Published On: Thu, Jun 15th, 2017

Sam Outlaw – New Artist Showcase

The LA-based outsider rocks out on his second album, Tenderheart, and sets his inner Tom Petty free…

Sam Outlaw

Single-minded Sam Outlaw deliberately chose to live outside the Nashville bubble, in sun-drenched Los Angeles, with his wife and their one-year-old son. The nonconformist Outlaw already has an award-winning, Ry Cooder-produced, debut under his wide-brimmed Stetson hat.

Made when Outlaw still had a day job in advertising, and appropriately called Angeleno, the debut won the Americana UK award for Best International Album. Now, with his rock-influenced follow up, Tenderheart, he is in danger of not only being embraced by Americana music lovers, but also crossing over to the mainstream…

No wonder he has a mile-wide smile.

Q. How did it feel to win the Americana UK Best International Album award?

A. It felt wonderful! The record was up against one of the big breakout successes of the year, the awesome Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, by my friend Margo Price. Sturgill Simpson was also in there with his A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. I was completely honoured and blown away by it all.

Q. What are the pros and cons of living on the west coast and outside Nashville?

A. Being based in LA gives me a little bit of a no-rules kind of approach. I made a joke the other day that I feel like an outsider – being from LA they don’t really want to talk about me in Nashville and being that I play country music they don’t want to talk about me in LA.

So, I think I’ve already kind of got used to the fact that, pending some miracle, I’m not going to be ‘in’ right away! Even if I was the biggest musician in LA, no one gives a shit. I’m not an actor, and it’s still a TV and movie town. But I like the anonymity.

There’s some downsides, like when you’re in Nashville everyone’s aware of what everyone’s doing and talking about it. The buzz about music is more obvious there because it’s a music town. LA is more vacuous, but it’s beautiful too. You’ve got the hills, the mountains, the beaches and nearby you’ve got the deserts – that visual journey that you go on every day, when you hop on those freeways, it affects you.

If I lived in Austin, Texas, these would be different records. Plus, all my friends in Nashville are so depressed the whole time. It is either hot and muggy or freezing and dark. But in LA it’s 72 degrees and sunny all year, so maybe it makes for a sunnier sound?

Q. Who would be your dream musical collaborator?

A. If I could pick someone from any era, it would be Tom Petty – I’m obsessed. That guy is just a true hit-making machine who made music that stands the test of time. It wasn’t cheesy, but it was still pop. I’d also pick Kendrick Lamar who, if I’m not mistaken, is great at curating his team.

He writes, but he also brings in a lot of people to knockout different aspects of the production to make sure those songs come together. His lyrics are incredible, mostly stuff that as a white dude, I couldn’t utter.

But I’m fascinated by his music because it’s so flavourful. He’s got whole songs thay get you hooked on and you’re wondering what he’s going to say next. You really get sucked into the narrative. I’m also jealous of hip-hop and rap artists because they have the swagger that a normal-ass white dude in LA can’t get away with!

Q. Would your LA friends ever embrace country music or ever consider you as cool?

A. I’ve no interest in convincing someone that country music’s cool. I’ve told my people that I don’t really care about being cool in other people’s eyes. I’d love to be more popular, just so I could make more money and take care of my family, but I already think I’m cool! And let’s not worry about that.

Like who gives a shit about being cool anyway?

Q. So, what’s the difference between Angeleno and Tenderheart?

A. I feel that my voice is a little more assured on the new album, more like a singer. I spent the two years between those records touring.

When I made Angeleno I was still in a full-time advertising job, so I spent the last two years singing every night. I have also drawn a little more on my country rock and rock’n’roll influences for Tenderheart.

There’s a lot of diversity in Angeleno, but even more on Tenderheart. I got to let loose my love for rock and Tom Petty! Angeleno was a more acoustic record and we curated the songs knowing we had Ry Cooder producing. I probably would not have taken the pop-rock, title track, of Tenderheart to Ry Cooder.

But there’s still a lot of straight-ahead country stuff on this new record.

Q. These are only your first two albums. How do you make them sound so mature?
A Well, I definitely waited long enough to start doing this. I’ve had great musicians and a great engineer, Martin Pradler, on both records.

A. good engineer can really help weed out the stuff that sucks. Even if you’re one of the greatest film directors of all time, like Martin Scorsese, you still have your go-to editor. Scorsese only works with that one woman, Thelma Schoonmaker.

These are things that a lot of people don’t realise are important to making a record. Luck is also very important.

Sam Outlaw picked up the Americana UK award for Best International Album with his debut Angeleno and now he’s released his follow-up Tenderheart

Q. When you play live, you look like you’re having fun!

A. That’s the problem, I really am having fun. I dance around on stage and when I see videos of it, I think I look stupid – I’m embarrassed! But when I’m up there on stage I have so much adrenaline and get so into it, especially if the crowd is giving it back, I get sucked into it.

I’ve decided that even if I think I look like a dork, people will have more fun if I’m having fun! So I don’t overanalyse it. Now if I was doing something where I truly looked absolutely foolish, I’d hope someone would say, ‘dude, you gotta stop’. But at the end of the day it’s supposed to be fun, right?

Q. Does it feel different, producing this record yourself?

A. With Angeleno I was hyper-critical. But now, because I produced Tenderheart myself, I knew it was going to be extra tough if people didn’t like it. You don’t even have a different producer that you can blame it on! I had to decide that if people don’t like it, I’d be okay with that.

You have to make music that you like and I like the way this record turned out. I’m not saying that I got it perfect every time, but it’s really darned close, but I don’t think that’s the goal – the goal is to make art.

Q. And how do you write the songs?

A. With little exception, I still rely on the bolt of lightning technique. I’ll be taking a shower or walking down the street and something pops in my head. I’ll sing the melody into my phone on the spot.

I remember Paul McCartney saying they didn’t have small recorders back in the day, so they’d have to remember a song – if the song was good enough that you remembered it a week later, it must be good.

I’m not a disciplined songwriter and maybe too much of my focus was on melody before. When I first started writing songs the lyrics were just shit; now I feel I can stand beside them.

Q. Tell us about some of the tracks on Tenderheart?

A. Bougainvillea, I Think, is a true story about an old woman that I knew. It’s meant to tell a story, but I now realise the song really works as a metaphor for the faded beauty of LA itself.

On Tenderheart itself I was going for a kind of Tom Petty vibe, big 12-string strums, with the chorus and the ‘woah-oh-ohs’. Petty does that in such a cool way, even though it’s technically not really a cool thing to do.

On Trouble I was absolutely going for an early Steve Earle vibe. Someone said the other day it’s like Linda Ronstadt’s Poor Pitiful Me, and that’s even hipper! The drum thing is very [John} Mellencamp… Some of those references are hipper than others, but it’s just a straight-ahead rock song.

For Look At You Now we used the demo, the iPhone demo that I recorded! It sounded good, so we took the actual demo, added pedal steel, upright bass and some drum brushes and that’s the song!

Tenderheart is out on Thirty Tigers.



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