Interview with Sergie Loobkoff of Samiam

Posted on September 6, 2011 - by Michael Duncan

Photo: Reece

Samiam have returned with another hard-hitting slab of punk rock in the form of 'Trips,' their eighth studio album. Produced by Chris Dugan and recorded at Green Day’s opulent studio, JingleTown Recording, the full-length comes equipped with 13 straight-shooting tracks, wound together with gritty guitars, playful basslines, and puissant melodies. Much like their earlier offerings, 'Trips' is seasoned with attitude, passion, and a whole lot of ebullience. Standout tracks include "80 West," "Demon," "Nightly," and "El Dorado."

While taking a quick break from working on the artwork for an upcoming Lagwagon release, guitarist/graphic designer Sergie Loobkoff spoke with Rock Edition about Samiam's brand new album. Head below to see what he had to say.

Looking at Samiam's discography, I realized that the band's debut album was released in the same year that I was born. That's a little weird.

That is weird, but it's very typical with our band. I'm older than 40, but I'm a guy that skateboards and plays in a punk rock band, and when I'm on the computer, I go to Punknews.org to see what's happening with Hot Water [Music] as if I was 20. I guess not a lot of 20-year-olds give a shit about Samiam -- it's mainly older people -- but we participate in a world that's not that different than what I was doing 20 years ago.

Is it strange that many of Samiam's fans are grown up now and have kids?

In a way. When people that are still involved in punk rock are in their 30s or 40s, they actually have a lot more time and peace of mind to think about stupid shit like skateboarding and punk rock than in their 20s. When I was your age -- you obviously have your shit together with the website -- but I was struggling with college, and I didn't have the headspace to be comfortable and totally content. At that point in my life, I toured and made records with Samiam, but I didn't actually follow music as much. I was overwhelmed by a lot of different things. Somewhere in my mid-30s, I lost that "what am I going to do with my life?" fear, so to speak. From age 17 until 27, I was uncomfortable with my lot in life. Following bands actually took a [backseat] in my mind to my worries.

Were you just going with the flow back then?

With Samiam? Definitely, yeah. I never had any aspirations to be a rock star. Even when I was a little kid, I wanted to be a skateboarder or baseball player or something. At that time, there was no Green Day, Nirvana, or The Offspring, let alone all the other mid-range bands that exist today that make a living doing that kind of music. When we put out our first record, I had false expectations about what it would be like for the band. I thought we'd put this record out and all of a sudden all these people would come see us. There's a slight possibility that something will change and you'll get more popular, but for most bands that's not the way it works -- definitely not for us. When we did sign to a major label and started getting more popular, I felt like what we had was pretty rad, but I never had that spark in my head to try to make it to the next level. Even at the height of us being busy, it was still like an overgrown hobby in my head.

Well, let's talk about your hobby's new album, 'Trips.' I was checking out the cover art -- it's simple looking, but not in a bad way -- and I noticed that everyone in the crowd has their eyes scratched out. Why is that?

You know, I did the artwork. It's funny that you said it seems simple, because it's actually one of the more complex covers I've ever done.

Really?

Yeah, the composition of it is really sparse, but I had to do a lot of Photoshopping and shit. Obviously, there's no picture of an elephant riding around on a moped. And there's this warped perspective to it. If you have an image in your head of an elephant on a moped coming at a certain angle to a ramp with an audience behind them and a flaming fire, it's actually super complicated.

I see what you mean.

Anyway, I stole that picture of the crowd back there. Just to cover my personal ass, I wanted to make sure that no one could recognize anyone in the picture. I also thought it made it look kind of cool. You've seen that before, right? Like in the '50s, they might cover their eyes to protect their identity. There were a couple hundred faces there, so I had to Photoshop in a lot of white bars.

[laughs] That's true. It looks like you got them all.

Right now, I'm doing this big project for Lagwagon. Whenever I get really into a project, I get wrapped up in it. I don't want to half-ass things -- not even the slightest thing that no one will notice. I'll get myself into jams. With this Lagwagon thing, I have a giant 24" x 36" poster that I'm doing with hundreds of pictures. Each of the pictures have to be Photoshopped because they're full of dirt and grime, and they're all from around 1993. My point is, I get really into it. For this record, let's say I'll do 50 interviews in the next year or whatever, and you'll be the only person that's going to talk to me about the cover of the record.

I love talking about album artwork. People usually don't?

No, no. Mostly only graphic designers or people that give a shit will talk about them. They're important to me. Whatever. I'll get questions like, "I saw you did the artwork. What the fuck is up with the elephant going through a flaming hoop?" That's the most I'll get.

Well, you're in luck, because I have another question about the cover. Right above the album title, 'Trips,' it looks like you had another word there that was later crossed out. Am I right?

[laughs] Dude, you're amazing. You're asking me all these specific questions, which I must say warms my heart.

[laughs] No problem.

When I do a cover for a band, sometimes it's real easy and the band will like the first cover I do. Other times, they're a pain in the ass and I have to do cover after cover. I've done a couple of major label ones where I literally went through 30 different concepts. Sometimes I've done that and they decide to go with someone else, too. It's sort of the nature of being a graphic designer.

With this last Samiam record, I ended up having to do three major concepts that were totally different. The cover that we settled on went through a lot of changes, and it used to have a different title. Billy [Bouchard], the bass player, came up with a title that I thought was really funny and sounded like Samiam, but Jason [Beebout, vocalist] didn't like it. I don't know if Jason came up with the title 'Trips,' but he really pushed it forward. I was kind of bummed because I liked the other title way better. Billy's title was 'What Could Possibly Go Wrong?' or something like that. Anyway, I already had that, so I humorously scribbled it out and wrote in 'Trips.' It's funny, Sean [Kennerly, guitarist] was one of the most opinionated guys in the band and like my nemesis at getting it done, but he said he liked this new cover. In an email to me, he wrote, "I almost sharted when I saw you left part of your old title on there." [laughs] You know, when any group of people are trying to do something creative together, people are going to disagree. I try to keep everything as lighthearted as possible. Leaving that little scribble on there was just a lighthearted jab that I'm sure Jason didn't even notice.

Speaking of Sean, I remember you being quite vocal about the problems you had with him in the studio while making 2006's 'Whatever's Got You Down.' Were you guys able to work things out on this new album?

One thing I'm trying to do right now is downplay the antagonizing that went on with Sean on the last record. To be honest, we fought like crazy back then. We really did disagree on everything. We were at each other's throats. But we've been friends for 20 years, so it was more like two brothers fighting. He knows how to push my buttons, and I know how to push his. And I have to say, when we made the last record, we fucking hated each other's guts for about six months. Afterward, we'd be back to normal. Sean was one of the guys who actually pushed this new record. I was apprehensive, because I didn't want to come up with something I wasn't happy with like last time, and I just didn't want to fight with him. Anyway, when we did this new record, my attitude was to let things go. I don't think I fought him on anything this time around.

I suppose it comes down to both of you wanting what's best for the band and approaching things in different ways.

Yeah. We're two guys in a band that think completely differently. Five years ago, we clashed like crazy. This time, we let a lot of that go. It worked out. I think this record sounds super good, and we had fun making it.

I remember that on the last record, the band took a nice chunk of time out to prepare. Did you do the same for 'Trips'?

We prepared just as much or more than we ever have for the new record. We started getting everything together amongst the band about a year and a half ago. We practiced a lot on tour and during soundchecks. When we came back from Europe, we went to New York and hammered everything out. We spent weeks and weeks working on the songs. It wasn't like, "Hey, I got a riff. Let's jam on it!" We were constantly working on everything and trying to make things better.

After all that, you guys headed to Green Day's studio, JingleTown [Recording], to record it. That must have been fun. You've never recorded there before, correct?

We haven't. It used to be called 880. Green Day and some other rich guy put it all together, as far as I understand. Whatever resources they need, they have at their disposal. Anyway, Green Day eventually bought it from the other guy and changed its name to JingleTown. I think their idea is to open it up as a functioning, money-making studio eventually. Right now, they're opening it up to some of their friend's bands. We actually flipped them some money, but the money we gave them wasn't even enough to pay for the assistant engineer. The guy that produced our record is actually the guy who engineers all of Green Day's records, Chris Dugan. They have to pay him. I assume they have to pay him whether he works on our record or not. They basically let us do it for free. We spent a lot of money making this record, but the most was on those trips to New York and the studio. We're all spread out around the country, so we did a bit of traveling. We spent a lot more money getting together to make the record than we did in the studio, thanks to Green Day. In the old days, we would have spent at least $1,200 a day times three weeks. Then, we'd have to pay a producer on top of that. We're extremely appreciative of the chance that we got.

How did Chris Dugan help shape the album?

On the last record we did, I felt like we had someone who was incompetent or just didn't care. I don't want to be shitty, but it's one or the other -- I don't mean to badmouth anyone. Anyway, for the three records before that, we had very knowledgeable producers. On this last record, Chris engineered it and basically co-produced it with Sean, Jason, and I. It wasn't the same as the other records, where we had a guy that steered the ship and told us what to do. Chris was more like a guy that helped us figure out how to do things on our own. He was more of a hands-off producer. I mean, I don't want to discount anything he did -- we couldn't of done it without him. We're not those kind of guys that have home studios and are good at recording ourselves. We're all really shitty at it. You should hear the [Apple] GarageBand demos that we do.

[laughs] It's amazing how many producers are working from home these days because of software like GarageBand. What's also crazy is that producers today will basically write the song, program the drums, play the instruments, and the artist just has to come in and sing.

I think in pop and hip hop that's all it is. I don't know this for a fact, but Katy Perry probably just goes into the studio and sings over what her producer already did for her.

Back to 'Trips.' Like with 'Clumsy,' was there any underlying theme injected into these new songs?

No. It would probably be advantageous for me to make some bullshit up, but no. I actually think this record is full of songs that have really strong performances on some of the least interesting music that we came up with.

Why do you say that?

Well, because it's an opinion, first of all. It's not fact. In my opinion, there were so many songs that were written that I thought were much more interesting musically. I wrote about 15 songs. But, it's all opinions.

Have you thought about using some of the leftover songs you wrote for 'Trips' in a side project?

For years, I had Solea. It really filled the void for all the extra songs I write that aren't used by Samiam. Right now, I'm actually going to be writing and recording some stuff for a little project. It's going to include my friend Mike who does our sound, George [Rebelo] from Hot Water Music on drums, and Todd [Rockhill] from The Draft will be playing bass. I'm always sort of looking to do things outside of Samiam. Earlier in the year, I did another record. It wasn't my music -- it was by Duncan, the singer from Snuff. They're one of my favorite bands from England. It was me, him, Joey [Cape] from Lagwagon on guitar, and my friend Chicken from Dead to Me played bass. Even though everything I do is relatively similar to Samiam, I'm always looking for another musical outlet.

That's good. It'll keep you on your toes. Are you ready for Samiam's upcoming shows?

Yeah, I'm actually a little apprehensive about how long it is. We were never supposed to do a two-month tour like what we have coming up. A long time ago, we sort of agreed not to go on tour for more than three weeks straight. We were going to do three weeks in the States and then three weeks in Europe, but everything got booked so fast. In the '90s, we'd tour for four months straight all the time. It got grueling. This is never going to happen, but if Samiam did get big and it was financially viable for us to go out and tour for seven months, I wouldn't do it -- or maybe I would do it, but I wouldn't be happy about it. I don't know. At this point in my life, I like being at home. I don't want to be a successful musician that tours constantly.

That's understandable. In any case, you do have some cool gigs lined up, such as Riot Fest.

Yeah, I am looking forward to a few shows, and playing the Fest. Mainly, what I'm looking forward to is being in Europe, and getting back to South America, Australia, and Japan. I don't really like touring for touring sake. I don't consider a tour to be the support for a record. I know the label and booking agents feel that way, but I don't care. I don't care if we make one more fan -- I mean, I would like to, but if we don't, I don't give a shit. I'm doing this for fun and to have a creative outlet. I don't really feel the need to do anything to cater to being more popular.

Pick up Samiam's new album, Trips.

For the band's upcoming tour dates, check out their website.