Eric Sampson: The Gunslinger

by Traci Nubalo

They are known as gunslingers.

Obviously, this is a throwback to the early western US where being a “hired gun” was a way in which a man handy with his weapons could be employed. In the contemporary musical context a gunslinger is a person so proficient on guitar that they could be called upon to bring their expertise into action for session or live work. They are highly respected not only by their fans, but by other musicians, as well.
This gunslinger image is what comes to mind for me when I think of EricSampson Swansong, one of the bright new stars on the Second Life musical horizon.

We first ran into Eric a mere few months ago when he appeared as a live sideman at the then-new CraigLyons Writer’s live concerts here. Even with the focus rightfully going to Craig and his songs, my attention kept drifting a bit to what else was going on musically. Being the good support artist that he is, Eric was always very careful to never overshadow Craig with his playing; his role was that of the careful, thoughtful side man, selecting and playing his tasty parts with an attitude of reserve and respect for the featured performer. However, I made a mental note to do some investigation when the time was right.

Upon my return to Second Life - having taken a well-needed break - I found Craigmania in full swing. I also found a note from my publisher asking if I’d be interested in an interview with - who else? - Eric Sampson! I soon found myself chatting with Kalli Birman who manages both Eric and Craig (and who will for sure be finding herself on every smart “Manager of the Year” list this season). She made the necessary contact, I started to hang out at Eric’s shows, and the result is this article.

I found Eric to be a warm and personable young man, seemingly secure with himself and actually a lot of fun to interact with. He was quickly able to relax and get into the “interview flow” - a feat that not every musician finds possible. Within minutes we were laughing and bouncing ideas off one another in a most enjoyable way. He’s very intelligent and though he claims difficulty with words and their usage, he a writer of excellent lyrics, and very much holds his own in the conversation department. As I often do in my interviews, I kicked things off talking about stage and studio gear:

Traci Nubalo: So, let's warm up with some tech talk. What guitar(s) do you use in SL?
EricSampson Swansong: In SL, the avatar guitar that I play is a Gibson Hummingbird which I am a fan of. However in RL, I use a guitar from a small little company called Thompson.
TN: The Thompson is mic‘ed right?
ES: Yes. It's mic'ed with a room microphone, and I have a mic for vocals as well.
TN: Any special mic for guitar and for vocals?
ES: Until recently, I was using an AKG 114 for the guitar, and a Shure Beta 87A for vocals. However recently I've just been using an Audio Technica AT4033 for the guitar, because we no longer have the 114 here at the studio.
TN: Your sound is so clean and present. Do you use any effects on the guitar?
ES: Just a little reverb. I try to keep it on the dry side, however it's tough. After the sound is compressed so heavily through the stream, everything usually sounds pretty thin.
TN: Yes, but you're getting a nice rich sound overall. By SL standards, anyway.
ES: That's good. I'm never sure exactly what it sounds like till I can listen to the show afterwards.
TN: So, pre-Second Life what was your background and training?
ES: Well, I started playing guitar when I was about 14 I think. I was a freshman in high school, and I remember going over to my friends house and his father was playing a Gibson 335. Just simple blues stuff but I thought it was just about the coolest thing I'd ever seen in my life. So, I just got bit by the bug. Started playing a little cheap guitar that my parents had. I’d play everyday, usually three to four hours. After it was apparent that that's what I wanted to do, my parents finally broke down and sent me to music school after high school.
TN: The school in Hollywood?
ES: Yep! I attended Musician's Institute.
TN A very well known and excellent school.
ES: It was a real eye opener for me. I didn't realize what I real musician was till then.
TN: How so?
ES: I grew up in a town of population of around 300 or so up in Humboldt County, CA. It wasn't exactly the music capital of the world, if you know what I mean.
TN: LOL I sure do.
ES: So I had never been around that class of player until I moved to L.A. Oh, I got my butt kicked again and again. But more than anything, the school introduced me to lots of people, some of whom I work with today.
TN: Very cool.
ES: I started playing in blues bars by the time I was 15 or so. That was when I was still up in Humboldt. That's where I first got my introduction to the main guitarists that would be the cornerstones of my style: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, and Jimmy Page were the big three. I didn't actually start with the singing and writing until a bit later. At first all I wanted to do was play guitar.
TN: I think that comes through in your act. I can feel the lead guitarist in there.
ES: Yeah, it's tough to get that out. But I still have plenty of opportunity to play every week. I do a lot of session work, along with playing guitar for many local artists. And gospel gigs. So I guess you could say the singer/songwriter thing is my night job, and playing the guitar is the day job.

In this part of the discussion, Eric begins to reveal the gunslinger aspect of his career prior to coming to SL music. It’s been my experience that players who engage themselves in such varied and difficult forms of work often become the most exacting, hardcore players of all. So, let’s bear in mind that this is the reality that Eric was involved with when we first met him here in SL. It’s important to recognize that although he was new to us, he had already passed through a tough initiation at the Musician’s Institute and had been making a living day-to-day as a hired gun in L.A.’s tough and demanding music scene.

TN: When did you arrive here in SL?
ES: Let's see, I was introduced to SL through Craig Lyons. If I remember correctly, he had been doing shows for quite awhile before I even created an avatar. But I would play guitar for him at his shows. Craig is a wonderful musician, and great to work with.
TN: Yes. And it’s a good match for you both, musically. One thing I admire about your work here, though, is that you are clearly holding your own as a solo act; not just living in Craig's world.
ES: Thank you! Well, I was hoping that my live show in RL would translate to SL.
TN: It totally does.
ES: I think it took me a little to sink in. But I think I'm getting more and more comfortable each time.
TN: Yes, that's obvious. If you don't mind, I'd like to discuss a few of your compositions for the readers out there.
ES: Sure!
TN: One of my personal favorites is “The Traveler.” I love the story line - ships passing in the night, etc.
ES: Yes.
TN: What was the inspiration for that one?
ES: Well, funny enough it was partially inspired by Craig. I was thinking of the relationship between him and Taylor, his fiancée. I was searching through quotes. I very much enjoy quotes and poetry. Robert Frost is one of my favorites, and so I was looking for a Robert Frost poem I hadn’t seen and I came across a big list of types of quotes. You click on the link to see all kinds of quotes about that subject - quotes about love, life, death, happiness, etc.
TN: Yes. A great writer's tool, by the way.
ES: Yep. And then a column of quotes about jobs; lawyers, quotes about doctors, artists, etc. And I had a conflict because I knew I wanted to write a song about a relationship. It started as a relationship between an artist and a musician. That's when I started to think about the relationships around me including Craig and my friend and producer, Dan McMains. I remember thinking about Dan's relationship at the time, which was where the line, "She was the activist, who couldn't let anything go" came from. But at the same time, she was also an artist. And when I started to think about it, there were times when Dan was the activist, and she would be the clown. The same with Craig. That's were I got the line, "She was the poet." At any given time, one of them always seems like the driving artistic force, while the other is the down to earth.
TN: Yes. Now musically, in that song you are using one of my favorite guitar motifs - the G - C ascending splits, as in “Alice's Restaurant” or “Blackbird.”
ES: Ha! Yep!
TN: It has so much energy and it defines that song perfectly.
ES: I've always been a huge fan of that style of music. It's stripped down, and personal. I've always felt that if you have a good song, all you should need is a voice and a guitar. It's very easy nowadays to make something sound good. People have gotten away from the basics of writing.
TN: Another fave is “32 Miles.” How did that come about?
ES: Well, “32 Miles” is based off a script for a film. The writer had asked me to write some music for it, and the basic premise of the song is very loosely what the plot of the movie is about.
TN: I see. Is the film in development?
ES: Yes. I have to wait till a couple more contracts are signed before I can say anything about it, such as who's gonna be in it, the name, etc.

One for the more exciting aspects of seeing and hearing Eric Sampson live is that he is totally unafraid to “go off the page” and improvise. Of necessity, this entails stepping out into unknown territory and Eric walks that line with the best of them. On the night that I wrote this review his improv work led him to a closing medley of songs that I can assure will never be strung together again!

TN: So last night you played a SL benefit gig and pulled off one of the best sets I've seen you do. I'd like to discuss the medley you did at the end - lawdy mamma!
ES: Ha! Sure!
TN: “Space Cowboy“, “Hang On Sloopy“, “No Woman No Cry“, “Fifty Ways“, “Faith.” wtf?
ES: Well, I don't really plan ahead on those. Just like I don't ever have a set list. I like to play what I feel like playing right then. So what ever comes to mind is what comes out.
TN: I could tell it was off the cuff - and off the hook, too! Out. I think this really tore the crowd up. It was reminiscent of some of the stuff I'd seen David Bromberg do live years ago - story-telling from the heart.
ES: That's what I love about playing live. The ability of going wherever you feel live, taking things musically, from moment to moment. I go crazy if I have to do things the same each time. That's why most of my backup players hate me I think. Every time I'm trying to get them to do something new.
TN: Keeps them on their toes.
ES: Yup!!
TN: On your website you've placed a couple of very cool George Harrison photo montages. Are you a big George fan as i am?
ES: Hey, you can never go wrong with George Harrison. Actually when I'm in a session, I almost guarantee during some point in the session you will hear me say, "Why don't we put a super-melodic part down like that part that George Harrison plays in that song (insert song name here)." He wrote some of my favorite songs of all time.
TN: Yes. And he sure did grow as a songwriter, didn’t he? I think that the Harrison/Jeff Lynne record “Braindead” might be one of the most underappreciated records of our time.
ES: Yes! I remember driving one day and I turned on the radio and they had just released the Anthology from The Beatles and that version of Harrison doing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with just him and an acoustic guitar came on. I had to pull the car over and just listen and I was in tears by the end of the track.
TN: Yes, that track was so beautiful; so honest. *long pause* I'm sure you've heard of Desert Island Disk. If you were stranded, what three disks would you want to have with you, and why?
ES: Wow, okay. They will be completely different in a couple hours from now, but at this moment - "Sail Away" by Randy Newman. He is one of my favorite writer and composers.
TN: Super-good choice!
ES: "Bridge over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkle. And the last one. Hmmm. For this instant, I'd have to go with "Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor.
TN: Very insightful choices Eric. It's a tough question but sometimes very revealing. Hey, in your SL screen name, is the "Swansong" a tribute to Led Zeppelin?
ES: Yup. It took me awhile of resetting the names to find that one.
TN: GreyWolf, my publisher, nailed that one.

There’s just not much that can be said about EricSampson that is critical. He’s pretty much rock-solid in every department - musicianship, composition, showmanship, personality. I once heard Bruce Springsteen say in an interview, “All I know is that tonight when my boots hit the stage, I’ll know what I’m doing and how to do it.” One could easily apply this comment to Eric, as well. And confidence on that level is just downright thrilling for an audience, even if they are not really sure what it is that they are liking so much. All told, this is the confidence of a true gunslinger.

TN: So, winding down, what's next for Eric Sampson?
ES: Well, I'm almost done writing material for the next album. This next one is going to be quite a bit darker and stripped down than the first one, with more on an emphasis on the songs instead of the production.
TN: Awesome. Do you have the title yet?
ES: Not yet! I'm going to wait till I hear it near done so I can name it what it feels like it should be named. Other than that, I just wrote a song for a documentary about battered womens' shelters. It is currently in production, and it's such a joy to be a part of.
TN: That's a gesture that very few artists would take on. I applaud your courage in doing that.
ES: Well, I have some individuals in my family that have been in that situation so it's a personal subject, and it's great to be able to help out.
TN: So, one last thing. This is your opportunity to speak directly to your fans, old and new. What would you like to say to them?
ES: I would say, “Hi. Hello. Have you eaten yet?” Na, but really, I would say, “In the end the love you take, is equal to the love that you make.”
TN: *smile* Classic. And oh so true.
ES: Yes. They already said it best.


Post a Comment

Free Blogger Templates Free Joomla TemplatesFree Blogger TemplatesFree Website TemplatesFree Wordpress Themes TemplatesFree CSS TemplatesFree Wordpress ThemesFree CSS Templates dreamweaver