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“We’re Nothing”: Samiam Reflects on Their Weird, Indefinable Career

We talked to the ultimate band's band about their nearly 30 years in music and why they used to ride around in a stretch SUV limo.

Samiam have had a pretty unique career trajectory. The band has been around for nearly three decades, and some of your favorite bands swear by their classic albums like Clumsy and Astray, yet aside from signing to a major label in the 90s and achieving mainstream music attention via singles like "Capsized" and "She Found You," the group never experienced the same success as, say, Green Day. (I should know as I actually saw Samiam open for Green Day outside of Cleveland, Ohio, during the peak of their Dookie explosion in 1994.) That said, Samiam will be the first to admit that their inability to fit neatly into one genre has both endeared them to fans and prevented them from becoming a household name. Too punk for modern rock and too catchy to be menacing, the group has carved a unique niche in the rock community despite the fact that they've only released two albums over the past 16 years. (The most recent being 2011's Trips.)

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We caught up with guitarist Sergie Loobkoff and bassist Chad Darby as they were catching up with Marc Peralta from the Los Angeles-based no-kill animal shelter NKLA before their sold-out show at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn. We discussed the time the band was funded by a tech millionaire's ambitious wife, the Dookie insanity, the current state of Samiam, and why they're never on any top ten lists. Here's hoping that finally changes in 2017.

Noisey: I remember seeing you guys in the early 2000s at Chain Reaction in Anaheim and you were touring in a stretch SUV limo. Did I imagine that?
Sergie Loobkoff: No, that happened. The backstory is that we're a band for like 12 years at that point, and went through ups and down through big labels and small labels and toured everywhere. Anyway, we played Las Vegas and this woman who was there had this common law husband who was a tech billionaire who always cheated on her so she wanted to spend his money to piss him off. So when she went to a Samiam show at a bar in Las Vegas, she thought she had discovered this great band. She didn't realize we had been a band for years and put out a bunch of records, she thought she was going to manage us and take care of us.

Wait, are you being serious?
Loobkoff: I'm being dead serious. It was the end of the Weston tour that we were on and so she came to the show and then she put each of us up in our hotel room at the Bellagio. I had a shower where you walk into the shower, there's no door or anything, you just walk into that corner of this huge bathroom and that's your shower area. Then she actually took us shopping three or four times. Johnny Cruz, our drummer—this was an example of how he sort of went with it—was holding a pair of $250 sunglasses and he goes, "I can't decide if I want the tortoise shell ones or the black ones" and she was like, "Get them both," and he was like, "okay."

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So she financed the stretch limo?
Loobkoff: Yeah, it was just for a little tour we booked and, much to the driver and her chagrin, we kept wanting to park it three blocks from the club so no one would see it, but unfortunately almost every single night people saw it. It was very embarrassing. It was also kind of fun, too. I can't believe you saw it.

I guess I was like 20. It surprised me but I was also like, "Well, maybe some bands just travel this way."
Loobkoff: It shocked a lot of people and we made up a lot of stories explaining it. We also played in Reno at a strip bar, a party that she had, and I was like, "I don't want to do that. No one is gonna want to hear our loud, shitty music at a strip bar. What the fuck?" So I made a couple of ridiculous requests. For example, on a previous tour I had met a girl in Atlanta, so I said, "I'm not going to play the show unless you fly that girl out and get us a suite," and she totally fucking did! [Laughs] We played and there were like 45 people in a rented-out strip bar and there were strippers there too and everyone hated it except for her.

Wow. I actually saw you once before that, opening for Green Day on the Dookie tour in Cleveland. What was that tour like?
Loobkoff: We weren't on that tour, our label just flew us out to play that show. That was during that crazy month where Green Day got huge and they asked us if we could do the show in Ohio. I think we were in New York because it was super expensive to park our van for like three days and Atlantic Records were like, "Go park your van and we will fly you out there and back. Cancel your New York show and go play with Green Day instead." We did tour with Green Day but it was a couple years later because when you saw us on that show it was like '94. We went to Japan and around the States with them in 1998 and it was during that Nimrod period where they were still huge to us but compared to Dookie they were much smaller. We brought 500 shirts to that show in Ohio and they sold out almost immediately—not because people loved our band, I think we were pretty terrible—because it was right during Green Day-mania.

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You weren't an obscure band at that time either. I mean, wasn't "Capsized" on the radio?
Loobkoff: Yeah we were on the radio, I think we are on the station that sponsored that show because it was $5 and it was two days notice.

So what's going on with Samiam now? Are you having fun doing shows like tonight?
Loobkoff: At this point, if we don't enjoy it, we're not doing it. Because I consider Samiam to have broken up in 2000. In the 16 years since we've put out two records, toured Europe once or twice a year almost every single year, and gone to South America and Australia. So for some bands, we're really active. But that's when we stopped putting out a record and touring on that record in a serious way. Right now, even though we're not a punk rock band—we're a modern rock or whatever with punk rock people—we don't have a booking agent, we don't have a manager, we do everything ourselves. It's just a hobby so if you asked, "Are you having fun?" and if I asked Chad that and he said he wasn't having fun, I'd say, "Get out, because it isn't getting any better than this."

Chad Darby: I think you have said that to me, actually. [Laughs]

So do you have any plans to put out another album?
Loobkoff: We went to Australia two years ago and I guess if you're a really, really big band you play on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday nights, and we toured there with Bodyjar and Blueline Medic who were big there, but not big enough to play on those nights. So we were there for three weeks but we had like four days off every week and spent those four days off practicing. Basically, we were up in Melbourne because we had a bunch of friends there and wrote four songs and then when we played Riot Fest. After that, we recorded those songs at our friend Jeff's studio. That was in 2014 and the plan was for Jason [Beebout] to do the vocals when we got back and now it's two years later and he has not done that. I always have 20 songs at any one time at my life that aren't being used so we could, but it's really all up to Jason.

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But the reason we are doing this whole tour is because of Jason. These are the first shows he booked in like 30 years or whatever, and he did a really good job so maybe that's a sign. We all want to do it—including Jason because I'm not totally trying to put it on him—but as you know it's not just about writing songs, there's so much else involved. We are spread out all over the country now, so every time we do anything it takes a whole bunch of plane flights. We all totally get along and we love these songs and love playing together so you'd think we would get off our asses and do it, but it takes a lot more than that. Do we want to do it? Hell yeah. But are we going to be able to do it?

I feel like everyone I know was excited about you playing Vitus. But also 90 percent of them were also in bands.
Loobkoff: It's really true that we are a band that other guys in bands like, that always happens. To me, the bands that people like are the bands that are good but they're also ones that have a certain amount of failure so that people in bands aren't jealous of them. So it's also like a backhanded compliment if someone says, "You're one of those bands that every guy in a punk band loves." I think no one is secretly jealous of us.

Darby: It's true the bands' bands are never the ones that are super successful.

Loobkoff: Yeah, because when one of those bands gets really big, then everyone hates them for a certain period of time. It happened to Jawbreaker and then they broke up and ten years later everyone talks about how much they loved Dear You.

Did Samiam get any backlash when you were playing late night network TV shows and stuff like that? 
Loobkoff: We got backlash when we started because when we started, we weren't really punk rock. Who knows what we were? We definitely were not what was going on in Berkeley at the time. We didn't really ever have a following of people who were punk. We were sort of like Trump, a bunch of outliers, you know? [Laughs] Whenever I see one of those lists of "Top Ten Emo Records," we're never on that. "Top Ten Skate Rock Records From 90s Bands," we're never on that, either. Or "Top Ten 90s Indie Rock Punk Bands," we're not on that either. The bad part is that people forget about us, but the good part is that when we do something that people criticize, they don't get too upset. Like when we signed to Atlantic, we didn't get that much backlash because those people already had made up their minds about us.

Well, it's weird because in a way you are a part of all of those scenes, but also none of them.
Loobkoff: That's what I'm saying, we're nothing. If you had to actually say what Samiam belongs to, what would you say? Nothing, really.

Jonah Bayer is on Twitter - @mynameisjonah