LAist Interview: Alex & Sam, Tangier's February Residency
Samantha Sidley and Alex Silverman at their Silver Lake rehearsal space | Photo via their MySpace page
Alex & Sam may be a duo in title, but their fairly large band, sometimes up to twelve-members on stage, is quite a force of music that just puts a smile on your face. You can't really corner them into a jazz-blues rock or straight rock category. All we can say is that on stage, they've got it going and they are making their way to becoming a household name in Los Angeles.
Nationally, they've been getting help from a little show called American Idol, where Samantha Sidley "made it to Hollywood" after an auditioning in an oddly humorous moment where Ryan Seacrest swapped roles with Paula Abdul (see video here). Richard Rushfield of LA Times' Show Tracker blog declared Sam the show's new front-runner, even though he knows "it is impossible for an L.A. native to win" (his assertion was proven when Sidley did not make the top 24) And Entertainment Weekly said Sam is a "demure beauty...If, as we suspect, she's more than a Norah Jones copycat, she's one to watch."
This interview is about getting to know Alex & Sam beyond the popular reality TV show on FOX. They play every Sunday night this month (10 p.m./$10) at Tangier in Los Feliz for a residency (a listing of all February music residencies can be found here). Listen and learn about them below and make sure to catch the band live this Sunday.
In your words, how did you meet each other and start making music?
Alex: We met at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. I was a classical kid and she was a jazz kid. We started working together when I wrote some songs that I thought she would be perfect for, while we were both at Berklee College of Music. Then when we both moved back to LA we got all the best musicians we knew and formed Alex & Sam.
Sam: I met Alex in highschool and we became very close. He was always writing songs, a different one every week and i greatly admired his talent. He listened to so much music and introduced me to so many special artists. we both shared a huge passion for music. when we went to Berklee, we did our own thing for a while until one day he came to me with a song he was writing and he wanted my help. that song turned out to be "See You Through". I asked him if i could sing a couple of his other songs in some shows I was doing and asked him to play for me. We just clicked. It was a very special dynamic I could have never forseen. Last year he was working on his own album as well as thinking of writing an album for me. We decided to combine the two and it became Alex and Sam.
Ethan (Alex & Sam's drummer), we went to the same college, but not at the same time. What's going on over at CalArts and what's with the CalArts connection to Alex & Sam? How did you guys all hook up with two of them?
The jazz program at CalArts was just amazing when I was there, and still is. Many of the musicians who studied there are pretty heavy into the rock and electronic music scenes here in L.A. It's definitely not limited to jazz.
I met our bass player, Keith, and our accordion/trumpet player, Charles, when we were students at CalArts. Keith has known both Alex and Sam since high school, so that was the connection. Somehow Keith also met Yohei, our rhythm guitarist. Yohei's original music is amazing (if you like creative folk/pop), and most everyone in Alex & Sam is featured on his forthcoming album. You can download his first LP for free at yoheishikano.com.
Alex, you had some pretty wicked guitar fills and different sounds used throughout the show last week. Who are your guitar heroes and what do you think of Guitar Hero (video game)?
Django Reinhardt and Les Paul are the two guitar players I will never stop listening to. Both of them play so beautifully. As far as my influences, probably Marc Ribot. The first time I heard him I was like, "Dam he already did it."
I think Guitar Hero is great. I have only played it a few times, but I hope it will inspire some kids to pick up a real guitar. We have been lacking on guitar hero's for some time now.
Sam, and who are your singing and music influences?
Billie Holiday and Anita O'Day are my biggest influences. i listen to them before i have to perform because it reminds to always sing from your heart.
Alex, you play a few different guitars on stage, what are those?
For electric I play an American Strat and a Gibson L6S. I found it to be a very versatile guitar. For acoustics, I play Martins.
Alex, you kept on talking about spaghetti and the spaghetti factory on stage, what's this all about?
Spaghetti factory is the place where a lot of music comes from. That's all I can say about it.
Charles, (Alex's roommate and the band's accordion/trumpet player), you go to bed and wake up to a whole lot of spaghetti all over the place. What is that like? What happens in the morning?
Well, it's great! I wake up, and I see this spaghetti everywhere...and I'm like, "Hey I'm gonna make some spaghetti, too!" And then I make some spaghetti. And it's great
Alex, what's your process when composing?
Usually, I write the chords first. Then a melody. The lyrics always come last. It's really strange simplifying it to that, but that will have to do.
Sam, do you take Alex's compositions and lyrics as is or do you offer, suggest and make compositional/lyrical changes?
I occasionally help with lyrics but mostly I arrange the vocal parts, adapt them and write harmonies.
Once a melody is attached to words, it is amazing how a simple phrase can become so poignant and suggestive.
What's your favorite lyric to sing on stage?
My favorite lyric would have to be "fear is the terror that haunts our land, we must keep on fighting for it won't be long", because it is both powerful and beautiful within the context of that song.
Alex, best and worst lyrics written?
Randy Newman is definitely my favorite lyricist. As for worst lyrics, just turn on rap radio.
Did you two go through a bunch of band names before coming to the simple eponymous band name?
Alex: Alex and Sam was the first name we thought of. Any other suggestions?
Nope. Who are some of your favorite local LA bands?
Alex: We both love HAIM. They are three sisters that play their asses off. It's always fun to see them play. Best pop rock band I've heard in LA. We also try to see Killsonic play whenever we can. They are part Ornette Coleman, part Gang of Four. We recently heard Castledoor and like there music. Gonna have to check out a show of theirs.
Sam, like Joanna Newsom, you're outrageously adorable and easy going. Have you been receiving random marriage requests yet like the NorCal harpist?
Actually, I have received quite a few proposals. It's all fun.
Sam, your MySpace profile tells us you are into boxing and that you want to meet a man named Lucy. Tell us more.
If there is a man named Lucy who happens to be a pro boxer, I will proudly comp him at any of our shows.
Alex, your MySpace profiles talks of orgami. You got skills?
None what so ever. Thinking about talking an online course...."Land of the Free" -- Alex & Sam
"Starting Something" -- Alex & Sam
"See You Through" -- Alex & Sam