Formed out of the legendary Bay Area punk scene in the early 1990s amongst peers like Jawbreaker and Green Day, Samiam’s brand of emotive punk rock has managed to retain its relevance and influence after more than twenty years. Their eighth album "Trips" will be released in September via Hopeless Records and will be released on vinyl in Australia by Poison City. We caught up with Samiam’s guitarist Sergie Loobkoff to talk the band’s influences, their past and their future.
Hey man, please start out by telling us your name, what you play in Samiam and the best album you’ve heard this year?
My name is Serge and I play guitar in the band. With Jason, the singer, we started the band back in the olden days and are joined by guitarist Sean, who has been in the band for 13 years and bassist Billy and drummer, Charlie, who have been with us for the last couple of years. As far as new music, it isn’t something that I search out. I feel like I probably miss out on a lot because I don’t necessarily think whatever is going on at the time is all that great, only to realise after the fact that I missed seeing a rad band in a small club. I did that with The xx, who made my favourite album of last year and now play big places that I don’t really like to go to. In the last year I have really enjoyed that xx record and the new Peter Bjorn & John record. And the new Dinosaur Jr record as well as J. Mascis’s solo record. But, Iike I said, I’m sure I’ve missed a ton of great shit due to ambivalence towards new stuff.
In the late 80s when you guys were getting started, the vein of punk you play was essentially non-existent. What bands were most influential to you back then?
We really started getting going in 1990 when we released our first record and did our first tours, and at that time, I was super into The Doughboys, Descendants, Replacements, Swervedriver, Sonic Youth, Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub, Husker Du / Sugar and Dinosaur Jr. Bad Brains and Minor Threat, of course too. But our band was not going into the ‘punk’ direction. We played in the punk scene but you can hear that we were much more into The Beatles than DRI I guess.
There was also a local band called Short Dogs Grow that we were really into. They had this great sound that was similar to early Soul Asylum. Actually, although it is hard to believe now, early Soul Asylum and Goo Goo Dolls were super great bands that we loved. I say ‘hard to believe’ because their known, later records are so forgettable and silly. But you forget how good they were when they were playing to fifty people at the Berkeley Square…
Your eighth album “Trips” is due for release next month. What was the writing and recording process like for this record? How has it changed over the course of your career?
It really hasn’t changed. From the beginning, we have never been a ‘jam’ band. Typically a guitarist has always been responsible for writing and recording a demo of a song, then presenting to the rest of the band who might change certain aspects. Then Jason writes the lyrics and vocal melodies after. Occasionally another member writes the vocals too. But this system has been unchanged and sometimes you can listen to a song’s home demo and the final product and find that the drums, bass, guitars all remained the same. They just sound a lot less shitty than what was produced on a 4-track or now Garageband.
What can fans expect from the new material?
I think they will get something similar to our previous records. If they are into that, they will be happy. A lot of people were disappointed by our last record – not really the songs, but by the ‘punk’ sound quality. On our new record, we reverted to the cleaner, bigger production values of our late 90s albums. Green Day were gracious to let us use their spaceage studio where they recorded their last couple of records and their engineer, Chris Dugan, so the sound is great. We’ll have to wait and see how people respond to the songs themselves. I hope they like them.
“Trips” is of course getting the vinyl treatment by Poison City Records in Australia. Are you guys all vinyl heads?
No, not at all, at least not me. Jason and Sean have record players and use them quite often but I wouldn’t say they are collectors. I, personally, try not to collect anything. When I was younger I collected coins, baseball cards and then music. Not to sound like a hippy, but I do think that possessions weigh me down. I’m super happy that Andrew (of Poison City and ADITF) got the rights to do it because that is a great label.
Samiam toured Australia back in 2009 with local boys A Death In The Family. What were the highlights of that tour for you guys?
Travelling with those guys, hanging with Lombi of Blueline Medic (now The Living End), who tour managed us and seeing Bodyjar play in Melbourne. I toured in Japan with Bodyjar in 2002 with my old band Solea, so it was awesome to get to see them again. Also hung a kangaroo and koala was awesome. Actually it was a wallaroo. Hanging at all those beaches were great and seeing the mini Bon Scott statue in Perth was quite nice too.
You’ve since also done America and Europe with them. Are ADITF good friends of yours by now?
Yeah. I met them at my house a year earlier as Dave Snow and Lombi brought them over to borrow my guitar cabinet while there were on tour here in the States with The Gaslight Anthem. So I’d already met them. But yeah I love those guys.
The Bay Area has long been such an iconic place for the punk and hardcore scene. Would you the scene there still as healthy as it once was?
I live in Los Angeles, where there has never been a great scene for punk, or at least since the mid to early 80s. So many bands came from here, but I never experienced a great ‘scene’. Big crowds, yes. But community, no. Maybe in the early 90s with the Jabberjaw and especially the Macambo, but those are long gone. As for the Bay Area, there is still Gilman, but I haven’t set foot in there for years. Earlier in the year I recorded an album and played a show with Billy No Mates which was Duncan from Snuff, Joey from Lagwagon and Chicken from Dead To Me, and at the show there were less than 100 people. Joey and Chicken said that SF was really tough nowadays and you can’t count on big crowds even for something as rad as that. So I don’t know much about what is going on there. I moved down south almost 10 years ago now…
Does the band have any plans to return Down Under?
I keep mentioning ADITF and Blueline Medic, but we are talking with them to possibly to a three band tour in April. But Lombi is in The Living End now so it might be tough to get organised. Our booking agent also mentioned the possibility of doing Soundwave but can’t count on getting something like that, which is full of huge bands. We’d probably go on at early afternoon in front of a sparse crowd waiting for Muse and Blink 182 to go on later haha.
What records tend to frequent the van’s stereo the most when the band is on the road?
iPods and phones … I think we all could agree on a lot what to listen to but headphones usually rule. Last time we were in New York, Sean kept putting on Sleep and a psychedelic band called Black Angels. I wasn’t thrilled about that haha.
What does the rest of 2011 hold for Samiam?
We are touring the States then Europe. Plus playing these bigger punk festivals called The Fest and Riot Fest. Then in October, Jason’s wife is delivering a second child so we will be out of commission until January. Kinda bad timing but priorities are priorities and kids got to be bigger than bands, right?
For sure, thanks for your time man. Any final thoughts or comments?
We have a little internet waystation – in lieu of a really website – called samiamfancy.com where you can go to get tour dates, twitter updates and links to our Facebook and stuff. Don’t ask about the url, Jason bought it before we decided, ha! I guess samiam.com was taken.