In an era when music is created in marketing suites and focus groups, this is the story of a new record made the way great records were made.
Issues, released later this month, is the debut album from singer Sshh Liguz and guitarist Zak Starkey who is also a drummer in another life. The band is called SSHH, the line-up includes a whole host of very special guests and the album is a genre-bending strut through the last five decades of music. Issues is a very modern homage to all the epic bands which made SSHH what they are today.
The idea behind the record was simple. Zak and Sshh had been asked to do a radio series on SiriusXM, chatting through the music that has influenced them. But why not go a step further? Why not find the original rhythm sections from those bands and play with them? Why not make an album in the process?
The first call went out to Glen Matlock and Paul Cook, the bass and drums, the meat and veg of the Sex Pistols. If they were up for it, everyone would be up for it, and they were. And so, during the last week of November in Los Angeles, the project began. Clem Burke, Blondie’s drummer, turned up in the studio on day one to cut an unorthodox One Way or Another with SSHH. Day two, Marilyn Manson’s rhythm men, Twiggy and Gil Sharone, arrived for their turn. “We wanted to do Beautiful People to mark its 20th birthday,” says Zak, “but Marilyn had his own plans so we got hold of Robbie Furze and did the Big Pink’s Dominoes instead.”
All the best things in music happen by chance. Day three had not been planned. That’s the trouble with musicians. Never thinking ahead. But then Zak got talking with Gil. “I am a believer in former Wailer Peter Tosh,” says Zak. “He is a true hero to me.
We were playing his tunes in the studio that day to get in the zone and Gil just called up Peter’s drummer and friend Santa Davis there and then. He handed me the phone, I told Santa what we were doing and he said he’d come down the next day.”
Santa kept his word. He arrived with Fully Fullwood, bassist from Peter Tosh Word, Sound and Power and also founder of The Soul Syndicate -Jamaica's top session band probably responsible for recording at least 75% of all Jamican records up until the early eighties, we all hung out for the first part of the day and got an insight into the history Of Jamaican music.
SSHH, featuring very special guests Santa and Fully, recorded the full four-verse version of Get Up Stand Up. “We wanted people to know Peter had a big hand in writing it. Bob Marley thought that fourth verse was too heavy and changed Peter’s lyrics. We went with Peter's original.”
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam got the message - he’s got it anyway - he added his roaring lion vocals and…... boom!
Los Angeles in the can, the duo flew to London on Friday. They were in the studio againon Monday for week two of what Sshh describes as, “one of the most intense recording sessions of my life.”
They began with Babylon’s Burning and Jah War with the rhythm section from the Ruts, one of Zak’s top three bands and the only one he’d been old enough to see live back in the day. Tuesday, it was Back to Black with Amy Winehouse’s drummer Nathan Allen and Amy's bass player and musical director Dale Davis. “Dale was there to play bass but he was also there as Amy’s close friend, to make sure it was done right,” says Sshh. “With all these tracks, we’re tampering with iconic tunes,” adds Sshh. “We didn’t just want to do a karaoke kind of cover. We wanted to take a new approach.”
On Wednesday, Darren Moonie and Simone Butler from Primal Scream arrived for a full-on, no-holds barred take on Shoot Speed Kill Light. Thursday, it was the Pistols. It could have been difficult. All bands have issues – that’s why this album has its name – and Glen and Paul have been known, on occasion, to disagree about which songs to do when. But Zak made Glen a cup of tea, a song was chosen, Sshh channelled her inner Rotten and Problems was cut, no problems.
After a frenetic fortnight, it was time to go right back to the very beginning. To the sixties. To the earliest Small Faces tracks, rebooted for the 21st century with the help and guidance of Kenney Jones.
“That was a great day,” says Zak. “Of all the people who’ve taught me drums – Keith Moon, my dad [Ringo Starr], all of them – Kenney showed me the most. It was just great to play with him. Two Who drummers, past and present, playing at the same time. Just one more unprecedented connection in the making of this album.
“We cut a very menacing version of Private Life by the Pretenders with their drummer Martin Chambers, we finished with All The Young Dudes with original Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and then we collapsed,” says Sshh.
The result of those two mad, unpredictable, spontaneous, serendipitous weeks of phone calls, new handshakes, old hugs, musical conversations, long shots and crossed fingers is a record which straddles a huge swathe of modern music history. From the original rock ’n’ roll of the sixties through punk, reggae and dub into modern soul and electronica, this is a wild journey in just 11 steps. And despite all that, it exists as its own work, knitted together with the unique sound of SSHH.
A fortnight in the making but a decade in its evolution. The seeds of the album can be found in a phone call from Mexico City to Sydney in March 2006. Zak, playing drums on the Oasis tour, played a guitar riff down the long-distance line. Sshh recorded it, built it and together, they produced Jet Engines, their first track together.
“We started playing music way back ” says Sshh. “It wasn’t serious. It’s just what we did. We said we wanted to be like the Creatures. I’d be Siouxsie. Zak would be Budgie.”
Time passed. Life got in the way. Sshh, an award-winning artist, was busy in a different kind of studio. Zak played drums for Oasis and the Who.
Then, in 2008, they took another step. “We started playing a few gigs in East London,” says Sshh. “We were called Penguins Rising. Then we opened for Kasabian on a couple of shows and their audience really got us. We've supported Kasabian 8 maybe 10 times since then. What a zone!. Penguins Rising ! . The only time anyone spelt it right was when we changed our name to SSHH.”
Name changes are de rigeur. So is procrastination and delay. But then, that call came from Sirius, an idea was hatched, and SSHH got Issues.
What’s it like stepping out from behind the drums? “I started on guitar at the age of six after seeing Marc Bolan at Wembleyin 1971. It's my first instrument. Of course, I love drums too andso this was the best of both worlds. A chance to play with other drummers. A chance to learn and to share. And for Sshh, the limelight is her home. She’s a natural frontwoman. “There are times in my life when being shy and retiring would have come in useful,” she says. “This wasn’t one of them.”