DS Interview: Sergie Loobkoff (Samiam) discusses twenty-plus years in an evolving music industry

Twenty-five years is a long time in band years. Longer than the Ramones existed. More than twice as long as The Clash were around. Hell, it’s a shelf-life about eight times longer than the Sex Pistols (more if you only count the Sid Vicious era). And yet, Samiam‘s principal duo of Sergie Loobkoff (guitar) and Jason Beebout (vocals) has been plugging away since 1988, and will soon round the quarter-centruy mark. The rest of the roster has changed, the sound has matured and the levels of success have waxed and waned, but Samiam remain committed to releasing solid punk rock records. Loobkoff was gracious enough to answer a few questions on the history of the band, the revolving door of drummers, the evolution of the music industry, the current state of the ‘scene,’ and a lot more

Check out the full interview here.

Jay Stone (Dying Scene): First off, congratulations on the release of “Trips,” which has found its way onto a fair amount of “Best of 2011” lists (including my own).  What about the album are you (as a band and as an individual) most proud of?

Sergie Loobkoff (Samiam): I feel like I’m just proud we did it and it came out well. When we did ‘Whatever’s Got You Down” we went through some shit….and it was, for me, a frustrating disappointment. With this new record I feel like we got along and made a decent album. I’m not saying it’s the greatest record or even our best….but not bad for a bunch of halfassed old farts. Maybe I feel like it redeemed us after a lot of people didn’t like that last one.

Many found that “Whatever’s Got You Down” to have been solid in the song writing department but to have been lacking in the production department compared to prior releases. Did that influence the band’s decision to work with Chris Dugan at 880/Jingletown for “Trips”?

One of the reasons it was a so turbulent making that record was because of fundamental differing attitudes of how a samiam record should sound…within the band, I mean. I feel like ‘Clumsy’, ‘You are Freaking Me Out’ and “Astray’, our 90s records, all sounded great…but there was an opposing feeling that they were too professional or slick. So…yeah, when we started Trips, I made it clear that I, at least, wanted it to sound as good as we could possibly make it. I don’t care if people complain that it isn’t ‘punk’ enough or whatever. And I was relieved to find that everyone agreed…everyone, in 2011, were on the same page in regards to that. And I think it has a powerful, clean sound to it…but in no way sounds too slick. I think it sounds like a real band playing rock music.

As far as going with Jingletown, it wasn’t a decision as much as a lucky privilege.  Personally I’ve ‘known’ the guys in Green Day for 20 something years, but Jason, our singer, has more of a longtime friendship with Billy Joe. They are from the same immediate area and about the same age and lived together right before they became stars. That’s why we toured with them, recorded demos at Billie’s basement studios  and stuff. So last year, while surfing, Billie casually offered Jason to let us use the studio with Chris. It wasn’t a situation where Billie thought to himself, “Samiam are awesome, I need to support them” it was a super generous gift to Jason really. We took advantage of it  and are super thankful. Our small budget from Hopeless Records would never permit us to make an album within those kinds of surroundings. We were very, very fortunate.

Samiam has featured different line ups on seven of its eight full-length albums over the last twenty-plus years? To what do you credit the ability to keep plugging ahead in spite of almost constant turnover?

It’s one of the biggest bummers about being in a relatively unpopular band. It feels impossible to keep the interest of good musicians when there isn’t a lot of money nor big crowds. The core of our band has been Jason, Sean and myself since 1998 and then Jason, James and me for the 8 or 9 years before that. We are the ones that wrote almost all the songs and stuck with it….but the several bassists and many drummers we’ve had get other offers or other life-paths and leave. I don’t blame them and I am friends with every single former member of this band.

New drummer Charlie Walker is the sixth such drummer to appear on a Samiam full-length. He brings with him a big, relentless sound on tracks like “September Holiday” and “How Would You Know.” Is it sad to know that he’ll inevitably burst into flames behind the kit, and what’s the over/under on how long it takes him to do so?

Yes it does. well put….and, yeah, it does feel kind of inevitable doesn’t it? ha.

In all seriousness, how have the line up changes over the years had an effect on the band’s song writing and touring processes?

Not much….we pretty much have had those 3 writing teams (James, Sean and I on the music and Jason with vocals) and the process has been very tried and true. For better and worse. We have had some welcome other songwriters along the way too….I mean, on Trips, I think one of the strongest songs musically is Billy’s “Demon”. You know, everyone with a guitar and half a brain can write a song….it’s not magic….what is magical is creating a great song….and that’s what we are always trying to do…with disappointing results, ha.

“Trips” is Samiam’s third release on Hopeless Records. How does the band’s relationship with Hopeless differ from past label experiences (both big and small)? How important is it for a band like Samiam to have the backing of a reputable indie label when releasing new music?

I think it’s similar to what we’ve experienced in the past. Whether we were on Atlantic, Burning Heart, no idea or whatever, at a certain point it’s mostly about priorities with labels. It doesn’t only matter how great their resources are…what also matters is how much effort they put in the band. When we were on Atlantic they paid some attention to Samiam, but were really busy with Stone Temple Pilots, Jewel and Bad Religion and whatever act was making them money at the time. When we were on Burning Heart, why would we be the focus when they had Millencolin, refused and the Hives kicking ass? Now, in 2012, Hopeless has the Used and All Time Low….so we get whatever attention they can give when they aren’t doing something that they will see an immediate return on. It makes complete sense and I respect it. With that said, I think we are very lucky to have them at all and willing to do what they do for us. I think we, in a realistic way, get exactly the amount of attention we deserve. Everyone that works at the label is super cool and that goes along way with me. Especially because I don’t expect to make a single dollar from recorded music.

Samiam lyrics have always been intensely personal and deal a lot with fractured relationships. Any interesting stories of fans telling you how much your songs mean to them?

Over the years we got a lot of tragic letters…now emails….about how some of our songs meant a lot to them. It’s a little disconcerting. A lot of our lyrics are sad or maybe a little darkish, so I guess it makes sense. But we aren’t really morose people. Especially Jason, who writes most of these lyrics….he has this habit and laughing at everything. It is really pretty nauseating how happy he is….generally speaking.

I remember I got a letter from a guy who’s girlfriend died in a car accident and the police gave him the cassette (this was around 1994) that was playing in her car…and it was ‘sky flying by’, one of our songs. This guy was totally devastated and wrote this long essay about how he and his girl loved samiam and the song and …. ouch, it was not the kind of heartwarming story you hope for when you are searching for feedback on your obscure band’s music.

Bands like Gunner’s Daughter and Nightlights are on a full-length Samiam tribute album that Death to False Hope records put out earlier this year. If you’ve heard it, what do you think? Is it weird to be at a point in your career that you’ve got a tribute album?

There was another tribute released at the same time last year from Brazil….that was weird, how these people thought it was a good idea to do tributes simultaneously from far off lands. I really like seeing cover videos on youtube or whatever….kinda warms my heart. You know, taking the time to learn someone’s song is very flattering. The Donots and A Death in the Family, two bands that are friends did great jobs at doing Samiam….I was super happy with that.

It has been more than twenty years since you started doing the Samiam “thing.” Now that you are firmly entrenched in modern punk’s “old guard,” what are your thoughts on the punk “scene” now compared to when you were starting two decades ago?

I don’t really pay attention that much….occasionally I read about a new band and check them out….like I read, “Joyce Manor is the new Jawbreaker” and, of course I want to check out what all these kids are up to. But in general I don’t see a scene really in the way there was before platinum selling punk bands, the warped tour, tour buses, the internet, sponsorships, etc… I know it does exist, but it seems less prevalent.

I feel like not a lot of people are concerned with supporting local bands and that defensive attitude that worries about who ‘sold out’ or anything. Seems like people go to shows with headliners in real clubs and the real dyi shows and bands have a lot harder time that in my experiences when maximum rock n roll, flipside, cometbus,  and gilman street were going strong. Then again, I probably just don’t know about how the current gilman street is doing because I’m just an old fart.

Speaking of “Best of 2011” album lists, what are some of your favorite albums from last year?

I don’t really pick up new records that much. Last year, in punk, I thought that the Dead To Me and Nothington records were great. This year you have the Jealous Sound and new Hot Water record will probably be great. But I usually fall back to the old music I’ve loved for years and neglect looking for new bands…I don’t bother when there is so much already out there. Nothing is going to effect me like Mush from Leatherface or early Bad Brains or the blue Adolescents record….my grumpy brain is already wired to think that. Poor me, I’m missing out on life, ha.

What can we expect from Samiam and its members in 2012? Any tours or side projects lined up?

We have a live 10″ that we did for Side One Dummy….Bill Stevenson mixed it at the Blasting Room…I just heard it and it sounds really neat. Um, then we will be doing the west coast and Europe and hopefully back to South America. I’d love to get back to Australia and Japan, but it gets harder and harder when people care less and less about your band, ha.

Sean has a band in Brooklyn called Ice Balloons….which couldn’t be more different than samiam. I did a record with Duncan of Snuff, Joey of Lagwagon and Chicken from Dead To Me…all snuff-like Duncan songs. Hopefully it will be mixed this year, but Duncan has sort of been busy. Now I am doing a little project with my buddy Mike Magnarelli and George from Hot Water, but they live in Florida, so it’s slow going. Once the Hot Water record comes out, he’ll probably be too busy so it will be slower going.

Any famous last words for Dying Scene listeners?

Nothing famous but thanks for paying attention.

share on: Comment

Leave a Comment: