A conversation with Sam Small

 

    We spoke with Sam Small about minimalism versus maximalism, a relationship that gave him a new lease on life, the existence of a multiverse, ruminating on multiple dimensions and on skiing his way to transcendence.

    I try see the beauty of what’s real in people and my surroundings and it doesn’t get much more meaningful than when somebody cares. These songs are just my attempt to embody caring back.


    We asked Sam what immediately comes to mind when he thinks of each of these minerals.

    Basalt


    Basil Hallward.

    Granite


    Old man of the mountain. R.I.P.

    Chalk


    Screech.

    Limestone


    Coconut.

    Coal


    Economic slavery.

    Whitescist


    Amalgamation of the current Republican Party.

    Jadeitite


    Green Stonehenge.

    Travertine


    Slippers.

    Blairmorite


    Johnny Ramone.

    Quartzrite


    Charlatans.

    Wad


    Loam.

    Chert


    Spark.

    Greywacke


    Whale oil and red wine.

    Siltstone


    Mischief.

    Turbidite


    Centrifuge.

    Shale


    Impermanence.

    Phyllite


    Hieroglyphics.

    Gneiss


    Molten snails.

    Marble


    Old World or Nouveau Riche.

    Jasperoide


    Celestial cricket.

    Flint


    Flame.

    Evaporite


    Deceitful.

    Oolite


    Cute.

    Websterite


    Bespectacled.

    Tillite


    Belated.

    Harzburgite


    German.

    Gabbro


    Gábor Szabó.

    Ijolite


    Omega.

    Enderbite


    The mailman’s canine consequence.

    1

    Morgan Enos

    It seems like a major inspiration for your music has been a relationship of yours that had, or has, almost a stupefying, muse-like quality to it. What do you think, looking back on this experience? Can you tell me the whole story, past to present, of how this human connection affected your work?

    Sam Small

    I wrote Hazel about and for my girlfriend. She’s somebody who sort of came out of the ether and pointed her finger and said “Your life could be like this.” She helped me liberate myself from a dismal life situation and helped me snap out of old habits and get back on my feet emotionally.  I’m not a religious or spiritual person, but I try see the beauty of what’s real in people and my surroundings and it doesn’t get much more meaningful than when somebody cares. These songs are just my attempt to embody caring back in the way I best know how to express things.

    The surrounding images are, of course, astounding, but it’s that empty space where it feels like you can poke your head in and take a breath of air.

    2

    Are you attracted to simplicity or minimalism in your life and art? I really like how your release Hazel is just guitar, voice and harmonica. It reminds me of how certain early folk records were pretty much just putting a microphone in front of the performer with no overdubs.

    I wouldn’t say I necessarily strive for simplicity or minimalism in my music, nor does my enjoyment of a piece of art require it. It just comes down to whether or not I believe somebody in both the idea and execution. If there’s less to sift through, then you can determine that a lot faster than if not. In the cases of songs like Son House’s “John the Revelator” or Woody Guthrie’s “Long John,” there’s no need even for guitar. There’s a visceral beauty in those songs and their performances that adding anything would simply detract from their poignancy. They had something to say and they just got out there and said it.

     

    That’s not to say that I don’t like Sibelius or Dylan Thomas or Hieronymus Bosch or David Foster Wallace. There are infinite ways to make great art and I know what moves me and what doesn’t. I recorded Hazel in such a simple manner because I used what I had at my disposal at the drop of a hat. I think that there is something timeless about the guitar, harmonica, and voice combination and there is a tradition you can’t help but become a part of and also be judged alongside when you make a record like this and people will either like it or dislike it for this reason.

    I don’t expect to make my next record the same way. It’s kind of like the three-dimensional blank space in the center of Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks. The surrounding images are, of course, astounding, but it’s that empty space where it feels like you can poke your head in and take a breath of air. So, for me, it’s less about strict minimalism, just so long as all the ornamentation doesn’t cover up the truth.

    3

    Can you describe the most recent word you’ve added to your vocabulary? Why were you attracted to this word? What was the context of it? Who said it?

    Brockengespenst. It’s a word I came across in Infinite Jest, which goes back to Thomas Pynchon and from there back to Goethe’s Faust. It is a German word that translates to “Brocken spectre.” The Brocken is the highest peak in the Harz mountain range in Northern Germany and it is known for casting giant and haunting shadows of backlit observers upon opposing clouds. It has something to do with the misty climate up there. I was fascinated by the immediate difficulty of the word, and then by the level of specificity it provides, coupled with its depth of built in literary allusion.

    4

    Please tell me about spiders.

    I may or may not be one.

    The fact that our momentary three dimensions are moving through a fourth keeps me plenty occupied as is. I am, however, amazed and humbled by theoretical physics and astrophysics.

    5

    Now, please tell me about other dimensions.

    Oh, man. The fact that our momentary three dimensions are moving through a fourth keeps me plenty occupied as is. I am, however, amazed and humbled by theoretical physics and astrophysics. If we’re talking layout of the universe, my money is on chaos theory with a possibility of multiple universes. I get very excited about the LHC at CERN and look forward to them possibly coming up with these answers.

    6

    What did it feel like to wake up this morning? Did you feel refreshed or groggy? From there, just tell me about your lifelong relationship with sleep. Are you good at it?

    I’m not very good at falling asleep, but once I’m asleep, it’s nearly impossible to wake me up.  When I do wake up, I typically wake up slowly and often find that my cognition of reality blends its way in to my dream state. So, depending on the dream I’m coming out of, it could greatly affect whether or not I awake smiling or in a state of fear. On some days, however, I either don’t dream or don’t remember my dream(s), in which case this doesn’t happen and I wake up feeling quite neutral. That was the case today.

    7

    Please make a list of ten different types of plants or flowers and relate them to people in your life, living or dead, known or unknown, fictional or nonfictional.

    r Red roses remind my mother of death, so we never had them in the house growing up.

    r Wisteria evokes the gentleness of my girlfriend.

    r Anise is the scent of the fairies and elves and mandrake is their flesh.

    r Grapefruit makes my best friend smile.

    r I imagine Napoleon Bonaparte reeking of patchouli.

    r Gin’s juniper brings me back to walking in the desert after the rains with my father.

    r Tobacco is the joy of Fidel Castro.

    r The apple that struck Gregor Samsa was the sting of the bourgeoisie’s heartlessness.

    r Jules Verne teaches the sadness of poppies.

    8

    Please describe your personal conception of heaven, in a spiritual or nonspiritual way.

    Heaven is damp with deception. It is the concept that people have used to put other people through proverbial hell for their own personal gain. There is no heaven or hell. There are utopias and dystopias and everything in-between here on earth and those are up for debate.

    9

    Finally, please tell me about movement, using a memory or personal anecdote from your life.

    I was taught to ski when I was two years old. Before I decided to take music seriously, I wanted to be a professional skier. I don’t do it very often anymore, but I still dream about it sometimes. There is something so visceral in slicing down a mountain over snow and ice that feels both like conquering something great and merely a controlled fall. It is a moment-to-moment experience that at the slightest little bump could go horribly wrong, but if you’re paying attention, you just might keep it together.

    Thank you.

    Data


    Conversation: 158
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: April 2, 2018
    Total questions: 29 + 9
    Word count: 1254
    Reading time: Five minutes
    Hyperlinks: 2

    Metadata


    Cricket: Celestial
    Dimensions: 4
    Rocks: 29
    Climate: Misty
    Consequence: Enderbite
    Snail: Molten

    Relation


    About the subject


    Sam Small is a folk singer, songwriter and guitarist from Los Angeles, California.

    About the curator


    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.


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