San Blas are a 4-piece ukulele rock band from London and Hertfordshire who first appeared here in 2016, and then in an Emerging artists piece, as well as to win a 2017 Award for their outstanding debut EP Draw, Win, or Lose! They now face a Q&A, so read on to find out more about the band, the EP, tropical islands, and, er… San Blasta Pasta!
~ What’s the musical background to the four of you, and how did you get together?
We have all been very musical from a young age. Sam played drums and sung in his first band in high school while at the same time the two Chris’ were in rival bands playing their respective instruments; electric guitar and drums. Sam moved over from Australia 4 years ago and started the band with his cousin (Rob) who played acoustic guitar. Wanting to add drums to the lineup Sam asked Chris Smith (an old family friend) if he knew anyone, and after coming to watch an open mic show, Chris Hammond jumped on board. Naturally feeling left out, Smith literally went and bought a bass the next day, and the lineup was complete! After Rob left last year, Smith moved back onto his preferred electric guitar and our good old pal Jamie, who had been playing guitar since he was 7, decided he would pick up the bass for the first time and fill in the missing piece!
~ Where does the name San Blas come from, and why did you pick it?
Sam first started writing songs 6 years ago with a few of his friends on a trip throughout the west coast of America, and then through Central America. After 3 months of travelling and singing their way through every hostel they found, they ended up on the islands of San Blas off the coast of Panama. It was here on this tropical island, when seeing a hut being burnt down by a local tribe cos a member hadn’t paid some island tax, Sam had the idea for the concept of ‘ukulele rock’ – there was something about the juxtaposition of paradise vs human intervention that really resonated with him about western society, and the thought of combining the natural beautiful tones of the ukulele and mixing it with the harshness of british rock n’ roll seemed like it could potentially capture this idea. It wasn’t for another year when the first incarnation of the band needed a name for their first gig that naturally Sam felt it just had to be San Blas.
~ You say it has “taken over 6 years to develop a concept”, but why, and did you ever go in any other directions?
Having an idea to do something, and then trying to do it, is incredibly different, and massively time consuming! Finishing uni degrees and trying to convince people of a concept that only exists in one person’s head has meant finding the right people to get on board has taken a lot of time. This is arguably the 4th incarnation of the band and each step of the way has created new problems and challenges. Getting the right sound has been by far the biggest challenge, and the evolution of it all has been such a slow process but at the same time it has been the most rewarding part of it because we have learnt so much, and we can be proud that we have done everything independently and with genuine friends.
~ What did you find most challenging about making the EP?
Definitely capturing the ukulele sound. There was a lot of trial and error, and we even tried recording with a couple of different sound engineers in various different studios to try and find that perfect sound. We got very lucky in becoming friends with a sound engineer who is an absolute genius, and he fortunately came up with the answer and we couldn’t have been more happier with the sound of it in the end!
~ If you could play live at any venue in the UK, where would it be?
Cavern Club in Liverpool is always high on the list just because of it’s history, but I think Brixton Academy would be a pretty special day if we ever got to play there!!
~ If you were appearing on ‘Later with Jools Holland’, which track from the EP would you choose to perform?
Definitely ‘Drive‘ – that song has basically everything we could wish to showcase to someone watching us for the first time. The dynamics of the acoustic guitar and the ukulele flowing over each other, vocal harmonies, and then the addition of the electric guitar and horn section at the end would be really something special to capture live on TV. Especially with the meaning of that song being about Rob’s mum who passed away from cancer a few years ago, it would also just be such an emotionally powerful moment for our families as well.
~ Are there any other new bands or musicians local to you in London or Hertfordshire that you recommend we check out?
There are so many it’s actually not funny! Our favourites at the moment though are our friends Berries, and Concrete Caverns, they are both bringing proper electric guitar music back and are incredible live! Another one we got lucky to play with last year was Longy & the Gospel Trash – if you have a chance to see them live do it, Longy genuinely blew all of us away and is very unique.
~ If you could collaborate with a famous musician, who would it be?
We all have so many different influences that we have such different answers to this question! But we definitely all agree though that doing something massively epic with Hans Zimmer would be the number 1 dream!
~ What’s the most impressive thing any of you can cook?
None of us are really the best of chefs, so usually when we get together we will head to Tesco’s and get some tortellini and a bunch of those pre packed boxes of olives, sun dried tomatoes and stuffed peppers with feta – chuck them all together and you have one amazing San Blasta Pasta 😉
~ If you could each have a superpower for a day, what would it be?
Somehow we all agreed freezing time would be the best thing ever – I think working in London has something to do with that!
~ Which famous person would you love to get to drive the tour bus?
Donald trump – so we can keep him away from the button!
~ What are your plans for 2018?
We have spent so much time preparing the EP and evolving our live sound over the last year that we just want to get out and start gigging everywhere and anywhere now! Hopefully we can play some festivals and do a little UK tour this year, but then we are aiming to enter the recording studio again before the end of the year – we have already started preparing EP#2 so we really can’t wait to get back in there!