Profiles

Jules Bethea-Rateliff and Joe Sampson talk about Joe's first official release, Kill Our Friends

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Westword: So tell me what your thoughts are about the new record.

Joe Sampson: It was kind of out of my hands. Roger and I started it last year, because he wanted to try his hand at producing an album, so we started with mine. And then I kind of -- like I usually do with all my stuff -- I kind of just bail out a little bit. Not lose interest as much as self-sabotage, probably. I kind of let it go a little bit, but then he just kept working on it for a year. And then he talked to Jules, and they almost started like a friendly coup against me, you know? [laughs] And so they wanted to put it out, and I was either for them, with them or against them. So I just decided to keep going.

Up until now it's been almost like this ongoing thing where you have put albums otherwise, but you've never really put out your own music. Has there been a specific reason for that, or what's been behind that?

I think it's just...I don't know. Maybe I'm just too hard on myself. You know? Maybe I'm just a little too much of a critic. I love the Bad Weather California stuff. I'm super confident about Chris's abilities. And Wentworth Kersey, his stuff was magic. So I have confidence in the collaboration stuff. But when it came down to my own stuff, I consider myself a realist. Some people probably consider me delusional, but I think I just... I don't know.

I never thought I was that ready yet. And this one, I really had no choice, like I said, so it's kind of nice, in a weird way. It was not ready, in my mind. You know? First of all, it can always sound better off the bat than it does. You know, and I keep working on it, and I do my usual just kind of walking away from it for a bit. But I'm glad that Roger kept doing it, though.

What do you think of the fact that you have so many people that admire your music, and are so vocal about it? You sort of have a reputation of being sort of quiet and humble when it comes to your music, so how did that feel to know that so many people admire your music?

Of course, it feels great. You know, I have a little bit of a theory on that - and I hope people don't take offense to my theory -- but I think that being as quiet as I am and not such an outlandish character about music... you know, I don't really get out there everyday, and I don't really talk to much about it outside of my colleagues, I think you're not going to go wrong if you put your faith in this guy. I'm never going to prove you wrong. I'm not going to go on Saturday Night Live next week with make-up on. You know?

So it's kind of nice to put into that, and being part of a more... It's more of a local... I'm more of a local, I guess, than the other bands. I mean, we're all local, but people aspire big, and that's awesome. I never really aspire big. What I aspire to is having people sing my songs, like this show that's coming up. I never had to much faith in my performance.

Did the attention kind of make you feel awkward at all, just sort of like, "Wow. I'm just a regular guy?" That sort of thing?

To be honest, and this is sort of cliché, but I don't remember writing those songs. I really don't. I listen to them, and I don't remember writing those. These came out, and I don't remember writing them, so I can't take credit for them. And it's not a God thing or anything like that. I think it's just like a time thing and a mumbling, lyrics and... If anything I'm proud of about my songwriting, I think I'm a good editor. I think I know what not to say -- I think I know. People like the fact that I don't say to much. My songs are rarely over two minutes long. But yes, I'm happy that people like it. Of course.

Are you a perfectionist? Is that part of what takes...

No. If I were, I would probably do way more. I would actually practice the guitar. I don't even touch the guitar ever until...like if I have a show, I'll practice the day before, and I'll end up just trying to write a song and not practicing. So if I were a perfectionist, I would probably practice more and maybe actually learn instruments better.

I guess let me rephrase that: Is it a situation where, like, you don't really want to put anything out there until you feel like it's a good representation of what you're trying to say?

I don't know about "saying," but maybe "doing." Most importantly, I think, music, when I grew up, my dad was a big singer, you know, in the house, that's all he did - he had four sons and we were all supposed to be a barber shop quartet, and he tried, tried, tried, but we were no good -- and he brought melody in the house, harmonies, you know?

So to me, melody and harmony are number one. Anything I listen to, melody and harmony. And then voice. And then it goes to maybe lyrics. There's something to say. You know lyrics are cool. You've got Leonard Cohen for that -- oh my god, amazing, right? But then music is way after. I hear music, and I can do some of it, but I don't really think about it as much. That's why I don't think I have much to say. I'm not trying to say something. It's just whatever I mumbled out.

If you listen to my songs, sometimes they make no sense. Matter of fact, Roger Green tells me what my songs mean, sometimes. And he's usually quite correct, because he's talking about the era that I wrote it. So probably subconsciously, I'm writing these things. But no statements. I don't think I have statements in any of those songs, especially "Kill Our Friends," the name of the album, I hope nobody takes that literal. That's more of a joke about, you know, people not always being quite there with you, which is fine, you know.

But yeah, it's mostly melody. I just want to have a good melody, and I want to sing better, but I have the voice I have. This morning, we did the Open Air thing, and I sang a couple of songs live, and man, I just almost couldn't do it, just listening to myself, like, "Aargh!" My other problem is my performance. I just want a better performance and that's what I hope. If I had a better performance on all these records and these four-tracks that I did - some are really good, but I'll probably never get that. So therefore, I guess that's why I've never really been ready. So it's ready for me.

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera