The western coast of Canada is world-famous wide-sky country, a land speaking soft scriptures in its garments of grass, and fuller than most of the simple life’s more paranormal pleasures. There are many who could not believe in the continued existence of such a heart-whole place during such a time as the one in which we live – even fewer who could imagine it so truthfully as to enshrine it in prism-sighted song. With a crank acoustic lyricism and an incipient optimism all too ready to be bandaged by dreams, Sam Weber does just this, bringing corkscrew thinking and a hard-bitten sweetness to his fourth full-length album and latest release, Get Free, out on Sonic Unyon as of February 4th, 2022.
From the first sun-dappled sidewalk strums of 2014’s Shadows in the Road, it was evident that Sam Weber was willfully eschewing what Malcolm McLaren would call the ‘necrophilia of rock.’ Sophomore sunbeam Valentina Nevada in 2016 further illuminated his musical commitment to the clerk of his own conscience and solidified his status as an emissary of the effervescent. The fact of the name ‘Valentina’ signifying ‘awareness, purposefulness, and righteousness’ is not something a listener would have to know ahead of encountering this record to osmotically understand it by the time they met its conclusion.
Both in personal practice and in the fluorescent zest of his compositions, Sam Weber is a bounty hunter for the beauties of the world and does not hesitate to do the kind of tea-kettling of self it takes to fully imbibe them. He writes in the meridian between the solipsistic and the exigent, emerging with uniquely hand-hewn lyrics ringed by ladyfingers – some even unexpectedly soaked in vinegar, all with an alluvial aftertaste.
Whatever faux-holy orthodoxies and sacred cows can be killed by telling the plainsong truth, Sam Weber is unafraid of dispatching them or their ghosts, in step or in song. He makes palm loggias out of pain with an ironist’s eye and a quicklime hope, then funnels it all through a bottomless sense of love for the world – a characteristic known amongst artists to represent the great winepress of path-defining hurt. In both of his 2019 releases, the New Agile Freedom EP as well as the full-length Everything Comes True, Sam Weber demonstrates a rare propensity to write into the light-driven places even wherever he needs to go dark to make a point, to himself or any other seeking creature who might be listening along.
His latest stereo-benefaction Get Free may have been released in the putsch of winter, but it is as barefoot-summer a world as that which can be found inside any Jason Mraz or Jack Johnson song, if those had an unplugged New Radicals kind of ear-glue forming their core axis. From the opening sundrops of “Truth or Lie”, a tune that seems to live aboard its own peach-colored thermals, to the tinkling grasshopper’s ballad that is “Nowhere Bound“, Sam Weber’s newest collection of songs is, through and through, a record with radial engines powered entirely by soft light. Get Free is delicately organized in that its adventive moments – like “Don’t Cry For Me” and “Money” – allow its aniline murmurs – such as “Here’s To The Future” and “Streets of L.A.” to feel almost Tangerine Dream in their self-owned colors. All of it is contemplative and all of it rings with those distinctly western Canadian places where forest meets sky and mountain kisses sea.
Vancouver Island is just about as far, geographically and ideologically, from Atlanta, Georgia as two upbringings could get and still be considered to have occurred on the same continent. Yet, when the extreme northwest (Weber) and the extreme southeast (the Winged Thing interviewing him) sat down to share sound stories, compare coffeehouse notes, and fan out on the unsung virtues of the upright bass, we might as well have been cross-legged across from one another at one of Joe Strummer’s primordial campfires for all the shared native colloquialisms relative to life, art, and the pursuit of something beyond capital gains we discovered between our not-so-disparate experiences. Attempting to tack it all down would take a linguistic lepidopterist with skills far exceeding this pen-pixie’s, but here’s the part we were able to get down on paper:
QRO: Hey Sam! I’m so glad to see you today!
Sam Weber: Hey Dana, how’s it going? Thanks so much for having me; I’m excited to talk to you!
QRO: It is my complete honor and I was so thrilled when I found out you would have time to chat about this new record. I’ve been super-loving Get Free, and not at all just because it’s named like a Vines song! [laughs]
SW: [laughs] That would be reason enough! Seriously, that’s so great to hear – thank you!
QRO: For those who may be new to your sounds, I thought we might start off by just having you walk us through your fairly extensive musical background.
SW: Yeah, sure! I grew up on the west coast of Canada and had a musical family. My dad is a drummer and saxophone player and my brother is a piano player, so we played music when I was younger. It really stuck with me and, when I was about twelve, I picked up the guitar. A few years later, I started playing shows around town, touring Canada a bunch. I did that for a few years, made a few records, and then I started coming down to the States a little bit more.
A lot of the music I really love is from Los Angeles, I eventually made a record down here called Everything Comes True that I toured pretty extensively in the U.S. and Canada. We were slated to do the same thing over again but, of course, the pandemic hit and we had to rethink our approach. It turned out to be a real blessing because we ended up making this latest record at our apartment and finding ways to stretch what we had to make something beautiful. Also, to just celebrate getting to be in our little pod together doing something creative.
It was me, my partner Mallory Hauser, who co-produced the album, and our friend Danny Austin-Manning. All of these songs were written months before any lockdown was in our crosshairs and we recorded all of it live.
One of our mantras is “creativity kills technology.” You make the most of what you have and, because you’re pushing the boundaries of that, the yield is something interesting and creative, hopefully.
QRO: Very, very cool. You actually pre-answered what I was going to ask you about the whole “necessity is the mother of invention,” saying that came to bear on the making of this album.
SW: Wow, I haven’t heard that saying, but that’s so true. One of our mantras is “creativity kills technology.” You make the most of what you have and, because you’re pushing the boundaries of that, the yield is something interesting and creative, hopefully.
QRO: Oh, definitely! That also speaks to the negation of this common idea people have about artists getting to a certain point in their careers or success and not having to work as hard anymore. I’ve always thought the opposite was true, which your unplanned recording experience here bears out. I think the further you go along, the more you have to set your own deadlines, create your own colorful limits, and inspire yourself. Had you and Mallory collaborated like this before?
SW: We had worked together a tiny bit before, but this was the first thing of mine or hers that we got to join forces for.
QRO: Well, it doesn’t need to be the last time as you guys are clearly quite the firecracker combo! I’ve got to ask you about “Truth or Lie” and the line “shacking up with my regrets,” which is sheer autobiographical poetry to me. We have the saying in the south, “the truth is never unkind,” which I pick up as a little bit of a running trope in Get Free. What do you think: do you keep a place for polite lies? Is the truth always the kindest cut?
SW: I think the truth is the kindest; it’s just about who’s listening!
QRO: Well said, sir. I notice people listen less where bigger dollar figures or the potential for phony importance cast the truth in the shade. “Get Out of the Game” touches on that a little bit with what I would call the dictatorial power of money and pain as its central ideas. These are really human concerns you’re writing about. As an artist, how do you best circumnavigate their worst outcomes?
SW: My heroes of today are dealing with a different artistic landscape than that of the past. Peak creativity was once, I would argue, in the pop sphere. Look at an artist like Joni Mitchell; she’s still the pinnacle of creation and remains a giant in the pop space. Those musicians definitely exist today too, but I think a lot of the highly creative musicians I watch today that aren’t necessarily in the pop field have the attitude that you don’t let the pursuit of trying to make a living at what you’re doing limit your creativity.
For me, I don’t have any gripes about having to get a day job if it allows me the ability to continue to do what I want to do. A lot of people are chasing genres to try to make it work, but where creativity is at the center of the goal, not having that monetary constraint is an important lesson.
A lot of people are chasing genres to try to make it work, but where creativity is at the center of the goal, not having that monetary constraint is an important lesson.
QRO: Oh, it’s huge. I’m forever droning on about how, up until the early 90s, you used to have PR and A&R people that were willing to invest, say, ten years to get David Bowie – because it took him that long to become David Bowie, and he was starving for that whole ten years. Now, the attitude is: “Well, Sam came out yesterday – did he make a million yet?” As if you could turn an immediate profit and icon stance overnight. I think that has already, and will continue, to cost us a lot of Joni Mitchells.
SW: Yeah! There’s so much great art that the public doesn’t get to see. Me and you, being in the orbit that we’re in, we get to enjoy a lot of wonderful stuff that I wish the public had the opportunity to hear more about.
QRO: This is what you have me for, to be the blaring ink-bullhorn for all of it that I can dig up! [laughs]
SW: Heck yeah! No one could ever thank you enough for that.
QRO: Talking about Joni Mitchell makes me think of coffee houses which makes me think of “Don’t Cry For Me“, what I’ve labeled as your snow jazz song. Did you partake of the open mic and coffeehouse scene as a young muso?
SW: Oh yeah, when I was getting my start in Victoria on Vancouver Island, I played a lot of open mics. I hosted them for a while! That was a big scene. It might just be the demographic of the island, which is home to a lot of really cool retired people, but I loved that atmosphere and it was a great place to get started as an artist.
The coffeehouse scene is still probably my favorite atmosphere in which to listen to music. If you can get a great songwriter or band that can play quietly and in that context, it’s the best thing in the world. I’m still kind of looking for that thing out here in L.A. The closest thing I’ve found is this amazing little bar called 1642. They have old-time music, jazz, and other deep, beautiful music. That’s where I’m at if I’m out and about in Los Angeles!
The coffeehouse scene is still probably my favorite atmosphere in which to listen to music. If you can get a great songwriter or band that can play quietly and in that context, it’s the best thing in the world.
QRO: I’m writing it down as we speak so I can be out and about there too the next time I’m in the City of Angels – always looking for new hidden gems! Speaking of buried treasure, I hear some of my favorite jewels as sparkling influences in your whole body of work. Am I right to think that I hear a little Michael Penn, Roger Manning, and Vance Joy in your remarkably intelligent lyricism?
SW: Oh man, what an honor – those are some names! It’s an eclectic mix in my head, and one that changes a lot. Quite a bit of it is outside of what may be perceived as my “genre.” I’m a big fan of my good friend Madison Cunningham – I’ve learned a lot watching her which has helped me grow as an artist. There’s such a great local scene here in L.A.
I formed a pretty deep connection to the Americana space when I was younger, and now I’m trying to hang on to that while I subvert it with some stuff outside my universe, like jazz or improvisational music. There’s a band called Big Thief that I really love. I’m a big fan of all things good!
QRO: You stole my line with that! Whenever people ask me what “kind” of music I like, I always give them that one-word, all-telling genre: good. I like good music! [laughs] I’m one of those that doesn’t think the dichotomy between good and bad has as much gray as others will argue it does in the name of social media thinking, but I’m sure that’s as much about the fact that I refused all that garbage when it started and have snarlingly held the line all these years as it is about my inherent rebel nature.
SW: Oh wow, I’ve got to get on your wavelength! I can’t stand most of that stuff either.
QRO: Do you feel that social media is somewhat thrust on artists today?
SW: It is. I don’t know if musicians or artists are ever going to unionize in a meaningful way to clamp down on those oppressors. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to have a more grassroots connection with my fanbase. I want to build my mailing list and try other avenues in the interest of divesting myself of social media platforms because it really feels scary to me these days. That’s my favorite part about touring, having that real connection with people, so any other way I could cultivate that seems more meaningful for everybody.
QRO: I absolutely agree with my whole heart. We’ve got to get you to the Americana Festival this year – that’s the place where the whole ethos of what you just described is the driving force behind the festival’s primary reason for existing. I think you’d find your musical family there in that regard, and in the widest possible way. As you are such a powerful songwriter – and not every great musician can write songs too – are there songwriters that have moved you in that direction?
SW: That’s an interesting question. I grew up very steeped in the greats, and a lot of L.A. stuff – like Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Joni Mitchell, of course Neil Young and Bob Dylan. I found Bob Dylan later in life and his newer work is as much or more inspiring to me as any of his catalog in terms of songwriting. I feel like I learned the language from those people.
When I write songs now, I feel like I’m doing less songcraft and more reactive improvisational melodies. A lot of the songs on this album are written in a stream-of-consciousness way and then maybe curated a little bit – I’m just trying to capture something. I’ve found, in my pursuit to try to catch something more human, most believable, and true to what I want to feel or say, it’s been unfiltering myself.
I want to build my mailing list and try other avenues in the interest of divesting myself of social media platforms because it really feels scary to me these days.
QRO: I love that you recognize it as a ‘language,’ which it absolutely is. Where does the trail tend to start for you? Melodies, bass lines, words?
SW: These days it starts all at once and in any combination. I like writing with different formulas so I don’t hear myself thinking in my own songwriting.
QRO: Awesome sauce. Was that authentic approach fed by working with the special talents of Robbie Lackritz? Huge fan of Feist here!
SW: Oh, Feist is a huge influence of mine! She did a show called Multitudes, and it was like a stage show with lights and everything, just a couple hundred people sitting in a circle. Super cool and the best show I’ve ever seen. But Robbie is awesome! He’s just a total lightning rod for the truth. He’s the one that gave me that quote, “creativity kills technology.”
A lot of my learning process and growth has been seeing behind the curtain of these artists that are gargantuan and seeing how simple it is, just understanding their principles better. He’s one of those people that has a line to what is true and right – and what an incredible mixer.
QRO: I can definitely hear it – the whole record has got his little bits of Buddha in it. You guys make a dynamic team. Who else do you dream of working with?
SW: I get really excited about different musicians that work in the improvisational fields because I feel like I understand enough of their vernacular that, when you put them in the singer/songwriter context where I’m generally working, there’s a synthesis there. For example, my friend Ted Poor, he’s a Seattle-based drummer – I’d love to collaborate with him some more.
A lot of the time it’s drummers that fascinate me, and I’m also getting into upright bass players more and more too – -I love that sound and the physicality of it. That instrument, when you record it, it’s not about a subby bass frequency, it’s about the whole way that big wooden thing smacks into the room. It’s a percussive situation that is happening and it’s so compelling to me. I love the realness of it.
I’ve found, in my pursuit to try to catch something more human, most believable, and true to what I want to feel or say, it’s been unfiltering myself.
QRO: When you come to Atlanta, you have absolutely got to let me take you to Everett’s Music Barn! It’s this incredible place that’s lost to time. They open it every Saturday to any and all players that want to come and jam, and you would never pick your jaw up off the floor again at the upright bass players that turn up out of nowhere there. The bluegrass tradition there is something from another world, and please don’t get me started on the folk guitarists!
SW: I would never recover?
QRO: You would never go home! [laughs] You know the Appalachian folk music universe is eternally full of mind-blowing players with this astronomical technique that never gets talked about.
SW: That is one thing I think Angelenos and New Yorkers have no real concept of – the depth of the musical history in the south. When I went to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the first time I went to this little bar called The Colony and I saw one of the best bands I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s a little British pub the size of a postage stamp with a wood fireplace and the music was out of control!
QRO: A lot of people who are not from the south have to be taken to Nashville to fully believe it. To have that experience of walking down the street and seeing three to five guitarists playing on any given street corner every day of the week that are better and more technically accomplished than anyone you’ve ever heard on the radio. Music here is a thriving, teeming thing. Even with as much traveling as I do and have always done, I think I was probably over 30 before I realized that not every place has that rich tradition that has been in my backdoor since birth.
SW: There is something about the non-pretentiousness of it that really speaks to me. I think I gravitate toward music where the spirit of it is true across the board. I’ve been infatuated with that ever since and the place you just described sounds like an incredible example of it.
I like writing with different formulas so I don’t hear myself thinking in my own songwriting.
QRO: Down here, I think that DIY-virtuoso element probably developed because we got left behind a bit in the Industrial Revolution. The south was really poor, comparatively speaking, for a good while. But you could make instruments and you could play music, basically for free, if you could whittle or had manual skills like that, which most farm-raised people would.
SW: Oh man, I have so much respect for that and am so interested in it!
QRO: It’s definitely something I take a great deal of pride in with regard to my region – which leads me to ask you: what are you most proud of in your career so far?
SW: I’ve been so lucky to have so many rad things to experience so far, but the first thing that really jumps to the front of my mind was getting to open for a Canadian artist called Bahamas. We actually came through Atlanta and played – it was amazing! We also did Mountain Stage, which is a huge institution and something I’ve been watching forever. It was so special getting to do that at all, but especially during a global pandemic. Those were the biggest rooms ever during the weirdest time ever.
QRO: It sounds utterly fantastical on the highest level. What would your own definition of supreme musical success entail?
SW: I have it! Just getting to play music with my friends. It can be bigger, it can be smaller, but as long as that core of it is pure and with your friends, there’s nothing more fun than getting to travel and do what we do.
QRO: It makes my day that you know you already have it because there are so many who do not! It can be very disheartening when you meet people who do not have any idea that they are already living the dream. Thanks for being such a dreamy part of my week, Sam!
SW: Oh likewise! Thank you so much for taking time with my record and I’ll look forward to speaking to you again when we hit Atlanta.
QRO: Everett’s, here we come! See you soon in the acoustic wilds, my friend.