microphone. I enjoyed singing, but I was more of a bedroom singer. I’m still not sure I’m the right personality, I’m not an outgoing, gregarious kind of a guy, I’m more of an intimate conversationalist. I don’t like talking in front of huge groups of people, I much prefer having a sit-down coffee with a couple of friends and that’s it. So, a vastly different thing from hiding behind a guitar, to actually standing in front of a mic and singing. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed, and it changes the way I feel about a day if I’ve done it, and it’s something that I look forward to, and I feel better. It almost feels like I should be doing it; that it’s my purpose.

Dave McComb was instrumental in getting me out the front – in the spotlight – pushing me to sing. And it wasn’t always easy; I wasn’t always that willing and there were a few fraught moments in the studio; tears; ‘I don’t know if I can do this’; kind of unravelling; those horrible self-doubt moments; which Dave was just patient to sit through. He was the sort of guy who would put an arm around you and get you through it.

The moment I heard Marquee Moon, by Television, that album just stopped me in my tracks. I just thought ‘what planet are these people from?’ I couldn’t describe it, and I couldn’t compare it to anything. I remember the first time I pressed play, and ‘See No Evil’ came on, and I was so excited [that] I ran into my brother’s room – we were still living at home at that point. I said ‘listen to this, this is incredible.’ And I think Mark had started writing by that stage and we had begun Chad’s Tree rehearsals, and I just thought, ‘this is what I want my guitar playing to sound like.’

Phil Kakulas would say that [‘Crumbs From The Cake’] changed the way that I write, the fact that I could write a vignette; and maybe that’s what I’m doing with these songs. I think my writing process changed after collecting about half the songs on Sparrow and Swan. I was always frustrated with the fact that I didn’t really have a process I could describe to anyone; it was the case of sitting around, waiting for an idea to come, a melody to float through the air and land in my lap. There was nothing solid I could describe about it.

Part of this album is about fate, and where you find yourself and what shapes you as the person you have become. It’s similar to Wounded Bird in that way. And fate finds you in situations where you’re having a conversation with a complete stranger that turns into a song, or you’re having a late-night conversation where you simply ask a flippant question like ‘have you ever seen Van Morrison?’ and that turns into a half-hour conversation about the conflict in Belfast and what you had to do as a Catholic girl to find Van Morrison in a Protestant area in Belfast in the ‘70s, you weren’t supposed to like Van Morrison.

To be honest, I think Gareth Liddiard has fucked it up for all of us, because that album of his, Strange Tourist, is just incredible in the in-depth detail that he goes into in those songs. I listened to that quite a bit, I think, before I wrote songs for Sparrow And Swan, so that had a huge impact on me too. He really lifted the bar on songwriting for Australian singer-songwriters.

I remember the first time The Go-Betweens came to Perth and Chad’s Tree supported them. I was just so excited to be involved in the support. They had been to Europe, they were slightly older, and they just seemed so much more worldly and experienced. I loved ‘Cattle And Cane’, I just thought it was an incredible song; a wonderful piece of music. I loved that tiny snippet of an introduction that, to me, just sounds like time is passing, and it fits in so well with that song, which reminisces about childhood and country Queensland – it’s incredible.

To be asked to sing with The Triffids, and to be asked to sing with The Go-Betweens, really, if The Velvet Underground got back together and I got to sing with them – my life would be complete. I wouldn’t have to do anything else. And maybe if I got to play one song with Television – I’m hanging up everything. It’s quite incredible when you think back on it – the opportunities that I’ve had and [thoughts of] ‘am I worthy?’, and all of those doubts that go through your mind as a kid. And to get to the point where you actually get to do this kind of stuff, when you’re gracing The State Theatre with one of your favourite bands, singing songs; I’m blessed.”

Rob Snarski Sparrow And Swan Tour

  • Friday May 10, Camelot Lounge, Sydney
  • Saturday May 25, Smiths Alternative, Canberra
  • Saturday June 1, The Junk Bar, Brisbane
  • Friday June 14, The Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine
  • Saturday June 15, The Lost Ones, Ballarat
  • Friday June 21, Lyric Lane Maylands, Maylands
  • Saturday June 22, The Aardvark, Freemantle

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