Sam Rae has just released her new album Bring Us to New Islands. The Collection is a work of impressive and yet unassuming sounds, layered upon more impressive and yet unassuming sounds. Eventually, layer upon layer of looped cello, soft improvisations, glitch-work, and heartfelt vocals build a tapestry of tones which explore themes that Rae articulates well. Sexuality, gender roles, nature, political shifts and personal insights are woven together in one cohesive whole that make for a compelling listen.
ARTISTdirect caught up with Sam, to bring an exclusive first listen of the new album – and for a quick insight into the process behind the the release. Check out our chat – then listen to the tunes!
How do you introduce yourself?
My name is Sam Rae. Although sometimes I like to go by Cookie Sugarbottom when I do burlesque and/or Papi Zúcar when I turn into a drag king for a night. I’m an improvisational cellist in an uncertain disguise as a folk artist with character and soul. I have recently discovered that I can express just as much as I can on the cello if not more with my voice and lyrics. Thus I’m in the midst of a musical identity crisis asmy ‘genre’ (I hate that word) takes new shapes and forms. Really, just a simple shapeshifter. (this paragraph took me way too long to edit)
Where are you now?
I am at Iconik Cafe in Santa Fe, NM on the first part of my album release tour with Sharkk Heartt aka Lara Ruggles. We are heading to Albuquerque, NM to play for some cute nerdy folks in a library today and tomorrow in a green screen studio!
Please name your fellow band members and their roles… oh, and who has the best dance moves?
Sam Rae. Currently my band consists only of me, my cello, my guitar, voice and loop pedal if I can’t count material objects as band members. My tour parnter Sharkk Heartt has been helping me add some extra exhilaration as we find ways to keep things ever-changing and interesting on the road.
Also, both Lara and I are really good at, or better stated we just really love, flailing. She prefers the interpretive approach to dance where as I often move as though I was a drag king dressed up as Sam Rae. Although it changes with the scenery of course.
Tell us about your new project: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
My new album was recorded at Wind Over the Earth in Longmont, CO. I co-produced it with my good friend Mark Venezia aka Mr. Glitterz. He did an incredible job engineering it with the help of Jesse Zimmerman and Jim Wilson (who also worked his mastering magic on the album).
Bring Us to New Islands is a shadowy potion of my improvisational past in a secret club with new soulful folk arrangements. In retrospect I realize it was a way for my life shadows to mingle with the pleasantness of sound, which are two parts of the bigger picture that I constantly find curious, dark + light, island + wave, life + sound. Specifically, one third of the songs are about my current partner and I taking a break for 5 months, another third are improvised in the studio and the other lingerers touch on the nostalgia of my childhood and how I find myself holding on for dear life to a wise and light-hearted youth while tumbling around in this thing that’s called ‘adult.’
The album was a really big change for me considering my first album was this weird, ethereal improvised cello performance. People either liked listening to it on a long road trip or they would say ‘I just don’t get it.’
Compared to the old album this new one has some more concepts that are within reach for the average listener. And is there candy? Well if by ‘candy’ you mean something like recording an analog cello loop and then physically flipping it over with 4 hands and re-recording the reverse version than yes, there is some candy! There’s also a tasteful variety of keyboards and strange instruments, some of which I hadn’t even heard of (thus I can’t claim that hipster genius-ness, that would be Mark’s doing) like the Prophet 5, Wurlitzer, Mini Moog, pump organ and the Omnichord…not to mention a spinning quarter on a drum to start off the song ‘Dragons.’
How do you describe your music to new friends?
It changes from person to person however right now I would describe my music as a looped cello landscape with some witchy vocals in a dance with my not so shreddy guitar skills (I am very aware that my expectations of shredding and rolling around on the ground like Jimi Hendrix while screaming with an electric guitar surrendering to my embrace is rather far off in the distance).
Other than your music, what should your hometown be known for?
Other than corn and pigs, Iowa should be known for really nice people that will throw down for one another. Potlucks are priorities as well as late night foosball tournaments in small snowy towns.
Please look around you right now and describe the first item/person you see that’s significant to you.
Lara Ruggles. I met her about 6 years ago. She is sitting across from me sharing this big wooden table. We both have our mac’s out, with empty coffee cups, and shiny silver receptacles for water. We are settling in after our cinnamon toast crunch breakfast and of course a nice morning coffee bathroom break (I just set off an alarm in the building after trying to enter through a door that was not the bathroom…I just really had to go and couldn’t deal with the number of indiscreet doors).
She’s really a bulldog in the music industry and I have always appreciated that about her. Lara doesn’t give a shit about all of those negative weird things people say about musicians and just pursues her passion…she has been ever since I met her. We just realized a few nights ago that when we improvise together really magical things happen. Her structure + my improvy comfort zone = really great s***.
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music please tell us about why you find it so inspirational…
She doesn’t know it but my mom really made sure it was in my blood. There was never a silent moment in the house growing up, even if I was mad at her for making my mulch the whole yard or making me practice the cello for 15 minutes. She has an epic group of friends that she would host parties for. They would all end up dancing in the living room to Neil Young, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Fleetwood Mac and every now and again some cheesy Barry Manilow or even Outkast (my mom loves that song ‘Hey Ya!’).
I can’t really think of much else I enjoy more than dancing in a tiny living room in Iowa with a bunch of 60+ year olds. Geesh I love her…and them. The inspiration is in the simple, laughable moments that were serenaded with constant melodies, all of which still hold so much nostalgia for me.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
1. It’s a long game. 2. Don’t get too comfortable with your art. 3. Play from real feelings even if they are not what you think someone wants to hear.
Who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
Johann Sebastian Bach or Martin Luther King
What song best sums up your life right now?
Well that’s a tough one. Since I’m out on the road I’d say one of my favorites…‘From Now On’ by Mandolin Orange. We always want we don’t have right? …<shout out> love you babe.
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
My favorite reaction to my music is when listeners tell me they were temporarily transported to another dimension.
Where do you hope to be in a year?
In one year from now I hope to be in a band with a drummer, instrumentalist/vocalist and maybe even a trumpet player. I hope that every time we rehearse or perform we do something risky and exhilarating and remember that we can scream too, not just play beautiful folk songs.
I also hope to be financially stable and even though I currently have about negative $*** in my name after album expenses I’d like to be working towards a down payment on an awesome old house with character.
What’s the next step towards that dream?
My next step towards this dream is to really work on what I want to represent in my music throughout this tour. I want to keep pushing myself to move beyond a song or even an entire set if it doesn’t feel like I’m tapping into my expressive, crazy, creative mind. I hope to keep pushing, the push is what gives me that musical endorphin high. Following the tour I will find a place to settle in, find some band mates and pursue my bigger ears.
For more information visit the Sam Rae hub on ARTISTdirect