Tag: Sam Brown

  • Interview With Drummer Sam Brown: Shining With the Sun

    The Sun’s Sam Brown isn’t ungrateful, of course, but recognition as a stickman just doesn’t mean as much to him anymore: “There was a time—maybe ten years ago—when I would have been pissing down my leg about being in a drum magazine. I was just so into being a drummer: It was like my whole being. I still really enjoy playing, but now I’m definitely way more into songwriting than I’m into drumming.”

    Put down the pitchforks. Although Brown doesn’t immediately come off as our typical drum fanatic, his credentials are impeccable. At 33, he’s closing in on two decades behind the kit, having mastered his first beat on a desk during English class in the eighth grade. After the usual run-through of garage and cover bands, he began catching ears in earnest with Fever Smile, a country-tinged grunge group that played the Columbus music scene from ’92 to ’94. Soon after, he went power punk with Gaunt from ’95 to ’98 and became a cult favorite with the New Bomb Turks in ’99. Along the way, his playing has continually evolved by incorporating elements of John Bonham’s power, Keith Moon’s energy, Dennis Chambers’ licks and tricks, Jimmy Chamberlin’s dexterity, and Robert Ellis’ dynamics and creativity. The guy knows drums.

    But he also knows music. By the time he landed The Sun gig in 2001 (he was in the band, by the way, for only a week or so before the labels were impressed enough to start throwing around contracts), Brown had long been a song-oriented, groove-based player. “I was never one of those lonely drummers in the basement that just played fills over and over again,” he explains. “I’ve always played with people, I’ve always played songs, and I’ve always had to keep good time that people could play to.” His drumming with The Sun has lately become even more economical and supportive: “It’s more basic than it used to be: I pick my battles … When I first learned a lot of the stuff that I had been trying to play, I overplayed, hoping there was some drummer in the audience that I could wow. The older I got, the more I realized that Charlie Watts is a genius.” 

    If fitting in with the music—and making it feel good—is genius, then Brown will be getting a Mensa membership for his work with The Sun. Fronted by the unique and powerful vocals of chic-geek Chris Burney and driven by Brown’s perfectly tailored beats, the band began getting serious buzz with the teaser EPs Love And Death in 2003 and Did Your Mother Tell You? in 2004. A full-length debut, Blame It On The Youth, finally appeared last year to much fan approval. The disc includes a few songs from the previous releases, and though undeniably polished and primped, it maintains all the urgent energy and attitude of a garage band recording. And best of luck to the retail clerks who have to figure out where to file the disc (alternative is just too easy a catch-all for the band’s eclectic sound). Brown describes the album as “all over the place, there’s a lot of different kinds of songs on it, so we’re not a rock band that just plays rock for an hour.” Expect instead a richer, a more textured and diverse bunch of tunes—whether the faintly punk “Pavement Jive” or the techno-sexy “Romantic Death.” Get a little closer, and you’ll warm up quickly to Brown’s drumming, particularly the playful floor tom/snare pattern on “Must Be You.” Just be careful before getting too close: The Sun is hot.

    Brown helped crank up the heat with his writing. He began tracking songs a year and a half ago in a makeshift studio, not for any particular reason at first, just to enjoy playing guitar and singing. “They weren’t even really meant to be Sun songs,” Brown says of those early demos. “I just kind of wrote them because I was having fun and I finally figured out how to do it.” Five of the tunes on Blame started life in Brown’s studio, including “Justice” and “Valentine,” the latter of which features one of the album’s busier drum parts—a two-handed sixteenth pattern between the hi-hat and snare drum—and an infectious 80s feel that hearkens back to Brown’s early predilection for John Hughes soundtracks. 

    The Sun’s genre-defying music may leave some wondering what the band is all about, but there’s absolutely no question that the boys are an adventurous, forward-looking bunch. Embracing current technology and the listening habits of music fans, the band released Blame It On The Youth in a DVD-only format. The disc doesn’t play in conventional home or car CD players, but each song is included as a high-quality audio file that can easily be burned to a blank CD or transferred to an MP3 player. Equally revolutionary (and we hope other groups are taking notes), the disc includes videos for every song. Mostly shot on the cheap by artist friends and willing professionals, the clips uniformly match the creativity and cleverness of the band’s music. One especially daring effort—the video for “Romantic Death,” which plays on the French petit mort (look it up)—earned Blame a coveted Parental Advisory sticker.

    Distraught mothers aside, The Sun has managed to warm over the masses, even a usually frigid recording industry. The band’s big-time label, Warner Brothers, displaying none of the usual skittishness expected from a major player, fully supported the band as well as the unconventional album format. “They’ve really held up on their end of the development philosophy,” Brown says. “We’ve been with them for three years, and Blame It On The Youth is just now coming out. There’s a lot of good faith there. We couldn’t ask for a better situation as far as a major label deal goes.” 

    With all the attention the band has been getting (from the music press, of course, but the stodgy ears of USA Today and The Washington Post have also perked up) and with his sights firmly set on penning more tunes for the next record, Brown isn’t about to be forgotten behind his kit: “My role used to just be drummer. Chris was our main songwriter, pretty much our only songwriter. The whole dynamic of the band has changed in the last year because I wrote five of the songs on the record, so now I’m doing all the interviews.”

    Even the interview for a forlorn drum site.