Samiam Saw Bon Jovi Play a Small Club and Thought He'd Never Be Big

Growing up, Samiam's guitarist, Sergie Loobkoff (far left) couldn't differentiate between AC/DC and small underground acts.
Growing up, Samiam's guitarist, Sergie Loobkoff (far left) couldn't differentiate between AC/DC and small underground acts. Per Schorn
Samiam came out of the same Berkeley punk scene that was fostered by legendary DIY venue 924 Gilman Street. Coming along slightly after acts like Green Day and Operation Ivy, Samiam never gained as much commercial popularity as its predecessors, but the group tasted success. In the mid-’90s, signed with Atlantic Records, Samian had a minor hit, “Capsized,” and nearly broke into the mainstream.

Though Samiam has since been recognized as a foundational emo and post-hardcore band, its music has always been hard to fit into a neat box. The group's musical diversity has resulted in its having gone from underground to MTV and back. As a result, Samiam has retained its credibility and indie cachet.

In advance of the group's March 10 concert at the Marquis, we spoke with guitarist Sergie Loobkoff about the roots of the band's unique sound and how the musicians combine noise and melody.

Westword: You and your brother were sort of metalheads before seeing a Subhumans, Dead Kennedys and Scream show, which changed your perspective on music.

Sergie Loobkoff: Because we lived in San Francisco, we had access to whatever bands came through. Initially we liked soul music and the Commodores and bands like that. When we were fourteen or fifteen, we liked Metallica, who we saw play in small clubs. The Dead Kennedys made heavy metal seem stupid to us, because they didn't sing about esoteric, silly stuff. Now that I have some perspective, I don't like normal metal, but I have a fondness for that era of Bay Area metal, like Metallica and Exodus. Hair metal was uncool in our little world, even though it ended up being cool in other people's worlds, though we did like the first Mötley Crüe album because it was kind of a glam-punk record. When we saw Bon Jovi at Keystone Berkeley, the same place we saw thrash bands and Dead Kennedys playing to maybe a hundred people, we didn't think they would be big in the future.

Seeing those now-famous thrash bands and the Dead Kennedys, as well as bands like Bon Jovi and Suicidal Tendencies, playing at a place like Keystone Berkeley, did you have a sense of local and non-local bands?

When I first saw Metallica, they were still from Los Angeles and playing small clubs. I didn't know the difference between a show with 200 people and a stadium; I thought they were the same thing, kind of. We were in awe of them equally. Now I don't really like a show that has more than 800 people, because it's not as fun. We didn't have access to bigger shows then, living in Berkeley. We had the first album from 7 Seconds in high school, and if you had asked us if we knew the difference between 7 Seconds and even AC/DC, I would ask, “Every kid has both records, don't they?” I didn't know one was a narrow, niche band not a lot of people knew about and that the other was widely known.

Did seeing Sonic Youth have the same impact on you as a punk that punk did on you as a metalhead?

Samiam, to the casual music fan, it is a ’90s skate-rock kind of punk band. But it's broader and has elements of indie rock, and you can tell that the guys in the band listened to diverse things like Beatles and Sonic Youth, and it's a hodgepodge of all of that. I had that metal phase and then punk, and I went with a friend to see Sonic Youth on the Sister tour, and I literally went home from that show with my eyes opened in the same way punk rock had from metal. It was a new world of noise and discordance and weirdness. Years later, I was late to the generic Beatles fandom. Most people fall in love with the Beatles when they're ten or something. I felt silly for being so into indie rock or noise rock that I sacrificed my appreciation for a more well-rounded scope of music. That happened in very specific steps. Most people I think have a more open-minded view of different kinds of music than I did. For whatever reason, I always boxed myself in tight and slowly chipped away to open up my perspective.

Some of the critical writing on the 2011 album Trips compared it to Sugar. Obviously Bob Mould was in that band, and he is someone who has combined dissonance with melody throughout his career, from Hüsker Dü until now. Did his music have an impact on what Samiam sounded like?

Yeah. The general concept of Samiam is similar to that of Dinosaur Jr. or Hüsker Dü and Pixies and lesser-known bands like Superchunk. What they have in common is a deep-down appreciation for a good pop song, but rarely do those bands just play pop in a pop style. It's like, "How do we fuck up this sweet, poppy idea so that it's still listenable?" In the world of punk rock, there's a big division between bands that subscribe to that philosophy and those that don't. Some bands want to be tough more than they want to be catchy and pleasing to listen to. We've always been in the punk world as a band, or wanted to be a participant in that world, but more than that, we wanted to be melodic. We were more interested in that than in being cool or tough. We had absolutely no interest in being tough or fast. We were fast in the beginning, but we never wanted to be the heaviest or fastest. We just wanted elements of those as well as the exact opposite.

Samiam, with the Gamits, Armchair Martian and Hotel Bar , Friday, March 10, 8 p.m., Marquis Theater, 303-487-0111, $25, all ages.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.