When Will Huntley (aka "Frank Backgammon," guitar and vocals), his brother Joe Huntley ("Don Yale," drums, vocals), Josh Parker ("Gymmy Thunderbird," bass) and Tyler Sheppard ("Murphy Upshaw," guitar) formed the Sammies a couple years back in Wadesboro, NC, record labels were the last thing on their mind. They were more concerned with booking a few gigs and gaining a little credibility in the burgeoning Charlotte music scene. To that end, the Sammies played wherever they could, stayed around to support the headliners, and rarely turned down a gig, even for little or no money. They were too concerned about getting their feet wet to worry about drowning in a sea of label offers.
Today, the Sammies boast a newly-recorded CD produced by John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Breeders, Mark Lanegan, plus a host of others), loyal fans along the eastern seaboard and a record deal with Charlotte's own MoRisen Records. The self-titled disc isn't so much a concept album as it is a statement of purpose: This is Sammies music. Every song possesses something unique, even as it's music that preys on its influences (MC5, old Piedmont Blues, Pavement) before reengineering the carcass into something useful. The Sammies is the product of Jamie Hoover's local Hooverama studios, and set to drop in June (if not earlier). According to frontman Will Huntley, that day can't come soon enough.
"The album is self-titled, there is no real theme or artistic vein we traveled," says Will Huntley. "It is the Sammies, so that's what it'll be. Our second-choice album name was The 13 Wishes of Dr. Grishop. We like all of the new songs, like 'For John' and 'Caretaker.' But even some of the first ones we ever wrote -- 'Cornerstore' and 'Coming Out Wild" -- really came out well and are already some of the most liked songs on the album."
The band's equally excited about their new home.
"We signed with MoRisen because we wanted to support our local scene the best we could. We tried to keep it all in Charlotte. We even chose to record here for that reason. We knew Chuck (Morrison, the label's owner) and some of his bands, and liked what he had done in such a short amount of time. He is a businessman, not some scraggly music fan with money. Plus, we aren't getting any younger -- you can sit around and wait for the bidding war to start, but it usually never does. You need help, bottom line."
Thanks to Morrison and a choice New York encounter, the band enlisted Agnello, a near-legend not remotely looking for work, to man the dials on their debut. Agnello was even spotted sporting one of the Sammies' own "assface" T-shirts in the studio recently, and telling anyone who'd listen that the Sammies were about to make a splash. Huntley says the admiration is mutual.
"John Agnello, aka DJ Geezer? He did some work with Chuck before, with Elevator Action. When we played CMJ, he came out and we talked and really hit it off. He liked our sound and had ideas from the get-go. He was an incredible guy to work with. He knew how to work with a green band like us -- he's the seasoned professional, has done a ton of work. He'd just finished mixing the new Drive-By Truckers album when he came to record ours, and we caught him right before his wife had a baby. The timing worked out well. Working with John and Jamie Hoover was a trip the whole time -- we were always cutting up and laughing. Of course, hanging out on Freedom Drive is a memory in itself -- one guy tried to sell me 10 condoms for $5 so he could get a nickel bag of reefer. He said, 'That's all I'm trying to do.'
"Anyways, we gave John a CD of all the 30-40 songs we had recorded," Huntley continues. "We all made a list, and we honestly butted heads. It was down-right uncomfortable for several hours. But, just like our great country, we had to compromise, and now we don't regret a thing. The logic was: He must think he can record some of these well, it must fit his style, so for that reason we did them. And now those songs are some of the ones that turned out the best."
With the album in the can, Huntley and Co. are now turning their attention to lining up shows to back the record.
"We could always do better at networking, even though I think we have stepped it up recently," says Huntley. "At first it was just friends having fun, but now it's a business and we've had to start acting like it. Networking is key in all business, but in the music business it's life and death. Since there is little to no money involved in the stage we're at, networking and exchanging favors is how you get somewhere. Trade a gig here, get one there, 'So-and-so is a friend of a friend of so-and-so who can hook it up,' etc. Whether you like it or not, places like myspace.com are changing the face of music, especially indie music. No longer do you need to be signed to one of the big labels to be heard. We have hit the Internet hard, and it seems to be working.
"But you have to follow that up with shows," Huntley continues. "Out-of-town shows, write-ups, and generally working on making your music accessible and affordable. Sometimes you play shows where you swear the only people watching were the other bands. But then the one person in the corner tells a friend and next time you play the place, there's a whole group. You can't expect people to just come out because you think you have some decent songs -- it doesn't work that way. And it is some bands' demise."
Having good songs and the wherewithal to get them ringing in people's ears? That's the stuff household names are built on. If the Sammies' track record is any indication, those households will be of the nationwide variety soon enough.