Zak Starkey doesn’t make his father’s brand of rock and roll. The son of Richard Starkey—better known to millions as Ringo Starr—is one-half of a noisy, electro-punk duo, SSHH, with his longtime girlfriend Sshh Liguz. SSHH’s music is often loud and distorted—check out our exclusive premiere of their new single below—but it doesn’t sacrifice the knack for melody Zak picked up playing with groups like The Who and Oasis, or by being the son of of one of most melodious groups in rock history.
EW caught up with Starkey and Liguz earlier this week to talk about their influences, their style, and what it’s like to be in a band with your significant other. SSHH opens for Ride at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on June 1 and headlines Manhattan’s Santos Party House on June 2.
What were you going for on the new record?
SL: It’s really hard to describe. But it’s quite funny, the way we started making music together. Zak was on tour with Oasis and he came up with a guitar riff.
ZS: I played the guitar riff on the phone for Sshh who was living in Sydney, and then she recorded on her camera and sent it to me. We recorded our first tune over the phone. Then Sshh moved to London, and we continued making music together. We wanted to be like Siouxsie and Budgie from the Creatures—just drums and vocals.
SL: Raw and primal. Very primal.
ZS: But it diverted to a more musical thing.
SL: Now it’s a definite mishmash with influences ranging from the Sex Pistols to Little Richard to glam-rock. All of that stuff. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, PJ Harvey. D’Angelo is very cool. I love Jurassic 5.
Both: And Toots and the Maytals!
Did you start making music before or after you began your relationship?
SL: [pauses] It’s hard to say really.
ZS: I suppose it all ran concurrently. We met before we started making music about six years ago.
SL: As with all kinds of music, you write from personal experience. But we also write about universal things: Love, hate, the struggle against the man.
ZS: We are in a relationship, but mainly we argue about stuff to do with the band.
SL: It’s a byproduct. We’re together, but we create as well. It’s an extension of who we are. We could be in a relationship or we couldn’t, but it would still be a creative process.
ZS: It’d be a lot more peaceful.
You rattled off a bunch of artists who influenced you, but was there a particular vocal sound that you were really going for?
SL: Siouxsie Sioux is great. Debbie Harry is excellent. Joan Jett is like the queen, I love her. I’m also very influenced by male singers: Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream, Jim Morrison, Johnny Rotten. I try to take all of that and make it my own. I’ve had people come up to me at a gig and say, “Oh my god, you’re the female Johnny Rotten.” But, powerful women singers who’ve got some balls, they’re few and far between. We’ve gotta stand up and fight, man!
Zak, you’ve played with iconic rock bands like the Who and Oasis.
ZS: And Johnny Marr!
What did you pick up from them and then how’d you decide to go in this direction?
ZS: I always liked electronic music and art-rock like Can. I started with glam-rock, when I saw Marc Bolan. I fell into the drums later, sort of by accident, but I always wanted to be Marc Bolan. I’m very lucky that my two favorite rock and roll bands of all-time asked me to play the drums with them. But if you speak to anyone in those groups, they have very eclectic taste. Our music is still rock and roll, it’s just rock and roll as we see it now. We’re a hybrid of what we really love which is kind of Little Richard via T. Rex and glam-rock through the Sex Pistols and into Aphex Twin or Die Antwoord.
So many of the acts you’ve referenced are known for their live performances. What’s your desired aesthetic onstage?
ZS: We’re a three piece band: I play guitar, Sshh sings and plays harmonica, and we have a drummer. The electronic stuff comes off a hard drive.
SL: It’s an experience. I get quite involved with the crowd, there’s not really a barrier. But we don’t want to pre-plan anything and turn it into a pantomime. We want to keep it a bit wild.
What does Ringo think of the music?
ZS: He’s very keen for us to release it. He wants us to get it out there and work it. He really digs it. At this point we’ve got about three records written, but this is the one that suits us and our live show right now.
Have you talked with other sons of Beatles who have gone into music, like Dhani Harrison, Sean Lennon, and James McCartney about their experience?
ZS: I’m quite friendly with James, he’s really cool and his music is really cool, too. He’s got a great voice.
SL: I think that stepping out from that shadow, there’s always going to be that. [The Beatles] are one of the most influential things ever.
ZS: It’s part of our lives, and you’ve gotta just embrace it and dig it.