I found Rob Sharples, Four Quartets, through Charlie Williams. He described him as “benefiting from the emphasis the British put on really well-crafted songs” and “saying something really, truly new without tearing their genre to bits.” I am loving his creative imagery and beautiful instrumental structure – I kept discovering new things with every listen. He is a softspoken force in his music, and took a moment to answer a couple questions.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m a London-based songwriter. A couple of years ago I had brief dealings with an indie label who put out a couple of EP’s for me but since an acrimonious parting of the ways I’ve been engrossed in a new project – ‘Four Quartets’ – which is my new band. I’ve just finished recording an album which will hopefully be released early next year.
How did you get started playing music?
My parents were given this decrepit old piano when I was six and I bashed out my first songs on that with a voice so shrill it’d make dogs wince. I think I even preserved a couple of recordings from back then (invariably unlistenable) which I recorded on a ten-quid tape player.
What was the first recording you ever purchased?
The Beatles’ Red Album on double vinyl from a second-hand record shop on Gloucester Road in Bristol (where I grew up). Sadly, the shop has now closed down – like so many others – in the advent of the digital revolution.
How would you describe the music you play now?
Hmm.. I always feel apprehensive about answering this question because I think that music is a medium that demands the experience itself to attain comprehension. I can only really answer in generalizations which even then are buried in subjectivity but here goes..
‘Subverted pop with classically influenced progressions, rich arrangements (…sometimes… but sometimes quite stripped back) and plenty of harmonies..’
..but the sentence is meaningless really – just have a listen.
Do you prefer performing solo, or as part of a band? Why?
I enjoy both, but since I’ve spent the last few years predominantly performing solo in the saturated myre of the ‘singer/songwriter’ circuit in London and been left pretty cold and disaffected by the experience, I’m now excited about gigging with the band. Partly for the satisfaction of filthing everything up and making a lot of noise, but also for the singular pleasure and rapport of simply cutting loose with a bunch of fellow musicians. It’s great fun.
Is there a comparison you would make between your music and something non-musical? A painter, building, dish of cereal?
Ooh i don’t know. At a push maybe T.S. Eliot or other ‘modernist’ writers like Kafka and Conrad because of their tendency towards an existential outlook and an impressionistic style. It’d be egotistical though to say I really compare myself to literary figures of that stature – it’s more a question of influence, or simply of the type of literature I like.
Who would you consider your musical inspiration?
I’d have to say that the Beatles (as cliched as it is!), Radiohead, Elliott Smith and Brian Wilson have all had a profound impact on my musical life in terms of what can be achieved within modern songwriting. The idea of connecting a complex musical backdrop to an accessible melody when writing is one that appeals to me immensely because it leaves the imagination unchecked and free to run riot then tethers it all back to earth by the task of condensing the network of ideas to one through-line for the consumption of other ears. I guess its like the way a novel can lead a reader through innumerable complications by the sturdy guide of a plotline. It also means that you end up with something that rewards on more than one level should the listener be interested.
If you could pick a perfect lineup (dead or alive) for a show where you were the headliner, who would it be?
Hmm.. Hendrix, Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith (pre-heroin addiction), Led Zeppelin, Dr. Dog, Radiohead, Bowie (seventies era), Rachmaninoff, Rage Against The Machine, Dylan (pre 80′s), Nirvana, Nick Drake, Bright Eyes, The Beatles, The Beach Boys… I wouldn’t be headlining though – I wouldn’t even be on the bill. I’d be backstage – weeping.
What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?
Well it varies because artists vary. While I adore Elliott Smith for his imaginative progressions and melodies, I can equally appreciate Dylan for his astounding lyricism. In general, I’d like to think I keep an open mind with a few exceptions that i can’t abide. Namely:
1) Style Over Substance – It’s always evident and nauseating when someone is propagating a music style and image just in the interest of being conceived as ‘cool’ as opposed to really caring about the art.
2) Dishonesty of Delivery – We all hate a fraud don’t we? Gimmicky, fake emotion, assumed accents and the like. Horrifying.
3) Cliches – When you can correctly guess the chord progression and lyrics it never bodes well.
Who should I be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?
Rob Bravery (Interesting progressions, deadpan lyricism, highly melodic and he has a ginger beard)
Ashley Eriksson (Eccentric, low-fi, wonderful)
Four Quartets will have an album out soon – but take a listen to a few tracks here