By Jenn Pelly
Forget the beach, forget the sun. The upbeat, sample-based grooves of California funk-pop trio The Samps may speak to their Los Angeles roots, but their beat-heavy debut EP from Mexican Summer is very much in the house. The Samps are Jason Darrah, Harland Burkhart-- also of metal band Dimesland, featuring members of The Residents-- and Cole M. Greif-Neill, formerly of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Inspired equally by krautrock, the dense production of rap groups like The Bomb Squad, and the songwriting of Ariel Pink, the Samps are self-described as hyperbolic “progressive pop”. With a sole live performance behind them, The Samps remain fixtures in an LA community grounded in home-recorded ear candy and avant-disco. AZ caught up with Jason-- who also runs Gloriette Records-- to talk about the past and future of The Samps, and the space they’ve carved out for themselves in the musical landscape of today.
AZ: How did you guys link up?
Jason: I met Cole through my college friend Tim. They’re cousins. Tim kept telling me, “You have to meet my little cousin, he’s a musical brainiac.” For years, I was like, “eh, whatever.” I finally met him and we clicked right away. He gave me so much hope for the youth. We started doing stuff a year later, in 2005. Cole introduced me to Harley who lives out in the East Bay. Harley has a little studio in Berkley where we started going in 2006. He’s a big beer connoisseur. He would come home with these insane Belgian beers, and we’d get really drunk and make music.
AZ: You’re from Oakland, Harland lives in Berkley, and Cole lives in LA. Do you still think of the Samps as an LA band?
Jason: My head is definitely in LA; I just hide out in the Bay Area. I don’t know what LA is exactly, but I feel close to Haunted Graffiti, and bands that are in my opinion LA artists. We live about five hours apart [from Cole], but we send stuff to each other, recorded on computers or tape or CD. We’re trying to get away from the tape thing though. It’s always going to be great, but too many people are doing it.
AZ: Can you walk me through the recording process for your Mexican Summer 12”?
Jason: It was over a span of two years. We would go to Harley’s studio, drink a lot of beer, throw some records on, and do whatever. We’d run everything through a lot of compression on the computer. It’s about 75% samples-- on each track, there could be 10 to 20 samples, or more. There are some synths, and an old Casio keyboard. We’re going to have a totally different approach in two weeks when we go down to LA. We might not even use samples. We love minimal synths, minimal house. Kraftwerk is one of our favorite bands.
AZ: Where did you find the records that you sampled?
Jason: Most of them are pretty obscure. I’m always looking for records, constantly-- it’s part of my job [as a used record seller]. I go to flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, record stores. I used to be really into noting down what samples I was using, but it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all basically refuse-- horrible records you wouldn’t play, but we try to hear something in them. I’d say 89% of the records are on very small labels and don’t mean anything to anyone. On “Hyperbolic”, for the “Where’s the Potatoes?” sample at the beginning… do you remember the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” campaign from the ‘80s? There were records made playing off that-- little joke records. We used one of those.
AZ: Between the bands on Gloriette (Nite Jewel, Ariel Pink, Puro Instinct), the Samps, and Teen Inc., would you say there is a funk-pop revival in LA right now?
Jason: Everyone’s friends, and a lot of ideas are shared, and influences rub off, but I don’t really think there’s any kind of “scene”. There’s one DJ night, probably the best one in LA, called Grown, put on by this guy Ashland. He was at the one and only Samps performance. We had Teen Inc. on stage, playing guitar and bass; we wanted to cause a little confusion as to what was being played live and what was pre-recorded. We had like seven different people on stage.
AZ: Do you think those LA bands are influenced by the sun or concept of California?
Jason: The ones I’m associated with, no. Everyone’s obsessed with coastal expression and I don’t know why. The LA bands we’ve mentioned don’t go to the beach at all. I haven’t heard “Best Coast.” I don’t know them, but by the title it seems they’re pretty into the California thing. I don’t really hear California in Nite Jewel’s music. It’s more…isolated.
AZ: What’s next for The Samps?
Jason: Harland and I are going down in two weeks to finally do more stuff with Cole. We’re spending five days at Cole and Ramona’s new place. We want to finish up a couple of heavily sample-based things. Then we want to take a totally different approach, and play melody on bass and guitars, and add vocals and some samples. It’s going to be different. And we’re going to film some videos. They have a huge backyard and I’m going to bring some costumes and masks. We want to make little musical fragments with visuals. Nonsensical stuff.
AZ: Anything else to know?
Jason: We are not chillwave.