Seminal Californian punk band SAMIAM are currently on tour in Australia and we had the chance to chat to guitarist Sergie Loobkoff about what’s going on…
G’day Mate, how’s things?
Shitty. Last Friday I did this interview….thought I emailed it back….then found out that I didn’t attach the file. So today I look for it and I threw it off my desktop. I’m not a great fan of interviews…but typing answers are even worse the second time. After about 20 years of using computers daily…and I am still capable of bonehead rookie mistakes. That’s comforting.
Other than that, things are fine. I’m looking forward to travelling to your land. Playing some shows, meeting some people.
This year Samiam turns 20 years old, you’ve released 7 studio albums, countless 7"’s and have done a few compilation tracks. My question is this, from the inception of Samiam to where you guys are now, is there anything more that you want to do as a band? Are you happy to coast along from now on?
I think that Samiam is sort of an blob that carries on with no real goals other than to have fun and provide a creative outlet for us. The days of looking at it as a ‘career’ are long over…basically ever since 2000, when you might say we ‘broke up’, we have been simply picking and choosing what we do based on what we might enjoy rather than what might help us along. As a result we tour mostly abroad. You know, it’s a lot funner to be in Berlin or Sao Paulo or Barcelona than in Cleveland. At least for us, who, in our day we toured America 2 or 3 times a year for a decade.
Going to Australia is actually a long time goal being realized…for one reason or another, we never made it…I’d love to play in Greece and Russia too…those are places where we have been booked and it fell through. But to be honest, I have toured everywhere in Europe, Japan, South America, America, even china….we’ve done alot for a band that isn’t really to popular. We are very lucky. Right now we are all very hopeful to do another album…but it’s hard as we live all across the states and can’t rehearse alot. Keeping our fingers crossed, sort to speak.
Can you tell me about the first show you ever played with the band?
We played with a band called Christ on Parade in a venue that we considered ‘the commercial rock club’…looking back…no, it was a dank shithole, but you know how people are when they are young and ‘punk’ … we would have played at our local grassroots club (called Gilman St.) if we were truly supportive of the scene I guess. But I think that choice sort of signaled people that we were different. a lot of people came to that show…mostly because Jason was in a popular local band called Isocracy….and I think the general feeling was, "what the fuck are these guys doing?"
Now days, Samiam’s style of music would be thought of as regular or kind of generic indie rock / punk…if you weren’t going to be very kind….but at the time it was sort of out there to the punk’s ears and people were very ‘unkind’. It was too melodic and not punk regulation standard. So it didn’t go over especially well. For about a year, we never really drew as many people as that first show. It took quite awhile for people to say, "hmmm…this is ok…"…’just ok.’ Ha.
It seems like the band is revered as some sort of deity in the punk rock world, did you realize when you were just starting out that it might turn into something special?
Deity? I wouldn’t go so far as that. Perhaps to the guys that make flyers and fanzines…because that is where it is occasionally said…meanwhile 99.9999% of humans on planet earth have never heard of this strange ‘god’. Ha.
The thing is, truthfully, that if you told me that I would be doing this with Jason in 2009, the 1990 me would say, "oh shit…really? Are we going to be driving Lambo’s and living in mansions with special rooms for cocaine and heroin storage? Will it be expensive to feed the pet tigers?" "Do I get to OD or die in a fiery plane crash?" Meaning: it would have sounded pretty absurd. We never thought we were any better than the reality: playing in smaller clubs and having day jobs…and before Green Day happened, any other possibilities never really seemed possible.
So to answer your question, I personally think that Samiam is ‘special’ (for lack of a better term) and playing with my friends in some of the amazing situations we find ourselves (both good and bad) is an amazing thing. The fact that the rest of the world doesn’t recognize how ‘special’ this is…is sort of beside the point. There are a lot of other bands that haven’t done what we have that deserved the chance but couldn’t get it together, so I feel pretty happy with how things have transpired.
Next month you’re heading over to our shows for a run of shows including the Poison City Weekender, which includes some of our best playing two shows in Melbourne. What are you expecting when you come down under? Anything you would like to do while you’re down here?
I have a lot of Aussie friends, not just from A Death in the Family, but from Blueline Medic and Bodyjar and actually a bunch not through the band. So, I’m looking forward to hanging with them. Then there is always the fun of playing some shows, but that is usually only about an hour out of the day. So I hope to realize my number one goal of the tour, which is to hug a koala at some reserve or something.
People love to point out that they can be vicious, but I don’t believe it. Especially when I delicately offer some delicious blades of eucalyptus to the little fucker. I hear that the Melbourne shows are sold out, so that is very pleasant. Samiam is usually much better with a good crowd, we find it increasingly hard to play when the room isn’t full of love. In the old days, when we thought more about the bands future, we (like all smart bands) got quite good at ‘faking it’. Basically rocking out when we weren’t particularly wanted. Luckily, as we do pick and choose where and when we play, it is unusual that we play a house that doesn’t have some faint sense of ‘love’…so we don’t have too. But if put in a situation where people don’t like us…like opening for a band where the fans were indifferent to any opening band, we aren’t terribly great I suppose. Hmmm, that is a tangent I went on.
I remember first hearing about Samiam through the live split with Texas is the Reason which was released back in 1999, that’s 10 years dude. How you think since then Samiam has changed as a band, people and in a live setting?
Despite the fact that we have a bit of different lineup, I think it is pretty similar. And our current lineup is the same for the last decade except for the bassist. The real change for the band was around 1994, when we made the album Clumsy. Before that, we were sort of scattered and I don’t know…sort of shitty. We learned a lot in making that record, especially about sound and songwriting.
Mainly our attitude changed, no longer were we striving for acceptance in the punk world and trying to make music to stagedive too haha. I think we probably lost a lot of those early followers at that point. But since then, we have been pretty much the same sort of band. To be honest, the time since the late 90s passed so quickly, I don’t really feel much different at all.
You guys last released ‘Whatever’s Got You Down’ in 2006, any plans on a new record?
Like I said, we would love to. That record was a major disappointment for me, so much fighting while making and the result, while it has some good songs, the sound really was shitty. It would be great to make an album that held up to the preceding three, which I’m quite proud of. I really hope so, but the process of writing and recording is strained by the fact that we live so far apart from each other.
Musically, it is not tough, we have tons of songs that we have individually recorded and rehearsed as a band over the last year or two. The real problem is that Jason, the singer, doesn’t write or rehearse by himself at home. Which I can understand I suppose. singing isn’t like guitar, you don’t casually do it while watching TV or on the couch.
Anyways, my point is that we need to be together in the practice room to get the vocals and that isn’t very easy when 2,500 miles separates us.
The band kind of went on hiatus around 2000. What was the main reason for this?
Mainly the strain of being in a band that is a struggle. If Samiam was much more popular, we would have stuck it out. But after 10 years, I didn’t feel like dealing with the arguments all the time. It didn’t seem worth it at the moment. Of course, within a few months, we were offered a European tour and took it, then South America and took it. Then we basically spent years considering ourselves broken up yet toured Europe once or twice a year…every year.
I started a band in 2001 with my friend Garrett called Solea and that is when I realized Samiam isn’t that much of a struggle. We have lots of fans and promoters and record labels interested in us. Solea was a complete struggle like Samiam was in the early years. I really don’t know how new bands do it, especially financially.
Even though you weren’t really playing shows in North America around that time, you still toured places like Europe etc. Why is that?
I think I touched on it earlier, but we toured America maybe 30 times in our day. To an australian, it might sound exciting and romantic, like the old west or something. But for me, I don’t love a lot of the places and situations you deal with on an American tour. Particularly the long drives, terrible hotels and food options in rural states. I love the places I love, but there are so many times we would play a show and I felt, man, I would never be here except for with the band. This is a depressing place! When you are walking around Paris or Beijing on tour…you don’t say, "fuck, I am bored what am I doing here?" And there is a big difference because a crepe in a Parisian cafe and Taco Bell in a parking lot in Flint, Michigan.
What have been some of your most memorable tours to date?
Green Day in Japan was amazing. We actually have done quite a few bigger tours where we opened for big bands. Bad Religion too. But really smaller headlining tours is much more rewarding. I would rather play for 200 people that know the music and show it than a 3,000 person show where we adequately fill the time slot. Japan is always fun. I’ve toured there 5 times. South America was great, but I don’t know. It’s hard to point out one tour or one show.
What bands have been getting high rotation on your ipod/in your cd player lately?
The new Beck, last couple of Dinosaur Jnr albums, Adam Franklin solo record, Built To Spill, Sonic Youth, The Beatles. I am really, mainly stuck in the music I loved in the 90s, especially with punk music, nothing really has stuck with me in a long time. Alkaline Trio is one of the few bands of the last ten years, at least their older records. I actually have been listening to a lot of Blueline and Bodyjar and A Death In The Family recently.
Melbourne band A Death In The Family are doing the national support for your Aussie tour. Had you heard of the band prior to organizing the tour? I know Gaslight Anthem loved them and took them overseas.
They came over with a couple of Blueline medic guys, Adrian and Dave, and visited me at my home to borrow some gear for that tour. They were really nice guys and I went to see them at their show. When they returned the stuff, they gave me an awesome amp they couldn’t carry home and a bottle of Jameson which I was very impressed with.
Such generous, cool guys. Typically people would drop off the equipment all fucked and say, "sorry…" but not them. It was funny, they knew I was "the guy from that band Samiam’ but weren’t at all impressed or anything. I’m sure they realize Samiam isn’t something to get too worked up about, but they really didn’t seem interested in the least. But about a week after they got back Andrew from the band sent an email inviting us to come and has spend about a million hours on setting it up. After pretty much writing off the idea of touring there. It was an awesome surprise. We are very happy.
Any parting words for your diehard fans?
Uh, hopefully you will come out to the shows and we can drum up a little old timer fun. I guess our constituacy is now usually around 25 and up and not many kids care anymore. And with that, the difficulties of getting people to the shows multiply. "But I need to get up for work tomorrow…" or "can I find a babysitter?" Haha!
Thanks for the interview!
For more info on SAMIAM head to their Myspace page.