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No One Is Making Music Like Sam Austins

From what inspires his creative vision to the book that has impacted him the most, Sam Austins sat down with MUD ahead of his show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

Photo: Ari Adams

Tell me a little bit about your earliest memories of music, and when or where they happened. Mine was Eminem in my dad's pickup truck.

S: Eminem's a good pick. Growing up, my family had music playing all the time. Michael Jackson was the first person I gravitated to. I had some Moon Walker set, like the Moonwalker video game, the TV, the movie, I mean, so much. My dad had Stevie Wonder, Jim Crochet. He used to make music as well. Still makes music. And he raised me on the piano early. Very early. So that's my first memory of music.

Were you always a singer or did you start with something else?

S: No, I used to be more into drawing when I was a kid. I liked making stories. I liked making magic graphic novels. Like, I'd hold papers up in half and make books and just draw stories. I used to love Star Wars, so I used to pull and make a bunch of Star Wars stories with my own characters, playing off of that. I wanted to paint pictures and make a world for people to dive into. That’s what I wanted to do first as a kid. And it just happened that my language for it was music. That was a big part of it. Like, getting into it in high school and wanting to figure out how to express myself in the best way. And as kids, all we grow up aspiring to be like the idols we love.

Who were those people for you?

S: Easy. George Lucas was definitely it for me. I grew up listening to a lot of people like Paramore, Chemical Romance, the Beatles, very different stuff really. I was always really interested in the people that step forward, like Prince and Bowie. It isn’t just about the music. It was about the package, the overall vision you're getting.

Nowadays, what’s keeping you inspired when you're recording music or writing?

S: Communication. Like, what language can I speak to the listener in a way and how am I connecting. How am I inspiring somebody. How am I making someone feel like they're in a new world, in the new universe, when they hear the music or when they see the art or when they see the package and the visuals and what the story is.

Another thing that's been inspiring me recently is getting out on tour and being on stages and music that can reflect that live energy that I bring when I'm on stage. Make people dance, making people scream and yell and feel something, like, get your heart beating. How do I make the heart beat? So, I'm making records now that reflect that perspective.

Your most recent single was “Dancing with the Devil.” Can you walk me through the process of making that song from writing to recording it?

S: Sibling, the producer, is a good friend of mine from Detroit. He goes by Steph Anderson. He sent me the instrumental, which is very rare for me to get an instrumental and be like, I gravitate so hard to this that I want to write a song right now. I'm very picky and very particular. And I like being in the room when I make music with somebody. But this time, something just hit. I was like, wait, something about this feeling is so good. I like the pitch and I like the notes. I just started singing this melody to myself in my room. I wrote the song in like 10-15 minutes of just thinking about my experience living in New York for a small period of time, writing music and trying to figure out my way and navigating through the streets of New York and then moving to LA. Figuring out my place amongst the people here and finding my community. I just wanted to talk about what it's like to chase your dreams and chase the heights of your life and your career, like the things that you want to get after, but also the things that come with doing that. The things like the lows or the dangers that come with navigating a new space, like how I was and the influences and the different people that you bring into your world. This is the process, really, of being new in town and figuring out your feet and figuring out your space. That's such a hard thing. The record came out so fluidly. It was almost like a therapy session.

Those are the best songs. When you listen to it and you're like, this artist is doing a little therapy session on their own with a pen and paper.

S: It is crazy. I feel like when you hear it and you hear the song and when we play it live, you have fun. Like with “Dancing With The Devil." It's a beautiful song. I love playing it a lot. I love the flip on the meaning of “dance with the devil,” like what that means to me and how people can connect it to their lives. It's a really fun one. I'm really glad of how it turned out.

What are you excited for in 2023?

S: Oh, man. I mean, we just completed the Dora Jar tour, which was the opening tour. I want to get back on the road. I'm really itching to do this again. This is my first time ever being on tour, and I just want to get back out there and see more people, connect with more people. Keep doing it. Finish the record that we've been working on for the past few months. Now we're working on a new EP, and then I immediately get back to starting another project in the new year. So it's a lot that’s worked out for me. It's going to be really fun.

It's exciting.

S: Oh, bro, it's the best, man. I've been so inspired by the people that I've been collaborating with and all the different instrumentalists and the writers. It’s crazy how much life I've lived since the last project. Now it's like, okay, what new stories are we embarking on? And “Dancing With The Devil” and "Matador" have been great first pieces into the world that we're going into next. Fuck, yeah. Yeah.

Now, this last question I always ask everybody I interview. What are the three books that you love most?

S: I mean, this is a classic, but The Alchemist is such a beautiful story. That's something that I read and I also love to go back to. There's another one that's coming to mind: A Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. It’s a bunch of his stories and how they relate to society now. So here are 1000 pages by Joseph Campbell, A New Earth by Echo Tolly, and then The Alchemist.

I fucking love The Alchemist. I feel like no matter who you are, you can always apply it to better in your life and your practice as an artist. It's a powerful book that is fun to read, and makes you feel inspired after.

S: Oh my God. By the end of it, when he takes off in the wind, I'm just like, I've never had a book do that to me. It just pull something so spiritually out of me. And when that happened, I felt it. Maybe that's like me being an empath. Probably. Yeah, I felt that.


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