The Beatdown

Sean Kelly weighs in on the Samples' past, present and future.

"He wrote me the same letter last year, and then he apologized for it," Kelly says. "And then he asked -- quote this -- he told me he wanted nothing to do with this organization whatsoever on that level. And then his very next e-mail was to see if his band could warm us up on the road. I mean, what is that? I don't know what his intentions are, but I feel like they're as clear as a muddy pool of water."

But Macnichol had been very clear in his criticism of the Samples touring in a "2004 top-of-the-line tour bus" when the band was allegedly in such dire straits.

"Well, first of all, that's not true," Kelly says. "We have not been in top-of-the-line Prevost buses. And that has nothing to do whatsoever with justifying money to exist as a band. That was to pay back debts that were increased, specifically, to, one, poor management, and two, W.A.R.? Records, right there in Boulder, Colorado."

The Samples had quite a fallout with W.A.R.?, their former imprint. After they re-signed to the label in 1999, Kelly says, a dispute over touring soured that relationship. Coupled with trouble with their accountant, the situation nearly forced the band into bankruptcy. "I've lost immeasurable amounts of confidence -- just unbelievable amounts of faith, trust, everything -- in that human being who runs W.A.R.? Records," Kelly says. "And we will definitely have our day in court." (In the meantime, W.A.R.? will release Very Best of the Samples 1989-1994 on Tuesday, November 16.)

Trying to stay out of bankruptcy court inspired Kelly's overture to the fans. Around Christmas 2002, a friend who was helping Kelly pay the rent saw It's a Wonderful Life, which was making its annual appearance on television, and the story line provided inspiration for the missive. "We were thinking of every way to not file bankruptcy," Kelly explains. "And that was our only choice, I promise you. We had several attorneys saying 'Dump it.' I was like, 'I cannot do that.' That's not just for the music; that was for the people that were not going to get paid."

The Samples' fans responded by sending in close to $20,000, which helped keep a few creditors at bay and allowed the group to continue. Kelly was overwhelmed by the outpouring. "I really felt like Jimmy Stewart, man," he says. "Coming back, and people are sitting there with hatfuls of money like small-town bankers. We just don't do this music for the money. There's really no monetary reward, to be honest with you. Zero. Zilch. We just focus on what we do: We make people happy and make ourselves happy. I've never taken a music lesson in my life. I dropped out of high school when I was sixteen. I quit and took my GED and dreamt about what I'm doing now. If I can do it, anybody can. All of this stuff just comes from having a dream and trying to hang on to it."

And Kelly's not about to let go of the Samples now.

"We're sustaining a career here on our own," he says. "It's unbelievable. You know, we've got bands paying up to $10,000 a tour to come out and warm us up. I mean, what does that say? Yeah, we're doing great. We've done a lot. We just had the most valuable player in hockey call us up three or four weeks ago and ask us to play his private party. And three of the guys from Phish showed up and played with us. We're drinking out of the Stanley Cup on our bus -- that's got to mean something. That could've been an opportunity that never happened. What a great justification and validation for staying forward and on the course with what we're doing."

The band's not only surviving, but still touching people (no matter how vacuously dull the Samples' music seems to me.) "It's being an adult and being fully aware of how subjective it all is," Kelly concludes. "Someone like yourself doesn't like it. Somebody else, it saves their life. You know, there was a guy last night that came to the show who was suicidal over a marriage that went south. He was hanging out with us. We keep his letter on the bus as validation, because he literally said that we saved his life. Then I've done something."

Upbeats and beatdowns:On Thursday, September 23, Brethren Fast and Yo, Flaco! search for hot bodies at the Soiled Dove, while the Blue Mule debuts its Bandaoke -- karaoke with a full live band. On Friday, September 24, Suburban Home Records celebrates its ninth anniversary at the Ogden Theatre with the Gamits, Laymen Terms, Irradio, Kite Eating Tree and Grace Like Gravity; Crash Orchid stops by the Lion's Lair; Rhythm Vision, Unconscious and ESP get telepathic at Herman's Hideaway; Havok does its best Metallica impersonation while Bon Bonchannels AC/DC at the Blue Mule; and Mike Mayhem, More Than Medium and Spiv hop over to the Toad Tavern.

And finally, on Saturday, September 25, the Larimer Lounge hosts Stonehenge II, featuring Phantom Trigger, Deer Creek, National Blues Arsenal, Under the Drone, Audio Dream Sister, Half of Zero, Hervis, Girth, Core of the Earth, Turambar, Black Lamb and Nebula; Deepsky, Andrew Innes & CBR, Zana Mills, DMX, Nevin and Cory G head to the Gothic Theatre for Fevah II; and Orion's Room and the Last Seen support headliners Honey Tongue at the Dove.

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