Originally from Switzerland, artist Sam Himself came to New York to pursue his music, bringing with him a lush blend of Americana and rock from a wide range of influences. Anchoring it all is his voice, deep and soulful, more than capable of conveying the complex emotions of his debut album Songs in D, which is due out late summer/early fall. His most recent single, “Anywhere You Run,” came out a few weeks ago. We spoke with Sam by phone as he gears up for a big show on Monday, July 11, at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
When did you start to really consider music as more than something just for fun?
Sam Himself: I’ve always considered it something more than that, ever since I first started playing in really terrible high school bands. I think I never didn’t take it seriously. It led to the end of many bands when I was very young because I was the one who was obsessed and wanted to practice all the time. I don’t think there was ever a time when I was not thinking of it that way. That doesn’t mean I was always diligent, and always working as hard as I could.
What are some influences running through your music? You’re European, but I’d say your sound and even your voice have a pretty American feel.
SH: Definitely. I have some baggage from home that has influenced me a lot. I don’t know how useful it would be to say those names since no one has ever heard of them here. There are some American ones that might sound obvious, Leonard Cohen (who’s actually Canadian), Tom Waits, Lightnin’ Hopkins – he’s an incredible guitar player too. And JJ Cale, he never really gets the credit he deserves, but he’s one of the best guitar players of all time.
There’s a Swiss guy, who I would consider one of our greatest singers and poets, Mani Matter. And I have a soft spot for Serge Gainsbourg, though he’s probably not a great role model.
Was it a musical decision to move here to the US/New York?
SH: That was the driving impulse. I think for better or worse, New York is magnetic in that way. The world comes here. You want to do anything, you come here. I definitely fell for that and I still do.
Do you think about genre at all and where your music fits on the spectrum? I’ve seen your work described as Americana or Blues. Does that sound right to you?
SH: I would never be so frivolous as to call myself a blues musician. Americana is appealing to me because it’s a very big bucket. I think Springsteen is Americana, but so is Blind Willie McTell. But I definitely don’t want to be the dude who says, I transcend genre, because that dude usually doesn’t.
Who are you listening to these days that excites you?
SH: Right now I’m having a minor obsession with an Australian guy named Alex Cameron. You should look him up. I just hope he’s not related to David Cameron (laughs). I sound nothing like him, I think, but he listens to a lot of things I like, like Suicide, you know Alan Vega, and Nick Cave. I like the British band, the Fat White Family as well. It’s funny because I’m listening to these bands, they aren’t really people that I hear and say, “Oh, I want to sound like that.” I don’t think I listen to things that sound like me that much, but there are some people I’m always listening to, like Marvin Gaye or Nina Simone.
I’m just constantly listening to music. I’d have to scroll through the dark parts of my internet history to give you a more interesting answer.
Do you have a preference between the streaming services?
SH: I’ve been using Spotify and tidal and their products seem fine to me, though I don’t think they respect a lot of artists enough to really pay them, at least Spotify doesn’t. Apple hasn’t been doing too well. Remember that U2 album people suddenly had in their iTunes even if they didn’t want it?
Any feelings on vinyl vs. digital? Would you be excited to have a vinyl record come out, or any plan to do that?
SH: I’m actually preparing a vinyl release right now. Just to have an object to go with the music. That’s still important to me.
You’ve got a big show coming up on Monday. Is it a different approach playing live versus in the studio?
SH: I think so. There’s a different kind of pedantry or meticulousness involved when you’re playing live. On Monday I’m playing with another singer, Denitia Odigie. Incredible musician. So onstage, I usually don’t have that many musicians behind me that can cover up my fuckups in the studio (laughs) or show me the right way home. I love it when you go into the studio and things happen to your songs. I rarely walk into the studio with a song and then leave with the same song. It’s the opposite when you play live; you practice and you hope that it sounds the same when you perform it. This is also the first album that i’m taking out on the road, so ask me again in a few months!
Any plans for touring in the near future?
SH: Definitely. It depends on when the fucker is actually coming out. I’m going to play on the west coast this summer. I have a few gigs lined up. I’m actually planning on touring the east coast as well this fall and winter.
Debut albums carry so much weight as documents of their time but also as artists’ statements. With your debut due out in the late summer/early fall, what do you think you were trying to accomplish or establish about your own music and style?
SH: That’s a big question. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, ideally. Your first record can be staking your artistic territory while remaining open to the things that happen to you in the process of writing that make the record a document of that time in your life. For me, it was definitely both. I hate to resort to platitudes about the studio, but it was amazing to me how many things fell into place. I went into the studio with the songs and lyrics written, but so much of the instrumentation and arrangements grew out of the process of recording. I didn’t go in with clear ideas of what would be ballads or rock songs for every song, these were the elements that came together that made the record what it is. I take pride in finding a style that is my own, but I couldn’t have done it without the fantastic musicians that I worked with. They’re more experienced and they’ve been around the block, so you listen to their judgment. I don’t think your ego should ever get in the way of a good song. My lyrics are the exception, I never let anyone fuck with those (laughs).
Have you started thinking about the next album or new material?
SH: I have about 7 songs of my next record ready for the studio. That’s what I do, I write constantly. I might throw six of them out, who knows, but I’m definitely waist-deep into my next record. The first record is done and now it’s just a matter of putting it out in the right way.
I heard you’re going to be working on a music video soon out in LA. Is that something you’ve done before? What’s your comfort level with the visual aspect? How involved are you with it?
SH: My comfort level is about as low as my experience level in front of the camera. That sounds really precious, but it’s a little agonizing to me to be in front of a camera unless I’m playing. I’m trying to stay as involved in the music video process as I can to be on screen as little as possible (laughs). I’m really confident in the people I’m working with, though. It should be out in August.
Anything else you want people to know about Sam Himself?
SH: Come see my show. Listen to my stuff. Be kind. Oh, and make sure and put little notes for where I laughed so people know it was a fun interview.