Rock ‘n’ roll cowboy Sam Brittain shares his sweeping new single Hitchhiker, inspired by a real encounter with a hitchhiker on the train across the Nullarbor Plain.
Hitchhiker is Brittain’s hooky new track, accompanied by a clip which acts as a fun and loving ode to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, created in collaboration with Mickey Manson (Maya Cumming, Hachiku). Sam Brittain is thrilled to be back with Hitchhiker, and will celebrate the release with a show at Jive in Adelaide on June 12.
Rolling Stone recently referred to Sam Brittain as Australia’s answer to Bruce Springsteen.
“After a few years between drinks, Adelaide’s Sam Brittain is back to further cement his status as Australia’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, with “Hitchhiker” serving as one of the most powerful and self-assured entries in his discography to date.”
Source: Rolling Stone
FIB chats with Sam Brittain in an exclusive about his latest release, Hitchhiker, and his musical journey thus far.
So what is the meaning behind your new track, Hitchhiker?
It was inspired by a trip that I took on the Indian Pacific train, heading East across the country towards Sydney, just leaving Perth. It was a blistering hot day, 45-46 degrees and a few hours outside of Kalgoorlie, we can screaming to a halt. A passing train had spotted a stowaway who was on the motorway carriage, where people bring their cars across the country. He was completely exposed to the elements in the blistering heat, crossing the Nullarbor with no water, no food, no shade, nothing.
And apparently when he was arrested by police, he simply said to them, “please don’t send me back to Perth”. I was thinking, “okay, that’s interesting. What drives a man to such desperate measures?”. And with those trips, I have a lot of time to kill, sitting in my cabin with a guitar and a notepad and I just started thinking about the concept of what he must’ve been feeling, his desperation and thought, well, “What are you running from and what’s making you wanna get out so bad? Is it something you can’t escape?”. The hitchhiker was born out of exploring that notion, I don’t ever really know what that reason was. It was more exploring the feeling of what could drive a man to such desperate measures.
What’s your creative process like?
More often than not, the lyric and the story will come first before the music. I usually try to find a way, within my style to have the music really support the narrative in a way. So for me, the narrative and the story of the lyric is usually the first point of call. Or at least on songs which tend to make it onto records in the end. I tend to find that when I try to do it the other way around, when I flip that, the lyric might lack a little bit of authenticity that I’m striving for, if it’s something that I’d put onto an album.
From that point on, we usually jump into the studio, I’ve got my own recording studio here in the city called Wildflower Studios. It’s an incarnation that came around when we tried to record the album the first time around at a very big studio here and it just wasn’t right. So I decided to build my own studio and do it myself. I’d always produced records for other artists from home, but I’d never backed myself to do it on my own music, I’d always thought it was a bit too much to take on. But this time around, it seemed like the only way to get the idea done that I’d had done in my mind, it’d actually come to fruition to take the reins in every aspect and do it all myself.
You’re an Adelaide local, is that where you grew up?
I grew up in Barossa Valley, about an hour north in Wine country. So I’m a country boy at heart, I now live in North Adelaide which is a lovely place to be. It’s right on the parklands, so it’s still feels like you’ve got plenty of green around but it’s still close enough to the city to keep up with everything that needs to be done.
You’ve performed at places such as MadNes music festival in the Netherlands and the Royal Albert Hall in London. What are some of your favourite musical highlights?
Those are all lovely things, but still the highlight of touring to date would be the support tours that I’ve done with an English fella. He plays in the band Passenger, we toured together quite a lot over the years. He kind of gave me a set of rules, I was fresh out of a band when we met in 2009-2010, something like that. I didn’t really know how to make it work and he said “go busking, man. Like, make a CD and go busking.”
It changed my whole outlook on how to create original music and I spent the next 6 years on the road living in London and Dublin to America. Lots through Europe.
I made all of my living off of standing on the street with a guitar and singing, you know. And selling my CD’s to people. It was a really organic way to build a following and an audience in lots of different cities.
It became the answer for a long time so I owe a lot of my ability to get 4 or 5 albums under the belt to a work ethic and set of rules that were instilled in me by Mike, a.k.a Passenger.
Who are your biggest influences and who are you currently listening to?
It was really nice this time around, you might’ve seen the premiere that was written up by Rolling Stone, they compared me to arguably my biggest influences. I grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty on my parents living room floor on the record player. They were my favourite artists. The first cassette I bought with my own money was Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run when I was about 7. I was stoked, surprised and humbled that Rolling Stone would hear those influences within my music. I guess when you’ve listened to music artists like that for so long, arguably some of that vibe is going to rub off on what you’re trying to do. So that was really great.
As far as people I’ve been listening to lately, over the last 12 months, one of my favourite albums is a beautiful album by a guy called Amos Lee, on if his albums Mission Bell, I strongly recommend that you check it out if you haven’t. Another one, one of the biggest albums of the last year was Stevie Bridges big album Punisher, which is an exquisite collection of songs from a great songwriter. So I’ve been really enjoying that record. What else? We listen to a lot of music, being in the studio even when I’m just winding up cables and hanging out there’s always something playing. I do love a good podcast too, I discovered this podcast, funnily enough with Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen talking about their respective careers, lives and fatherhood, music and politics. It’s amazing to hear someone that becomes the president of the United States of America and Bruce Springsteen who they call ‘The Boss’, arguably one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, have so much in common. It’s a very interesting listen.
So if you haven’t checked it out already, it’s called Renegades Born in the USA. Let’s see what’s on my latest Spotify list – Oh dear. So much to go through. I’m a big Ray La Montaigne fan, I’m obsessed with another band out of melbourne, some good friends of mine called Fools. They’re a 13-piece rock n roll outfit, a bomb orchestra, huge band it’s so cool. Two drums and a bass section, a backing section, it’s very cool.
What do you love the most about what you do?
In the last few years in between my last album and this one, I’ve done a lot of producing for different people. It’s really where I found my niche. I never really enjoyed being on stage too much. I love playing with a band but I always found that there’s parts of being on stage, parts of that aspect of it that I would find confronting. I guess it made me realise that the thing I really love about music is the inception of the idea. When that first idea goes down and it sends the hairs on your neck and arms on end and you go, “ooh, that’s a good one”. I worked out through producing that it didn’t really necessarily matter if it was my song. It’s that moment, even when the song comes out of someone else, or you are the vehicle to help coax an idea out of them.
Often with an artist I’ll just sit them in the studio and let them talk about their ideas. The song might actually come from something they say in passing rather than the idea that they actually came in with. It might be something they said when talking about the song which ends up being the final idea. That’s the thing that I still find the most rewarding and exciting about the opportunity, when it comes to collaborating on my own music with other great artists, like the boys that I’ve done the album with, The Wanderers, or working with another singer/songwriter in the studio, helping their ideas come to fruition. That’s the bit that I’m still enjoying the most.
Do you have any hobbies or interests which help to keep your musical creativity flowing?
Other than trying to absorb as much music and literature as I can, one thing I’ve always found really helpful is silence. I don’t really drive in the car with music on. I ride a motorcycle which I really love, I find a lot of clarity within that. You’re just kind of, putting your helmet on and watching out for potholes. No one can call you on your phone, you can’t look at stupid fucking social media. You put your helmet on and you’re trying not to get hit by another car, watching out for potholes. I always feel refreshed when I get off the bike, like I can sit down and have a little more clarity on my thoughts and my ideas. So they’re definitely two very helpful ideas to keep the process rolling along.
The clip for Hitchhiker is inspired by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Is that a personal favourite?
I’ve always loved the movie, that opening scene of Fear and Loathing where Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro are barrelling across the desert and pick up a very naive and green Toby Maguire. When I looked at the guys in my band, I was like, “you know what? Matt, our drummer kind of looks a bit like Toby Maguire. And another member looks a bit like Benicio Del Toro in that movie. How about in the video, instead of Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro hallucinating bats across the sky, we hallucinate our drummer everywhere? And he can be chasing us across the desert as this character.” So that was kind the concept that we kind of ran with, and I thought that with Fear and Loathing, going back to that concept of that guy on the train. Picking up a hitchhiker on the side of the road but also that feeling of being trapped by something or running from something was really important. So I thought that the movie and the song kind of played into each other well it was kind of to play homage to something I love and have a bit of fun with the video.
It certainly was fun, we were filming it down in Willunga on the cliff and we were trying to figure out how to wrap the video up and were thinking, “Well, what are we gonna do?”. We can’t really get to a hotel and kind of experience what happens in the movie. I turned to the movie’s producer and the video’s producer and said, “What are we gonna do?”.
And he’s like “Well how about instead of the hotel, it ends up that the hitchhiker murders both of you and steals all of your cash and leaving the scene, leaving you bleeding in the desert?”. That sounded great, but how were we going to pull that off? He responded with, “Don’t worry I’ve got three fake guns and 5 litres of fake blood in the car”.
We just rolled with it, it was just a great collection of people that all got the vision and it was a great opportunity to let people’s imagination run wild. I think the video reflects that, the video was just a lot of fun. Video clips are commercials, you work so hard on the record and getting the album’s vision to where it’s supposed to be, or video, is a nice opportunity to have a bit of fun. It was directed by a guy called Mickey Manson, he’s a surf film producer here in South Australia. He lives down the coast and works exclusively on super 8 tape. There’s no computers involved or digital cameras, it’s just super 8 tape. Every single movement had to be rehearsed, each of those hammer swings that Matt’s doing where he’s hitting the rock and skull and stuff, we’d have to rehearse that and rehearse the movement of the camera and try to do it exactly the same. It was like, 3,2,1, roll.
The clip was basically created as hundreds of little snippets, 10 or 15 second long snippets of film. Over 3 days we did the film, the clip and by the time it was done we had 3 full rolls of tape in cans. By that point, we’ve committed and we’ve sent it off to be developed as digital. And you think, “Well, I hope we got it” – laughs. And pray. It’s a bit of a process but that’s how Mickey does it, a bit of a 70s inspired, Fear and Loathing vibe. That kind of, real whacky look. We were thinking “well, it should be super 8 tape and fish eye lenses, let’s do it. Naturally. And 5 litres of fake blood”.
And what’s coming up next?
We’re always in and out of the studio doing different bits and pieces but the focus at the moment is to get everyone together and play a bit of live music again which is really exciting. We’re playing on the 12th June at Jive which is a great local venue here in Adelaide on Hindley Street. They’ve got some special guests that will be announced. It’s gonna be a really cool show and will give everyone a preview of the rest of the album too.
Check out the clip for Sam Brittain’s Hitchhiker below:
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