“They started life as a major label band, but when they found that the industry wasn’t hep to their jive, they threw off the shackles of the majors and..went indie. They toured the world and elsewhere and found that their true calling was…the call of the road. With the wind at their back, they built a reputation…one which still stands today…as one of the best live bands of all time. They are…THE SAMPLES!”
Man, that’s great copy.
Except that, truth be told, there aren’t horror stories from the Samples’ major-label experiences that are still keeping the band’s leader, Sean Kelly, up at night. “It’s getting to be a little blurry,” he admits, seventeen years after that initial grab for the brass ring. “That was a long time ago. (Major labels) are such a small part of my career.”
And while it’s a well-honed urban legend that the only way to experience the Samples is in the live arena – where, let’s be honest, they are pretty awesome – it’s only half the experience. Once you’ve factored in studio albums, compilation albums, and official live releases, you’re at eighteen discs and rising…and that’s including their most recent release, 2005′s Rehearsing for Life, on Apache Records.
The line between live and studio is so pronounced that, when asked which studio album best captures the feel and spirit of the band in concert, Kelly really has no answer. “Both are so different,” he insists. “We’re good in the studio, too. We’re very efficient, practical and resourceful. There’s an element to us on the recordings that’s really pretty, that’s really nice. They’re two different machines: apples and oranges, but never trying to be an apple, not trying to be an orange. If I want to capture it live, we’ll go make a live album.”
Which, as noted, they have done. 1997′s Transmissions from the Sea of Tranquility, their first live album, has been described as “a staple of musically – hip college students everywhere during the late ’90s,” while Kelly’s personally fond of the more recent Live in Colorado, which emerged in 2004.
When it comes to the Samples’ studio albums, however, Kelly’s a parent who loves all his children equally. “With every CD, we come out of the studio knowing that we’ve done our best,” he states, with confidence. “Each one of them is like a photo album of that year – what we’ve been through, the songs, the tours – and I feel like they don’t have a shelf life. They’re like wine, in a way, at least for me. They ferment; they just seem to get better. When I listen back, I’m, like, ‘Wow, that was a cool album!’”
Kelly reveals that, as a celebration of their anniversary, there’s been talk of recording a collaborative album with friends of the band, but for the most part, the Samples will be spending their twentieth year as a band much as they’ve spent the years preceding it: on the road. “It’d be nice if there were other avenues (to success),” concedes Kelly, “but we’re doing it our own way and taking a scenic road.”
Perhaps it’s because he’s always looking forward, but, when asked to sit back for a moment and sum up the sound of the Samples, Kelly admits that, frankly, he’s probably the last person to whom you’d want to pose that question. “You’d really have to ask a fan,” he says. “I honestly can’t tell you what the Samples’ sound is. I can tell you what it’s not, though. It’s not cheap. It’s not synthetic. And it’s definitely not lacking in soul or spirit or passion.
“We move so quickly that I hardly even have a chance to listen to our stuff, but once in awhile, when we’re on a break, I stop and look back and go, ‘Man! That’s a lot of touring and a lot of albums…a lot of sacrifices, a lot of responsibility, and a lot of accountability.’ It’s rarely that I actually get to sit down and really listen to figure out what it is that we’re doing. I just know that it’s rooted always from the same place: integrity.”
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