Sam Outlaw is currently on tour, supporting Aaron Watson, in the UK. I caught up with him earlier this week to find out a little bit more about him, his music and what fans can expect from the upcoming shows!
Amy: Good afternoon! How has the trip been where have you flown from?
Sam: I am based in LA and fortunately there is this whole direct flight business which is really nice and so we got on the plane and had a quick ten and a half-hour flight! Normally I can sleep ok on planes but I just couldn’t get comfortable! I think all the… they were remarking that they are having all these snowstorms out on the east coast so the nicer plane we were supposed to have was not available so we were just in an older 777. It made a difference.
Amy: It does. I flew out to Nashville a couple of years ago and had a brand new refurbished plane and then in October I had an older plane and there was just no comparison to comfort!
Sam: I am hoping maybe for the return flight we will have one of the newer ones. So what did you go out to Nashville for?
Amy: Music. I was out for the CMA’s. Obviously you are based in LA but have you been out to Nashville?
Sam: Yeh, I have thought several times in the last four, five years… Should I move to Nashville? Then at every time I am like… For better for worse. I feel like I could be just as unpopular in Los Angeles as I would be in Nashville trying to do country music and at least we have good weather out in LA! But I have a lot of friends out there and there is a lot of good stuff happening there but there is the whole kind of giant machine for pop country that has been there forever.
Amy: Right, there are a lot of different formats of country happening in Nashville right now. Things like rap/hip hop sort of country. What are your thoughts on that?
Sam: Even though to me the idea of rap country at face value, to me, sounds pretty phoney. I still think… my issue, and I tell people this when I can, I don’t need country music to be a certain degree of country for me to like it. I just want it to not suck! I love pop music, I even love a lot of different hip-hop and rap music. If it’s good it’s good. I don’t need it to be all pedal steel. I will put on Usher as soon as I would put on a George Jones record. That’s to me what is weird about it, it’s not like how annoying that they put rap in country. It’s just not very good. That’s my position.
Amy: So anyway! Is this your first time in the UK?
Sam: Yes. Well… I have been to London before but just as a tourist so this is my first time being here to play music.
Amy: Are you looking forward to it!?
Sam: Yeah, I mean I really hope I can just get through today because I am kind of tripped out from the flight! We have a little BBC 2 song thing tonight and then the first show is tomorrow. I mean, this trip is really so easy. Three shows, flying into London and then back to London and home.
Amy: Just a big time difference for you for such a short trip!
Sam: It is. By the time I will probably just be getting used to it I will be flying home. But I get to be in one of the coolest cities in the world, it’s not peak tourist season and the weather is great, I love this.
Amy: So what prompted the trip over here?
Sam: Well I only found out a few months that my album not yet been released in Europe. I just assumed like these days because of the whole internet thing it was just worldwide release.
Amy: It would make sense! It would be interesting to know how it all translates across the different areas of the industry and why that doesn’t happen. We do get a lot more country released over here now than we ever did though.
Sam: So far I felt like, gauging from social media stuff, there is a lot of enthusiasm from European audiences so I’m definitely happy to be here and to be doing shows and only wish there was a more robust tour. It feels weird to be coming here for 6 days and then going home. I will just barely be getting my feet wet and it will be time to go back. So the impetus for the tour was the fact that the album came out finally in the UK, last week, so I just have these few shows lined up and then I will be coming back for the full deal in April.
Amy: So the new album Angeleno. When was it release in the states?
Sam: It came out June 9th.
Amy: Nice. How has the response been to it so far?
Sam: Really good, especially critically. I was surprised at the end of the year to be on so many “best of” lists. That stuff ultimately doesn’t put money in your pocket so it’s only so cool when you are trying to make a living out of playing music but the response has been really good. I think I was trying to do something a little tricky which was put out a country record bar that wasn’t a Nashville country record, it wasn’t a Texas country record. I am trying to build something in southern California and I wanted my album to have that flavour and sound throughout. So the album that I put out I think is kind of it’s own thing and it doesn’t quite fit into any particular box. But that said I definitely wish that way more people would have heard it. I think when it came out it got a good response and there was a lot of good vibes but to be super honest it’s not like it was a hit record. So in my mind… I already think I’m cool! So I don’t care about being that cool guy that, 10 years later, people will say wow wasn’t that a great record. I’d rather be popular, not at the expense of making good music, but… I guess what I am trying to say is I look forward to capturing an even bigger audience and people digging into it a bit more and getting into the fun of what I am trying to do which is make Southern California influenced country music.
Amy: I think you will do really well for sure. Throughout Europe country music is getting a lot bigger. We have the Country2Country Festival over here now which is run by CMA. Chris Stapleton is over as well as acts like Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. There are also pop up stages and this year it is looking like those will be most saturated with up and coming US acts. Everyone here is very enthusiastic and keen to hear as much country music as they can whether they know the artists or not.
Sam: So was the Chris Stapleton record as big of a sensation as it is out in the US?
Amy: I think what happened out in the US caused it over here but unless you are within the country music scene you probably wouldn’t have heard of it.
Sam: So is corporate country music radio out here basically…
Amy: It doesn’t exist. Bar maybe one or two online or DAB stations we don’t have stations that are formatted to a genre of music we just have short maybe 2 hour shows that cater to it. For example Bob Harris on Radio 2 on a Thursday night.
Sam: Right, that is the guy I am seeing in a little bit!
Amy: We essentially get what we want to get. So that really covers why people know every song on an album and not just a single because it isn’t radio based. Instead of turning the radio on you go to Spotify or Apple Music or Amazon music and you buy and listen to a whole album.
Sam: I was talking to someone the other day about satellite radio and outlaw country and those sort of stations. He was making the case that people that hear it on satellite radio have more money and therefore buy tickets more and I was like I don’t think that’s it. I think it is that in order to hear it on satellite radio you have to go out and do something to get it, you have to subscribe and then you have to go out of your way to listen. With regular radio anyone can just turn it on and whatever is coming through the speakers they will listen to! So yeh I think it is the case they have to try a little harder or they have to be in the know.
Amy: Exactly, I am sure that there will be people at some of these shows that potentially won’t have heard of you but will be there because it is a country show and they are intrigued to hear more.
Sam: Yeh and you hope that ultimately we win them over with our songs and they buy our records.
Amy: So with regards to the album did you write most of those tracks alone or do you have a lot of co-writes or outside cuts?
Sam: I have done no co-writing. I know that, that is the Nashville way and I am not opposed to doing it but all the tracks on there, and frankly everything I have ever written, has been written 100% by myself. Also now that I am doing this full time without a day job I need money. So if some big name dude wants to co-write with me and, whether I perform the song or not, it could potentially bring in money and feed my wife and my future kid then cool; I’ll do that for the fun of it. Also for the fact that I need to be exercising my artistic power to make some money. So yeh I wrote all the song myself.
Amy: I have to ask ‘Jesus Take The Wheel (And Drive Me To A Bar)’. Was that written with Carrie Underwood’s hit in mind with regards to the title?
Sam: Completely unrelated to Carrie Underwood. The deal is, I still have not, if you can believe me! I still have not actually heard her song ‘Jesus Take The Wheel’ but I now know it exists. Jesus take the wheel is just like a silly Christian bumper sticker kind of mentality so even her song was based off of the cliche in the same way mine was drawn from the cliche. Hers just took a literally route and mine to a more, well literal, but completely different route. As I understand her song is very serious.
Amy: So you grew up in South Dakota?
Sam: Well I was born in South Dakota, which is the mid west, and all my family out there farm so it started in sort of a typical country roots kind of thing but I really don’t try to claim any country roots because my family moved to Southern California when I was 10 years old. I really didn’t grow up on country music, I didn’t grow up on a ranch, driving pick up trucks and going square dancing and all that s***. I grew up really only on one country band, the western swing band, Asleep At The Wheel. So I have my dad to thank for introducing me really to that band which is kind of like growing up on Bob Wills because they were in so many ways like a tribute to Bob Wills. The one I really grew up on was from the early 90’s with Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and all these great people. That one record is almost like country music in a bottle but yeh, I don’t try to claim any country roots. I’m not a country boy I am just a guy who fell in love with country music in his early 20s thanks to the fact that a band like Asleep At The Wheel kind of seeped into my blood and I just flipped out for it. I remember hearing it for the first time and just thinking that this is the best music and started buying up George Jones records and Emmylou Harris Records.
Amy: For me, the whole album sound very authentic it doesn’t sound like you have tried to replicate that sound it just seems natural to you.
Sam: This question of authenticity has been really tough because a lot of people in the editorial space like have very simple boxes to cross off like a somebody’s name is this, they were born Texas, their dad raised them on Randy Travis cassette tapes on a ranch… They like to have this very unimaginative background that fits this character; that’s not me. I grew up on a lot of Brit Pop. When I was in high school my favourite bands were Oasis, Blur and Radiohead and then later on stuff like Travis and all that so the band that made me come online with music in general, I guess for most people too, was The Beatles. For most people in the world it was The Beatles so I still think, country or not, I still think everyone is trying to be The Beatles. When you see Dwight Yoakam live his drum kit, the bass drum, says Dwight Live in the same font as The Beatles. He is a complete anglophile freak for The Beatles and Brit Pop. So yeah, I don’t have a typical country background. That’s why on the record you hear a variety of stuff too you know, there’s a couple of straight ahead honky tonk songs but then there’s a lot of just… other stuff!
Amy: So for fans attending the upcoming shows what can they expect to hear from you?
Sam: Well this week it’s going to be really simple. It’s going to be myself on acoustic guitar singing and then my trustee sidekick Danny Garcia playing guitar and singing with me. So it’s really just going to be focusing on the songs. It’s not going to be the full band with pedal steel and all that stuff. It’s gonna be, I hate this expression, but more stripped down. I also really like to connect with people. I don’t really rush through the set to serve I don’t really try to have a slick you know like transition to every song, I like to pause and talk, not necessarily even try out jokes but just show myself. So hopefully people see my personality and my songs and judge for themselves whether it’s any good.
Amy: So finally is there anything generally you would like to share with anyone reading this on our site?
Sam: Sure, I have been telling people that part of my goal, doing country music out of Los Angeles, is I hope that people will hear of me, the name Sam Outlaw, and check out my music but I have also just been trying to preach the gospel of country music in general and especially the history of country music in California. There is obviously a whole lot of wonderful music that has come out of there and a lot of people know Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Those are the two a lot of people know but there are a lot of others like Glenn Stewart and a lot of people know Dwight Yoakan but maybe some people don’t know Rosie Flores and she was part of that whole town south of Bakersfield family in the late 80’s. So I guess in whatever way I can potentially just help turn people onto good country music I’d love to do that. I am on a mission to not only be the best I can be but to remind people that there is a rich history of country music in Southern California.