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The SPECifics: Shmu Blurs the Lines

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Sam Chown, the solo artist known as Shmu, is based in Austin, Texas, and writes, performs and engineers all his music himself. Currently on tour to promote his upcoming album, he is very busy producing amazingly high-energy shows, and then racing off to the next venue. Also a member of the Austin-based band Zorch, Chown started the Shmu project to work on a style of music and sound completely different from that which he produces with Zac Traeger.

This creative powerhouse recently gave a jaw-dropping performance in Tempe and The Spec was able to catch up with him after the show. Read below to see what he has to say about his current project, his relationship with The Flaming Lips, and more…

The Spec: Who would you say your biggest music influences are?
Sam Chown: Um, well I guess, are you asking about what my biggest influences for this project, because it would be a different answer depending upon which project we are talking about.

TS: Yes, specifically how it affects your Shmu project, what would you say your biggest influences are?
SC: Ok, well I would say that what I’m trying to do is push the whole “shoegazer-dream pop” genre forward, and progress it forward because I don’t really see any bands doing that right now; they are just kind of rehashing that same material that they grew up on. With that being said, My Bloody Valentine and Smashing Pumpkins, stuff like that, was very important to me. So I want to take those kinds of ideas and sounds and put it through an electronic blender in a way. Even though it’s live, my goal with this project is to blur the line between electronic music and the traditional rock band.

TS: With that in mind, how do you think your music that is available online, and is a little more polished, translates to the live performance where new fans may not be as expectant of this intentional blurring as you put it?
SC: All the recordings I have do not reflect my live show, up until this album I have coming out in 2015. This new album reflects not just me as a solo performance, but I also have a trio version coming out, which really better represents what the live show feels like. It’s a lot more rocking, visceral, and energetic. The stuff online I played all the instruments, which resulted in it being a lot more subdued and low-key just due to the nature of me playing everything myself rather than feeding off of other people performing at the same time. Even though I wrote all the parts, there is still room for improvisation and a greater musical experience.

 TS: You recorded a lot of your earlier music completely on your own. Did you do this purely out of necessity, or was it a conscious creative choice?
SC: It was both, because with this specific project, I started writing and recording when I was 17. It had always been a bedroom project until a couple years ago, when I fleshed it out into a complete set that can be played live, while still being energetic. Again, the focus of this project has always been to progress the shoegazer genre forward […] the next logical step in its evolution.

TS: Your other band, Zorch, recently recorded with The Flaming Lips for their Beatles tribute “With a Little Help From My Fwends.” What was that experience like?
SC: At the moment, I don’t quite remember how we came to being on the album, but we had become friends with Wayne Coyne, and as a result the whole band really. Wayne is just very sweet, generous, and personable, not just with us, but with everyone in general, and he really took us under his wing.

We were the first band to ever play in his art space, Womb Gallery, and just developed a relationship with him from there. Then at some point Wayne asked us, “do you want to record ‘Good Morning, Good Morning?’” and we said, “Of course.” So we recorded a version that is 17 minutes long, and we still haven’t released that one yet. He took our version and he, Dave Fridman, and Steven Drozd messed with it and tweaked it. The version on their album is a little over three minutes long. It’s a much more driven, foot-to-the-floor, pop song, where our version was a little too out there for this specific record. Wayne telling me that our version was too out there was the highest compliment I think I could ever receive.

TS: Are there any other big developments coming out that you would like your fans to know about?
SC: Well, I’m actually releasing two albums in 2015. The first one is basically the experience of the live show […] the other, just another album where I record everything myself, has a more electronic vibe. That one has been almost done for a while now, so I just wanted to get it finished and get it out there.

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