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SAM PICKETT: A SPELLBINDING VOICE  INTERVIEW BY NIGEL CARTNER

 
Sam Pickett is an English singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist with a remarkable range of vocals and octaves that leaves you mesmerised. Starting as a solo artist at the back end of 2009, he succeeded in signing an artist development deal with ‘Iconic Artist Management’ in October 2010. His journey has seen him perform in Italy and France as well as recording a live five track demo with 96.7 Eagle Fm and share a stage with Dave McPherson, Samantha Gibb and The Cartel, Arcane Roots, and That Mouth amongst many others. His music and voice have received several accolades from various sources, combining passionate and emotional lyrics with a subtle undertone of darkness and pain to the melodies. Embarking on his first UK tour, Sam is determined to make an impact and the fact that he was on crutches had not deterred that fact, displaying his enthusiasm for music. We caught up with him at ‘The Blue Cat Café’ in Stockport and found out the reaction to the tour so far and his first video, the reasons for the term “sex face” and why he likes us northern folk.

NIGE: So you’re in the middle of your UK tour, how’s it been going?

SAM: Really, really well if I’m honest. I’d got it into my head that it’d be shit. I’m a bit of a geek with music because I read biographies of all my favourite bands and you kind of feel it’s a penance having to go and play in as many empty pubs and bars as possible to get any credibility, so I had it in my head that’d be the case. The feedback has been really good though. I’ve been judging it on whether people have signed the mailing list or whether the venue has asked me to come back and play again, which they have on the first three gigs so far, hopefully I’ll be back in a couple of months. Northerners do seem to be a lot friendlier than down south. It’s scary the difference. You can come up here and talk to people, but down south they can get a bit snobby. Why do you come to a pub if you don’t want to talk to anyone?

NIGE: New single ‘Night Drive’ has just been released earlier this month, what’s the reception been to that?

SAM: Really good again. I recorded that with my management. It’s the first recording that I’ve ever done that I could actually listen back to because before I’ve always thought I could do better. This time we took our time with it and thought about the song in stages. The video we filmed for it went down really well. People respond better to visual and it was good for the tour because when booking gigs people could see and hear what I’ve done. Personally, I wish it was just a case of listening to the music but with some venues you need to cajole them along. In general I’ve had a very good response; I’ve had a few online radios already circulating it. One in particular I thought was a London based station but it was a massive online American radio station called reputationlabel.com, but I couldn’t tell at first because it was all via email. She mailed me saying it was going to be aired on the Tuesday when I was on tour. I listened to it and she said, “Hi this is Joy from Ohio. I’ve been told so far that we’ve got 5.8 million listening worldwide” so I was like “What??!!” They got up to 10 million before they played my song, which was amazing.

NIGE: So was that the first video you’ve done then?

SAM: It was yes. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t too much of me grinning into the camera. I didn’t want one of those poncy looking “I’ve just won Pop Idol. This is my moment. Hello Mum” videos.

NIGE: What was the inspiration for the song?

SAM: I think a lot of my songs tend to be about night time, or something about it. It’s the time when I’m most happy as a musician because that’s when I tend to write. It is quite personal though so I’ll leave it open to interpretation.

NIGE: How have you changed much musically since you started in 2009, with you being on the road now and travelling further afield previously? I know you did a gig in Paris fairly recently so has that changed anything with the way you write?

SAM: That’s a really good question! It hasn’t changed the way I write directly because if you start worrying too much about how people react to songs then you’re never going to write anything that doesn’t sound exactly like the top 10. But it has changed my attitudes to sets in what songs I play. I was in bands for ages and we were quite rigid about our set list, but now I don’t really decide the set list until I play these days. When I played Paris they were a really good and open eared audience, so I felt like I could play some songs that I might not risk at a busy pub on a Friday. But I was a bit more conservative in Italy so I played a few covers because they sat really quietly all through the set. They weren’t rude, they were just so attentive and listened, but I just wanted to get to the end because I thought it was tragic. At the end though, all these blokes ran over and were buying me drinks saying it was really good but they didn’t give it away until the end. So it’s made me more aware of who’s listening to an extent because I don’t want to bore people. I might throw the occasional cover in there to make them perk up a bit more if need be.

NIGE: You mentioned you were in a band earlier. What made you decide to go solo?

SAM: I was in a couple of bands for years just playing lead guitar and on backing vocals before I started singing on my own. The band I was in got management in London but the manager got run over, he was ok but he got a bit funny about living in London and the band started to lose heart after that. I started playing solo from there and I was gigging more because I like to be really busy musically. As I did it more on and more I think the band thought I wasn’t taking it as seriously than being solo and we sort of fell apart. I love singing and playing guitar and I feel a bit more comfortable solo. Also, I’m always desperate to go out and gig and not bothered if I have to sleep on a floor or in a car, but in a band, all the members have to be in that mindset. All you need is that one bass player or drummer, (usually one of those two), who refuse to tour at certain times for whatever reason. Plus by being solo you can’t blame anyone else but yourself.

NIGE: I’ve heard you described as “face of a porn star” and “Sex Face”. Where did that come from and how does that make you feel?

Sam’s girlfriend Donna laughs hysterically in background.

SAM: Haha. That came from a brilliant promotion company in Staines called ‘Crowned Hearts Promotions’. I think because I really get into it and go for notes that maybe I shouldn’t, my face gets a bit screwed up. The promoter picked up on this and that quote appeared on their website. The next time I played I was doing a sound check and there were chants of “Sex Face” and “show us your sex face Sam”, and I was with my mum, so that was uncomfortable. And my mate turned around to Donna in front of my mum and asked “so is that Sam’s sex face then?” I think it’s one of those that you can’t think about or you’ll go mad. I did try and be more composed face wise when I sang but I didn’t sing as well because when you worry too much about what people think of you then you’re not as good or relaxed, so I just go with looking like a twat and getting silly quotes written about me. Haha.

NIGE: I read your short story online and thought it was excellent. I loved the way it changed from what seemed like normal emotional turmoil to something far more intense, darker and unexplainably psychotic? Is writing short stories something you want to go into?

SAM: When I first got signed to my management things started off a bit slow and I just wanted to start recording and planning and felt like I was going out of my mind. It was something I wanted to try so I just started writing for a bit and it did get quite addictive. I think it’s more of a hobby that I really enjoy but I don’t think I have the patience or eloquence for that sort of thing, but I have always liked the idea of being a writer.

NIGE: I’ve also noticed some of your art work? You’re quite an all rounder within creativity, with the singing, writing, playing guitar and writing short stories as well as being an artist. How did you get into so many aspects?

SAM: I think its ADD or something. I just want to be doing something constantly. I’ve got a very low threshold of patience and can get very bored quite easily, which is why I love touring because you’re always in a new city, particular this tour because it’s a new accent and looks very new to me so you can’t really get bored, but I guess it’s to do with that.

NIGE: Finally, what are your hopes for the future, say a result from this tour?

SAM: Well I’d like to be able to play and tour a lot more. I did have a steady job but when the recession hit it was between me and a single mother of two kids who had to go so I thought I can’t get this job and make someone in that situation homeless so I thought bollocks to the company and left. On the back of that was when I wrote the first song for my solo stuff. But I think if you really want to do what you want to do then you have to take a risk, so I’ve done really shit jobs to keep going. If I wanted to record an album then I’d have to work constantly to save the money and not gig. I suppose what I’m saying is that I hope by touring it will pay off in the form of someone giving me the chance to record an album and get it out there. But I don’t mean have it pumping through every radio station every three minutes but enough to say I know I made an album that I’m proud of and was given the chance for people who love music to listen and see what they think.

End of Interview

BLUE CAT CAFE, STOCKPORT, MANCHESTER

‘The Blue Cat Café’ is a small and highly intimate venue in a trendy part of Stockport. With Sam performing first, he had the daunting task of entertaining only a handful of quiet spectators, a task very different from the previous gigs this tour, where he played larger and more upbeat venues. For his style of music, it was difficult for the crowd to be more upbeat, but perhaps they were a little awestruck by this young man’s impressive range of vocals, or even the famous “sex face” itself, which became apparent as he reached the octaves that were impressively expressed. Recent release ‘Night Drive’ was performed beautifully with all the passion expected from a man influenced by raw emotion. I’ve highlighted Sam’s vocal range being rare, but I shouldn’t take away the fact that he is also a very accomplished guitarist, able to capture the mood of his singing with notes that are strummed. He added spots of humour between songs to lighten the mood and having completed a short five song set, he was applauded off with a new found warmness in our hearts. Things can only be on the up for Sam, and he has recently released a promo CD consisting of two songs, ‘Night Drive’ and ‘Spellbound’ which are fantastic chilled tracks. Having now completed his first UK tour and previously performed alongside recognised artists, his reputation can only be enhanced, the way it deserves to be due to his attitude and determination. I hope to see his following grow and perform in larger venues as time goes on. This is certainly a voice to be heard which will leave you a little spellbound.

Set List

Siren
Celestial
Night Drive
Swan
Grace

http://www.sampickettonline.co.uk

Interview by Nigel Cartner 23/07/11
Photos by Matt Johnston - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjohnston1986/sets/72157627151405169/