Maverick Sabre interview: the power of words

"I've got a tambourine and shaker in my hand as I'm doing this interview" - Henry Lewis chatted to the singer in the midst of recording his third album.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 9th Sep 2016

Image: Maverick Sabre

Since releasing the ubiquitous 'I Need' (listen below) in 2011, Michael Stafford aka Maverick Sabre has been on quite a journey.

He's performed alongside Australian hip hop collectives, appeared on the 2012 remake album of Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds and released his second record Innerstanding - following a period of self discovery both musically and personally.

What followed was an acoustic tour, removing all bells and whistles and keeping the one, most distinctive element of Maverick's music - his voice.

Sabre took a guitarist, himself and his own guitar to a host of UK cities, stripping things back to the bare bones and wowing crowds with his remarkable vocals. 

Currently he's recording album three, with the experiences of his acoustic tour fresh in his mind during this creative process. We caught up with the singer ahead of a one off show at Bradford's The Underground on Saturday 17th September.

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Hi mate, what are you up to?

I've just been in the studio. I'm literally just in the studio now actually. All has been good, I've just been busy at the moment working on as much new material as possible really.

You tweeted only a few days ago that album three is in the making, how's it going? Is it a different approach to other records?

Yeah I think it is. A lot has changed since my last record. I've developed a lot and a big turning point for me was that I did an acoustic tour, which was the first major acoustic tour I've done since I was about 17.

It was just me and my guitarist; me bringing my guitar and it changed my perspective on my own songs. After the tour I started playing a tiny bit differently from that, so yeah, that changed the perspective from when I've been making this third album.

It's not quite been a year since your last record came out, that would suggest you're in quite a good place creatively at the moment?

Yeah I think so. I love my second album but it took what two and a half years from my first album, maybe even three before my second album came out. I'd done a hell of a lot of music in that time period. I'd learned a lot about myself personally and musically and grown a lot.

By the time the second album had even been put out, I'd already started working on the third and on other side projects - so there was a wealth of music already there. I don't want to wait another two and half years to put more music out, I wanted to keep my mind on the ball.

It's been five years since 'I Need', is the musical landscape different now?

Yeah it is for me, from my perspective it definitely is. The social media craze has changed the landscape massively and put a lot back into the artist's hands. I think it's breaking apart the music industry as a business, but for music and for music lovers it's going in the right direction.

There's quite a trend at the moment in grime where artists are bigging up their pals via social media, do you ever touch on that when you're together?

I don't think it's a thing that people sit down and talk about, I think it's a common knowledge thing. The music industry has been such a big business for such a long time and so many people apart from the artist have been making a lot of money from it.

I think it's time it did have a bit of a power shift. If 10 artists together with 200, 000 followers each on Twitter can contact that many people what do we need labels for? The artists are getting the control and that's only beneficial to the artists and the fans.

Does that mean a lot of your third album is on your terms then?

I'm very headstrong anyway so from the get go it's always been my ideas. I'm too bullish to let it be anyone else's ideas to be honest. As you go on further and further, you do lose the illusion of who you may need around you.

I think everyone is feeling a sense of importance in terms of what we can actually do from our own point of view without needing anyone else.

So back to your tour, why did you decide to strip everything back and go acoustic?

I realised I'd never done it in the first place and I should have done it way back when I first had a big buzz when I was about 18. I should have done an acoustic tour then. I kind of went straight into performing with a live band which was great but my core element has always been my voice.

My songs stripped back on an acoustic - that's how I started, that's what I've been doing since I've been 15 years of age so it was a personal thing just to go back out and have some more fun and be a bit more intimate.

When we selected the venues we were very particular about them and I didn't want that many people. I didn't want anything to be more than four or five hundred cap - I wanted to bring it back to the songs and my voice to tell a story.

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What do you feel that you achieved from it?

I wanted to gain a bit more knowledge about me as performer. When it's just stripped back with an acoustic guitar and yourself you interact with the crowd in a different way - it changed me as a performer massively. I'd just done a support tour for a hip hop group in Australia. I was on their record- they're a massive group out there called Hilltop Hoods and they were doing 15,000 capacity stadiums and sold out arenas.

I'd done two songs on their last album which was quite successful out in Australia and I was out there with just a DJ and me. It really put me on edge because it was a new crowd, a lot of people had never heard my music, only the stuff I'd done with them - so every show was a different dynamic for me because there was nothing for me to rely on. I had to go out like I was a fresh artist which is something I haven't experienced in a while.

Doing shows in the UK, Ireland and Europe, I can always rely on the crowd to know one or two songs at least so it really tested me. When I came back and did the acoustic tour it opened up something new in me and brought back something in me - a kind of attentiveness that I looked over before which bettered me and reflected on the music I started to make from that.

When things are stripped back you release the power of words, the power of what really connects with your audience. You start to put it into music and I hope to make the best music I've made so far.

Your 60 Minutes Live on BBC Radio 1 (watch below) was brilliant to watch, how good was that experience for you?

Chronixx has been a close friend of mine for a couple of years, wee connected very naturally, just by being friends. I went out to Jamaica to meet him before Jamar came out here and did shows. We've been connected ever since, making music together. For me reggae is a massive and has been a massive influence musically, songwriting wise, culture wise and story telling wise - it's always been a very big influence on me.

Chronixx is a legend, Simz, Luciano, and Randy Valentine are great vocalists. Luciano especially is someone who has inspired me so to be in that moment and to able to come on that and do what I can do to the best of my ability was great - the response has been phenomenal from it.

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Are they the kind of artist you'd look to collaborate with in the future?

Most definitely. I've always got massive love for the reggae community and reggae music. I'd love to do a reggae project, that's always been an ambition of mine. I was speaking to Protoje and Chronixx and there's music to be made with everyone so hopefully...not hopefully, something will be made in the future, I just don't know when exactly.

When you played at Leeds and Reading you were back playing a full live show, was it weird after touring acoustically for so long?

It was in a sense but we did it a bit different. Normally we've got stuff to track so you're a bit regimented. You'll have certain elements of the strings or the horns to track so the band have to play to a certain time or a certain rhythm - whereas for them two shows we took that away so everything was live.

If I wanted to extend the verse by two minutes, I could, so I had the freedom I had on the acoustic tour. But I had the power of the full band behind and yeah it was beautiful. We packed out each tent each day, couple of thousand people so I was blessed to see there's still support for me.

The one extra tent had a great line up, did you catch much ?

It was a busy weekend. I saw Simz, Simz killed it. I saw a rapper from Chicago called Mick Jenkins, Protoje did great but we didn't get to catch that much. I saw Giggs - Giggs did really well, and I saw the Internet too they were great.

And your show in Bradford...

Yeah it's my first show there, another acoustic show. They asked me to come up and perform a gig, I accepted cos I've never been up there before so it's new territory for me from my recollection. 

And that's back to acoustic only, so it'll be different from Reading and Leeds right?

It'll be an acoustic show and it'll be different yeah. It was a 35-40 minute set at Leeds and Reading, obviously with the full band you can do different sounds and different songs so yeah it'll be a different set.

Obviously all the main tunes will always be in there so the majority of the songs I do in the full band set will be in there acoustically. The different thing is with acoustic shows you kind of get the freedom to play around with the songs more and do certain songs off the album that might not cross over in a festival sense.

Will some of the new songs find their way into your set?

There is one or two ideas cos it's always good to road test certain ideas. Nothing major yet they're more just vibes that we're testing out, but that will come over time. I'll probably start playing them in the start of the new year.

You've also tweeted that you'll be seeing a lot more of Europe and the United States soon, so a big tour is on the horizon?

That's always the aim. I've done one festival show in the states when I was 19 and I've never done anything else. I've done quite a lot in Europe but not enough, I need to do a lot more.

There's a whole new team around me at the moment and we're very focused on getting out to the states and doing more of Europe, going back to Australia on top of doing the UK and Ireland as thoroughly as we always do. New horizons man, I need to get my music out to as many people as possible.

Time doesn't wait for anyone, I'm 26 now and I'm hungrier than I ever have been musically and personally in every other way. I'm very focused right now.

Best of luck, what's your plan for the rest of the day?

Right now I've got a tambourine and shaker in my hand as I'm doing this interview so I'm going to go back and see how my rhythm skills are doing!

Like this? Check out Maverick Sabre to perform unplugged set in Bradford

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