After 25 years as lead singer for the popular Blackeyed Susans, Rob Snarski has launched his foray into solo work with his new album Wounded Bird. The album reflects the gently spoken and thoughtful demeanour of its author. Its songs carry honesty and a way of conveying, on occasion, a serious message, sung with Rob’s smooth yet powerful voice.
Rob currently lives in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges, but grew up in a country town called Karragullen, south-east of Perth in Western Australia. He lived with his parents and brother Mark on 89 acres, including orchards and natural bushland. Golden hits radio played by his Dad featuring Elvis and hours spent watching Countdown were his musical surroundings. But he hadn’t yet started to try his hand with instruments. Until, that was, his grandma arrived from the UK where he was born.
His grandmother bought him a piano accordion and his brother a guitar. Rob played it for three years and developed the skill to read music really well, a skill he admits he has now lost. “But by the time I hit 13, the piano accordion was not cool.” Mark didn’t pursue it (the guitar), so I must have picked it up. A friend played in the local pub and gave me some lessons over the summer and left me with a Beatles song book which was incredible. I learnt practically all of those songs. Singing in the car and driving my mother and brother crazy on the way to school was an everyday occurrence,” he said.
Then another significant event occurred. “I remember going to a school performance and this kid, who wasn’t the cool kid at all, I guess he was what we would refer to as a daggy kid, got up and sang in front of maybe 50 parents and kids. He sung a song from Oliver!, and I still remember it to this day, Where is love, and it knocked my socks off. I thought it was incredible. I was eight and thought I want to be like that. Whatever that might have meant to an eight-year-old, I’m not sure but I was just really impressed that he could look like that and have the audience in the palm of his hand. He sang beautifully. It meant you didn’t have to look like Alvin Stardust to perform.
Mark started to play guitar again. They played together and the pair then found a small but original live music scene in Perth. They saw a band they loved called Stray Tapes. “They were great guys and wrote great songs but they could barely play their instruments. It was really inspiring to know that you didn’t have to be a virtuoso musician to write songs and perform.” The brothers’ first band, Chad’s Tree, was formed in1983 and the group moved to Sydney in 1986 to try and sign to a record label. They were picked up, by Hot Records.
A move back home to Perth a few years later saw the formation of the Blackeyed Susans in 1992, with which Rob would play for many years. It was in this band that he met Dan Luscombe. Their relationship would ultimately lead to the beginning of Rob’s solo career. In the meantime Rob continued to play in bands and sometimes with his brother Mark as Snarski vs Snarski.
But it was while writing an album with Dan that, despite the initial plan of a collaboration, Rob found himself going solo on the very album they were writing together. “The whole story of the album is a saga. It started a long time ago. Dan became increasingly busy with the Drones, another band he was playing in, and a few things unravelled. We had lost some of the recording through corrupt computers and another got stolen. Then at one point Dan turned to me and said, ‘I think this should be a solo record. It shouldn’t be a Snarski and Luscombe record. It’s got you all over it.’ At the time I felt like was I going to run into oncoming traffic, and ‘why didn’t you tell me this three years ago?’ I could’ve killed him and I didn’t know if it was a slap in the face or if it was a gift and he was saying ‘here you go, this is really yours Rob’. Now I like to think it was a gift but I think it was a bit of both.”
The album continued to be a difficult process. “I just found myself questioning whether it was ever going to be finished, whether I should curl up in a ball because it was just awful. I didn’t know what to do until I found out about the Pledge campaign and it saved me financially.” (Pledge Music is an online platform where artists can raise money to produce albums by offering pledges for willing supporters to purchase. These may include home concerts, signed albums or recorded covers of favourite songs that the artist then fulfills once the monetary target has been achieved).
Rob said: “It was a little intimidating. Here I am going to someone’s house I’ve never met and playing in their lounge room. But after the first one, which was great fun, I just enjoyed them all. And people just wanted you to succeed. But it was also musically challenging. People sent their own songs for me to play for them and record. It definitely took me out of my comfort zone.’
The opportunity gave Rob the support needed to move the album forward. “All of a sudden there was a financial input that gave me the freedom to do more and finish off the record. The colour of the record spread, it had looked very sepia tone for a while and it gave me a bigger palette to play with, and the joy of having people actually wanting you to make this record was really overwhelming, I couldn’t believe it. That first week when we hit the target, I just felt like crying.”
Since the album’s release and the completion of the tour, Rob has found the album has surpassed his expectations. He has received several accolades: the album was featured as album of the week on both Triple R and Radio National. He was also nominated for The Age Music Victoria Awards for Best Male Artist, the winner to be announced in November. “It’s really nice to have those things happen and you feel the work you have is done is more justified. But in terms of how many records we’ve sold I wouldn’t have a clue. I know we’ve gone into a second pressing so that’s great and if we go into a third pressing I’ll be over the moon. But there’s often the feeling that when you do a second pressing you may end up with boxes of CDs under your bed and I just don’t want that to happen. And I still get excited by hearing something on the radio. I also work as a disability support worker and I was driving a group around on one particular day and it happened to be when it (the album) was album of the week. I said to the guys, ‘Hey do you know who this is?’ They didn’t and I had to say it’s me. I got really excited.”
Rob continues to write after the album. Despite admitting to not being very prolific, he describes his writing process as: “I wait for an idea and it might come from doing some reading or just having a line in my mind and picking up the guitar. I like picking up the guitar after a while and just seeing what comes almost by accident. I like the happy accidents, not the standard chord progressions. Sometimes it’s like words are floating through the air. You grab them and you then have something you can build on. It’s funny how the brain works and where the ideas come from. It seems to me to be a fluke, a process of hanging in there and waiting for the result.”
Some of Rob’s ideas come when he’s driving around in his car or at night. He will wake up and quickly record mumblings of ideas into his phone. This happens from his home in Tecoma where he lives with his partner Pete and a small menagerie of canine and feline family members. Another happy accident occurred which meant they found their house. “Pete and I went to a friend’s Christmas party at a house in Tecoma. You could barely see another house through the trees and we really liked the area. Those friends rang soon after and said the same house was up for sale.” It was swiftly purchased and became home. Seven years on and the enjoyment of the home, wildlife and area have not abated and provide the environment in which Rob continues to create.