I read a lot of interviews with you (spanning a decade or two,) and it seems like a lot of people always ask you the same questions…
We’ll start off by saying that I reference “The 90’s” a lot, cause that’s when I did Samiam all the time. So in “The 90’s” (laughs) I would do 100 interviews a year. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I did a lot. You go on tour 6 months a year and you an interview every other day, or even when a record comes out you can do up to 8 a day. When we were on the major label and had a publicist, they would just dig up someone to interview us and they wouldn’t give two shits about us. Sometimes you can see a huge difference in the questions.
I’ll be doing interviews a lot cause we have a new album coming out. I know I don’t like to talk about myself, but it’s fun to talk about what you’re doing and what you’re excited about. In life, I don’t like to talk about myself. If I’m out and someone says, “Oh Sergie’s in a band,” this hot flash goes through my spine because a bunch of people don’t know about us, or don’t care…and some end up asking dumb questions. “Oh you went to Europe. How did you pay for that?” A lot of people don’t realize it’s condescending. When someone asks a questions like that I feel like they’re thinking, “I’ve never heard of you so you guys must not be in a band that makes any money. You must be a band that pays to play in Europe.” The other one is when people ask you the name of your band and when you say it, it’s like they can’t wait to say “Never heard of it!” I’m getting off topic but basically those are the general reasons I don’t like to talk about myself.
I remember being on tour and having the tour manager say, “Okay we need two of you guys to do an interview” and everyone would just be hiding. It can get a painful.
How do you handle compliments when people do know who you are?
I think that it’s a weird dynamic with people in bands because they want people to like their music and band, but the second anyone does it’s just a weird thing where they might be a “Punisher.” They’re just going to punish you about a green vinyl that came out in 1989, or “What was Jesse Michaels like from Operation Ivy?” I’m usually thinking about how I’d love to sit down and have a beer. It’s weird because you want people to like your band, but the second it happens you might feel like you’re trapped, but you’re really taking it for granted. I’m lucky, I’m just a guitar player but the singer’s really get it. Same with like movie stars. I mean you see them signing autographs without even looking, and they’re made out to be assholes. I experience a .00000001 percentage of that and it’s weird. Maybe people with huge ego’s suck it up, but someone like me, I just think “This is kinda silly. I’m just a dork. What do these people wanna talk to me for. Turn to the person next to you and talk to them…they seem pretty cool.”
How did you meet the guys from Samiam?
Marty and Jason were in a band called Isocracy who played The Gilman a lot. It was where Green Day and Operation Ivy kinda ‘got their start.’ Isocracy was one of the first popular bands, and to me they were huge. I knew them through little bands I was in. We’d play with them when I was in Soup, Sweet Baby Jesus, and Bugger All with Ray Cooper. I remember I wasn’t a huge fan of the music but I knew that Jason had a great voice. So Isocracy broke up and I asked him if he wanted to start a band with me and he said ‘okay.’ I actually had someone else in mind for bass, but we went with Marty. It was kind of a package deal to get Jason involved. I feel like I’m talking shit about Marty, but I’m really not. Originally Jason wanted to play guitar too, but I had someone else in mind. We met the drummer who was just another guy who played in a band. We weren’t in any type of scene where bands put ads in the paper, everyone knew everyone from going to shows. When bands got together it was groups of friends that knew each other from Gilman.
So everyone just switched members till they found the ‘right’ combination?
To a certain extent, yes. It’s a lot different then how I see it now in LA. You can almost smell it when a band gets ‘put togther.’
What did your bands sound like back then?
Soup and Bugger All wanted to sound like The Descendents. It’s one of the reasons Ray joined the band. He could do it real well. Sweet Baby Jesus kinda sounded like ‘early Beatles meets The Ramones.’ It was trashy and punk rock. The two singers were all about poppy, hooky melodies.
So when did Samiam get together?
We started playing together in ’88, but played our first show in ’89.
You can find info about Samiam being on a major and all that stuff anywhere, tell me about the jump of you joining Knapsack?
I joined up with Knapsack for about three years (1997 – 1999.) Initially it was my brother who really liked Knapsack. I didn’t really get it. He’d drag me to shows and I realized they were a really good band that wrote really good songs. They had started playing as a three-piece when they lost their guitarist. I’m not trying to sound like a dick, but without a second guitarist it just didn’t sound as good. They lived like an hour away so I went up to them and said “If you want, I’ll play with you guys.” I don’t think they were huge Samiam fans at the time, but maybe when they were younger. I didn’t audition or anything, I just learned the songs and went to practice. I joined right when there second record was recorded but not out. So I toured on Day Three Of My New Life, and was involved in the writing process of This Conversation Is Ending Right Now.
Was there ever a conflict as far as tours or shows between Samiam and Knapsack?
There really wasn’t a conflict. By the time I joined Knapsack they didn’t want to tour that much. They did their share of scum sucking tours, like playing for 15 people every night for two months, and when I got in there they were being much more selective. Same with The Jealous Sound. They’re huge gaps in their tours so it never really conflicted with what Samiam was doing. I do remember You’re Freaking Me Out and This Conversation… coming out around the same time. Knapsack did one big tour with At The Drive In, but other than that it was all little tours.
What happened with Samiam at that time?
She Found You got a ton of radio play and it wasn’t necessarily because the song was that great or we were that great. It was just we had a big time manager that did a lot of radio promotion. We (obviously) didn’t become big stars or make a lot of money, but we did pretty well for a while. That was the beginning of a rocky period for us. It was the transition from the major back to an indie label. It wasn’t a huge deal, it was just a different dynamic. The perception to people on the outside, and to some on the inside, was that it was the start of our decline. Because we got radio play we did a lot of questionable things. That’s a code word for ‘lame.’ Like we opened up for Creed on their first tour. We had no idea who they were and it was their first tour, but we really should have investigated a little bit more before agreeing to it. If we had listened to them or read some of the lyrics we might not have done it. We also did a lot of radio shows, with bands like The Black Crows, Cold Chamber, Semisonic, Fuel, Incubus. We did a tour of just that. You just played for 15 minutes. It was kinda cool because at one point in Florida we played to 35,000 people. The audience was so insincere and they liked anything they were fed. It wasn’t really bad, but we kept doing it and it alienated the 1999 version of the people who like us now.
Bands like Jawbreaker, Samiam, or Hot Water Music all enjoy an ‘audience’ and a fanbase of people who have an unhealthy relationship with music. Nerdy guys (and girls) that think way to much about music. We’re that kind of band. A band like Our Lady Peace has sold way more records than we ever did, but their fans really don’t give a fuck. They don’t think about it. So when I say ‘unhealthy,’ it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m one of ’em. It’s people like that are way more concerned with getting tickets to the Hot Water Music show next week, than maybe getting flowers for their girlfriend.
Did you guys catch a lot of slack for doing some of that stuff, or finding yourself having to justify it?
Not really. We just kinda found that we slid in popularity and people just wrote us off. To be honest, we were never really in a ‘punk scene,’ so it wasn’t a big deal when we signed to a major. But, for example, when Jawbreaker did it people fucking hated them. I don’t give a fuck how many people say they loved Dear, You when it came out as much as they do now. When that record first came out, people were like, “What the fuck is he doing singing with a fake English accent. And what’s up with this ‘Green Day’ production on it.” It wasn’t until at least three years later that everyone discovered what a great, amazing record. The reason is because they were shocked at what they perceived Jawbreaker was. No one ever expected us to be a certain way. People weren’t giving us shit, but popularity started weening. When Astray came out we’d play places where normally 600 people would come out and we’d only see 150. It was a tangible slide and it took a long time for people to forget about it.
Don’t you guys still think you were in a ‘punk rock scene’?
Yes and no. We don’t have songs called ‘Punk Rock Girl,’ sign to a major and go on tour with Creed. We did basement shows when we were on a major label. For me, it’s not “I should go play this basement show to get punker points,” I played a show like that because I like to have fun. See the difference? I don’t want to seem like sour grapes, but you gotta be real calculated when people are going to look at why you did this and why you did that. With Samiam we just plugged along. Somewhat cluelessly but we just did it without thinking. Whether it’s being on a major label and playing a basement, or opening for Creed. We have the same lack of consideration for how we’re going to be perceived.
Your Samiam’s, Sense Field’s, Shades Apart’s…When I was a kid (and even now) you guys were a rock band with punk rock roots.
Yeah. That’s how I feel. I was actually just reading some stuff about us and I find it interesting to hear what people have to say. Like if PunkNews announces we have a record coming out you see some people talking about how much they like us and then some kids will write “Those guys are fags. They suck. The singers fat and blah blah blah.” I was reading something on The Onion A/V club where this article talks about how they’re having an online thread ‘fight.’ They were just going back and forth. They were debating us being ‘punk rock.’ I bring that up because back in the day when people would do it I’d get real defensive. I’d say to someone something like, “You don’t know what punk is. Punk is a state of mind.” Now I read stuff like that and think, “Yeah, I guess we’re not. Oh well.” Like you go to a town and you see crusty punks bumming change or sitting in an alley drinking 40’s at 10AM and that is actually is a lot more ‘punk’ than Samiam is, has been, or will ever be.
Around me you used to hear stories of the guys from The Misfits going to get groceries in the NY Giants gear…
You know the one thing I noticed, back in my days, the audience would look ‘punk’ but the actual bands didn’t really look ‘punk.’ You know like Husker Du didn’t look ‘punk.’ Bad Brains didn’t really look ‘punk.’ But the audiences would be dressed to the till ‘punk’ and living ‘punk’ as well. Truth be told, I’m really stoked to be lumped into the genre of ‘punk rock,’ but do really live my life with any kinda of anarchy or anything like that? Naw.
So after 2000 and you started seeing that decline, what actually happened with the band. You did ‘officially’ break up, right?
Yes, we full on broke up. At least from my perspective. I called up Jason, and just kinda said “I’m sick of your sh*t. I can’t do this half-assed.” He put some personal shit before the band and cancelled a few tours after I spend all this time organizing them. A japanese tour. A European tour. There were posters made and it was booked and he was kinda like “We can just do it later.” It was nothing really personal, I just couldn’t put way more into a band than everyone else. So we broke up, and until we put out that record out in 2006 [Whatever’s Got You Down] I had no desire to make another Samiam record. My perspective was that the other guys weren’t putting enough into it. It’s really just the way I saw it. I couldn’t do it half assed. Put out a record and then not go on tour. After a year (of being broken up) I missed it. I didn’t miss making a records, being serious and going on tour 6 months a year. But I didn’t mind going on tour for two months out of the year, so between 2000 and 2006 we toured to Europe 6 times.
What’s the official status as of now?
It’s more laid back. I mean we’re putting out a new record and we have this machine behind us making it a lot easier. Booking agents, a couple of labels…stuff like that. I don’t want to let down all the people who’ve been helping and listening to Samiam, so we pushed it a little more. If you asked me what I wanted to do with this tour I’d want to just play a few shows, and fly in for a weekend…at least in the US. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past couple years. Because we have a record coming out it mushroomed out to a 3 1/2 week tour.
Does a 3 1/2 week tour make you feel good or anxious?
It makes me anxious for several reasons. The first is if it stops being fun, because that’s why I am I doing it. If we played for thousands of people a night I still make more money at home. It’s kind of a bummer, especially in Europe because people are paying close to $30 bucks to see a 800 or 900 person show. Some people may think we’re greedy bastards because that’s a lot of money, but that money doesn’t go to us. I haven’t seen any of that money. Almost 40% goes to taxes, and then there’s a booking agent, a bus, renting equipment and flights. A lot of people make money playing music, I just don’t know how they do it. Money has a way of not trickling down to the people who actually play it.
What’s your favorite parts about touring, other than playing?
For me the actual touring isn’t that fun. Sometimes magical moments happen when you’re playing where you just think “Wow. I’m not that good of guitar player. Why are people freaking out over music I at least helped contribute to?” I do feel real fortunate don’t get me wrong, but most of the time I don’t get a huge thrill from the actual playing. I never really felt like an entertainer. Maybe when I was younger a little, but not anymore. I’m a goofy older guy. Touring for me is more a chance to go to Buenos Aires or Tokyo and hanging out with some guy I met on my first tour in 1990. I’m not a guy that has a million friends, but I do have a lot of good acquaintances…around the world. It’s really good to see people I’ve known for a long time. With that said, going to Tokyo and hanging out with my friend Cam is awesome. We’ll have a beer or coffee and catch up, and that’s pretty amazing. And with Samiam you never know, we might break up tomorrow, so every time I’m visiting someone it might be the last time I ever see that person face to face.
What are some of your all time and contemporary influences?
I have a very small pallette when it comes to rock music. When I was first starting out in Samiam and learning to play guitar there was a handful of bands I loved like The Doughboys, Bad Brains, Descendents, The Adolencents, Marginal Man and Minor Threat. Once we got together I moved into like Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine… more indie rock stuff. Nowadays it’s more contemporary, typically not punk rock. Last year I was really into The XX record. TV on the Radio or Autolux, basically it’s indie rock but big fucked up guitars with something dark about them. The Beatles and Oasis is something I’ll always go back to.
Who’s ‘brainchild’ is the band?
When we first started out, like in the late 80’s I’d say it was more mine. I organized everyone, all the debt went on my credit card, I was the one typing out long interviews. Through the 90’s I’d say it was me and James. Everyone else sorta went for the ride. People tend to gravitate to Jason, because it’s his lyrics and voice. People gravitate to him but he didn’t steer the ship. And then Sean, who replaced James, came on board there was this really big shift. It’s more Sean and Jason’s baby now. I actually do a lot less. Sean and Jason agreed on almost everything and I’d get veto’d. Sean did a lot of writing on the last two records. Saying that makes me sound like a poor sport. I feel the pinch of it, but I’m not a poor sport about it. That’s just the way it is and I really hope people like what Samiam is now. I’m not like “Fuck those guys.” I wanna be better then the guy that runs around bitter, and take life as it goes. For example, If I was a rockstar and now I’m playing in small theaters I could either be bitter or think myself “I’m lucky to still be doing this.” So my role in the band has been greatly diminished, but I’m grateful for what I have. There’s a lot of guys that are a lot better at guitar than me who never got out of the basement.
Is there some relief with taking a backseat?
There’s some relief, but it makes all this other stress when someone else is steering the ship, especially when it may not be the way I want it to go. So there’s relief, but it’s also a bummer. There’s a ton of stress when you’re driving the train but when you’re no longer driving you sometimes think it’s going into shitty directions…and that’s another type of stress. All in all, I’m glad to be involved in it.
What’s your biggest regret with Samiam, Knapsack or Solea?
I don’t have any glaring regrets.
Even the Creed thing?
I don’t have any regrets with the Creed thing. Maybe it didn’t illuminate us in the best light to be people, but that was a pretty good tour. It’s similar to what I was saying about those ‘radio shows.’ They had such an unpassionate fan base that liked us and we had good shows. We were on the radio in a lot of cities so people were like, “Oh yeah, I like that song. These guys are cool.” So I don’t really have any regrets doing that tour. Would I do it again? No, that was a stupid choice. I don’t regret signing to a major label or any of that shit people might think I would feel remorse about. I bought my first house when I was in my twenties and we did a lot of rad shit. When you go on a major label and you flop, like we basically did, you still get to do a lot of cool stuff like go on The Jon Stewart Show, play big giant shows, or have big fucking dinners where you’re like “Oh shit, there’s Keith Richards’ son over there with a couple of models…and they’re comin’ up to talk to us.”
Tell me a little about Solea?
It was the guys from Texas Is The Reason, and Sense Field. We all toured together numerous times and we’re all friends. That’s kinda it. I wish Solea was still around because I think Garrett and I are a pretty cool combination, at least for music I like. Garrett doesn’t really like loud music. He’s more into the stuff he’s doing now with Atlantic/Pacific. It’s a bummer because Garrett is great at singing that kind of music. I think he felt like a little bit of a fraud doing it. To be honest, I listen to music more like Atlantic/Pacific than I do Solea or Samiam, but I don’t have any desire to play that kind of music. I wanna play music with more audience interaction.
Do you see yourself always playing music in some capacity?
I always see myself sitting on the couch and playing guitar. I get self conscience about being old on stage sometimes and I know I don’t wanna be 50 years old playing music on a stage.
What do you think about the current state of music?
I think we’re hitting the next transition of music. With Spotify and these types of services I don’t think the concept of owning music will be around much longer. Maybe I’m wrong or maybe the technology isn’t there yet, but I don’t think there’s going to be a reason to own physical music. It’s just gonna fill up your hard drive. There’s going to be a whole generation that never ‘owned’ music. I could be wrong, but that’s what I sense right now.
Compared to the 90’s, what one of the things that has surprised you as far as bands or music?
I think it’s pretty similar in respect to the fact that at any one given time there’s a ‘youth’ music. When I was young it was like Operation Ivy, Green Day, or even Nirvana, and then under that there were thousands of bands that ripped them off. Thousands of bands that sounded like NOFX or exactly like Bad Religion. Then there were second tier bands that were making money doing it but there were hundreds of unknown bands. Every city we went to we played with a Bad Religion rip-off band. They were all over the world. You’re asking about differences, but mostly I see similarities. You pick up AP and it’s the same thing with these swoopy hair bands. Kinda like boy metal bands and screamo. You pick up that AP and you’re seeing only the most popular of those bands. But you see 50 of em. It’s just like all the bands that wanted to be like Bad Religion. Same thing goes for band names. There was a time in the 90’s where every band just had one word and a couple of numbers. Redemption 87, Blink 182, Sum 41…the list just goes on and on. That and a logo with a fucking star on it. Before that there were a million bands called ‘Social’ or ‘Youth.’ Mid 2000’s every band had to have like ‘suicide,’ ‘die,’ ‘death’ or ‘murder,’ like As I Lay Dying, Everytime I Die, etc. My point is, they’re all similarities I’ve seen through the years. It doesn’t matter what kind of music or when it is…it’s the same dynamic. There’s a couple of great bands at any one time and then there’s a thousands bands that just rip them off. We were talking about the ‘die’ bands. I listen to Ever Time I Die and I think they’re a fucking rad band and I think they were one of the first ones doing it. But there’s a million bands that just rip them off. If I wasn’t paying attention they would just be another one of those shitty-ass bands. And you can tell they listen to other types of music. In general I think hardcore is total garbage. There’s a couple of the bands that are just original. Those one’s stick out and are rad like Boysetsfire, Snapcase or Refused.
If you look at the ‘pioneers’ they really didn’t have anything else like ‘their style’ to listen to…
If you look at someone like the Bad Brains; they were listening to reggae and Sam and Dave. The main thing is, are you a band that plays a style of music that only listens to that style of music, or are you a person that likes music and you pull all your influence into the music you’re playing. Then it can fall into whatever genre it is. No band…no band is original. Even The Beatles were ripping off people left and right…like Wholesale. The fact is they didn’t fucking just listen to Herman and The Hermits, or the bands of their style. They were taking a broad sampling of what they could get their ears on. We’ve just gone on a giant tangent of my opinions, which people may not want to read. [ed note – we totally whole-heartedly agree (it said disagree for a while…not sure what happened there)]