Power of an alter-ego

Album Cover for Prisnarchitect.
Auckland artist Sam Bradford talks an alias and how his work shines the torch on the mangy underbelly of Kiwiana and the fragility of our society.

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Musician and artist Sam Bradford describes his alter ego, Ron Gallipoli, as a vehicle for him to express exactly what he’s thinking. “Ron allows me to be that rare thing—an honest human—for short bursts of time,” he says. 

Alias is born

Before he found Ron, Sam was the frontman for Wellington post-punk band Sharpie Crows. Where Ron Gallipoli shows feel like fever dreams, Sharpie Crows performances were often like a broken sleep next to a motorway. “I learned how to withhold easy pleasures from an audience, to let them know that yes, this is deliberate, this is not incompetence but what we do,” Sam explains.

“It doesn't make sense right now but it might, or you might hate it and that's OK.”  The band released three albums under the Flying Nun label before disbanding in 2013. Sam’s new alias was born soon after with the release of the album Ron Gallipoli Loves You All

Cheerful pessimist

Sam recently held a launch for his third album, Prisnarchitec, and an accompanying book, Gripes and Apocalypses, at Auckland bookstore Strange Goods.


Album Cover for Prisnarchitect.

 Taking to the stage as Ron in a button-up shirt and no shoes, he read essays about the horrors of growing up in rural New Zealand and performed songs with lines like, “If you want somebody killed, ask a teenager, if you want somebody burnt alive.” 

“I learned how to withhold easy pleasures from an audience, to let them know that yes, this is deliberate, this is not incompetence but what we do,”

In his music and writing, Sam shines a torch on the mangy underbelly of Kiwiana and the fragility of our society. All of this make’s his work sound grim (and some of it is), but there’s also plenty of humor and even a dash of hope. “I'd call myself a cheerful pessimist,” he says.

Sam says that beyond making a setlist, he doesn’t plan out his performances. One of his main objectives is to not condescend the crowd by assuming to know what they want. 

“I think most performers are terrified of their audience,” he says. “Desperate to please, like nervous puppies.” 

Tropical-industrial

Gripes and Apocalypses started out as a collection of lyrics. Sam originally wanted something to sell at shows but, as he puts it, things got a bit out of hand. “The book started to feel necessary as my lyrics got denser and less obvious.” He decided to include essays explaining in exact detail what the preceding song was about. “It's a pincer movement: here is the original song, obscure and musical, and here is a note in which I express the same idea with painful clarity.”

“I think most performers are terrified of their audience. Desperate to please, like nervous puppies.”

Sam describes Prisnarchitec’s musical style as “tropical-industrial” and lists Muslimgauze, the Bee Gees, and Scott Walker as reference points. But there are also shades of New Zealand music antiheroes The Skeptics and Chris Knox in his music. 

Handling the hard stuff

Speaking of New Zealand music legends, in 2017 Sam drew the ire of Dave Dobbyn when he performed a cover of Lorde’s Green Light at the Silver Scrolls. “It was a sincere re-interpretation,” he says. Dave replied to a tweet calling the song a “crazy dark trippy version” with: “No, just a shit version.”

Sam welcomes Dave’s criticism, saying that a lot of local artists can’t handle critique of their work, but he has one caveat.

“He's from a generation of rockers who think singers should sound like dried-up cowboys, or Tina Turner. I would like him to know that I choose not to sing that way.” Sam isn’t sure if Lorde has heard his cover, but says, “I wouldn't want to rule out a future collaboration.”

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

17 Dec 2019

The Big Idea Editor

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