Sea shanties and guitar heroes: we take five with songwriter Sam O’Connell

Singer songwriter Sam O’Connell has just hit us with Shanty, a folky ballad that makes you want to swig rum, grab a mate around the shoulders, and belt out some verses at the top of your lungs.

To launch the single, O’Connell teed up his first ever show with a full band in tow. With that done and dusted (not to mention a raging success), we sat down with the artist to hear all about it.

sam o'connell music shanty interview

Been spinning Shanty from Sam O’Connell? We chat the new track, the pirate’s life, and his first time performing with a full band ensemble.

HAPPY: Hey Sam. Digging the new single. How are you feeling about it now that it’s out?

SAM: To be honest I’m stoked that Shanty is finally out! It’s certainly been a long time coming. I’ve been playing the song in my setlist for over a year and it feels awesome to finally have it out there!

HAPPY: Tell us a bit about how Shanty came together – it’s a really beautiful track.

SAM: So I’m a massive fan of the Assassin’s Creed games and quite a few years back they released Black Flag which is a pirate themed Assassin’s Creed game. It’s just an absolute masterpiece. I got deeply into it and let myself be taken away to this whole new world full of wonder every time I would play. In the game, when you are sailing from point to point, the crew sing songs together to boost morale between the men on board. These songs are called Shanties. After playing a heap of this game I wanted to picture myself in the shoes of a 19th century pirate and created the song Shanty. I think the song perfectly depicts the image in my head and fits the whole vibe of setting sail and travelling the beautiful seas. I guess you could say the song is a tribute to the ‘Pirate’s Life’.

HAPPY: You started playing guitar at a young age right? What drew you towards initially?

SAM: I began playing guitar at around the age of seven years old. To be honest I didn’t really enjoy it that much, me and my older brother were kind of forced into doing lessons even though I didn’t really want to. Well I’m bloody glad my parents put a guitar in my hand or else I have no idea what I’d be doing! My dad is Irish and used to play a lot of folky stuff and I guess that inspired my style of writing and music today.

HAPPY: Who were your big inspirations when you picked it up? How much has this changed since then?

SAM: When I turned 16 I decided to take guitar and do it on my own terms with no teacher and see what would happen. At this stage my early influences would have been mainly John Butler Trio and Mumford & Sons. My influences have certainly grown since then but those core artists still have a massive impact on me and my song writing. Now I’d say artists like Matt Corby, Passenger, The Lumineers and Ziggy Alberts have been more recent of inspirations to my music.

HAPPY: I read that you when you were 16 or so you poured all your energy into learning Ocean by John Butler. That song is an incredible piece of guitar work. How long did it take you to get down?

SAM: So after I’d stopped doing guitar lessons I got to 16 years old and one day I was hanging with my mate James Savage (who actually played in my band for the Shanty single launch) and he showed me a video of John Butler playing a 12 minute rendition of his work Ocean. I was completely blown away by the performance and decided I’d put all of my energy and effort into learning it. It took me about six months of playing for hours upon hours every night. I was super dedicated and driven to accomplish that goal and once I had accomplished that, my love for guitar was reborn and I’d say that was the turning point in my life where I knew I wanted to seriously pursue my music.

HAPPY: I really respect that kind of determination and focus. How has that translated into your own music?

SAM: To be a musician professionally and to make a living off your craft you must be incredibly driven and resilient. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve rocked up to a gig at a pub where nobody is there and nobody cares about you or what you’re doing. It fucking sucks. To be doing this it honestly feels like sometimes you’re fighting against all the odds and nobody’s got your back. That’s why you’ve always got to have your own. I pride myself on my drive and my passion for making and performing music which has kept me going in times I felt like throwing in the towel. It’s a super tough and extremely competitive business but I know I’m on the rise and if I continue to work as hard as I am then I know it’s only a matter of time before I get where I need to be!

HAPPY: For your single launched you played with a full band for the first time right? How did this come across?

SAM: From the start of my music career I’ve always been a solo artist kind of doing my own thing. I thought the Shanty release needed to have some extra and it needed to be huge, so I decided I wanted to have a band play alongside me. My percussionist, James Savage, is one of my closest and oldest friends. He’s super talented and we know each other really well so working with him was a breeze. My keys player/back up vocalist, Rae Santos, is also one of my close friends. He’s a solo artist himself as well but our voices really work together and he’s an incredible artist on multiple different instruments. My cellist, Sage Fuller, is someone I didn’t actually know previously to this project. I uploaded a little cover on my Instagram and she commented saying she loved my stuff and would love to play cello for me! I contacted her and we met up for coffee and she was all in with the band. Having her on the cello was perfect as it’s pretty rare to see that instrument being played in a band especially on the Peninsula. She’s classically trained and just insanely talented. She made the performance more powerful and gave it that extra something that made the performance so damn good! I had the most fun I’ve ever had at the single launch and the band had people raving like you wouldn’t believe, it was awesome!

HAPPY: Is that kind of lineup something you’d like to explore in the future?

SAM: Absolutely. Playing in a band and performing my original songs was such an incredible feeling. There were people dancing in the crowd and some knew every single word to my songs. I’m definitely going to get the band back together for my next big show, it was too good not to!

HAPPY: What next for you?

SAM: Next week I’m leaving to go on an east-coast tour with my good friends The Midwayers, who are an incredible band. We’ll be travelling all the way up to Brisbane with plenty of stops/shows along the way. This spans for about three weeks so I’m super excited to hit the road and continue pushing my stuff out there and experiencing new places! After that I’ll continue playing as many shows as I can and continue pushing myself!


Catch Sam O’Connell live on any of the following dates:

June 15th – Soundbar, Rosebud West
June 24th – Servo Food Truck Bar, Port Kembla
June 17th – Bank Corner Espresso & Bar, Newcastle
June 28th – The Marlborough Hotel, Newtown
June 29th – Heya Bar, Fortitude Valley
June 30th – Byron Bay Brewery, Byron Bay
July 4th – The Phoenix, Canberra
July 6th – Exeter Hotel, Adelaide
July 7th – Hotel Victor, Victor Harbour
July 14th – Baha, Rye