Born and raised in the land of no left turns, Sammy Kay has returned to the place he knows best, New Jersey. He has lived and have traveled the path less traveled. Consistently seeking to improve himself as a songwriter and pushing himself upward and onwards to better places, Sammy Kay had released a new 10 song LP that highlights some of the best of what he has to offer. Editor Samantha Barrett spoke with Sammy Kay, Mitch Cady, Brandon Barron and Philip Holmes to speak about the new album, Pouzza Fest and life in New Jersey.
You have a new album out called Untitled. Seems like you took a bit of a different direction you took with this album. What made you take this direction?
Sammy Kay: When we went to record Fourth Street Singers, I was kind of broken. I was trying to figure out who I was. Half of that record, I wrote when I was still doing drugs. The other half, I wrote when I was pretty much at rehab. It was heartbreaking, the record is who I am, as I started to write until I was sober. There were times you feel sad and you start to feel angry the songs was just these feelings.
When I was writing Untitled, I was writing it with drums in mind versus an acoustic guitar. I usually write a folk song and make it what it is. We sort of are hitting on the parts of the songs that we needed to hit, we just got all of the tones to match the songs. It seemed like this is the progression that needed to happen. It's hard to be in a rock and roll band when your records are acoustic and has no drums on it.
Upon listening to the new album I felt like it was more The Gaslight Anthem than the folky Chuck Ragan like stuff.
Kay: Yes, you can go Chuck to Hot Water too. I'll take it. Growing up in New Jersey you have very few people who look up to you. Fallon, Alex and Benny, and Ian were definitely a huge part of my life. Even the conversations I had with them while on tour, kinda shaped that record lyrically. They are good folks.
I saw that you lived in Brooklyn and Los Angeles for a while then moved back to Jersey. Do you think that helped influence the direction you took with this album?
Kay: Yeah! I like to party. Some of the things you do when you party with, you just can't forget. You can't ever shake the feeling of doing heroin, ever. I have been clean now for 3 years and I haven't really done heroin in about 5 years. That thought is always in my head. New Jersey is a lot like that too. You can try to take the boy out of New Jersey, no matter what, you're always going to come crawling back to it. LA was really cool until it wasn’t. I was there for a little under three years and one day it just wasn't home anymore. It was also about that time I realized that I probably needed to clean up my act. When I came back to Jersey that is what I did. We started making Fourth Street. A couple months into making that record it was time to change things up.
Your album is called Untitled, was there a reason for choosing this as the title for the record?
Kay: There were a couple of reasons. The working title we had for it was Nothing Comes From Nothing which was kinda a line from “Who Shot the Shot.” We then started to call it Nothing. Nothing Comes From Nothing is a mouthful and after listening to some of our favorite records, we just decided to let it be. There are so many topics on that record and themes, we left it Untitled to let people just call it what they want. I don’t want to name records anymore, I spill my heart and my beans writing these songs. I spill the truth. You guys can figure it out call it what you want. Call it what you will…
Yeah, somebody told me when we were in Fort Wayne the other day, a gentleman who had a life a lot like mine. He told me that he like to refer to the record as “Your Hearts Die Free.” Which is a line from a song on the record. I was like that is why we didn’t give it a name! Take if for what you want. If you like it, you love it, it screams to you, use that as the name for the record. Ya know.
You have worked on several different projects ranging from different genres. How has this project differed from the others?
Kay: It’s pretty much the same. It is just a few guys that smell really bad, writing songs. We are in a van driving around, that is really it!
My older brother was into punk, he was a couple of years older than me. The first time he dragged me out was a The Superspecs show. Too Short Notice played, an early incarnation of My Chemical Romance and Folly also played. It’s as Jersey as it gets (Laughs). My dad took us there, I was like 11 or 12. The whole show felt like home. I fell in love with that. By the time I was in High School, I was really into punk music, reggae, and rock city stuff. I got the opportunity to tour with bands like Westbound Train and a bunch of other rock city bands right out of High School, I did that for a while but still loved bands like Hot Water Music, The Clash and all that to Modern Lovers. I wanted to be able to write a song and I didn’t think I can keep progressing as a songwriter there. I wanted to go make The Fourth Street record and all of those songs were written like that which kinda looped into ska or soul. Good songs can kinda be played however it is supposed to be.
Good songs will take on a life of its own to whoever's listening to it.
Kay: And to whoever is playing it. I was a kid when I started touring. I was 17 and now I'm 27. We started playing the folk and the rock and roll stuff when I was 25 and that is when I really started to transition over. It has only been a couple of years of doing this. Everybody goes through their awkward teenage years I went through my awkward ska years. Everybody has got a checkered past. You name it.
Philip Holmes: How many of us was in ska bands?
Kay: Brandon, were you in a ska band?
Brandon Barron: I was in a punk band trying to turn it into a ska band, they wouldn't have it. (laughs)
Mitch Cady: I was in the Heat Machines, I met Sammy like 9-10 years ago when he was still playing with The Forthrights, the guitar player in The Forthrights used to play in The Fad. They brought my old shitty ska band on the road when I was still in high school.
Kay: Behold Jimmy Doyle! I don't think you have a Jimmy Doyle story. Do you?.
Barron: I am from Lincoln, Nebraska and I know Jimmy Doyle from talking to him on the phone to do a show and then forgot about it. (laughs)
Kay: The idea of me singing in a band came directly from Danny from The Fad. One night we started a band and he was like ‘You should be a singer”. I was like “I’m not a fucking singer”, he was the one who pushed me to sing in a band.
Some of my favorite bands come from your home state. What is the best thing about growing up in the Jersey punk scene?
Kay: The Jersey punk scene as a whole is one of the places people look to and where they always look to. If you look at the hardcore scene, everyone looks to Lifetime in the early 90s. Everyone look to The Bouncing Souls for punk rock. Even back in the day to Springsteen. A lot of those old band leaders the swinging jazz stuff they were all Jersey guys. New Jersey, there have always been a lot of great talent in the water. They’re always have been a lot of great bands, like now there is Modern Chemistry, I don't know how they aren't huge, they are about to blow up. They’re is our good friends, The Scandals, they just put out a killer record. Lost in Society played two Punk Rock Bowling's and they are touring with Face to Face. They’re so many good bands that have steadily come out of New Jersey. There is something about New Jersey. I don't know if I can put my finger on it. Brandon and Mitch are from Nebraska. You guys are pretty new to New Jersey?
Barron: The way I look at it is I didn't play music for 10 years. I did a whole other thing and I got an opportunity to do rock and roll again. I was living in Brooklyn in Lefferts Garden and started playing in Jersey. It reminded me of the community scene that was in Lincoln, Nebraska. I knew I gotta move to Jersey City. That is where the creativity was happening. Where you would go to a random show and there would be four different kinds of bands. People that want to make great music and everybody is in four different bands, it reminds me of growing up again. I am honored to be out here.
Kay: New Jersey, there is just something in the water. I think there is something cool happening. People from New Jersey, sometimes we’re assholes. There are just folks that just… older guys that have mentored me that had guys 10 years older than them mentoring them. Everyone just wants to see each other do well. I think we are finally gonna get a little respect. It's been like 20 years since The Bouncing Souls signed to Epitaph, right. That's a long time, right.
Cady: Also, there is the underdog mentality coming from right across the river, there is kinda a stigma coming from New York. I think that is what kinda drives that community scene.
Kay: The best part of being from New Jersey is recording with Pete. Pete Steinkopf showed me so much about myself and about writing songs. I don't think the new record would be this without Pete. If it was someone else that wasn't Pete, I do not think it would be anything near what it is.
There is something magical about The Bouncing Souls, New Jersey and everything those guys have touched. Just magic.
Kay: It goes back to the idea of mentoring and the family. They want to see other guys do well. The Pete wants to work with every New Jersey band because he believes in every fucking one of these bands. He will give equal… exactly what they deserve. Let's make a record that is super cool that people will love every time. It has been phenomenal.
Seems like you are always on tour… This time you are touring to Pouzza Fest. What are your favorite things about Pouzza Fest?
Kay: I think the fucked up family reunion aspect of it. It's really the best part. You put a hundred and something touring bands in the same place and especially since Montreal is a fun town. It is fucking crazy. You put a hundred bands and 400-500 people in the same room and most of us knows each other or are huge fans of each other. It's just this fucked up family reunion that happens, you can’t beat that you know.
Barron: I am stoked to see RVIVR, I love them.
Cady: Yeah, PUP is one of the best bands out there.
Sammy: I don’t want to talk about PUP. I am doing a solo set and I am up against PUP…
Holmes: Yeah, PUP is playing against Sammy’s solo set. I love you Sammy but I don't know…
Kay; Please! I am not stopping you…
Holmes: Also, I am excited to see my buds in Great Apes, they are playing.
Kay: I'm stoked to see The Flatliners. I'm going to try to go to see some of PUP. I have never seen Chris Farren play, I am a huge fan of Fake Problems. We all grew up on The Slackers, which is a bummer they are playing Friday night. Always an amazing time seeing that band. We’re also stoked to see The Penske File, I saw them last year and they rip. There are so many good bands. Western Settings is killer. I really want to see them bad. We are playing with them in Toronto and we are stoked! We are playing with so many bands that we respect and are so stoked.
You guys sound like you want to see everyone.
Kay: I bought a few 5-hour energy and I am going to chug them and headwalk on everybody. Even during Joey Cape’s solo set. I am going to fucking headwalk. Watch out for 250-pound male, that smells and got really bad tattoos but I got new Vans. I'm gonna walk all over your face.
They may not be new after this fest.
Holmes: They definitely will not be new after this fest.
Kay: Do you Pouzza? I told them what Pouzza is.
Barron: You have to make your own. I am pissed.
Cady: It’s a DIY thing, you can handle it.
What are next steps for your band?
Kay: He have had a crazy week and a lot of cool opportunities have popped up for us. We’re gonna be on tour pretty much every other month for the rest of the year. We'll see what happens from there. We are grateful enough to be signed to Stomp Records and hopefully, we can make another record with them. We've had a huge response with the record so far and every night there has been people that we don't know showing up and singing along. I think that we're gonna start running with this a little more.