Between appearing in productions for Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and MTC and working on his upcoming one-man show about his grandmother’s Maltese heritage, Paul Capsis is having a busy year. So busy, in fact, that he barely has time to listen to his own newly-released album, Make Me A King.
The day we spoke, he was doing some last-minute cramming before that night’s Sydney album launch.
“I haven’t properly heard it over a stereo yet, so I’m giving it a listen right now. I think it’s probably my best one of the four albums I’ve recorded,” he said.
“It’s funny, this album, because I feel like it’s captured my voice in a way the other albums haven’t. It’s much less produced — a bit rough and raw, which is how I am on stage.”
Indeed. Later that evening, Capsis tore up a blistering five-song set at Oxford Street’s Slide Bar, his vocals veering from an intentionally ugly howl for Garbage’s #1 Crush to a jazzy purr for Nina Simone’s Feelin’ Good.
“It’s a pretty diverse album,” he laughed at one point.
Leftfield covers by the likes of Garbage and REM stand out, but Capsis also tackles evergreens like Cry Me A River (The Julie London song — sorry, Timberlake fans) and George Gershwin’s Summertime — songs that have endured thousands of covers over the years. Did he have any hesitation laying down his own renditions of such classics?
“Some songs on there are very well-known; they’ve been covered by a lot of people. But for me, if I like the song and I connect with the lyrics, that’s it – I don’t really think about who’s done it before me. Maybe I should, I don’t know,” he told Sydney Star Observer.
Capsis even tackles a tune by his idol, Janis Joplin, the gritty Move Over. I ask if there was a temptation to mimic her distinctive vocal style.
“There’s a part of my performance that’s capturing her energy and her spirit, but when I listen to it, I don’t hear Janis, I hear me. But then, Janis has always been a huge influence in my life — I was 12 when I started listening to her — so I think you can always hear a bit of her in my singing. I just try to conjure up a bit of Janis energy whenever I sing.
“And besides, I lost interest in impersonations very early on in my career. Some people can do it really well, capturing someone else’s voice, but at the end of the day, they’ll never be that person. Your voice, the type of singer you are, comes from your life and your experiences.
“Once I realised I didn’t want to impersonate people, I wanted to honour their spirit, I became a much better singer.”
info: Make Me A King (ABC Music) is out now.