It’s not a bad week to be named Sam Chase. Hours after dropping the new music video for “In A Perfect World,” the San Francisco-based folk artist saw his eponymous project The Sam Chase voted Best Band by SF Weekly’s Readers Poll, and all within days of the official record release party for his band’s sophomore LP, The Sam Chase Will Never Die.
A long way from his punk rock days, Sam has found a new home with his backing band, who are affectionately referred to as The Functioning Alcoholics. “Our first studio album, The Sam Chase Will Lead Us To Victory, was after the band formed and we started to create a band identity,” he explains. “I felt like that album was celebrating a new beginning. We were just a bar band that loved the idea of playing our songs for people, getting free drinks for it.” Since the 2012 record, the band as a whole has grown in both size and sound.
“Overall, I would say that this album is the wiser, weathered, and wrinkled older brother to the previous album. A little darker, but a little more real as well.”
Though he is, unsurprisingly, the primary songwriter of The Sam Chase, and most of the band’s songs start with a single riff or lyric that moves him, he respects the group as a collaborative whole. Eight members deep, including Sam himself, the band takes Sam’s skeletal song structures and dresses them in garments they sew together. He describes, “When we meet, the songs take on a shape that is so organic and incredible to participate in. It is like watching your child grow up in front of your eyes over a matter of minutes. Each member of the band has their DNA poured into each song and I think it really shows on this album.”
While the band’s first LP was, as he describes it, a celebration of a new beginning, The Sam Chase Will Never Die takes on ominous tones, specifically surrounding the idea of death. “I like to say, and I say it often,” he admits, “that I will never die.” He concedes that to wish for immortality is silly, but sees facing death just as troublesome.
“For all we know, death is the end of all that is possible for us. That’s sad and frightening. So, I don’t mind making my own ridiculous blanket statements. I like to think that I am totally invincible and acknowledge death as a parallel road to my own. It’s always there, but not for me.” And he has a good point: “I haven’t died yet so I guess I’ve got a pretty good track record… and who knows, I might be wrong, but at least I was optimistic all the way until the end.”
While the fear of death is undoubtedly in the heart of the album, from its subject matter to its title, there is an unrelenting lightness about the way in which Sam approaches his anxieties through his music. Sewn throughout the record are songs of anger and frustration, driven by anti-authoritarian echoes of his punk rock days, and ones concerned with getting older and ultimately dying. But what seems to overwhelm The Sam Chase’s overall vibrations are the ones about having fun and living life regardless of ones uneasiness and uncertainty. He explains, “there are the more lighthearted and passionate drinking songs that were written to remind us that this very moment we are living in can be our greatest memory, and are calls to arms for all of us to make it so.”
Sam pulled from his full spectrum of experiences–his narratives, memories, fears and emotions–to create a record that sums up what matters to him in this moment in life, which is exactly that–the present, enjoying the right here, right now.
The band drips with this attitude during live performances, while Sam directs crowds with his distinctive scruffy and powerful voice. “I’ve always done better in crowds of people,” he explains. “The less people there are in a room, the more shy I become. You have to hold me back from playing to a thousand people, but if you get me in a room with one person, my hands get all clammy and it takes a little more strength for me to pick up the guitar.”
Having witnessed The Sam Chase perform live twice, I almost have a hard time believing Sam could ever be shy, particularly while backed by his jangly, floot-stomping ensemble. He’s got his stage banter down to T, melting the wall between audience and artist while still maintaining his status as commander and chief of any venue he plays. “As a band, we definitely feel the love from everyone,” he adds, “it makes me feel so good to be the ringmaster of all of that wild energy.”
His affinity for crowds became especially apparent when I asked him who he would play with and where he would play if he could put together his own dream show. His answer? “Me and Bruce Springsteen riding Falcor the Lucky Dragon in the middle of a war zone and bringing peace to the land through our music.” He gets points for the Neverending Story reference, and for his follow up: “I guess it really doesn’t matter to be because all I really care about is the crowd in front of me. As long as the sound is good and everyone is having a good time, it is a dream come true.”
Sam and his band will be in their element for their album release party tonight, May 31st, at The Independent, a venue with a killer sound system and the very same one the band tore up for Sam’s 30th birthday party last November. The Indy also happened to win SF Weekly’s Readers Poll award for Best for Best Live Music Venue, so tomorrow night will also be somewhat “Best Of” celebration. Joining The Sam Chase will the blues rock and rollers of Down and Outlaws, the first band Sam mentioned when asked which local acts he’s most excited about, as well as the soul rock outfit Solwave. The Sam Chase recently paired up with the lovely people of San Franpsycho, who have been managing the band’s booking, so stop by the company’s flagship store across the street from The Independent for a small pre-party gathering before the show.
The Sam Chase, Solwave, Down and Outlaws
May 31, 2013
9pm, $12-$14, 21+