This month Samiam released their eighth studio full-length, entitled Trips. It’s their third album for Hopeless Records and quite possibly their most complete and varied effort yet. We met up with singer Jason Beebout before the band’s recent show at Reggie’s to discuss some of the details of their new album. We talked about the group’s experience while recording at Jingletown Studios, the overall style of the record, the meaning behind some of its songs and more.
Bill – Your new full-length, Trips, was released earlier this month and it marks the first Samiam record since 2006’s Whatever’s Got You Down. What were some of the factors that led to nearly five years going by between albums?
Jason – Well, the main factor is that we all live pretty far apart. Sergie, (guitarist Sergie Loobkoff) lives in Los Angeles, I live in San Francisco and everybody else lives in Brooklyn. It’s not like we can just get together and jam every weekend. It takes a lot. We really only tour if we can find somebody who’s willing to put us up for a couple days to practice and then we go on tour. It takes a lot to get everything together. I lost my job in 2009 and I didn’t have anything else to do, so I just spent a lot of time writing. Now it’s so much easier because we just send stuff back and forth with broadband files. In hindsight we could have been doing this a long time ago, because it’s actually a lot easier. Some of us also work, like Sergie has a job with the LA Times, Sean, (guitarist Sean Kennerly) works too and everybody else is kind of a flake like me.
Bill – What was it like recording Trips at Green Day’s Jingletown Studios?
Jason – Awesome. I’d been there like once or twice before, kind of saying “hi” to people and stuff, but I really had just walked in for a second. I knew it was this giant, amazing space, but I never really walked around there that much. Then we get there and it’s like space-aged, fuckin’ nuts, man. It’s like the Starship Enterprise. There are lights everywhere and everything is top of the line. Really, it was up to us not to fuck things up. It was going to sound good whether we had anything to do with it or not.
Bill – As much as certain aspects of Trips recall classic Samiam albums like Clumsy and Astray, it also features a distinctively modern and revitalized sound. What were some of your intentions when you began writing songs for this record and would you say that the end result reflects what you initially envisioned?
Jason – When we started talking about writing the record we just had vague ideas. I told Sean to write a Doughboys song and he wrote “Crew of One.” I sang it like how I thought it should be sung and it doesn’t really sound like Doughboys, but that’s where we started. Where we ended up is someplace else. I think the song is reminiscent of Doughboys, but being that far apart we don’t sit in a room together and go, “Okay, let’s do this and make this magic happen.” It’s kind of like somebody sends a riff, somebody sends something else and then I get it later. It’s always been that way where I do the lyrics and the vocal melodies last. A lot of times Sergie will have the intentions of a song sounding a certain way and then I fuck it up and make it something else. It’s always been like that. I’m heavily influenced by what I’m listening to now and so is everybody else. Sergie could be listening to old Bad Religion and I’m listening to fuckin’ Echo & the Bunnymen or something. You mash them together and we’re all hard-headed, but you just go for it and it’s kind of oblivious too.
Bill – The album’s first song, “80 West,” talks about the band’s hometown of Berkeley, California and a desire to return home. What were some of the things that motivated you to write this song?
Jason – “80 West” is about driving across the Bay Bridge on the way to the beach. I’ve always had this feeling with living outside of San Francisco, across the bay from there. You see the skyline and it makes me feel like there’s something always happening there that I’m not taking part of. I’m missing out on something whenever I look over there, that’s what I feel like. It’s a kind of romantic feeling. Then you actually get there and you’re on the street, you look as lost as everyone else and you don’t know what the fuck is going on. I don’t know. It’s also kind of about a girl too and a juxtaposition of the two things together.
Bill – “How Would You Know” is a powerful, melodic anthem and certainly one of the record’s most memorable songs, but the lyrics are fairly bitter and resentful. What inspired its words?
Jason – That’s one of those marital bliss songs, (laughs). I’ve had problems with my wife and she’s had problems with me. I’m horrible and I don’t really know what she sees in me. Sometimes she’ll bring up some kind of problem that one of her friends is having in her relationship and I’m like, “How the fuck would you know?” It’s like I know what that dude feels like, you’re horrible and I know exactly how he feels, (laughs).
Bill – “El Dorado” is one of the more unique songs on the album in terms of its structure and style. How did this song come together?
Jason – Sergie had pretty much written the song completely on GarageBand and then sent it to us. It had a really cool, kind of Cure-type feel. I couldn’t find a way to actually make that happen, as much as I’d like, because I don’t sing that way. What I did come up with is obviously what you hear. It’s my version of it. Again, he writes the song with something in-mind, probably more of a ‘80s, modern rock thing and I just kind of twisted it. It’s a story about getting a DUI, which is actually a joke. It’s not a funny topic, it’s not really a funny-sounding song, but we stuck it on there anyway.
Bill – Trips is Samiam’s third album for Hopeless Records. What do you enjoy most about your band’s partnership with the label?
Jason – Well, Louis is a very nice guy and he does a lot of really great things for charity and such, and he’s always been that way. They do a lot of work for us, as far as promoting the record and organizing things like this, but other than that I don’t know what record companies do anymore. They don’t really sell records, so it’s kind of like a glorified publishing or promotions company. They’ve been doing a pretty good job. I don’t know how many records we’ve sold, it’s only been out for a couple days, but we’ll see. We don’t get paid for records anyway, so it doesn’t really matter, does it? If people keep coming to our shows then I guess we’re doing our job and that’s great. I wouldn’t want to try and put it out ourselves. We’re all too lazy to handle that kind of stuff, so I appreciate it very much.
Bill – Tonight’s show is your first time playing Chicago in years. What are some of your favorite memories from prior Samiam shows here?
Jason – I think the last time we played here was about ten years ago at the Fireside Bowl and there was some kind of party that some alcohol company threw for bartenders in the area. The bartenders at Fireside were like, “Yeah man, you want go? It’s going to be fun.” We were like, “Sure, we got nothing to do after we’re done playing.” As it turns out, Cheap Trick was playing the party and it was fuckin’ badass. It was a free show and free booze after our show. It’s kind of like when you open your last present on Christmas and you’re like, “Yeah, I got everything I wanted, it’s cool” and then it’s like, “Oh holy shit! Behind the couch! There’s a secret show!” It was awesome.
Bill – This fall you guys are playing Riot Fest in Philadelphia, The Fest in Gainesville, Florida and you’ve also got a European tour scheduled. Of all your upcoming shows, which ones are you most looking forward to and why?
Jason – We’ve only done The Fest once, but I had a kickass time there. One of my favorite nights of all-time at a bar was after our show at Fest actually. We went into this place and there was a Guided by Voices cover band and they were fuckin’ amazing. It was just like Guided by Voices karaoke all night long. We got shitfaced until they kicked us out of the bar. It’s not a big downtown area anyway, all the clubs are pretty close together and it’s just all these fuckin’ people. I don’t even go to shows at home. It takes a lot to get me across the bridge to go see a show. The idea of flying to Florida to see a show is even more baffling to me, but people do it. If they’re willing to do that you know they’re fuckin’ fired-up to have a good time. Everyone there is just balls-out. It’s really fun.
Bill – Samiam has been together since 1988 and in that time has released eight albums, toured the world extensively and become a highly-influential and well-regarded band. What encourages you to continue making music and is there anything else you’d like to accomplish with the group?
Jason – I don’t know if we’ve ever accomplished anything, other than having some records out, having some fun and playing in front of people. If that’s an accomplishment, I guess it is. If I can keep doing that, I mean I’m 41 and I’m still sitting here in a basement, talking to you, drinking some beers and I’m with my friends. It’s pretty fuckin’ rad. I’ve got a kid and another one on the way. Even when I had a job that I was pretty busy at I still found a month or two per year to do this. That’s probably why I lost my job actually. Now that I don’t it’s a dream. I can cruise around and have a great time. I’m actually opening a bar when I get home, so I’ll probably have less time again, but I’ll be my own boss so I can do whatever the fuck I want. Sergie still is a regular working guy. The rest of us are more flakey than he is. We can still do it as long as he sticks around. He’s probably jeopardizing his job right now. This tour is a little longer than his bosses were aware of. We just might be a full-time band when he gets back, touring the States nine months out of the year.