No, the Samples aren't breaking up--not officially, anyhow. But drummer MacNichol and keyboardist Laughlin have announced that they are parting company with the band at the conclusion of a six-week tour that ends May 10 in St. Louis. Kelly and Sheldon will continue to work as a team, and the band's manager, Ted Guggenheim, says they will do so under the Samples moniker with a new drummer and keyboardist whom they hope to recruit before the year is out. But just about everything else in the group's universe is up in the air.
The approved line on the split is every bit as cautious as you'd anticipate. According to Guggenheim, who was sacked as the Samples' manager around the time the group signed a contract with MCA Records and then rehired last September, "Jeep and Al wanted to pursue other musical interests that they've been leaning toward for some time." This rings true in MacNichol's case: Last year he put out a solo album (Fist, on the W.A.R.? imprint) that was much tougher and more adventurous than the Samples' typically snoozy approach. As for Laughlin, he was out of the band for much of 1996 because of an addiction problem; during the same period, he made headlines after he was arrested for burglarizing a Boulder apartment building (Feedback, September 19, 1996). He later rejoined the fold, but his upcoming departure quite naturally raises the possibility that the damage had already been done. Whether anyone will actually admit that is another question; aside from stating that Laughlin is clean right now, Guggenheim declines to speculate about his motivations.
The future is just as foggy. The Samples have another guaranteed album on their MCA contract, but the disappearance of half the band may convince the company to start looking for an escape clause. Guggenheim says that's up in the air right now. But if MCA decides to file for divorce, Kelly and Sheldon may be as relieved as anyone at the firm. Their previous experiences with a major label--the Samples released a self-titled platter on Arista in 1990--was unsatisfactory in the extreme, and as judged by the poor commercial showing of Outpost, the group's MCA debut, their current relationship isn't bearing much fruit, either. Although Guggenheim is reluctant to say that MCA is at fault in this situation ("There's plenty of blame to go around," he admits), he does allow that the process of bringing the CD to the public's attention was not a smooth one.
"When the Samples were making that record," he says, "they'd have a meeting with someone at the label, and then a week later that person would be fired, because the company was in such turmoil. That was very disconcerting from the band's point of view. And then, when the record was finally done, there was no keyboard player [Laughlin was 'on hiatus'], and the management situation was crazy. I got fired and they hired somebody else, and then they fired him and hired somebody else--and then they fired him, too, and rehired me. Now, you can imagine how the label dealt with all that. Labels take the path of least resistance; if you create resistance, they put their energy somewhere else. And that's what they did."
Still, Guggenheim tries to put the best spin on the latest chapter of the Samples' soap opera. He insists that the players are getting along famously: "This has been the most enjoyable tour they've had in four years, because the pressure's off. And Sean and Andy are eager to continue in a similar vein to what they've been doing, but with new people collaborating with them." He adds that the original lineup's final tour will be treated no differently from the dozens upon dozens of jaunts that came before it.
"They're not doing a farewell type of show here," Guggenheim points out. "We want to focus on what's coming up, not what's happened in the past. I think what Sean and Andy are going to do down the line will be a lot more exciting than this quote-unquote last show."
Like the original Samples, Monkey Siren will be playing its last show this week. The combo, with Adrian Romero and Love Supreme opening, headlines at Herman's Hideaway on Thursday, March 27. But there's considerably less drama at play here; after all, the four musicians who've been at the heart of Monkey Siren over the past couple of years (bassist Katrina Leigh, guitarist Lexxa Moffitt, multi-instrumentalist Mark Harris and drummer Scott Davies) plan to keep playing together. However, they'll be doing so under a new moniker--Action Sound Superband, a designation borrowed from a Taiwan-based company that makes musical instruments. "It's probably a bad translation of something else," Leigh says. "But we liked it anyway."