Published on May 22nd, 2014 | by Laetitia Laubscher0
Coffee, Time, Love, Death, Blues and Oranges
Self-aware and oblivious, referential and original, an insurance salesperson and transcendental meditator, a self-branded extreme extrovert and introvert, SHERPA’s frontman Earl Ho’s duality leaks into all aspects of his life and music.
The long-haired psychedelic pop singer is an obtuse enigma. In a conversation with the singer, the tangential becomes essential – but only for as long as it surprises you. He speaks in twos, floating some general uncomplicated idea and then with one or two violent ideological jerks subverting or undermining his entire line of thought. In short, it’s hard to contain him.
But everything that makes his conversations mystifying is what makes his band’s music mystical. From the first harmony in Blues and Oranges’ opening track ‘Beach’, SHERPA steals your ears with the ebb, flow and double back of melodies and ideas, not letting them go until the final cadence of the album’s closing song ‘Sunrise’.
We met for a coffee on a Friday afternoon at noon in Grey Lynn’s Kokako Café.
INTERVIEWER So, one of the songs in your album Blues –
WAITRESS Do you guys want some coffees?
INTERVIEWER I’m okay.
SHERPA Just woke up, so maybe yeah.
INTERVIEWER Wow, good morning.
SHERPA Yeah had a long night.
INTERVIEWER So, one of the songs in your album Blues and Oranges is all about love, and filming someone you love – what does love mean to you?
SHERPA … Well, it’s conflicting in my mind. But what I believe is that there’s different kinds of love – there’s the unconditional kind of love I get from my family, there’s eros kind of love… which is something that you – well, when you’re apart you want to see them for some reason.
I wrote a song recently saying that “the rules of love are made by parents who die and movies who lie”. The concept of love is pretty much given to you by your parents and what you watch. You know when a child grows up they can believe anything. Which makes me question life – like what’s right and what’s wrong when everything I am has been conditioned?
INTERVIEWER Yeah, it’s also a bit over-hyped. I mean saying the words ‘I love you’ authentically is quite a hard thing to do these days. You have to earn the right to say it, I think.
SHERPA Yeah, I mean yeah and how do you wait? Sometimes I feel that the whole concept of love at first sight, is that just love, or what? I’ve met people who’ve married after experiencing love at first sight, so who knows?
My mum tells me that love runs out. It’s just a natural thing. So after a while marriage becomes more of a partnership.
WAITRESS Here you go.
INTERVIEWER What I was also thinking about when I was listening to ‘Love Film’ was about how – say when you’re working as a photographer or any kind of artist – whenever you try to record a moment in life you don’t actually live in it. You have to step out of the moment to capture it, so you’re not actually present for it. So in a way recording love could take away from love itself.
It’s also strange how ‘Love Film’ is the embodiment of that male gaze that Laura Mulvey talks about. It’s the sort of ‘love’ where it’s the woman who’s the object of affection, the admired half of the relationship.
SHERPA Definitely, yeah male gaze. That’s funny. I don’t know if it relates to – maybe it’s a tangent – but you know Sartre? He talks about the gaze. You know when you’re gazing through a key hole and you’re spying on someone? And then they’re like in their own world, and they feel comfortable, and then suddenly they hear a creak and they realize that someone is gazing upon them they become self-conscious that someone is gazing upon them. I have no idea how that connects to what you were saying, but that’s just another thing about the gaze.
INTERVIEWER Well, John Bergen says that’s how woman end up living – perpetually inhabiting a certain kind of duality where they’re living, but also self-conscious of being observed living – so in a way removed from living life in the present moment as well.
SHERPA Yeah I’ve heard of that. The whole idea of taking more care with their aesthetic – but I reckon the whole thing transcends gender as well. Even the whole thing with eating disorders – the need to stay thin. A lot of it seems to predominantly be a girl thing, but males get it as well – but are afraid to talk about it as much. To be honest I’ve had an eating disorder, and it sucks. It’s the same thing – I mean, with musicians who do I look up to – like Mick Jagger and all those thin people.
INTERVIEWER How do you feel being watched? I mean your image is everywhere – online, you have people looking at you while you’re on stage etc. – is that weird?
SHERPA I guess so. Humans are very visual people and I guess over the years I realised that you can’t overlook that. So, in another sense you want to be watched as much as possible. But that’s the business right?
WAITRESS Would you guys like another round of drinks at all?
SHERPA Yeah sure, I’ll have a flat white.
WAITRESS Flat white? Sure.
INTERVIEWER Same here.
SHERPA Can we have a look at the menu too?
INTERVIEWER When you’re singing in front of crowd, what does it feel like?
SHERPA I grew up liking attention. I’ve always craved attention. I’m still trying to be the centre of attention, probably have like ADD or something. So as a kid I liked having eyes on me, until like puberty hit and then suddenly I was self-conscious and didn’t want anyone looking at me. So then I had to get comfortable again. At the end of the day some people love being watched and I feel like I am one of those people. I’m comfortable, it gives me scope to play around with a concept – the idea of being outrageous. And I like doing something outrageous hoping that maybe someone out there can take something away from it – like hey look at me I’m being outrageous so maybe if you’re a little bit shy you can take away an inkling of that – even it means you can go up to some girl and make a fool of yourself or just be more comfortable being yourself. Because I’m up there totally naked to the world and feel comfortable about it. Singing is my art, I am a performer who’s making my living entertaining these people.
All the great frontman have that kind of thing – it’s exploring the extremes of the human condition, but in performance. Like Iggy Pop. It’s spectacle.
INTERVIEWER What’s your newest single ‘Quit Time’ all about?
SHERPA I’m really against everything society is about holistically. I mean the idea of a 9 to 5 job – that’s too much time for work. There should be like three days a week. And four days spent maybe doing something adding to the community – self-sufficiency – but that’s what society wants they want us to just really tire ourselves out and in the weekends just get fucked up with alcohol. They just want to exert control over us.
You know, I’ve been selling insurance for the past year and I’ve had a taste of the world after the glory of uni and school, but I feel trapped all the time. Working full time isn’t something I want to do but it’s an important lesson if you want to be creative – I mean you have to wake up early too – so you’re putting in ten hours a day being tortured by something you don’t want to do. So that way everyone has to do a job they hate to realise how hard they have to work to do something they love. I mean, I feel like I could write a novel after that – I mean man, if I can sit down for eight hours a day doing something I hate, I can sit down for eight hours and write. Because I was always afraid of the idea of writing – it was always such a big thing – but now it isn’t anymore. Maybe selling insurance, maybe working at a café, maybe anything repetitive is just so soul-destroying.
It’s like Seinfeld. Have you seen Seinfeld?
INTERVIEWER No, I wish I could say I have. Just busy cracking into Breaking Bad at the moment, I’m a bit behind in my TV show binges.
SHERPA Well I’d say give Seinfeld a go. He’s a classic kind of antagonist. Yeah. Anyway, he worked for the post office and the whole thing made him go crazy, because you know, the mail never stops. That’s the whole thing of the phone as well – you work in insurance and it just never stops.
INTERVIEWER Do you find it easy to write songs?
SHERPA Yeah, writing songs is easy. Because I make it my reality. I’ve given up the idea that song writing is hard. You just have to listen to lots of music, fill yourself up – there’s this poem by Keats, ‘Ode to Melancholy‘, and he’s like “glut thy sorrow on a –something- rose”, so like fill yourself up on beautiful flowers, poetry, movies, just fill it up to like a week’s worth and you’ll be so excited – there’s amazing art, you just have to search for it – and then you’ll be bursting with creativity.
And then you do your musician press-ups. Like do something called sense writing every morning, and practice it. So you write about anything like a cup – so you write about how you can taste the water and stuff – and then that’s writing about nothing. So then when god or a higher power gives you an amazing melody you’ve done your press-ups, you’re trained, and you can write a verse. In the end writing a verse is just writing a verse.
INTERVIEWER Anything else?
SHERPA Another thing is that you have to be healthy, positive. The whole notion of drugged out or depressed writing doesn’t interest me. So I like eating healthy, going for a run, maybe taking a shower and then writing.
But then that gets boring for me, so after doing that for a while I like getting fucked up. So maybe both. I think moderation is key.
INTERVIEWER Moderation between getting fucked up and healthy?
SHERPA Yeah, that’s key. Because I do like getting fucked up.
INTERVIEWER Is that a sort of life ethos?
SHERPA Yeah my one theme in my writing is duality. Everything comes in twos. That’s nature, right? Every part of music I write is just that flux – push and pull, love and hate.
INTERVIEWER Like the ocean?
SHERPA Yeah, tides. And that’s even echoed in the harmony. Like chords. So like in ‘Beach’ there’s seven chords and four voices. So there’s a major 7 and a minor 7. The beauty of these notes is that they have a major chord and a minor chord at the same time. And these chords are so beautiful. And I try to add in as much as possible. But you can’t have too many – If you can couple that with a nice sentiment, a nice couplet then that’s the holy grail. And that’s difficult. Ah, here’s me saying it’s difficult. Good music is easy, but great songs don’t come along all the time – great songs make people feel the music.
I mean John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, he probably wrote that in 30 minutes. But it took him 30 odd years of training to get there. But I think that song was slightly ripped off from Paul McCartney anyway –
Can I get the avocado on toast?
INTERVIEWER I was just about to get the same thing.
SHERPA Maybe it’s because it’s the first thing on the menu.
WAITRESS So, two avocados on toast.
When you’re writing songs, what makes someone (or something) your muse?
SHERPA Guess it’s… a muse I guess is someone you see, and you experience… and the experiences you have I guess kind of crawl over into your art form. I guess it’s subconscious, but you’ve got to be conscious of your subconscious…
So my experiences I’ve had with someone, or with my girlfriend, filter into my songs. So my memories inform my songs. I guess that’s how you become a muse, you become someone’s memories. Someone can be a muse even ten years down the line. I mean that’s like a real life muse though. You can have a fantasy muse – like the girl of your dreams – someone in your dreams who always pops up and you don’t know who they are, but they’re there, and they’re the perfect person.
INTERVIEWER Do you have that?
INTERVIEWER What are they like?
SHERPA That person… I don’t understand that. That person… how do you feel that dream? You see that person that you’re totally head over heels in love with and you’d leave your current girlfriend for a girl that doesn’t even exist. It’s a parallel universe.
INTERVIEWER While in your dream?
SHERPA And then you wake up. But she’s perfect for some reason. I don’t know if it’s aesthetic or maybe the idea of her or the emotions you feel. Because dreams are emotions so maybe it’s tapping into your idea of emotional perfection that correlates to seeing her. I think it’s just a concept in your dreams.
INTERVIEWER So it’s not as she is, but as she fills your dream?
SHERPA Yeah, I mean she’s not meant for reality. She’s too perfect. No one’s that perfect.
INTERVIEWER Do you have a clear image of her? Or is she just a feeling you have?
SHERPA No. She takes on many different guises, but she’s always there. I reckon there’s a movie idea in there –
Thank you very much.
WAITRESS Would you like pepper?
SHERPA Yes please.
INTERVIEWER Have you tried rock salt?
SHERPA I will now.
INTERVIEWER You talk about a lot of things in Blues and Oranges, homeless people, love, jobs and even death. How do you feel about dying?
SHERPA If we’re all going to die it doesn’t bother me. I’m excited to see what happens when I die. You know ‘Die Jung’ is about that. Like all those cats like Jimi Hendrix who died, that’s not sad. Don’t cry a tear for them, they did a lot more than Joe who goes to work every day working a 9 to 5. That guy who lives seventy years hating his life is way worse off than a guy who dies when he’s twenty-something and lived free and liberated. I think that’s what that song is about for me.
I like to believe that’s what I believe because I’m young. Maybe I’ll think differently as I’m older. It’s that whole idea of your cells rejuvenating every seven years so you become a different person. So maybe in seven years I’ll be a spokesperson for global warming, saving the planet, and be like “okay we need to build a future for our kids”. At the same time I have a lot of confidence in us humans finding some other sort of terra planet out there where we can all live.
(pause) Wait, has the interview started? Maybe we can start it from here.