When singer/keyboardist Sheena Staples began working on her debut LP, she didn’t have to look much farther than right down the hall to find her songwriting partner. That’s because her collaborator is her father, Neville Staples — former singer with English ska band the Specials and the pop group Fun Boy Three.
But she wasn’t content to draw inspiration only from her father and his interpretation of the lively Jamaican style known as ska. The younger Staples also brought in guitarist Wayne Kramer (formerly of the Detroit anarchist-rock group MC5) and members of American ska-punk bands No Doubt and Rancid to help her flesh out the sound on her album, which is set for a summer release.
“It’s got every element in it,” said the elder Staples, who now lives in the San Jose, Calif., area. “Parts are slightly reggae. … The whole range of music is mixed in there. Sometimes, there’s rock guitar over a reggae riff, or punkish licks. It’s very danceable.”
Reached at her father’s home, Sheena Staples revealed that she started playing music as a teen-ager and would tag along when dad went into the studio. She recalled that she would pay close attention unless it was an all-night recording session. Then, she said, she would doze on a couch in the studio.
Staples, who is recording her album in Los Angeles and London, claimed it’s been a boon to have a rock veteran such as Kramer in the studio. “He’s heard all kinds of different music and worked with everybody,” she said. “He’s been around the block and knows about the business itself and the importance of being patient. He gives sound advice from somebody who’s spent all their time in the studio and on the road.”
She listed “Creep,” “Two Kinds of Love,” “Out Of My Face,” “I See” and “Freeway” as songs likely to be included on the not-yet-titled album.
The Staples family songwriting partnership relies on father and daughter playing off each other, although the twosome sometimes turns to composers Kendall Smith and Tom Lowery — who helped pen some of the Specials’ classics — for the final spit-and-polish.
“[Sheena] comes up with melodies like nobody’s business,” said the proud father, who sang on such Specials hits as 1981 single “Ghost Town”(RealAudio excerpt). He added that he was happy to call on famous friends — including the No Doubt and Rancid members — to join in on the record.
“I played them the [demo] tapes, and they loved the stuff, or they wouldn’t have played on them,” he said. “We try to go by the feel of a song, [such as ,] ‘Who would be a good drummer on that? Who would be a good guitarist for this?’”
Keeping a watchful eye on her everyday life, Staples gets lyrical inspiration by carrying a notebook with her when she’s out and about, jotting down thoughts and ideas about the things she sees.
“I like to write about everything,” Staples said. “Nothing too heavy — things I go through in my life; my friends, when I see what they go through; or what I go through … so people can really identify with what I’m talking about.”