Metro Magazine Interview
Passion, creativity, skill – musicians need them all if they want to succeed. Anyone can learn to play an instrument, but true artists are their own breed. For bands, it’s the unique blend of technical skill and chemistry that brings everything together. More often than not, it’s the indescribable, unpredictable “ah-hah” moment that solidifies a band’s place in history. For Brandon Sampson and his band, Six Mile Grove, that moment came four years ago amidst some soul-searching in the deep South.
METRO: Let’s start with the history of Americana Showcase. How did this all get started?Sampson: Back in 2006, the band and I went to the Americana Music Conference in Nashville, and we returned to Minnesota inspired. We had finally found a genre that we fit into. We wanted to bring this music (Americana) back with us and expose people in Southern Minnesota to it. So, we had the clever idea that instead of us traveling all over the place, we would use our connections and bring bands and artists to us.
METRO: What type of music are we talking about exactly?Sampson: We’re talking about Americana: roots-rock, folk-rock, little bluesy tinge to it music. It’s music with classic country roots that brings in rock’n’roll aspects and makes it sound like 2010.
METRO: I’ve been hearing that word – Americana – a lot more lately, but I feel like everyone has a different take on it.
Sampson: It’s a story-driven genre with honest, sincere songwriting. It brings musical heritage up front and lets the musicians talk about where it came from, where they came from, and where they’re going.
METRO: What does a typical Americana Showcase look like? Is it set up like your regular concerts?Sampson: It is set up like a concert. The showcases coming up are modeled after the Bluebird Café’s style. That was the first time I ever performed in Nashville, and it was the most terrifying and inspiring performance of my life. I’d never done that before – played in a concert where four artists sat in the middle of the room and took turns introducing and playing their songs. Then, as you got more comfortable, you start chiming in on other artists’ stuff.
METRO: Right. Definitely not like a regular concert. What about the audience? Did their reactions phase you at all?Sampson: The audience was drawn into the experience so intimately that time just flew by. People were at the edge of their seat waiting to see what was going to happen next. That’s what we do: we create a one-time, one-of-a-kind event each night.
METRO: How are the artists’ reacting?Sampson: It’s so much fun to bring in the different personalities of artists. When they’re in the showcase environment it takes a little bit to get them warmed up and comfortable. But then the stories come flowing out, and it’s really engaging for everybody – everybody connects. And that’s usually the hardest thing at concerts, quickly connecting with the audience and drawing them in. But for some reason this format gets that barrier down instantly and everybody feels like they’re part of an event.
METRO: It sounds like quite the jam session.Sampson: Most of the artists have something in common; many have played together before as bands. It’s fun to hear the frontman sing a song and then sing backup on it. People will hear familiar stuff from all the artists, but it’ll be like one of Adam Levy’s songs (from The Honeydogs) with Martin Zellar singing back-up. It’s great.
METRO: Walk me through this: each artist brings their own repertoire and then you pass it around and everyone joins in on that song. Is that right?Sampson: Yeah, we just take turns. For example, I usually start because everybody else is scared or doesn’t know what to do. So I’ll introduce the song, start playing, and half way through I’ll hear some noodling on the guitar next to me as somebody warms up. Once I get done playing, the next person to go will either be reminded of a song or they’ll take it in a whole different direction and play one of their songs. It all just keeps going around and around. We do that for a couple of hours.
METRO: Who typically comes to the shows?Sampson: All ages. People can bring their kids if they think they can handle sitting there for a while; we’ll give them an intermission. It ranges from younger kids to people in their sixties or seventies… my grandpa and grandma love coming. And they don’t go to clubs very often, so this is a good excuse for them to get out.
METRO: How have you choose the artists? Do you just go down a list and decide who you want to play with?Sampson: Yep. It’s a highly scientific process. It started with us inviting friends to play, and we’re still working our way through that list. We’ve played together a long time (since 1997) and we’ve gotten to play with a lot of great bands over the years. Now we’re just trying to give them a call, see who’s available on what night and line it up that way. It’s really just a wide, very eclectic mix.
METRO: Has it ever gone horribly wrong?
Sampson: No, it’s never come to a screeching halt, which is amazing, to be honest. But that says a lot about the quality of artists that come. They’ve all been doing it a while and they’re all comfortable getting themselves out of jams if needed. But they’re also willing to take risks, try new things and give the audience things they’ve never seen before. I guess if you just really believe in it and try, only good can come from it.
The next Americana Showcase will be held at the James J. Hill Reference Library Reading Room and feature Adam Levy of The Honeydogs, Ben Kyle of Romantica, Brandon Sampson of Six Mile Grove and Martin Zellar.
Americana Showcase: Songwriters in the Round
Sunday, March 7
James J. Hill Reference Library
80 4th St. W., St. Paul