There’s very few people in this world who can step into a project without a plan and produce something that’s actually good. Cole MGN (best known for his work on Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti), J. Darrah (aka 12manrambo, who you’d know if you were into rap tapes) and Harland Burkhart (drumming machine, of Dispirit and Wild Hunt) are, evidently, part of that few. Together, they are The Samps, and they’ve just released their long-awaited debut record Breakfast.
“Breakfast can start or end at any time of the day,” the band’s official statement begins. “The night it really happened for us was when the arrowhead-teethed Egg-Worm dropped into the pool on the top floor of Cole’s rented studio in Downtown Los Angeles, a whole 100 yard mine field alleyway away from Jason’s Liquors, where Harland had just come back from with the groceries. Let’s finish this record right after we finish feeding this worm thing more abandoned chihuahuas. So it begins with an explanation from a young man inside of an abandoned, and very wet, YMCA restroom – I don’t understand you, man,” it continues for many more lines… and many more obscurities… until we get to a plopping point where, eight years later, the worm wants Olive Garden for lunch at 2am.
This kind of enigmatic collected-reference material might seem a bit ~random~ but, sifting through their statement for talking points, I find it a good preparation for their mercurial release. But that’s not to say it’s unreliable.
It’s the opposite, in fact. This unlikely trio, with all of their deviating music experience and areas of passion, have produced a record that’s utterly dependable. Fitting, then, that it’s named after the most important meal of the day.
Hi! So, can you all collectively, without looking at each other’s answers, tell me the first word that comes into your head when you hear the words “blog-pop”?
Jason: The ‘vomit’ emoticon.
Harley: A big glass of sewage.
Cole: *hits juul*
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever read those words together — until I started researching The Samps. But it’s true you’ve got a bit of a digital way about you — you were initially not so interested in the live performance, is that still the case? Why?
Jason: The music was and still kinda is made without one shred of thought about live performance. it’s just made to make each other either laugh, cry, or vomit, and in the case of Harley and I, to listen to over and over and over on our headphones and in our cars. But now I think we really are wanting to perform live, because the few times we did it went really well. And I’d personally love to get the hell out of the country for a while and at least DJ.
Harley: Recently I’ve resorted to just acting like a madman on stage, drinking hundreds of beers, acting something like when William Hurt turns into that primitive fella in Altered States. In that way it’s kinda therapeutic too. But yeah, originally it wasn’t that we weren’t interested in live performance, but rather that we just weren’t thinking about it really at all.
Speaking of things I’ve never really read before: your statement on your press release… this is some magical thinking… who is responsible for it and also what does it all mean?
Jason: That was me. Ramona (Nite Jewel) and the guys always force me to do my stream of consciousness writing for a lot of things. It’s actually really personal and I really love doing it when I finally force myself to do it. It’s a good way of processing what all this music we made means to me on both a very abstract and very detailed level. I just always hope it’s not off-putting or too inside — but then I think of De La Soul and I never knew what the fuck they were talking about half the time listening to their first three albums as a young buck but… they’re De La Soul! Everybody loves them…or loved them. Ten times better than ATCQ anyway, in my humble opinion.
It kind of seems that you all have an affinity with being cryptic when it comes to The Samps — it’s quite difficult to pinpoint your genre references. What type of music and films are you all drawn to?
Jason: Music: everything. Except hardcore (punk). I think it’s impossible to make good electronic music if you’re coming from that background. But I could be wrong. Movies: David Lynch is my absolute idol on all levels, musically as well — minus the god awful bluesy stuff he does.
Harley: Music: yeah, I’m drawn to all kinds of shit, a lot of inspirational fuel for Samps. Everything except for Stevie Wonder. F’n blind leading the blind! Lately I’ve been on this crusty ‘n’ dusty kinda techno kick. Northern Electronics & Opal Tapes are pretty much dominating my stereo right now. Movies: I like difficult to interpret stuff that looks pretty, like Tarkovsky, or Wojciech Jerzy-Has. The Hourglass Sanatorium is, visually, pretty much what’s going on in my brain at all times.
Cole, you were infamously quoted as saying you all had no idea what you were doing in this band — is it still the case?
Still have no idea what we’re doing. All actions – no thinking. Speak before you think, act before you speak.
You are all really established and obviously quite good and knowledgeable about what you do — so does free-styling together kind of offer you all a bit of escapism or freedom from your more demanding work?
Jason: Absolutely. Though I’m drunk half the time I’m doin’ my other job, just wingin’ it. All work I do is fun, cos I’m the boss (well, Cole is the Big Boss of The Samps, but he’s a good little big boss). But being in the studio with these guys is just heaven. Getting back together last year to make/finish this album was actually completely therapeutic for me, in the realest way I’ve ever felt, because I was depressed before that due to having a ‘real’ job for two years! Fuck that shit!
Harley: That’s what Samps is all about, otherwise we would have ceased this shit years ago. I think the only expectation people have for us is just to keep wilin’ out and making music that’s fun. Other than that, no rules! Except to gobble them beans and slurp them fine ales.
Speaking of skills and knowledge — is there anything musically that you just can’t do and wish you could?
Jason: I don’t know where to start with that question. I suppose I wish I could play drums and sing at the same time as masterfully as Harley does. Or play keys as beautifully as Cole does. Or “learn to work the saxophone” as well as our Uncle Timmy Rogers or Wayne Shorter.
Harley: If I could play the piano I’d be set. But who has the time to learn a new instrument when they’re old and decrepit like me?
Cole: Sing and play drums like Harley or Christian Vander.
How did you all meet each other, by the way?
Cole: Harley and I met working at a grocery store. I would trick the other employees into doing my work so I could follow him around and force him to tell me about drum n bass. His mom would get really mad at me, so then I started coming by their house every day and forcing them to feed and clothe me and let me use their turntables.
Jason: Cole and Harley had already been good friends for a while and were making really good music together. I met Cole, who is quite a bit younger than I, through his cousin Tim (Rogers, mentioned above, who we like to call uncle instead of cousin). Tim is like my closest friend ever, and he kept wanting Cole and I to meet — and at the time I was like, “I don’t wanna meet some little teenage kid I wanna meet an older and wiser woman who will show me the ways of…” Oh whoops sorry. So we finally met and it changed my life actually. Totally reinvigorated me. I hadn’t hit it off with someone musically like that since I had met Tim! So, shortly after meeting him and actually visiting him in NY where he was at the time, he introduced me to Harley, who he would talk about constantly, and we just totally hit it off. We just completely got each other — the sense of humour, the taste, the tongue…
Harley: Cole insisted that I hang out with him and these older dudes who acted all cool but really just seemed like losers. But I fell for it, and it turned out I was right. But also they turned out to have really interesting tastes in music, and were way more knowledgeable than me. And they are hilarious motherfuckers. These losers were named Tim and Jason. Actually, before the Samps, Cole and I played in a band with Tim, Ramona, and Jason’s soon-to-be wife. But then Tim sunk that ship by moving on to his obsession with Berkeley League softball. He started wearing them daisy-dukes. Thankfully, Jason kept wearing normal clothes and then we started working on music together.
Did you instantly like each other or did someone need to be convinced?
Jason: I always wonder if Harley maybe had a couple minor issues with me initially, cos as extremely nice and amicable as he is, he is also quite a sceptical and particular young man. Like, I thought maybe he wouldn’t wanna make music with me after I left his studio the day I met him and, as I went to my car, looked down and noticed I had my fly open and a little bit of pee-pee on my ‘chones’.
Harley: Even if I didn’t like Cole, I’d have to get over it because that lil fella wasn’t ever gonna leave me alone. With Jason, I was instantly down to work with him because of his overwhelmingly positive reaction upon hearing my own electronic stuff I was doing at the time. I suppose he could have been just feeling sorry for me, but he never admitted to that. Only thing was, when he left the studio I had an “uh-oh” moment, cos, as I sat in my studio swivel-chair, I looked down and noticed I had my fly open and a little bit of pee-pee on my huevos.
Do you hang out together outside of the studio?
Jason: Damn, not so much any more come to think of it. But I think we would be all the time if we all lived in the same town. But we’d also be in the studio the whole time in that case. Harley lives close to me, but in Berkeley so I never wanna go out there cos I don’t care much for the scent of patchouli, ya smell me? But he was just over here at my house in Oakland two nights ago for my daughter’s third birthday. We didn’t get to hang much, cos I was so busy in the pink bouncy castle, but I thought we were gonna hang after the party and drink beer so I was ok with it all. Turns out he had booked a practice session with his other band when he was really supposed to stay and drink more alcohol with me at my house. Asshole.
Harley: If I wasn’t so busy with other shit, like panning for gold, I’d be hanging out with these guys all the time. They’re that fun to be around. But as you get older, more responsibilities pop up, and need immediate attention. Pink bouncy castles ain’t made of sand, they’ll be around whenever you want.
‘Breakfast’ is said to be your magnum opus on the press release — are you splitting after this, or just not planning on doing anything that exceeds it?
Jason: This could once again be the end or just the beginning. Time is money and money makes the world burn ’round. We are all currently working on solo projects though, and they’re all gonna be so different from one another. It’s great. That’s how it should be.
Harley: Yeah, nowadays it’s hard for me to think about the future of anything. I think the three of us are putting down lil ideas on our own almost everyday, and some of those sound kinda Sampsy. I personally already have some new material that could totally work for the next thing, but I won’t be heartbroken if an album doesn’t come out till after I’m six feet deep.
Do you think it’s a better output than your 2010 EP?
Jason: It’s a lot more focused. We learned to actually finish songs, I think. If you listen to most of the songs on the EP, you might notice that they end a bit abruptly or were looking for a new direction to go but our friends at the time told us they were done so we just moved on.
Did you go on any new tangents with this one?
Jason: Oh God, yes we did. Though many of those tangents got chopped off the record in the end. Like a stupid but masterful skit I made involving a minute-long confusing, senseless phone conversation leading to a violent murder just outside the Catalina Ballroom in Avalon, CA. Lots of dogs barking during that incident. However, we really focused in on those dogs for the NTS mix we did for Nite Jewel.
Harley: Another tangent that got cut off was a song that Cole and Jason made that Cole kinda hated. I love it because it had this big, stinkin’, nasty, repulsive, flatulent, sweaty, floppy, swampy feel to it.
Were there things on the EP that you wanted to go back and fix, that sort of informed decisions on this album?
Jason: We just wanted to have a more clear beginning and ending to each song, I guess. Try to at least be a little more mature in these snow-flakey times. Also, having some of the transitions as seamless as possible was nice.
What do you guys eat for breakfast?
Jason: Turkey vulture eggs.
Harley: A big glass of sewage.
Cole: Huevos Rancheros and the cig’rits.
If you each had one song that woke you up every morning for the rest of your lives — what would it be?
Jason: Maybe… Can ‘Future Days’.
Harley: Storm ‘Oppi Fjellet’.
Cole: Herbie Handcock.
Image: via @colemgn