Overblown first stumbled across Sam Airey at the 2016 Long Division Festival in Wakefield. It was a very early afternoon set in the Theatre Royal, a stunning setting and the perfect surroundings for Sam’s one man and a guitar set which turned out to be one of the highlights of the weekend.
Fast forward a year or so and now we’re finally able to place Sam’s debut album In Darkened Rooms on the turntable and let it slowly sink into our souls. It’s a beautiful record, as resplendent in its songwriting craft as it is desolate in its sense of place. The album is out on Hide & Seek records, home of many an Overblown favourite and a label that Sam is heavily involved in so we had to find out more. Here’s a few words with the man himself.
O: This debut album has been a long time coming. Has this been a frustration, or simply circumstance or perhaps it’s entirely deliberate and you’re just happy to take your time?
Sam: In truth, I think it’s probably a combination of many factors. We started studio work on the record a couple of years ago, but after an initial recording spell there were circumstances that made things difficult in terms of getting back in. There have been frustrations along the way but the flip side is that I think the record probably benefits from the amount of time we spent making it. At this point personally it feels like a mixture of excitement and relief, and I hope to follow up this record with another as quickly as possible.
O: On a similar theme, what kind of time span is covered by these songs? Do you find yourself moving between musical styles through time? For example are the softer folk-tinged songs older and the post-rock songs more recent?
Sam: I think one of the unique things about a debut record is that it’s rarely written in a focused window of time – it is everything up until now, and there are both recent songs and others that have existed in different forms over a number of years. I think you can definitely chart some kind of journey in terms of finding and developing a specific sound, however I’m keen to be as open minded as possible and to be able to keep exploring and experimenting with the idea of what my songs should be. It’s an exciting process.
O: This record seems to have a strong sense of place, for me being Scottish it brings to mind the Western Isles and the water surrounding them, not necessarily on a glorious sunny day either. Is a sense of place something you aim for? Perhaps it’s a reflection of where you’re from?
Sam: I think there’s quite often a physical sense of place that pervades the songs – I wrote some of the record in my native North Wales and I think that sonically that has had quite a big impact. But it’s also the idea of longing for a certain place, and how that indescribable feeling can manifest itself in music and words. During the songwriting process I’m usually looking to create some kind of specific mood and place, whether or not it is actually inspired by a geographical one. Some of the songs have a narrative but in lots of ways they don’t always tell a complete story, rather conjure a specific atmosphere instead.
O: In the song ‘The Flood’ I love the way it starts by considering a space and then looking back at how that space may have come about it an architects mind. There seems to be conflict between hope and pride in the song (“Look how far we’ve come”) and the dread suggested by the Flood in the title. What can you tell us about the story behind this song?
Sam: This relates back to the previous question, and ultimately I think I wanted to create quite a specific mood. It references some personal battles, but also contains hope and advice for others – to be ready for these situations when they appear. It’s largely the idea that we can overcome these things with time, but also the realisation that ultimately life is short and we have to pursue the things that we consider important to us. It’s a moment of reflection in what feels like an impossibly fast-moving world.
O: I’ve read that you don’t consider a recorded version of a song as necessarily being the definitive version. Many of these songs sound like they’d require a full band and when I’ve seen you play before it’s just been yourself and a guitar. How is the album likely to translate into live performance?
Sam: My intention is that anything I write can stand up on its own with nowhere to hide. Although I play with the band, my background is from playing solo shows in hushed environments which I think still informs everything I try to write. My hope is that these songs can make sense regardless of how they’re performed. That said, I’m really excited to be onstage with my friends to play these new songs – in the studio we didn’t really worry about how we’d approach them in a live setting, so working on the arrangements has been challenging and fun in that sense. They won’t sound exactly like they do on the record, but to me that’s the point of a live performance – it should have an element of uniqueness about it.
O: What are your personal highlights from this record? Any moments you’re most proud of? Do you consider completing the album and being happy with it the best measure of success or are sales / reviews / perception of others important to you?
Sam: Ultimately I think success is a very subjective idea to define. Obviously I’d love for my music to reach a wider audience and positive reviews are welcome, but songwriting is something fairly cathartic that I do for myself, and helps keep me sane. If I can create something to be proud of, then it always has worth in that sense – to feel like you have documented something of real value.
O: You help to run the Hide & Seek label which I’m a huge fan of and we’ve featured great new records from Mi Mye and Post War Glamour Girls recently. How much work is involved in the label and how do you prioritise between your own music and other bands?
Sam: The label started really organically a number of years back by my friend Dan O’Dell who had stating putting out compilations for a festival – we figured it’d be good for me to be on board and it also became a way for me to release my music. Through that, we did our best to create a platform for music that we loved and are very proud of the records we’ve put out over the years. I have total admiration for Dan and I’m really grateful for the time and work he puts in – it’s truly a labour of love and if you ask other acts on the label they’ll tell you the same. I haven’t always been able to commit loads of time to the label, but I love helping out where I can. This is our 25th release and it feels like a milestone in a way, so I’m excited to see what the future holds for Hide & Seek, definitely.
In Darkened Rooms is released through Hide & Seek Records on Friday 26th May (on sweet white vinyl too) so get buying right here