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A Short Conversation with Sam Robbins

4 June 2022

As always, can we start with some background. Can you tell me a little about how you found music and where it has taken you to get to where you are today, both physically and in more personal terms?

Sam: I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire that had a great music scene. It still does! I’m from Portsmouth, NH, which is a great little town where I was able to explore a lot of different ways of making a living in music. I’m really grateful to have been supported by my family and town from a young age. I was in a punk band playing drums, and when I was 16 I discovered Bob Dylan’s autobiography… I read it and was blown away and inspired. I had played guitar and sang a little bit, but I decided after reading that book that maybe I could write songs too. It all started there! I took a shot at auditioning at Berklee, and amazingly, it worked! I went to college there for songwriting (an actual major at an actual college) and learned a lot. I love New England and I loved living there for my whole life, but I wanted to really change it up and just go somewhere completely new, which landed me in Nashville!

Reviews tend to mention evocations of 70’s songwriters, Laurel Canyon and James Taylor, do you find that a fair shorthand description for people or does it get in the way at all?

Sam: I love those references! I became pretty obsessed with James Taylor after I read that Bob Dylan autobiography. He’s been a huge influence on me, especially with his musicianship. I remember I would take the time to try to learn the way he played his most iconic songs note-for-note because they’re so ridiculously intricate and amazing. There’s this kind of sparkle with his music… I love nostalgia in music, and he creates it so well. Love him! My music does definitely push in other directions rather than directly influenced by James Taylor and 70s singer-songwriters, with a little more of a modern, upbeat vibe, but that thread is always there.

Having just listened to the single “Reverence”, I was pleased by its honest take on appreciating the simple things in life rather than the chasing of fame and fortune, does this represent a flash of inspiration or does it represent your personal philosophy?

Sam: “Reverence” definitely represents what I try to have as my personal philosophy! It’s a taste of the current through the album. I picked songs that I felt represented me the best, and would help the listener get to know me. I wanted conversational, direct lyrics that just get to the heart of what I think really matters in music – connection and community! It doesn’t matter how good-looking you are or how high you can sing, etc… I want the real connection. I think “Reverence” is a good way to kick that off!

Your story weaves through two iconic locations, Berklee College of Music and Nashville, what are the most important lessons that each place has taught you?

Sam: Berklee and Nashville are both incredible places. I honestly think they’ve both taught me the same main thing… just do you. Listen to your instincts. Berklee was an amazing place to learn the building blocks of music and music theory, and to meet some great people. Nashville has been a great place to see the different sides of the music industry in real life. And I think they’ve both led me to the same philosophy… I think it’s easy to get trapped thinking that you have to wait, that someday someone will descend from above to discover you and you’ll “make it”, especially in pop music. But there are other ways to do it, that are harder to find at both Berklee and Nashville. I want to find my own path, and create a community of people around my music. Both places have taught me so much about what I want to do and what I definitely don’t want to do.

Which comes first, the tune or the words?

Sam: For me, I’d say a groove comes first. I was a drummer starting out, and everything to me starts with a groove. It’s the most important piece of the puzzle to me. If people don’t know what the rhythm is, it’s hard to grab onto anything else. A lot of times the initial idea comes all at once though, because every piece is so interconnected.

You host your own songwriting workshops, obviously the students get a lot out of such classes but what has running such events taught you?

Sam: I’ve hosted a few little teaching workshops and things, and I absolutely love it. I studied the great singer-songwriters from the past and I love seeing how it informs different generations. Every singer-songwriter has a slightly different definition of that term, and they all have different influences. It taught me that the thread from Ed Sheeran to Bob Dylan is long, but there is still a tie between the singer-songwriters that are on top of the charts to the folk singers of the 60s. I see it when I’m talking to younger people. And that doesn’t even get into the modern folk singers, who have a billion different threads leading from them!

And what can we expect from the latest album?

Sam: I hope that listeners can really get to know me with this album. My first album was really a test… could I do an album? Would people like it? How do I release it? It was recorded in my living room with my roommate, with songs that I had written over many years. With Bigger Than in Between, I wanted a manifesto. These songs are such a part of me. Like I wrote a few questions back, the album is really my diary, my thoughts on the past few years, written with my authentic voice. I tried to take down the walls with this. I don’t want to be a pop star – I want to write songs that nobody else could sing.

And where next for Sam Robbins, both in musical terms and as an individual too?

Sam: I’m looking forward to playing a ton of shows! I love traveling and meeting people through music. I have a ton of tour dates lined up for the next year (see ‘em at https://samrobbinsmusic.com/tour), and I’m so glad I’ll have this album with me. As an individual, I’m looking forward to trying to discover more of Nashville and get into that part of my life too. And spend time with my awesome girlfriend Halley (who is featured on the first track!). I’m looking forward to everything!

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, and good luck with everything in the future