Sam Amidon’s latest album is set for release on 14th May, but perhaps what’s more important are all the reasons why you need to be getting your hands on it. And after speaking to the man himself, I now have all the answers…
It was obvious from the outset that he is a genuine one off and a true eccentric. But it doesn’t necessarily hit you straight away when speaking to someone profoundly interesting. Like most influential things in life, it is the quiet moments, when a sun is setting or your heart is breaking, or you leave your Nando’s voucher on a bus that you find the time to reflect on those few captivating people and life experiences.
And there is an abundance of time for reflection while listening to The Bright Sunny South, as it is comparable to a setting sun with its all-encompassing beauty (I grow lyrical) – sun-drenched with heart-warming melodies.
It was while I was listening to his music and after speaking to him that I realised what an interesting person he is. So if you have a taste for melancholy, experimental folk, this will be the album to help you pass into your dreams and escape from the everyday.
I’m speaking to Amidon, who is fresh-faced, focused but with a distant stare. He explains his influence, his passion for Folk and his own unique sound.
“I do love a lot of Folk music, but the folk music I love is not what a lot of people would think of in terms of someone singing and strumming their guitar. For me growing up I was a lot more interested in the older, weirder traditions before acoustic guitar got in there. It was more like Irish fiddle tunes and American Appalachian Mountain fiddle tunes, and Banjo, Acapella, old ballads, 17-verse ballads sung by one person on a mountain. It’s a whole world of music out there; it’s not really one thing – it’s like a million strange beautiful things.”
He goes on to explain that “the albums that I make are not Folk music, in the sense that I take the songs as a source material but then just make albums or whatever music I want to make, so the sounds of my records are not really Folk at all. For me the albums I make are just music but using Folk as a source.”
I press the idea of him potentially not wanting to pigeonhole himself: “Well, people can call things whatever they want and if that’s useful, that’s fine by me; I can’t control that.” Like many artists Amidon noted various influences, but he has a particular interest in jazz. Beyond that he pointed out that “what I love is just playing music with other people, so my albums often have a lot to do with whoever I’m working with and what they bring to it. What I’m often doing is just singing and playing banjo, fiddle and guitar which is very folkie, but I may be doing that with people playing all kinds of weird shit in one way or another, so that all brings in another element.”
I made the mistake of asking what brought him to London, but then, of course, he has lived in England for three years with his family, and recorded The Bright Sunny South in North London with the producer and engineer Jerry Boys. But then it wasn’t so stupid, I tell myself, as he was speaking to me with his rich American accent… I ask whether he feels his sound has progressed for the fourth album. “I don’t worry too much about progressing; it’s more like each time you make an album you just want to be doing whatever is compelling to you at that moment. So you can progress and regress. In a certain sense this album is a progression in that I feel like I’m getting a little bit deeper into these songs, and presenting them in a rarer way. But in another way it’s a regression, because it’s a much simpler album in terms of the elements. You know, the last couple of albums had lots of strings and super-ornate beautiful production. And this one pares down to a much more core effect.”
I press as to what his fans may expect to hear: “Lonesome ballads and an interior wandering journey” was the ultimate summary.
And how has touring been going after five years on and off the road, I ask. “I love it; I love performing,” he explains but goes on to describe the hardships and the weird surreal experience of playing show after show. “You know, if you do it too much it becomes more like being in a nursing home, which is addictive. You know, nursing homes are addictive and so is being on tour, I guess, because everything is provided for you; you don’t have to make any decisions about your life while you’re on tour; everything is handed to you.”
His touring life then is summed up by attractive nursing homes. “It’s addictive but it’s also very compelling, because you move through all these universes and you see these audiences every night and they’re staring back at you. Maybe they’re texting their friends and you get to watch them do that whilst you sing.”
There is a sense of excitement building for the album’s tour; the anticipation is clearly taking effect this close to the beginning of the next chapter for Amidon. “I haven’t done any touring of my own for a little while now, just because I’ve been waiting for this record. So I’m jonesin’; I’m ready to go. I’m doing London Bush Hall on 23rd May, and playing in New York before that, and travelling around Europe and America.”
A song starts playing, it’s Radiohead, Amidon exclaims, “This is a great band!” And then I try to push him to tell me something he dislikes about the current music industry and what sets him apart but it’s hard to get him to express a dislike for anyone without him feeling guilty. Instead he tells me he can count in binary code on his hand - and I really don’t know what’s going on (I think my time is up).
Jimi Hendrix is brought up as if he was still alive, “I’ve been trying to get Jimi Hendrix to join the group but he’s completely not returning any of my emails or texts for like the last three months. Pisses me off… I think he might just be an asshole”.
Thanks, lovely to speak to you…