A little while back, No Idea Records dropped “Orphan Works”, an album filled with songs that didn’t find a home on any of the other Samiam albums. Seeing as I’m always a sucker for a good cause, I gave it a good review. Of course this had nothing to do with the fact that pretty much everything Samiam released is friggin’ amazing. No, this was just me and my big heart talking. But it didn’t feel like I was doing enough. So here’s an email interview with guitarist Sergie Loobkoff to top it all off. Enjoy!
PRT: You guys broke up in 2000 and then returned a couple years later, even releasing a new album in 2006. Since then you’ve been playing shows on and off. How does that work exactly?
Sergie: After doing several tours in 2000 in support of the 'Astray' album, our former guitarist, James, quit and Jason (singer) decided to bail on a few tours that were booked and advertised…so I, Serge, got a bit discouraged and quit…which effectively folded the band. The thing was that we had been going at it for over 10 years at that point and our popularity was sort of waning, particularly in America. So yeah, we broke up, I started another band and got focused on that, despite the fact that it went nowhere except for really fun trips to Japan and Europe. But, Samiam still got offers for tours and the very next year we toured Europe and in 2002 we went again and to South America…then pretty much a handful of US shows and a tour abroad every year since. The interesting thing was that every year our European tours got stronger and stronger…and in the last 5 years we've seen our US shows get better too. So, when we are on tour we are a band…and when we are at home it's like we don't exist…which is much different than most bands: who live and breathe their careers and work very hard to stay on people's minds. We were super shitty at that in the 90s but we tried very hard. Now in the 2000s, we try very slightly, if at all….so I consider us to barely be a band.
In 2006, we wrote what I think are some good songs and recorded them very poorly…it was sort of a disastrous experience, resulting in the album, 'Whatever’s got you down'. I think it gave a mixed-message that we 'reformed' or something, but truthfully, we were just into trying to make a record…not a 'comeback' or something. We are doing it again this year…but no…we are not thinking that it is the 'rebirth' of the band. Making music is a creative outlet for us and we can sometimes have quite a lot of fun doing it. I think we learned a lot about the band and each other in 2006 and will be able to avoid the mistakes that led that endeavor down the old toilet. Hopefully, ha.
PRT: It seems like Samiam now is just a fun thing to do for you guys, whereas before it must’ve been a full-time job. How do the two compare and would you like to go back to how it was before?
Sergie: Yeah, in the mid to late 90s, Samiam was definitely a full-time job. we had management, corporate record labels, booking agents, business managers, the whole schtick. I look back fondly at it as much as I can…we had some crazy times…but depending on what you love for a living is only cool if you are successful. I think to be 'successful' at something you love is like winning the lottery…you support yourself without really working, right? But, Samiam only had modest successes….so it was really stressful to be in a position where we depended on music to pay the bills. Truthfully, even at our peak, I still worked when I was home…but Jason and James, for example, lived of the band for a good 6 years. As much as I could say that in itself is a success story, the reality was just a lot of stress and anxiety when thinking about the band and bills. I haven't used the word 'success' this much in one sitting ever, yuk. We were so out of control of our destinys then…which wasn't the greatest feeling.
All that said, If I was in a time machine, I would definitely do it again..fuck it. But at my age, where I am at now, no. I'd have to put a Benjamin Button thing into effect. Really, rock music is for handsome guys in their teens or twenties…it would be silly of me to want behave like that now in my old age, ha.
PRT: Looking back, are there things you would've done differently?
Sergie: I think I would have nixed some of the tours we did…and thought more about how we were perceived…but we are so uncalculated and clueless at positioning ourselves amongst the cooler bands. We fucked up at things and we did some things right, what can I say? If I read into your question, perhaps what you are getting at is: would we still sign to major labels and shit. I got to be honest, I had a great time with that and we got to do a lot that I never dreamed of. Now it's all a moot point because the industry is dead and major labels are probably shittier than bigger indies, but yeah, I have no regrets with 'signing with the devil' or whatever. Perhaps if we had the option to go with Epitaph or Sub Pop but decided on Atlantic, I'd have regrets…but that wasn't the case.
PRT: You recently released "Orphan Works". How did that one come together?
Sergie: We had a great show at the Fest in Gainesville the year before last and reconnected with Var and Tony from No Idea…whom we've known for years. A discussion of rereleasing 'Clumsy' and 'You Are Freaking Me Out', our major label albums that are basically out of print for the last decade, came up and we underwent the ordeal of trying to rerelease those records. We knew that it was going to be a long drawn-out task, so we decided to put out that compilation of songs that delivered the outtakes and stuff from that era. Which was a good idea because as it stands now in spring 2011, 'Clumsy' is finally going to be put on itunes and the usual online retailers with the possibility of No Idea doing the physical release…but we still have not gotten ahold of the rights holders to "YAFMO'. So at least we got something out in 2010...
PRT: Why a compilation of B-sides rather than a new album? Or is that not an option at the moment?
Sergie: Like I said, we are recording a new recording the upcoming months…we have narrowed it down to 15 songs and we are just getting together every few months for the last year to shape them up to be as good as they can be. Two of us live in California and 3 in New York…so these things take time. It's not like we can rehearse twice a week or something.
PRT: I read somewhere that you’re not too fond of your first albums. While I agree that they are not your best, I do think they definitely have their merits and a couple of strong songs. How come you don’t like them that much?
Sergie: Well, first of all, I have to admit, I don't listen to Samiam…so my opinion doesn't really matter, but it's not like I hate those records. To be honest, although I consider Hot Water, Alkaline Trio or Jawbreaker to be some of my favorite bands, I'll go a year without listening them either, ha. Anyway, to your point…I think I would say the same thing as you about our first 3 albums: each has a couple of good songs and they have their moments. I think, though, we learned so much while making the next album "clumsy'. Suddenly we were aware of playing for the 'song' and thinking about 'songwriting' in general…whereas on those first 3 records, we were more interested in spitting out whatever we were feeling at the moment. We really didn't edit ourselves…if we made up a song, it was written and we recorded it as is…no editing or rethinking it and definitely no judging it and dumping bad ideas. We sort of felt like musical ideas were valid just because we thought them up…no matter how lame they ended up being. So yeah, there were some good ideas… but there were a lot of shitty ones and all of them were executed pretty poorly.
PRT: With you guys being spread out over both coasts, how hard is it to get things going when you’re writing songs or planning a tour?
Sergie: Besides making a record, we are doing Krazyfest, playing shows here and there on each coast and will probably do Europe in the fall. There are a few other things we want to do, like the midwest and the fest but we are sort of ramshackle…we aren't the smartest guys at mapping out the band. Plus this is supposed to be fun, not a career, so we try to take it as it comes rather than being so mercenary about plans.
PRT: What can people expect from Samiam in 2011?
Sergie: A record that we worked hard at and did our best…you'll be the judge as to whether our best is shitty I guess. I'm pretty confident that it will be something that I'm personally proud of.
PRT: Any last words for our readers?
Sergie: If you haven't stolen any music lately, I commend you….I haven't done that in years either….pretty much after the novelty of downloading was over and I realized it was fucking up a lot of people's livelihoods. But if you were going to do some thieving electronically…I would suggest picking up "You Are Freaking Me Out" by Samiam, ha. At least until you see that No Idea finally re-released it…if that ever happens. Also, we finally made a Facebook page…maybe you could say hello….facebook.com/samiamband.