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Interview: Sam Amidon

I don’t know about you guys, but I get so excited about artists that don’t fit into any of those blah blah blah heard-it-before pop music paradigms – all this repetition is getting boring and, man, all I really want is to be entertained! That said, Sam Amidon embodies so many things I admire as a performer: not only is he a technical powerhouse on that fiddle (among many other instruments), but his influences and musical peers are so diverse its almost shocking how sincerely all the pieces synthesize into that lovely Amidonian folk!

We recently exchanged a few question about his career, revealing some great little stories about life in the music biz, an affinity for the comedy of Mitch Hedberg, and a full on NERD OUT session over the Miles Davis canon. A huge thanks to Sam for opening up to us for this piece <3

You’ve been embraced by both the classic folk community as well as indie music crowds – does that position give you more fluidity as an artist or does it feel like too much artistic straddling?

I’ll play for anybody! I played my banjo in the subway for awhile and almost got a gig to play at the opening of Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou but the dude never actually called me.  I also got a banjo student out of it, who turned out to be the legendary conceptual artist Bill Beckley!

I recently listened to the Harvest revisited project where you contributed “The Needle Broken and the Damage Done” cover (yeah that turned out great!) – did you get to choose the song?  I can’t tell whether or not you would be a fan of an artist like Neil Young – was he ever an influence?

I did get to choose the song!  I love Neil Young but he’s not somebody I’ve ever listened to obsessively at any point.  I mostly like his guitar soloing.

whatever, I do what I want

This might be too broad of a question, but what are the main sources from which you harvest and select the songs you choose to record?

It’s actually not that broad because I’m not a person who has an encyclopedic knowledge of folk songs.  I probably have a more encyclopedic knowledge of Miles Davis albums!  Right now without consulting anything other than my mind, I could list almost every single Miles Davis album, by release date, with full personnel and a short capsule review of my comments on the album.  For example:

Amandla (1989)
All music composed by Marcus Miller.  produced by Marcus Miller.  Marcus Miller: bass, synthesizers, drum programming.  Omar Hakim: drums on track 2.  Kenny Garrett: alto saxophone.  Al Foster: drums on “Mr. Pastorius”.  A beautiful, strange, mysterious koan of a record.

Jack Johnson (1970)
Miles Davis (trumpet), Steve Grossman (soprano saxophone), John Mcloughlin (electric guitar), Billy Cobham (drums), Michael Henderson (bass), Herbie Hancock (farfisa organ which he allegedly only played because he happened to be walking by the studio with groceries in his hands while they were recording and miles beckoned him in), Sonny Sharrock (electric guitar through echoplex) – Miles’ soundtrack to a documentary about the boxer.  includes an amazing liner note essay by Miles about Jack Johnson – some of the most powerful trumpet playing of his life.

Bag’s Groove (1954)
On the title track:  Miles Davis (trumpet), Thelonious Monk (piano), Milt Jackson (vibes), Percy Heath (bass), Kenny Clark (drums).  On the rest of the tracks: substitute Monk & Milt Jackson with Horace Silver, and add Sonny Rollins. Deep psychological battling goes on through the entire title track between Monk and Miles Davis.  Very intense.

You’ve got a number of ties in Iceland, including a place on Bedroom Community – have you ever explored Icelandic traditional music?  For such a ridiculously small country those guys really churn out some interesting artists – from what I’ve read it’s culture is pretty eccentric and creative.

Valgeir [Sigurðsson] taught me one Icelandic folksong which I sang on his album Draumalandið. It’s a great song, but I don’t know how much else good folk music they have.  I do know they have some crazy folk stories!  I like going there so much, the studio Valgeir has built and the Bedroom Community is an amazingly comforting and wonderful ZONE.

Do you have any surprising music in your record collection – like hardcore industrial thrash or something completely not Sam Amidon friendly – I mean you did cover R. Kelly so I figured you branch out here and there.

I love Miles Davis and also Mitch Hedberg,  Strategic Grill Locations is one of my favorite albums of all time, and I can just listen to it forever even though I’ve listened to it so many times.  The jokes are no longer funny to me, but it sounds like music because of his pacing and rhythms on that album.

Sam Amidon is playing Glasslands on Wednesday, February 16th!

Get yr tickets HERE

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