SAMIYAM: KANGAROOS TRYING TO FIGHT ME
photography by stefano galli
Sam Baker was raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit renowned for its quality of life and generally liberal leanings. Like any typical middle class child, Sam found an outlet for his creativity through doodling and drawing. Unlike a typical middle class teen, an older Sam—introduced to the world of weed and rap music—found an updated outlet for his creativity in a drum machine his grandfather helped purchase. Years later, that creativity has been honed into a sharp talent for beat making, producing, and even rapping. After moving to Los Angeles in the late 2000’s following a MySpace conversation with Flying Lotus, Sam has played a quiet but pivotal part in the fabled L.A. Beat Scene. After releasing his first two projects via Brainfeeder, Sam collaborated on a cassette with Leaving Records before moving on to the house that Madlib built. His Stones Throw debut Animals Have Feelings is yet another mostly instrumental experience, feeding his cult audience’s appetite for chunky skewed beats but adding a handful of curated MCs. Samiyam speaks now on his creative process, his experience being in the creative community of Los Angeles and just what role animals play in his day to day life. This interview by Le’Shawn Taylor and sweeney kovar.
Do you care to talk more about this story about getting inspiration from a stripper in Detroit and eating beef taquitos?
Samiyam: It’s a little vague, I guess—the way it was mentioned [in the bio]. A friend of mine was rhyming over some beats I gave him at some show and my man House Shoes was there. He moved out to L.A. before I did, but at the time this was like nine or ten years ago or something. In any case, my friend was like, ‘Yeah, I want to take you out to Detroit and introduce you to House Shoes.’ He heard these beats at a show and he’s like, ‘I want to link up with this dude who made these beats.’ So we got out there and we’re chilling at his house, like just bullshitting, listening to some stuff for a minute. Then Shoes said, ‘All right, we gotta go to the club.’ We ended up at this strip club at like 8 Mile and Shaffer called Platinum. It was like 2 PM or something and we’re going into this strip club called Platinum. We walked in there and I was like, ‘Oh, damn, he’s an important customer here.’ They got us right in to the little VIP booth. They brought us a platter of these shitty deep-fried beef taquitos. I mean, don’t get me wrong—when I say ‘shitty,’ they were delicious. They probably weren’t the most healthy thing you could ever eat. But we’re sitting in this strip club looking at these girls and eating taquitos and shit, and he’s rolling blunts and I was just like … this is crazy. ‘You can eat deep-fried tacos and watch strippers and smoke blunts all at the same time? You can do that in your life?’ It was a life-changing experience. I thought, ‘I could really get used to a lifestyle like this.’ Of course, I’ve spent very little time eating taquitos in strip clubs since then. I guess my idea of a good time has changed just a little bit. But that’s what that was about. House Shoes, I’ve been cool with him every since. It was dope to me to link up with him—I had been aware of what he was doing for a minute, and liked hearing his mixes and shit. I knew of some of the people he was working with and that really meant a lot to me at the time. That probably was more of an influence on me than eating taquitos and smoking blunts in the strip club, as cool as that was. It was cool to link up with Shoes at the time and find that he was a fan of the music and was telling me to really take it a little more seriously.
I wanted to talk to you about your current creative process. What goes into making a Samiyam beat?
Samiyam: It’s always different, but I can give you an example of something I do sometimes. Recently I’ve been going through all these Zip disks. I used to have these big Zip disks for the MPC. I had a shoebox full and I started pulling those out because I remembered I would sample so many sounds and never do anything with them. So over the past couple of weeks I’ve been loading up shit out of all these old disks. Some of it is stuff I sampled over ten years ago and I didn’t even really … I hardly even knew how to use the MPC. I was just sampling. I’ve been pulling those sounds up and chopping them up again, and making completely new beats out of these sounds that I sampled forever ago. Some of them, there are beats that have the sounds in them already—and I listened to them and it’s crazy how bad they are. But the sounds are cool, so I’ve just been doing that. But that’s just like one thing. Sometimes I’ll sit down and put on a record and find some drums I want to use. Then put on another record and see if I can find something else and just sample a bunch of stuff, or turn on a drum machine and a couple synthesizers or something. It really depends on whatever I feel like doing at the time. Whatever I want to hear, really.
Sometimes your music can sound dark. How do you feel when you’re creating it?
Samiyam: No, there’s not like a certain feeling. I feel different every day. But you mentioned some of it sounds dark to you. I definitely get some of that kind of stuff out through music. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows that’s powering my beats.
What role has your boy Alchemist played in your development as a producer?
Samiyam: He’s definitely introduced me to rappers and shit like that, but even before that … when you say what’s the role he played in my development as a producer, he’s one of the dudes I used to be listening to, trying to figure out how people made beats. Before I ever even got into it, before I ever saw any sampler or anything like that, he was part of a little list of other producers that I was into at that time. He was a big influence to me.
This is your first official release on Stones Throw. How’s it feel to officially be on a roster now?
Samiyam: It’s dope, man. I’ve always looked at Stones Throw as a pretty consistent label that has released stuff that’s dope to me. It definitely feels good to be putting out a proper record with them.
What’s the significance of the title—Animals Have Feelings? Not too long ago I found a picture of you holding a koala, and for a long time that was the only picture I’d seen of you. Are they connected?
Samiyam: That photo was—I keep forgetting. In Australia, obviously. I think I was in Brisbane, and these dudes took me the day after I did the show to this wildlife reserve place. I got the picture with the koala bear and they charge you a few bucks. They hand it to you and it puts its arms around you like it thinks you’re a bigger koala bear or something. They had a field that was just full of kangaroos, too. There was like little kangaroos trying to fight me and shit. We really should have got pictures of that instead.
It looks like it’s caressing you.
Samiyam: Actually, you know what? I had an idea that I was envisioning the picture like I’m going to look mean and just be holding a koala bear for some reason.
You look pretty happy.
Samiyam: Yeah, they put it into my arms and it put its arms around my shoulders and looked like it was about to go to sleep. And I just couldn’t really hold the face. I had to smile.
Animals seem to be a recurring theme in your work. I was listening to your catalog earlier and you have like a few titles named after kittens and pandas.
Samiyam: I had a couple of cats when I was a kid and they were very important to me. Very cool cats—beautiful, majestic animals. But I don’t know—now with travel and stuff, I don’t have pets. I guess to be quite honest, the extent of animals’ roles in my life is I like to eat all kinds of stuff. I’ll eat anything. I don’t know if this is really a good answer for this because some people probably look at that title like, ‘This guy, he’s going to join PETA or something.’ No—I mean, I do love animals though. Especially when I was a little kid I was just fascinated with animals, like little lizards and shit. I was trying to catch them. The title just came out of my mind. It’s not necessarily saying that I’m living in the jungle surrounded by animals or anything like that.
You’ve been collaborating a lot with Earl Sweatshirt—what it is about your individual music that pairs well with one another?
Samiyam: It’s hard to say. You know he had the Earl video—that was the first thing I was up on. That was crazy to me and I was listening to his stuff from then. We just met and got along, and I found out he was listening to my shit as well and we just worked on some stuff. Actually, now that I think about it, he was trying to hit me up for a minute and I had like not looked at Twitter for a really fucking long time. He was trying to contact me through there or something. But when we linked up, I was just like … all right, he’s cool. So it was easy to work with him.
I’ve seen him on Vine messing with an SP404 and I’m like yo, that’s pretty dope. I know that he produces his own tracks sometimes, and just to see him with an SP404 I’m like … yo.
Samiyam: Earl’s got some shit on the 404, definitely.
Do you work in the studio together?
Samiyam: Yeah—we have been in the studio together for all the tracks we’ve recorded. He’ll hear the beat and have a strong idea of what he wants to do already, and he’ll just work it out. When we’ve recorded shit I haven’t really felt the need to give that much input because he goes in there and kills it. I’ll just play him stuff. It’s the same thing with anyone, usually—I’ll just play them a few beats and see if anything sticks.
Do you relate well despite you being ten years older than him?
Samiyam: You talk to Earl and it’s pretty obvious he’s a smart kid. He approaches a lot of things in a different way than people his age generally might. I forgot that I’m like ten years older than him. What is he? I think he’s in his mid-20s or something. I don’t think I’m quite ten years older than him but I’m a few years older and I forgot that. It doesn’t really seem like it.
I wanted to talk to you about the vocal features on the album other than Earl. You have Jeremiah Jae, Oliver the 2nd and Action Bronson.
Samiyam: I’ve known Jae for a minute and he lived in L.A. for a bit. He’s back in Chicago at the moment, but he was visiting L.A. and we just linked up. I was making a beat and him and Oliver were over and they liked it and just started writing some shit to it while I was working on it. I sequenced the beat out and we just recorded it like that. When I was starting to put the record together I hit those guys up: ‘I want to put this on the record.’ The one with Action, we’ve recorded a bunch of shit. He’s always working and he just records a lot of shit—and then he hasn’t ended up actually releasing any of the shit that we’ve done. So I asked him if it was cool to put one of those on my record because they’re good songs. I want people to hear them and I think it fit into the record and everything. I didn’t want those to sit around for too long. It’s not really like I chose … like, ‘These guys need to be on the record.’ Those are working relationships that I have—we’re making music, and I want to let people hear it.
Are there any type of MCs or voices that attract you to want to put someone on to a record?
Samiyam: I’ve always been into pretty much the same type of rap. I don’t really care as long as I like the beat and it sounds good. If you can rap well … it’s an added bonus if the shit’s actually clever or makes me think a little bit. I don’t give a fuck. I’m not one of those listeners who’s like ‘it’s got to be a certain subject’ or ‘they need to rap in a certain way.’ I like it when it seems like someone has their own style, and the shit sounds good, and they might have a couple clever things to say here and there. I’m easily entertained, I guess.
You have a song called ‘Teebs Gets Angry’ on here—I can’t imagine Teebs ever getting angry. I mean, he makes like the most chill … like ambient music.
Samiyam: That’s like if I called it ‘Pat Metheny Gets Angry.’ He’s gotten angry before. I’ve seen it happen. But I really called it that just because … Teebs sent me some of the sounds that I based that track around, like a lot of the stuff I use as the percussion. Just that beat I ended up making—I don’t know, there’s something uncomfortable about it. For some reason I envisioned Teebs like becoming infuriated and throwing something at the wall, which I’m sure is an absurd idea. I was laughing thinking about it. I don’t think he does get quite that angry, but you know, he’s a human being. I just felt it had that type of energy and Teebs had sent me those sounds so I was laughing about that. Like Teebs getting angry—
It just caught me off guard. I can’t imagine him pissed-off at something because he’s always like painting and skateboarding and making chill stuff. He seems like a—I don’t know, like a cuddly person, if that makes sense? Probably awkward to say on your album.
Samiyam: He’s peaceful—how about that? He’s a relaxed peaceful individual.
That’s a better word. He probably wouldn’t appreciate the word cuddly.
Samiyam: Who knows? Maybe he would?
Not too long ago one of the tracks from Animals leaked—has anything like that ever happened to you?
Samiyam: I don’t think any of my stuff has leaked too far in advance. Nothing too bad, and that one it’s like … I don’t even know who had that.
I could just like imagine some random kid on an Odd Future forum scouring the internet.
Samiyam: Yeah—once somebody put it up, it’s up there. People don’t even have to scour the internet now. But I haven’t really had too much stuff leak like that. Earl’s on the track so I guess there’s people interested in that shit. It makes sense that it would get out there somehow if enough people had it.
What are your thoughts on leaking in general?
Samiyam: I honestly haven’t put too much thought into it. I don’t always keep up on new records and everything, so it doesn’t really make that much of a difference to me. Or in terms of like my own music being leaked somehow? Of course, if it leaks way far in advance it’s just not a good look. People get used to it or sick of it by the time it comes out. It’s better to make it until it’s supposed to come out so it can be exciting and new to everyone. Also another way you’ve got to consider it—if a record leaks and a lot of people are passing it around, that means people are interested in it. Even if it means that a handful less people are going to buy the record, it also means that you probably won’t have trouble touring. If enough people are interested then it’s your shit leaks and it’s just everywhere. At the end of the day, that happens because people want to hear it. Or maybe it happens in the first place because people want to be like, ‘Check it out—I have this cool thing that no one else has.’ But the people who are actually looking and listening to it … that’s nice. You’ve got to appreciate that people want to hear the shit before it’s even out.
I want to ask you about your studio equipment. I know you for using the SP404 and synthesizers—are you still mostly dependent on hardware when it comes to creating music?
Samiyam: Yeah, I am. I have not ever made the switch over to software. Of course I’ve incorporated a few software things into my process in different ways at times. I was making beats on the 303 and the 404 for a long time. Recently I’ve been back on the MPC. I got a couple samplers and a bunch of records and just a few synthesizers and stuff. That kind of inspires me. I’ve always just liked that—seeing the machines instead of looking at a computer screen.
Do you see yourself transitioning to software any time soon?
Samiyam: It doesn’t even matter, software or hardware. I always say you’ve got to just see what’s comfortable to you. If you have ideas and you think it’s worth putting your time into trying to figure out a way to bring those to life, you’ve just got to figure out what a comfortable way of working is. For somebody it’s going to be software and for somebody it’s going to be hardware. It doesn’t really matter as long as it works for you and you make something that sounds good.
Is there something musically that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to do before your music career is over?
Samiyam: There’s plenty that I haven’t done. But I just want to keep making music and just challenge myself and try to just do different things. I guess I haven’t really looked at it in just a straightforward way like that. Like what exactly do I want to do? I’m doing some little part of it every day.
SAMIYAM’S ANIMALS HAVE FEELINGS IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM STONES THROW.