Interview with Sammy Brue – Teenage Mayhem for the new decade.

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Sammy Brue (photo credit PAMELA LITTKY)

Don’t let the teenage exterior fool you.  Sammy Brue is an old musical soul with the perspective of youth…an explosive combination.

While his first album was about honoring his musical mentors as well as respecting the hallowed ground of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, his latest release is where Sammy starts exploring his own sound and finding his voice. You can find it here.

Sammy quit school to dive into the deep end of the music business, and his first new teachers were Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) and John Paul White (Civil Wars).  His continuing education will take him to Canada, through the USA and into Europe.

Montreal Rocks spoke to Sammy before this sold-out show with Michael Kiwanuka at The Corona.

We spoke about the new songs, how he stays grounded, what makes him stop playing music for a few days and why Sammy hugs the homeless.

Crash Test Kid just released

Sammy:  This tour has been incredible with Kiwanuka, if I’m being completely honest.  

Montreal Rocks:  I’m looking forward to it.  Full disclosure, I only heard out about you a couple of days ago.  Right away, the music hit me, and I said to myself: “I have to talk to this guy.”  

Your music is rooted in an older style, obviously, which surrounded you as a child.  What is your most vivid memory of driving while listening to music back then?

Sammy:  Dude:  DON’T THINK TWICE IT’S ALRIGHT by Bob Dylan while driving through the coast of Oregon with my mom, dad and little sisters.  I was probably around 4 or 5.  That came up in my head immediately!

MR:  Interesting.  It’s obvious that you have those roots deep in your veins.  You have your parents to thank for that.

Sammy:  Definitely.  My dad introduced me to all sorts of people like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.  When he introduced me to Kurt Cobain, he showed me WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT by Lead Belly.  He always loved how the new artists where inspired by the old stuff.  Old Crow Medicine Show was his favorite band because they are covering Woody Guthrie songs.  A lot of weird underground stuff like Dave Rawlings Machine.  

MR:  Cool.  It set you on a path.  He also gave you a guitar when you were 10 years old.  You then went on to busk at the Sundance Film festival when you were in grade 4.  You must have been around 10 at that time.  

Sammy:  I was about 10 or 11, yeah.

MR:  I’m interested in the gap between when he gave you the guitar and when you mustered up the courage to start playing songs on the street.  

Sammy:  For the gap, as soon as I got my guitar, I started writing songs.  I already knew it was going to be my thing.  I wasn’t exposed to jam bands like The Grateful Dead or even Pop music.  A song was just a cool thing to me, so I started to write little ones and learned some covers that I really liked.  I just wanted to get in front of people, which wasn’t really like me at the time.  

My dad said: “Alright, let’s try this.”  So, when we went to our first open mic night, I made him go up first.  

MR:  Practice what you preach, dad! *laughs*  Do you look forward to dropping the teenager label or is that something you embrace?

Sammy:  I’ll embrace it for now.  It’s hard when you tell someone your age and they base your knowledge and wisdom on that number or that label of teenager.  I’m confident in my skills and how I’m growing.  I know I’m growing constantly every day and learning new things.  I guess I’m just riding it out right now.  

MR:  Cool.  It brings us to a song that is going to be released on Friday, February 7th, 2020:  TEENAGE MAHEM.  It’s the SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT of this new decade.  I felt that in the first few seconds, along with goosebumps.        

“TEENAGE MAHEM is the SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT of this new decade.” – Randal Wark

It’s all about that inner frustration of living in a world that doesn’t make sense, which fits so well with the Nirvana influence.  What mayhem are you trying to avoid?

Sammy:  I don’t know if it’s trying to avoid it.  If anything, I’m trying to spark it!  It’s an outburst for me.  I’ve never released anything that heavy before, but I’ve always wanted to.  It was just the perfect moment.  There is just so much going on, even in a little town like Ogden, Utah.  High School taught me a lot, but I stopped going in junior year because I would skip classes to do what I wanted to do, which was to write songs, write in my journal or practice guitar.  It’s an outburst of:  I’m here.  Kids still matter.  Kids need to be listened to a little more…they don’t feel like they are.  

I don’t know man.  I have a lot of bored friends from High School who are now on drugs.  They don’t really know any other way to express themselves.  TEENAGE MAYHEM is about being outcasts in a sense.  

MR:  Drugs numb the experience, but you are bursting out.  You are living through the experience in the song, bypassing the numbness and attacking the world with a determination to make a difference.  

Sammy:  Yeah.  Damn…that was good.  I’ve got to write that down!  *laughs*

MR:  The last band I interviewed was Featurette and Jon mentioned that school is like a prison.  You are forced into this social experiment with people you don’t choose to be with.  You are stuck there for between 10 to 15…depending on good behavior.  

Sammy:  Yeah.  The other thing is…why am I putting in 7 hours a day for something that isn’t really making me happy?  Let me try to put 7 hours a day into something that does.  Since then, I’ve recorded the album Crash Test Kid and wrote these songs like TEENAGE MAHEM.  I’m going on a European tour after this Kiwanuka nationwide tour.  The ball is finally starting to roll.

People even doubted my parents and gave them sh*t for letting me do that.  Now they go back to them and say: “Wow.  I can see why you did that.”

MR:  Very brave.  Just to clear things up…it’s not that you quit school, but you are home schooling.  You are educating yourself in a different way, where you can manage your time better.    

Sammy:  Yeah.  It’s definitely a different kind of education.  Alright, I have to f*#@ up, make the mistake, get through it and try not to do it again.  

MR:  You mentioned CRASH TEST KID.  Again, a great song, very different from TEENAGE MAYHEM.  In that you seem to explore the dangers of being young in 2020.  I called it:  A youth anthem for 2020for a world on the verge of a car crash.

“THE CRASH TEST KID:  A youth anthem of 2020 for a world on the verge of a car crash.” – Randal Wark

Sammy:  Wow.  You are killing it right now! *laughs*

MR:  What are the biggest threats for a young person today, where you have to protect yourself, like that dummy character?

Sammy:  You and I being conscious of the person next to us.  Everyone is worried about politics, how this will be the best candidate…it’s going to fix their problems…blah blah blah.  The only way we will fix this, is to fix ourselves.  The presidential candidate isn’t going to do anything for the small people.  It has to be you and I that changes things on this level where people are being nicer and help each other out.  It’s up to us, and I feel that people don’t realize that.

MR:  Interesting that you mentioned that, because in the video for CRASH TEST KID, the main character shakes the hand of the homeless man, sits for the buskers.  Just the act of being seen or heard is such a beautiful gift.  What do you do to reach out to those that might feel alone in the world?

Sammy:  I have this crazy cool gift that I was given:  Music.  Going back to the busking thing, that was my way of making money, but I’m doing bigger shows now.  The least I can do now is play music without asking for money.  There is a street called 25th street in Ogden.  Sometimes I just take my guitar out there and hang with the homeless people.  It’s like a mini Woodstock.  They are dancing around, jumping…telling me all the things they have been keeping in, for who knows how long.  There are hugs all around.  It’s just a great thing.  

MR:  That’s awesome.  Thank-you so much for doing that.  I wanted to ask you about your creative process.  Do songs come to you all at once, like a gift from the universe, or is it more like a quilt that you have to stitch together till it feels just right?

Sammy:  Sometimes, songs do come in a huge bundle, like six of them in a week.  Where the hell did that come from?  Sometimes, I’m searching for a good line for months.  This new record was co-written with a guy names Iain Archer.  He’s done stuff for Jake Bugg and Snow Patrol.  That was my first time co-writing with him where I felt I really had a connection with him.  The songs for this record came out very fast, in just a couple writing sessions.  They are songs that I really feel connected to.  Yes…this is what I was trying to say…what I’ve been embodying for the past little bit.  Who knows how the next record will work out?  I have a couple of songs that I think can already go on the third record.  

MR:  You seem to be a prolific writer.  

Sammy:  Which is a good and bad thing, you know?

MR:  Then you have to play catch up with all these songs that need to be cemented into time on vinyl or disc.  

Sammy:  Yeah.  I have so many half-written songs laying around.  I pick them up and say: “Damn, why didn’t I finish that?”  

MR:  Do you have people connect with you after a show because you put in words something they have been trying to express, but haven’t found the right words?   

Sammy:  Yes, people have said that to me.  That’s the goal of a writer and musician…to at least help out in some sort of way.  It seems to be working.  

MR:  Like you did with the homeless people.

Sammy:  Yeah.  They weren’t so much listening to the songs but we made a connection.  It’s the same thing, I guess.  I’m writing about things that others aren’t.

MR:  Many child actors tend to go berserk later in life because of all the fame.  All that attention is just not natural, putting people on a pedestal.  You are on this big tour Michael Kiwanuka, then the UK.  What do you do to stay grounded and not let it go to your head?

Sammy:  You can call it prayer or meditation.  Clearing your head and remembering who you are is important.  People warn me about that all the time.  My mom and dad are very helpful with that kind of stuff.  Family is a big part of it.  Sometimes I don’t play music for two or three days because I’m hanging out with the fam.  We are going on adventures and having real conversations.  There is really nothing like it.  

Also, doing things I wouldn’t normally do with some buddies from high school.  I once held up a sign, on the side of the road, that said:  Hug someone today.  The people that drove by really liked it.  So I told my buddies: “Let’s go do something with this.”  We started printing off these little sheets of paper that said it.  With a can of glue, we went all across Ogden and stuck them up.  Then the posters started to get bigger and bigger.  We were climbing on top of buildings to put them up…I would never do that usually.  

Sometimes you don’t feel so good and need some inspiration, so I decided to do something that I’ve never done before.  It will inspire a lot of new songs.  It’s more stuff to write about because songs have to be personal.  I have to know what I’m writing about. 

The first record wasn’t so much like that.  It was me getting my chops, writing these songs where the melodies are good and the words, pretty prolific, like you said, especially for being that young.  Now I’m older and I want people to know exactly what I’m talking about.  

MR:  You also have more experience under your belt.  Travelling the world for a year is like 10 years of regular school.

Sammy:  Yeah.  

MR:  You learn so much more.  On top of that, you are someone who is able to connect with people…strangers…which is a great way to expand your horizons.  There is value in spending an hour with someone who has an opinion completely opposite to yours.  Just the act of finding common ground or finding that there is more to people than just opinions is valuable.  You can be friends with someone who still has completely different thoughts.

Sammy:  I know, a good conversation with someone can go such a long way.  A smile…a hug…whatever it is…

MR:  I’d give you a hug, but we are on the phone.

Sammy:  Dude!  I’ll see you in Montreal.

MR:  For sure.  You will be playing one of my favorite venues, the Corona Theatre.  It’s already sold out!

Watch this to understand the next question.

Here is my last question:  Are you still the man?

Sammy:  In my own mind, I might be. *laughs*

MR:  You will be for all those showing up for this tour.       

Sammy Brue: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

 Interview: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube. His new Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their days jobs is coming soon.

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