Interview: Sergie Loobkoff - Samiam
Forming outta the ashes of ISOCRACY in 1988, SAMIAM is a band most should know. Having released seven albums on the likes of New Red Archives, Hopeless and Atlantic, the band recently hooked up with No Idea Records for the release of a rarities album, 'Orphan Works'. This interview took place late 2010, just before the band's European tour, with guitarist and founding memeber, Sergie Loobkoff.
..OK Sergie, to start with, can you tell us how you got into Punk? Were you into any other music before hand? What inspired you to pick up a guitar and form a band?
..Sergie) Initially I was into R&B and stuff, from Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind And Fire to really silly shit like The Commodores and Chic. Ha! I was born a young, black child. Then in around freshman year I got into Metal. My brother and I were going to club shows of bands like Exodus, Slayer and Metallica. Our favourite was actually a pretty shitty band called Laaz Rockit. One of the guitarists was a senior when I was a freshman and I was pretty awed by him. They would do all this home made amatuer explosions and stuff even though they were playing to 50 people at the Keystone in Berkeley. Looking back they really were stupid...but we loved them.
As for Punk, these Metal bands were pretty much playing the same clubs as Punk bands...even Metallica early on...so the leap from genre to genre wasn't a stretch. But when I went to a DEAD KENNEDYS show at The Farm - with SCREAM and SUBHUMANS - it was such an eye opening experience that it was hard for me to take Metal seriously anymore. Both the band and audience seemed so much smarter and relatable than the silliness of Metal. I pretty much instantly lost interest in Metal. Now, still I love the 80s Thrash but pretty much think all Metal is kinda boring and silly. Later, when I went to SONIC YOUTH, I had a similar reaction and it was hard to go back to plain old Punk...I was more into Punk/Indie or something. I no longer cared about any straight 'Punk by numbers' band. Ok, maybe a handful of the classic bands like the BAD BRAINS and BAD RELIGION or CIRCLE JERKS.
I actually picked up the drums before guitar and was pretty bad at it but played in two bands. By the time Gilman Street opened - the club where GREEN DAY, OPERATION IVY and tons of Bay Area bands cut their teeth - I was really interested in playing music. Not for a career, I was going to college...but for a pretty encompassing hobby. The fact that we got signed to a major label and toured a lot was sort of incidental...I never, ever had dreams of being a rock star or anything.
..SAMIAM has just released the 'Orphan Works' CD/double LP compilation of outtakes and rarities. What inspired the release of the album? Why is all the material culled only from the 'You Are Freaking Me Out' and 'Clumsy' album eras?
..Sergie) We played this Gainesville festival called The Fest in 2009 and I talked to Var - who is a big supporter of this genre - and we came up with the idea to try and get those two albums from Warner - the label that has let them go out of print. Since we knew it would take a long time, we thought doing a compilation was a cool thing to do in the meantime. Possibly wet some appetites? We could have added similar material from later years, but I thought it would be cool to make all the releases as a set. You know, it's 2010, we aren't going to make any money at putting out old SAMIAM songs...but it was just a neat thing to do and hopefully some people out there want to have that stuff.
..The album is released on No Idea Records - a label on which you released a split single with JAWBREAKER back in 1992. Given the band's last couple of albums were released on Hopeless Records, was that label not considered for the release of 'Orphan Works'?
..Sergie) It wasn't that Hopeless was shunned... we don't owe them anything and this idea was between Var and I. Hopeless has turned into this different label with All Time Low and Yellowcard where as No Idea is involved with bands that are similar to SAMIAM - HOT WATER MUSIC, LEATHERFACE, SMALL BROWN BIKE, OFF WITH THEIR HEADS, THE BOMB. It's really a no brainer that we would be on there. If we were looking to be a pro band with 'career' goals...well, sure... Hopeless would be a better choice. But I'm not interested in the music business at all... at least when SAMIAM is concerned. We want to keep money and pressure and anything unfun as far away from the band as we can.
..Tell us a bit about some of the tracks on the album - I believe there are a couple of previously unreleased songs? I see there are a couple of songs recorded in Billie Joes basement also - how did that session come about?
..Sergie) I can see why you might be intrigued by that fact, but it's no big story. Billie got rich and famous and built a studio in his house in Berkeley and we recorded there with him. Then he moved to Oakland and built another one and we recorded there too. They weren't great studios compared to today's home studios; I think a lot has improved in the last decade. But it was always nice, in the years after 'Dookie', that Billie still took us on tour a lot and let us record at his house.
As for other tracks, some are live shows, some are demos and others are those times where we set up at a radio station and played live on air. There is a 'You Are Freaking Me Out' song called 'Mr. Walker' that was recorded in the 'Clumsy' session but not included and also another 'Clumsy' song that was never released.
..In what ways will the 'You Are Freaking Me Out' and 'Clumsy' reissues differ from the original releases?
..Sergie) Just updated artwork. They will be remastered, but who cares about that? Now that we released 'Orphan Works' before we secured the rights to do these re-releases, we sort of fucked ourselves for bonus tracks...ha...they are all gone.
..Given the reissues and that 'Clumsy' was on the major, Atlantic Records, did you/ No Idea have endure any legal issues to get the right to re-release the albums?
..Sergie) We hired a lawyer, Wade, who played guitar in SEAWEED and he did all the hassling. Ultimately, he found that the rights to both records are now handled by the Rhino Classics department of Warner Music, who informed him that they no longer retained the rights. So we didn't have to tangle with them much or pay a lot of money, which is good because if they wanted any money, we probably wouldn't have been able to get it all going. Let's be serious, with the state of music selling in 2010, what is a silly band like SAMIAM really worth monetarily? Maybe a couple of small notches above nothing, ha!
..And talking of Atlantic/ Warner, in what ways was it different working with a label like that as opposed to New Red Archives, Hopeless and, more specifically, No Idea? Given the benefit of hindsight, what opinions and thoughts do you have of the band's time on a major?
..Sergie) I'm not going to lie or pose as this DIY spokesman. Our time on Atlantic was awesome. I bought a house, we flew around and did bigger tours...we got on the radio and MTV a bit...we made music with some amazing producers and in top studios. Nothing wrong with that in my book, sorry if it offends Punkers. The problems arose after we were on the label... I mean, splitting up with a really hot girlfriend is never fun...and Atlantic was like a beautiful woman who was also really smart. I have lots of regrets in my life more so outside out the band I guess, ha! I never understand people that say, "I regret nothing!" triumphantly. I mean... really? You don't find that hair cut in junior high a bit embarrasing? But as far as SAMIAM...we took some lame tours, we had silly managers, did a lot of stuff out of cluelessness that put us in our current situation...a small band with small aspirations... But what can I say? I'd probably do it all again if Apple or Google finally invented the time-machine.
..I believe the band has a new drummer, Charlie Walker, who was in SPLIT LIP and CHAMBERLAIN. How did you get together with him, and what new aspects has he brought to the band?
..Sergie) I've been friends with him for several years. Also Curtis from SPLIT LIP. I'm really excited to do these upcoming shows with him... but SAMIAM doesn't tour enough or make enough money to hold a guy like Chuck for long, he will surely get some other gig in 2011 and we will be in the market for an older shlub like ourselves to tramp across the land playing our silly songs.
..And talking of departed members, why did original guitarist, James Brogan, leave? Bassist, Sean Kennerly, replaced him - how did that work out? I read an interview where you state that Sean is a better guitarist than both James and yourself; what has be brought to the band in his new role? And where did you find his replacement, bassist Jeremy Bergo?
..Sergie) It is true Sean - is way better than James and I. I don't think he writes better songs, but you should watch him move his little fingers and wrist when he is playing other music than SAMIAM... it's pretty rad. I envy his silly ass. Ha! I think one of the characteristics of SAMIAM music has always been the simplicity of James' and my songs, which wasn't the product of restraint on our part, more the limitations of our knowledge of music and physical ability. I think James and I both play SAMIAM music quite well; it's not like we are shitty at guitar, but yeah, we are sort of cavemen.
As far as departed members, this band has been at it on and off for 20 years, and when you don't make money at it, it's hard to keep people from the rest of their lives; it's just that simple. Everyone that has ever been in SAMIAM has been friends except one drummer (MP) who was refered to us and Jeremy, who was a fan from the internet basically. And those two are still friends of mine, but others in the band really don't get on with either of them and that's why they left. I wouldn't want to be more specific about that.
..Why was there such a massive break - something like six years - between the 'Astray' and 'Whatevers Got You Down' albums, when the band was often touring Europe during that time? Do you think that such a large break from recording was beneficial to the band in anyway?
..Sergie) No it wasn't beneficial at all. It's just that we quit being a serious band in 2000. Basically we broke up, then we agreed to do some tours and appeared to be back as a band, but we weren't... or I should say, haven't been a band that rehearse regularly or write together regularly for a decade. It's confusing to some people because, ok, we broke up in 2000, but we toured Europe nine times since then.... we went to South America twice.... we went to Australia last year, etc... and yeah we made a record in 2006. Touring, especially abroad, is still very, very fun for me. We all love it.
..I was reading an old interview with SAMIAM vocalist, Jason Beebout, in the Anti-Matter Anthology where he states he is an optimistic person, but you are, "an impress me type person." Can you elaborate on that and, given it was over 10 years ago when Jason said that, in what ways have you and Jason progressed and changed if any?
..Sergie) That statement was probably refering to being optimistic about the band. I'd say Jason is a carefree guy that doesn't involve himself with the business of the band - which is often depressing and shitty - and I'm the guy that always has been depended on to make sure shit is set up. How are we getting to the airport in Helsinki? What amp is Sean going to use in Bueno Aires... I'm usually the asshole that figures that out. James used to be that guy too. Why? I don't know what motivates me to type this interview when other guys wouldn't bother. As a result I'm pretty negative about the music industry and being in a band while he is pretty unaware of all the shit that props SAMIAM up. Sort of blissful.
As far as the broader worldview, I agree I am a glass half empty kinda guy in general, but I really doubt Jason considers himself to be optimistic. Who is he kidding? Ha! I saw this great stand up bit by Louis CK where he pretty much boiled it down to the fact that he was too smart to be happy and that blissfully happy people are either ignoring life around them or just plain stupid. I suppose a negative guy sees the simple genious of that and laughs while an 'optimistic' person hates Louis CK.....which is ironic because look who is negative then...ha!
..I dont recall SAMIAM writing any songs that have been directly or overtly political. Why does the band, or I guess Jason specifically, stick to writing songs of a more personal nature - some would even say of a down-beat nature?
..Sergie) Because he is so optimistic? No, ha!! Um... new question. Uh, he just writes what he feels....he isn't really going for some literary prize or anything... he is just pretty honest. There are people that write about political ideas that are really intelligent and passionate and that's great, but more commonly I find political statements in music to be faceless and silly. It's funny how we've been asked this question so many times over the years. I think when I was younger, I felt perhaps a bit embararased by not being more political... but now I am really comfortable with who we are and what we write about...it's, for better or worse, SAMIAM.
..Late 2009, you got down to Australia and did some shows - was that the first time the band had been there? How did it go - any stories to tell? What about South America also?? What were the most apparent differences between playing Aus and South America from playing either the States or Europe?
..Sergie) Yes that was the first time and you wouldn't believe how many people said, "Mate, if you came here 10 years ago, there would have been 10 times the amount of people" ha! It was a little tiresome to hear. But it went great. The shows were small everywhere except Melbourne, usually 100 to 200 people. Melbourne was I think 600 or 700 the big show and then 300 at the other little. But, you know, this band isn't about a career... So a show with 100 people can be really fun if there is some love in the room. And we toured with a great, great band, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, who are now best pals. One thing I didn't realize until we went back to Brazil and Argentina/Chile was that Australian audiences were really reserved. South American crowds are similar to Japan...they go mental. It's like they don't realize that it's 'just us' or something. The Australians were happy to see us too I think but so reserved in comparison. Or maybe they were smarter and really processed that it was, "just us'.
..In interviews, you and Jason frequently say that SAMIAM doesnt do as well in America as it does in Europe or Japan. Why do you think that is?
..Sergie) I think that was true several years back as the band sort of faded in the American conciousness and was 'old hat' as we toured here so many times, but now we get about the same everywhere we go. You can expect 150 to 500 people everynight. In certain SAMIAM cities like Koln or Munster we can get 1,000 if the stars align correctly. I think that in the last five years, as we've played in America here and there, we have seen that we have a pretty decent core group of misfits that still give a shit about our old, silly asses. It's nice. Last year we headlined a show in Gainesville at the Fest and a pretty legendary band played before us to 500 or so and then we drew in 1,500 to 2,000... that was really gratifying but not to discount that if we played in Gainesville next week only 2-300 people might show up. As for Japan, we went there in '97 with MILLENCOLIN and then '98 with GREEN DAY. That was huge both times and people liked us a lot... but I don't know what would happen if we went there 2010 by ourselves.
..What happened to SOLEA, the band you formed with Garrett Klahn from TEXAS IS THE REASON? In what ways was playing in SOLEA different from that of SAMIAM? How did you prioritise the song writing for each band?
..Sergie) Garrett lost interest in playing with loud guitars and started Atlantic Pacific, which is much mellower, kinda like bedroom music. Initially I played in that, went to Europe with them on their first tour but I got a little bored playing that style of music. I listen mostly to mellow music, but I want to play energetic, loud music live. Garrett doesn't want to. I think he might feel a bit like a fraud rocking out because he doesn't 'feel' it. It's a pity because I really liked that band, and I liked going on tour in Japan once a year because we were on a great Japanese label. And I miss being hanging out with him.
As far as prioritizing, I just make up songs on my couch and eventually they become new SAMIAM or SOLEA songs with the help of my friends; there is no time table or whatever. Music is not work for me, work is work and music is fun. Actually, work is often fun too. But you have to put this in perspective: in 10 years I have made two SAMIAM records and two SOLEA records - a decade to write about 35 songs is not too difficult, ha! I think SAMIAM survived my participation in SOLEA quite nicely - probably would do well without me too. Haha.
..Besides the band, Sergie, you do graphic design via your Office Supply Art business. Can you tell us a bit about that? You do any design work for any bands/ record sleeves? Is this what pays your bills?
..Sergie) I do drawings with junk I swipe from my day job and sell prints of it on this site called Etsy. Definitely won't make me rich but it's fun to think that a bunch of people around the world have one of my silly drawings framed on their wall. Because they are all made from these materials from my office, I call my etsy site, "Office Supply Art" (officesupplyart.etsy.com). For a living, I'm an Art Director. So I freelance in the marketing department of the LA Times designing a few magazines, branding parties, and boring yuppie stuff. I used to do this also at Sony Music and an entertainment trade magazine called Variety. It works out well, I work 9-5 like an employee, but I'm freelance so I can take off whenever I want, like next month to tour Europe. On top of that I freelance elsewhere, designing album packages mainly, for labels like Fat Wreck, Hopeless, Epitaph, Myspace, etc. Occasionally I do major label stuff, but not for a few years. I did get two gold records for designing the art for The ATARIS and AVENGED SEVENFOLD, which is kinda fun; they are not hanging on my wall but it's nice to have. You can see my design work at Slapped Together but I am so lazy at updating new stuff there that I've just been putting recent work on Facebook.
Now you know more about how that one guy from that band SAMIAM makes a living than you ever would have thought you would. I'm embarrased to write all that as if I think anyone gives a shit. Haha!!
..Although it is often perceived as the band being Berkeley-based, you are based in LA. Why did you leave Berkeley in the first place? How does the band rehearse and write given your geographical locations? Is Sean still based in Brooklyn also?? That must make it even more difficult!
..Sergie) I went to the university in Berkeley so I never left for college as a youngster. Ten years ago I moved to LA because I felt like if I didn't do it then, I might never. I live downtown and stay away from Hollywood and other stereotypically shitty LA areas as much as I can. People always bag on this city and they are right about parts - like Hollywood, yuk - but there some awesome areas too with very creative, cool people. Jason lives in the Bay Area still, he has a young boy, he isn't going anywhere but Charlie, Sean and Billy (our bassist of three years) live in New York. But I've said it earlier... we aren't much of a band. Occassionally we get together and rock, but it's not a big production. The distance makes it a bit more expensive and a hassle, but organizing your lives around a small band in your late 30s, early 40s would be pretty fucking stupid, wouldn't it?
..What are the main differences, both good and bad, between life in LA and that in Berkeley?
..Sergie) I'll tell you what I miss about the Bay Area: beautiful neighborhoods without chainstores and billboards, superior burritos, sour dough bread, Arinelles Pizza, Indian and chaat food. But I'll take the weather and beaches here. Traffic and pollution sucks in both places and if you say people in LA are fake and shallow while they are more politically active and sincere in the Bay Area - as most people say - you are foolish for judging people via geography rather than by who they are.
..You were involved as an interviewee in the, rather excellent in my opinion, book, Gimme Something Better that traces the history of Bay Area/ San Francisco Punk Rock. What are your thoughts on the finished book? How did your contribution take place - was there much omitted from what you offered?
..Sergie) Ugggg.... That book was such a bummer for me. First of all we talked for like three hours, so 99% of what I said was omitted... but that's true for everyone, right? But I was quoted out of context in such a way that I come off as a bit of an asshole. The whole format of random quotes by random people, to me, is quite boring to read... almost tedious and it skewed what people said.
For example, I answered a question about what was people's reaction to RANCID when they first started. I said the truth was that Matt and Tim were in Ska bands in our high school and OPERATION IVY was not really a Punk band as much as a mixture of Ska, Rock, fun and Punk, so people were very surprised and not initially into them reinventing themselves as a serious Crust band with mohawks and spikes and stuff. Two quotes came from that: Sergie Loobkoff says, "OPERATION IVY was not Punk." and "nobody liked Matt and Tim's bands after OP IVY." I sound like a total jerk and that wasn't what I meant at all. I talked to the writer after and he was actually very apologetic and tried to convince me that I didn't come off like a dick. But I'm sure when Tim and Matt read that, they were, "Sergie is a fucking dick...HE is Punk? People love SAMIAM?"
..Coming off the band a bit, what are the best and worst aspects of life in America? If you could change just one thing, what would it be?
..Sergie) To take the billions of dollars spent on 'protecting' Americans (armed forces and prisons) and using it to actually make America a better place to live. I know it's simplistic and perhaps naive, but at some point you have to wonder what it is that our tax dollars are protecting if the schools, infrastructure and quality of life diminish any more...right?
..There seems to be a lot of international discussion about the planned Mosque that is to be built at Ground Zero. What are your thoughts on the issue?
..Sergie) I'm agnostic so I could give two shits about putting a place of worship anywhere, but seeing peoples retarded reaction to a mosque or Koran makes me ill. A lot of stupid Americans blame all Muslims for 9/11 or terrorism in general - it's pretty mind-boggiling. What can I say? It embarrasses me that people - not just Americans - can be so stupid and misdirect anger. But there is nothing 'American' or new about people killing each other because they don't think alike.
The mosque developer does seem like more of a businessman than a religion man....so I suspect he is loving all the attention.
..So, what's next for SAMIAM? Does the fact that there is this much unreleased stuff from just this era of the band suggest there is a veritable wealth of other unreleased material - can we expect something similar of the New Red Archives era? Is there likely to be an album of new material coming also?
..Sergie) We'll see; I'm not looking too far past this tour on the East Coast and Europe or the re-releases and 'Orphan Works'. But it would be great fun to make a good sounding record of toe-tapping tunes....especially since I was disappointed in the last one.
..Anything you want to add?
..Sergie) Just be our friends on facebook (we have three fan pages) and our myspace page. Maybe you'll see us around your city.