Given the quality of their self-titled 2006 debut, it seems counter-intuitive to even suggest it, but in today's "here today, gone tomorrow" music landscape The Sammies see album No. 2 as their "make or break" release.
Sandwich gets its official release Sept. 23, but the Wadesboro-born quartet is celebrating locally with a CD release party Saturday, Aug. 9, at the Visulite (Souldozer and the Broken Strings also on the bill). By the time the record -- on local label MoRisen -- actually drops, though, the band's future may well be on its way to being determined.
"I hate to say it, but yeah," lead singer Frank Backgammon says when asked if the band views this as do-or-die time. "We've got tons of songs still, and we're going to record them whether we put them out for free on the internet or they come out on MoRisen or some other label. But in the capacity that we're going at it now, I don't think, unless we start making a lot more money, that we'll be able to continue."
The Sammies' story to date is one of great promise as yet unfulfilled. They've received raves from many of the right music rags, had their music reviewed favorably by online tastemakers like Pitchfork, and landed songs on TV and in films, today's equivalent of FM radio. But for all their songwriting chops and charismatic live gigs, the band hasn't been able to take its rightful place amidst other young bands that, frankly, don't deliver similar music goods nearly as well.
So, this time, band and label are putting on the full-court press publicity wise, hiring esteemed PR firm Sacks & Co. (David Byrne, Willie Nelson) to get the print word out, and well-thought-of Pirate! PR for radio play. The way Backgammon sees it, the band could be a break or two away from stepping up to another level. He likens it to how some key festival appearances significantly bumped up the fan base for fellow North Carolinians The Avett Brothers, or how a well-placed TV appearance boosted the fortunes -- and crowds -- of more kindred musical spirits The Whigs.
"When they played on [The Late Show with David] Letterman, it turned the corner for them," says Backgammon. "People decided 'Oh, we can go see them now, they were on Letterman.' So you've got to have something; 'Yeah, we played Bonnaroo, yeah, we played Letterman.' Lots of people need that validation first, they don't feel comfortable being the innovator."
Without material, though, those are the same fantasy camp dreams shared by every other band on the planet. So, after the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am recording sessions for their debut -- knocked out at Jamie Hoover's local studio in four days -- The Sammies were determined to take their time with Sandwich. Recorded over a couple of months at Mitch Easter's Fidelitorium and mixed at the Drive-by Truckers' Chase Park Transduction studio (the Truckers' Ben Holst co-produced) in Athens, the result is far more nuanced and textured. The garage-y rawk of the debut is limited to a few cuts. Instead, the Sammies have channeled their inner Feelies; propulsive rhythms highlighted by clarion-toned guitar lines, some well-placed keys and group harmonies, and Backgammon's distinctive charisma-mixed-with-ennui vocals. There's even a couple of Kinks' flavored slow numbers where the guitars are virtual background accents.
"Instead of using ridiculous amounts of guitars we just said, 'Why don't we play this on a keyboard line?'" says Backgammon. "You always feel like you could do something better, or you'd like to know what your options were: 'Oh, I like that guitar sound, but can we try three more?' But last time we didn't even have a chance to do that."
Whether it makes a difference in the band's future is, finally, just up to the fickle music gods; as far as the band is concerned, they've done their bit.
"This is only our second album, we really haven't proven anything," says Backgammon. "So we'll just see what happens."
Girls On Wheels Locals Babyshaker and Hickry Hawkins will be playing the party to introduce the Charlotte Roller Girls' new intra-league teams Wednesday, Aug. 6 at The Alley Cat. All the Roller Girls are scheduled to appear, there'll be a DJ, and a Roller Girls' leg-wrestling demo (hmmm) among the festivities. It's also the last of The Alley Cat's Wednesday night shows, so expect the unexpected.