The band released Whatever's Got You Down and told me about everything from the production influences (Jesu, TV on the Radio) to their setlists to their almost-breakup.
It's been six years since your last record as a band, and you've been busy with Solea in the intervening time. what makes you sit down and decide to work on a new Samiam record?
Somewhere in 2000, Samiam broke up, but it wasn't really this big deal.It's not like we took ourselves seriously to be official about it. I mean, this band had been around for 11 years or something - we toured everywhere and put out a bunch records- but, we never took ourselves that seriously. For the first 5 or 6 years, we never did strategic shows, usually didn't tour right when an album came out or really do anything right from a commercial stand point.
Then we got on a major label path for about 4 years and it changed: we did tour 'in support of a product' which lead to doing some questionably lame things like tour with yuck bands and play ridiculous radio shows. I think we really did a lot of damage to our 'image' in those years. I felt like people thought, "these morons think they are something that they aren't".
But, in our defense, we weren't chasing the brass ring as much as being lame-os and listening to the various managers we had, which I guess is actually lamer.
In the process, I think we put out our three best records (Clumsy, You are Freaking Me Out & Astray) but thanks to this shitty industry, the US releases of 'Clumsy' & 'You are Freaking Me Out' have been out of print for years.
By 2000, in America, Samiam really became a 'never-was' band. But because we were on Burning Heart, which is Epitaph, everywhere else, these records were still quite visible outside of the states. Even after we broke up, we played three European tours and a jaunt to Brazil where pretty much every show in 6 years has been really great.
I did this band called Solea with my friend Garrett. we put out some music and because of my association with Samiam and his with Texas Is The Reason, we got to tour Europe and Japan several times each - in a much smaller scale than Samiam - with no pressure. If under a hundred people showed up (which happened as often as you would expect) we had no expectatio/s and it was fun. which is not fun with Samiam. One of Samiam's last US shows was in Albuquerque with TSOL and about 80 people. I hate to be jaded, but it was depressing for me.
Solea sort of went on the fritz last year, as Garrett sort of lost interest as we started our second album, Samiam did a tour in Europe that was amazing and that really energized everyone. I mean after our last show - which had 1,000 excited Samiam 'fans' in Cologne - we asked ourselves, "this is fun Why wouldn't we make another record?"
Then the fact that we are now on a label in America that is so supportive, nonjudgmental and easy going (Hopeless) we felt that we could do this without having to do all the things that made the late 90's less than fun for Samiamers. Like no one is going to force us to eat at Denny's and stay at Motel 6s across the States for 6 months a year.
You've been together for more than sixteen years, and I'm wondering what keeps things interesting and fresh for you as a band.
You know we have had some discussions about the set lists for the upcoming tours and we argued a bunch. Jeremy, the bassist, and I want to play lots of older songs - play what we think most people that like the band want to hear. Meanwhile Sean (other guitarist) and Jason (singer) expressed their desire to play a set that was new song heavy and that they are bored with playing the same old songs. They said that they would get bored with the old songs really quickly. I am different, I guess, I actually am looking forward to playing the old songs. It's not like we have been playing them much in the last 6 years, maybe 4 weeks each year.
I understand it is harder for the singer who has to put himself into the songs and vocalize while I do what basically any trained monkey could do: strum a guitar,
but it brings up point, that, for me, everything is fresh, even 12 year old songs and when you see Samiam in 2006, you are seeing a guy that is really enjoying everything about playing. I think during the mid and late 90s, I must have been really sick of the same songs everynight.
Although, I think I have block and remember mostly only the good things - well, that isn't true, I remember the bad things like fights and breaking down on the side of a frozen road - but now with time nostagia makes the worse of experiences seem pretty sweet Even if at the time I wanted to kill myself,
Anyways, yeah, now, for me, it's all gravy, really fun and I'm looking forward to it all. When you are a working stiff and don't have any outlets like art, music or sports or whatever, that is when life doesn't feel to interesting. I feel pretty creative and so I'm lucky.
Samiam is a band that I always loved and I did always wonder why you didn't blow up, the singles on the major label album were really great and everyone I played them for really dug them. What kind of experience did you guys have on the label, and how did you keep it together after that?
I don't think it is a fair question to ask why Samiam didn't get huge. I don't want to be too self-efacing but Samiam isn't one of those great hit bands. you know, like Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, whatever, those are much more than just a good band with great timing and marketing that made them they are undeniable.
I think that in the last years very few bands are like that. I love Green Day, but they sell millions more than Husker Du or Dinosaur Jr did. Green Day is so great, but face it, they benefited from timing, heavy duty marketing and lots of factors that have nothing to do with their talent.
I love Green Day, but nowhere near as much as Husker Du. Then you have a giant list of bands that really suck that are huge. I mean, I could see Korn being a band playing an empty heavy metal club in Fresno. The fact that they play hockey stadiums aren't because the 'deserve' it. They earned it with hard work, marketing and a heavy dose of luck.
I am pretty much a realist about Samiam...I think we are a pretty descent band and worked hard, but we don't 'deserve' anything. We should be pretty happy that we have toured the world, made albums and stuff...
Much of what you guys were doing a decade ago could be considered a precursor to what is really popular these days. Do you think Samiam had a role is shaping the sound?
I guess. just like a lot of bands that people never heard of shaped Samiam. Along with all the other well-known bands, Marginal Man, Short Dogs Grow, Social Unrest, Code of Honor, Crimpshrine, and tons of other unknown bands influenced me when I was learning how to play and write songs.
It is a really cool part of life; that you learn from the past and culture builds on itself. I'm not particularly proud of the fact that we are considered somewhat influential as much as I think it is nature. I do think it is an interesting dynamic to consider.
Lyrically, you guys have been very much about exploring emotional issues, rather than the political ones some of your peers did. Was that a concious decision?
To be honest, what is written is pretty much all up to Jason. James, sean and I all have written a few lyrics over the years but the vast majority has always been Jason, I mean he has to sing them, he should write them. I wouldn't say that he is a political person maybe not outwardly.
I think it is cool to take a stance against an issue especially for bigger bands...like the Rock Against Bush was amazing, I really respect Fat Mike for that...but incorporating it in the music is something for certain types of bands. When bands market themselves with half-assed, non-confrontational political slogans and lyrics that are safe and vague, it's silly. There are a couple of bands that I could name in recent years that consist of what I think are really stupid, inarticulate people.
With your last album, "Astray" you guys seemed to be taking a more varied approach to your songs, with a bigger range of dynamics and cleaner sound overall. What do you think we can expect from the new record?
Is that true? You think Astray was more varied and cleaner than the two before that? that is interesting. Well, if people prefered that...well, they are going to be confused our new one (Whatever's Got You down).
The songs are very much in line to what you would expect from Samiam: you know melodic, punky rock songs. But the production is much rawer and purposefully noncommercial. Sean brought us his friend Chris Moore to produce (who he knows from his friends in TV on the Radio.) Both Sean and Chris are Brooklyn guys, so they have a sensibility that is very different to Samiam and this genre of music. That's something which I am really happy to infuse but weary of. Basically, the record is much wierder and wacky than our usual recording style. We used ratty old amps, funky guitars and pedals and did alot of unconventional stuff with the vocals, like using effects, re-amping them and distorting them at times.
I don't really know much about TV on the Radio but, although they are a totally different band, I think we approached some recording tasks in the way they do. This lead to a lot of fighting, particularly between Sean and I. I mean I wanted the record to sound vaguely like Astray or more like Clumsy but sean wanted something totally different. So what we ended up with is a mish-mash in terms of general sound, like a compromise.
One thing that Sean is really into is the Jesu album, which is the guy from Godflesh's new band. I like it a lot too, but it is really crazy, lo-fi recording with blown-out tones and our record is influenced by that I guess.
I suppose i should note too, that we find ourselves for the first time since 1993 managing ourselves. That is a very liberating thing. Also, we are older guys that obviously are past the point where one could realistically have a chance to do something in the music industry That is actually very liberating also. My point in saying either of these things isn't to be self-deprecating and portray ourselves as these loser sad-sacks, but we had an opportunity to make a record with our personal goals in mind. Before we were managed by big radio promoters, so everything we did was with the 'industry' in mind. The production had to be slick and regular so it could be on the radio. I said before how we then also did compromising things to have our songs stay on the radio.
With this record, we said, 'we don't have to do this' and I think we produced a record that is sort of like the second Weezer album, "Pinkerton'...which has total great song writing but had very raw, wierd production. I remember people at the time were really not into it then after awhile, most people realized, that is is, by far, the best Weezer album.
Now, I'm not comparing 'Whatever's Got You Down' or Samiam to Weezer...that is pretty stupid but the the dynamic of the recording is sort of similar I think.
Do you think you guys will do more records? Like just get together every 3-4 years and record/tour/etc.?
I hope so. I guess it just depends on whether anyone cares. I know outside the States, we will do really well/and here in the States there is a small, dedicated fan base But if we sell really few records, I'm sure Hopeless will be bummed on us. At least little less inclined to invest on a good recording and stuff. But this question is a little wierd, because I could ask you the same type of thing: "Hey over the next 3-4 years do you think you will be interviewing nerds in dipshit bands?" How do you know? you might get some yuppie job or meet a girl from Peru...I know I will be friends with these guys and if they are into it I probably will be down.
Outside of Samiam, what do you guys do?
I'm an art director and graphic designer. I design all sorts of dumb marketing materials for yuppies to flash around and sell shit. I also do a lot of record designs for labels like Fat, Hellcat, Hopeless and a few majors. In the last year or so, I designed album packages for Lagwagon, Good Riddance, We Are Scientists, Lawrence arms, and lots more over the years. Now the business is getting pretty shitty so I have to deal with the yuppies more and more which sucks.
Jason manages a few bars in Berkeley and Oakland, Jeremy works at a law firm dealing with their website and Sean does interior construction in fancy Manhattan homes. Johnny, the smart one, does as little actual working as a guy in his mid 30s can possibly get away with. He likes to throw around that sweet chestnut, "I work to live not live to work"...which is funny because there isn't a lot of actual work involved...