Sean Kelly on The Samples’ America
The roots of the Samples date back to when you were living in Burlington, Vermont. Can you talk about that time period a little?
I was living in Burlington and working construction. When I was working I used to see this guy walk by all the time. I could kind of tell that he was a musician. One night when I was playing one of the open mics that I used to frequent the guy walks in and I’m like hey it’s that guy that I always see. It turned out to be Charles Hambleton. We met, clicked and started playing together. And we eventually moved out to Colorado together and started the Samples.
Your voice gets compared to Sting, but I can hear some Neil Young influence on “Fukushima” your opening track, on the new disc. Are you a fan of his?
I’ve hung out with Sting a few times and I told him that people compare my voice to his and he got a laugh out of it. And yeah I love Neil Young. “Fukushima” is a total Neil rip off (laughs). It was the quickest song I’ve ever written. I think I wrote it in 10 or 15 minutes. It flowed right out of me. I definitely got a good Neil-like electric tone on the tune. I was just messing around with my amp and I dialed it this tone that sounded right to my ears.
Do you still have that black strat-style guitar that you played in the Samples?
Ha. No. That was actually a Casio guitar. I have another version of it now that looks a lot like it.
There’s a diverse collection of songs on the new disc? When did you write the tunes and is there anything special going on with this release?
The majority were written last April . “Dandelion,” “America,” and “Wall Street Blues” had already been released on a demo CD. Richie Furay, of Buffalo Springfield and Poco fame, is featured on three songs: “Boulder,” “And I Dreamed” and “Mysterious Times.” It was a pleasure to work with him. He’s a pastor these days who runs a church in Broomfield, Colorado. I reached out on Facebook and drove over to his church one day to meet him. He is such a great guy. I asked him to add some backing vocals on a few tracks and he obliged. I can’t say enough about him. The song “Arielle” was written in memory of the late promoter Barry Fey’s granddaughter, Arielle, who passed away in May . I wrote it for her. Barry’s son Geoff, befriended me not too long ago. During the period we got to know each other he lost his father and two months later his daughter. I wanted to put that song on the disc. It was the last of the tunes I wrote. He had me play for her funeral. I never knew her, but through the slideshows and everything I got to experience surrounding her death I came to know her and I felt moved to write something. I wanted to write a song to memorialize this last painful summer that he experienced. He took a bullet for us. I had empathy for him.
Does it ever feel lonely to be the only original member of the band on board?
It’s part of the process. My expiration date didn’t end when everybody else’s did. I don’t want the Samples to be defined only by the early years. It’s like going into a room stuffed full of cool stuff, with only a flashlight. You only get to see what’s in the flashlight’s beam when what you really need to see is the whole room. At the beginning we had all the lights on. That was a big time for us and the band tends to to be stamped by the period. But lots of fans have followed us right on through. And new people are coming on board all the time.
We have a song on the soundtrack of the film Perks of Being a Wallflower called “Could It be Another Change.” I wrote that tune when I was 17 and it made it on to our very first album. but then it made it onto a movie just recently. But it’s just a crack of light in that Samples room. I’m hoping kids that like our song based on the song from the movie will take the time to explore the whole room. I’ve been trying to find ways to get more people in that room, with all of the light on. But yeah, we’ve got some new cracks in the light and some new kids in the room. The Samples is a gold mine. To watch those kids getting off reassures me that I did the right thing. I’m certainly not what I was when I went in. Things come and go and change and turn, but I have a direct root to that sound.