Six years ago, Bay Area-based Samiam was riding high, fresh off the release of its fourth album and Hopeless debut, Astray. With the critically acclaimed disc on store shelves and the formidable backing of a new record label, the quintet appeared unstoppable, geared to hit the road both stateside and abroad. But new albums and road life weren't entirely novel concepts for the scene veterans. Launching from the same late 80s do-it-yourself punk circles that spawned bands like Green Day, Samiam's distinctive blend of melodic phrases atop a hardcore foundation found the band standing out from the typical fare of the time. After early album releases on New Red Archives, Samiam reaped the benefits of the 90s Bay Area punk explosion that led to the commercial signings other seminal genre greats like Jawbreaker and the aforementioned Green Day.
With an Atlantic Records contract in hand, Samiam received respectable amounts of commercial airplay via its major label debut, 1994s Clumsy and later, via the Tommy Boy/Ignition-released You Are Freaking Me Out in 1998 (out on Burning Heart elsewhere). However, within a year into Astray's album cycle, the entire train of musical momentum came to a halt when personal issues derailed the band's plans. Some of Samiam's members soon looked like they had other priorities working in new projects, including guitarist Sergie Loobkoff in Solea and then-bassist Sean Kennerly in The Fakers. Throughout the next couple years, Samiam occasionally toured via international jaunts, keeping the bands flame lit and name in memory. And while most of the band's domestic releases eventually became a rarity on store shelves or were outright discontinued, Burning Heart/Epitaph maintained the band's overseas retail profile. But a new album just wasn't in the cards.
"I was thinking, we'd just got together for a month to go on tour, why can't we get together for a month and record a record? This seems kind of absurd,? says vocalist Jason Beebout. All that changed in 2005, when Samiam pulled it together and began planning what would become its latest creation. But this time, the band had a revised outlook on its forthcoming album it wouldn't strive for any sort of commercial success, just personal fulfillment and a chance to offer something new to its eager fan base, both domestically and abroad. With Kennerly new on guitar (replacing departed guitarist James Brogan) contributing a number of songs, plus the creations of primary songwriter Loobkoff, writing sessions were placed into motion. Filling the vacant bass position with Samiam fan Jeremy Bergo, who had contacted the band via the bandâ€™s website, was another large step in the right direction. â€œI had never talked or met him until he walked into my house and we started working on songs,â€? says Beebout of Bergo. â€œHe already knew everything. Weâ€™d sent him some real horrible tapes that we made with just guitars and drums or stuff that was done in GarageBand, and he had learned all the songs by the time he got here. It was like, â€˜All right, hereâ€™s our fifth member!â€™â€? The disparate locations of Samiamâ€™s members â€” Kennerly in Brooklyn, Loobkoff in L.A., Beebout and drummer Johnny Cruz in the Bay Area, and Minneapolis-based Bergo â€” didnâ€™t make rehearsing and writing easy.
Six-hour marathon rehearsal sessions were booked in the Bay Area, which often resulted in such casualties as blown voices. The intense practice finally paid off: With songs wrapped and ready, Samiam enlisted producer Chris Moore (TV On The Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) to helm the sessions of its fifth album and began work in early 2006. However, a few kinks had to be ironed out, as Beebout readjusted himself, having been out of the studio environment for several years. â€œYouâ€™ve got to remember what youâ€™re able to do,â€? says Beebout. â€œI was pretty unsure of how to do stuff. You get into the studio and you hear your voice clearly through the headphones, and youâ€™re like, â€˜Holy shit, what was I thinking?â€™ Youâ€™ve gotta re-organize everything in your head. And itâ€™s physical, too. After not singing for a long time, you lose a bit of that muscle.â€? In fact, by the end of the session, Jasonâ€™s voice had strengthened so much that he opted re-track some of the albumâ€™s earlier vocal sessions.
The resulting record, Whateverâ€™s Got You Down, was something distinctively Samiam in composition, yet markedly different in approach and character. Foregoing the polish and production of its previous works, Samiam instead assembled an album that offered a more realistic sonic view. From the push-pull rhythms of â€œAnything,â€? featuring Beeboutâ€™s classic upper register delivery, to the sweetened verses of â€œDo You Want To Be Loved?â€? and the bold, fragmented-by-design structures of â€œCome Homeâ€? and â€œAre You Alright?,â€? Whateverâ€™s Got You Down is an album that more faithfully replicates Samiamâ€™s sound â€”
it just happens to be bolstered by six additional years of reflection and contemplative qualities. â€œI think the main difference is that Astray sounded really clean and had songs that were trying to be on the radio,â€? says Loobkoff. â€œAnd this one, itâ€™s dirty, itâ€™s more like the stuff that we listen to. The production is more organic from my perspective. In the last six years, so many really commercial, quasi-punk bands have put out records that are sickeningly clean. There are a lot of boy bands out there and I think we wanted consciously separate ourselves from that as far as we could. We wonâ€™t be as popular as those bands, and thatâ€™s fine.â€? Lyrically, Whateverâ€™s Got You Down is based on Beeboutâ€™s â€œbusted up relationships.â€? â€œI had a lot of time to think things over, which is good,â€? he says. â€œSo I was able to assimilate all that information over the past five, six years, I guess. It worked out pretty well, as thereâ€™s a lot of material in there.â€? Assembling whateverâ€™s Got You Down wasnâ€™t an easy task. With less time to record and prepare for the album than previous releases, Samiam sometimes faced a sense of apprehension within its own ranks. â€œIt was like, â€˜Is this us, do we sound like this, is this OK?,â€™â€? says Beebout. â€œOther times, itâ€™s like, â€˜Wow, this is really awesome, Iâ€™ve never done anything like this before. This is great!â€™â€?
The time away from releasing Samiam material has given the band a renewed view of how to approach its career. â€œNow we have some perspective and weâ€™re really grateful to have the fans that we do,â€? says Loobkoff. â€œNow, we just want to play music and not be worried about it.â€? â€œThere were times where we worked really hard and did tour after tour, made a couple mistakes, did some dumb tours and tried to stay on the radio,â€? he adds. â€œWe didnâ€™t make a record that sounded like a radio record and weâ€™re not going to do anything thatâ€™s pandering to sell more records. Weâ€™re just going to do it because itâ€™s fun.â€?