Sparro is no stranger to the industry. His parents and brother are musicians, as were his grandparents – his grandfather, Ron Falson, was a jazz trumpeter, arranger and part-time photographer who played alongside Sammy Davis Jnr and Frank Sinatra.
It was in the blood and by 2008 Sparro was the king of the airwaves. Black and Gold – off his first album – was a hit, with syncopated electronic beats and Sparro’s sultry voice echoing globally, including on stage at the 2008 ARIA Awards, where the musician was nominated for five awards.
And then, it seemed, he disappeared, with Black and Gold relegated to chance encounters on the radio and moments of audio reprieve in bustling shopping centres.
In a sense, to Australian audiences at least, Sparro did disappear: in 2009, he left Universal; in 2011, he signed with EMI but left – on positive terms – two years later. By the time he performed New York City’s Highline Ballroom for his 2013 Return to Paradise tour, Sparro had a horn section, a bold line-up of backing singers, and beats that dripped with funk and versatility. His 2008 ARIA hoodie was nowhere to be seen; his now-signature moustache was coming into its own.
But the following years saw Sparro battle addictions before deciding to screw his head back on.
“The impetus for the head re-screw-age was the head becoming completely unhinged from the body,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t think I’d really dealt with… having this very big and rapid career change in my twenties that really turned my whole universe upside down in good and bad ways … And I realised that if I didn’t stop doing what I was doing to myself, I wasn’t going to be around for a lot longer.
‘It’s the same old story, right? For every musician, ever… It’s such a cliche.”
“I worried that I would never be creative again, that somehow all my best work came from drugs, but I don’t think that could be further from the truth.”
The new album, Boombox Eternal, sounds as conceptually groundbreaking as Return to Paradise did in 2013, with homages to ’80s pop bangers and Sparro’s idols: “Michael, Janet, Madonna.” Where Return is snappy, horn-heavy and elastic, Boombox is nostalgic, synthesised and tightly produced (with Sparro at the helm), tingling with big drum beats and “orchestral hits”.
“Before I wanted to be a singer, I really wanted to be a back-up dancer,” he says. “My grandmother, who was a dancer, said no… But there is a dancer inside of me and I always make music imagining people dancing to it.”
Sparro, 38, describes the album as a “love letter” to his younger self and to “the music I used to record off the radio and listen to on cassettes and dance to in my bedroom”. (The diapered child wielding drumsticks on the cover is Sparro.)
It feels like a love letter to this Sam too, who is creatively liberated and in 2018 married his partner of five years, Zion Lennox. Marvelous Lover is a romp, with Sparro’s vocal velvet tangling “you’re always on my mind” with springy chords; The PPL bounces, Maluca’s choruses tied up with a hint of Return‘s horns affection.
“I feel like I’m having a creative renaissance,” he says, “having a supportive partner who is very different to me… Just being in love, having a muse to write songs for and about has been amazing.”
Love songs sit alongside those about the state of global politics (taking a more nuanced approach, in comparison to 2013’s clear cut Fascism off Quantum Physical, Vol.1) and defying societal pressure, such as on Save a Life.
He’s had a front seat to fractious circumstances; LA has been Sparro’s home since he was 10, with pockets of time in the UK and back in Australia, including a few years playing with band Sugar James at The Golden Sheaf and Beach Road Hotel. A move to Sydney is not on the cards but Sparro aims to announce a late 2020 Australia tour. He “definitely will be [in Sydney]” for World Pride 2023, he says.
And he’s “already thinking about what the next album is going to look like”, promising there won’t be an eight-year wait between albums three and four.
“I feel like I’m building some momentum now,” Sparro says. “I’m just ready to keep it moving.”
Riley Wilson is a desk editor at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.