INTERVIEW: Catching Up With Electronic Avant-Garde Maverick Sam Brown

Sam Brown is a North Carolina based composer, musician and producer who has held a place in United Cassette’s collective heart for some time now. Having championed his earlier releases on the site, such as 2015’s beautiful Yellow Cake, we were ecstatic when he dropped “Wheel Of Fortune”, his latest outing which was released earlier this year. Brown’s versatile command of his musicality knows no bounds, bouncing from genre to genre, which retaining a wholeness to the record which feels cohesive in an incredibly forward thinking manner.

Without any further ado, here’s what we learned from sitting down with the man himself to chat sushi, recording and modern America.

UC: Hey Sam! Thanks for taking the time to chat to us here at United Cassettes. You’ve just released your new album “Wheel Of Fortune”, the follow up to last year’s excellent “Yellow Cake”. What was the process of recording this album like?

Sam Brown: It’s like making sushi. There are a bunch of different parts that you have to take time to put together carefully. It involved recording analog and digital synths and other instruments and coming up with chord progressions and lyrics and the most wild and interesting sounds and timbres I could discover with the limited tools I had available. I wanted to see how I could replicate the sounds that occur in the real world with electronic music; there’s a lot of trains and buses and planes and fireworks and whatnot out there. I also wanted to make music that is danceable, that you could groove to, but did not want to get stuck in the whole EDM 128 BPM nonsense going on right now. The writing process was tongue-in-cheek for some of the material and meant to poke fun of popular music in America. I was listening to Thriller a lot, watching Soul Train, and meditating. I recorded a good portion of the music in ambisound.

I was homeless for periods of time working on this, making beats and music in libraries, in nature, in parks and playgrounds, on people’s couches and floors. I recorded material in Delhi and North Carolina and New York and on trains in between those places. No studio or samples were used for any of it save for one clip; I recorded everything myself.

UC: This new record sees you take a more electronic route compared to your last release. What inspired this?

SB: I was in India and had no instruments with me at the time so I started making music with only my laptop. It opened up a new door for creativity – rather than thinking harmonically and melodically as I had been trained to do, I thought more in terms of sound and timbre and how to synthesize novel sounds. The alphabetic keys on my computer became my new black and white keyboard. I later added traditional acoustic and electric instruments and real analog synths when I was back in the States to tie it all together.

UC: We’d love to hear about some of the themes and thoughts behind “Wheel Of Fortune”.

SB: It deals with the conception of fate and how one is responsible for their own life course. It revolves around the people in my life in the present and the past and the reflections of morality in our age. I’ve been involved with some bad people. And some good ones. And that’s life, you have to deal with both. We’re all criminals really.

It also deals with the plight of poverty and the struggle of the artist in the modern world.

A big part of the music on this album is synesthetic with the space, harmonies, timbres, and motion, hence the album art – I try to make music in terms of color. In this case, I mostly worked with the absence of color, black, tinged with other colors.

UC: Can you tell us a bit about your live shows?

SB: Sometimes this crazy person takes off his shirt and tries to kill me while blasting Donald Trump samples from his laptop. Other times it’s more tasteful, with everybody keeping their clothes on of course. I play jazz piano as well.

UC: You’re based in North Carolina at the moment, what’s the local scene like?

SB: There is not much of a scene. I have met with many musicians trying to build one here but it feels too divisive. The real musicians become entrapped in the underground because the buzz is centered around hipsters sound like they broke up with their girlfriend 5 times in 24 hours.

UC: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! Do you have any parting words?

SB: I’m not dead.

Wheel Of Fortune is out now on Little L Records and Illuminated Paths, on cassette and CD, which you can listen to here.

Written by:

Label owner / vintage guitar aficionado / often found playing Earthbound.