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Interview: The Sam Gyllenhaal Band
The Sam Gyllenhaal Band has found the sweet spot. That place where rich three-part harmony and thoughtful, catchy songwriting come together - but it wasn’t easy to find. Sam has been writing, woodshedding, recording, and gigging over a span of 10 years that has included living in 3 cities, 5 or 6 day jobs, and hundreds of song demos.
Music has always been a big part of Sam's life, but he didn’t discover that he wanted to pursue music professionally until writing his first song in high school. Since that very first song, Sam has had a one-track mind; to make music he loves with the people he loves.
Joined by fellow singer/songwriter Alaina Stacey and long-time friend and bandmate Alex Schreiner on harmony vocals, the Sam Gyllenhaal band officially came together in 2017. Their pop, rock, and country influences inspire their songs' cascading melodies, driving grooves and vivid lyrics. The band likes to sing about life and love in motion - sometimes soaring, sometimes stumbling, but always moving forward.
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Music has always been a big part of my life - there's an old home video of my dad and I playing his banjo. He put it on my lap and had me strum it while he made the chord shapes on the neck with his left hand. Music was just a part of everything we did as a family, and in middle school, I started doing musical theater, which gave me the performing bug. I think if I hadn't gotten into music I would make music videos for other artists or make documentaries. I'd just want to be a part of making artistic visions come to fruition.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I'm really into yoga - I think that influences my demeanor and the way I sing a lot of the time. I want it to feel easy, loose and fun. If I'm having fun, then the listener will too.
How long has music been your career?
I started officially chasing a music career when I wrote my first song at 19, so 14 years! The minute I started writing I knew it was something I wanted to do for a living. Not that the song was any good...
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
We're based out of Nashville, TN and I think that's where our Americana influence comes from. There's a way of writing songs that's unique to Nashville I think, and every one of our songs is co-written with 3 or 4 other people who also have that Nashville influence.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
In April of this year, Alex, Alaina and I got to play at Dollywood in this beautiful venue called the Pinewood Theater. It was one of the largest venues we've played and the audience was super responsive. We did two days there, with three shows a day. After every show we play, I can't help but think about the things I wish I'd done better, and with three shows a day, you get two more opportunities to do just that. BUT the best AND worst show we ever played was when Alex and I performed on top of a limo. These guys were taking a cross-country road trip in this broken-down limo and were trying to pull off strange stunts at every stop, so their Nashville stunt was to put on a show. There was a pretty big crowd and it was pretty cool except for the fact that Alex and I like to kind of groove and bounce while we play but every time we moved we would bob up and down (and so did our microphones) and it felt like the roof was going to cave in. Good times.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Our favorite place to play was the Sutler in Nashville, TN. It was a historic venue, the sound was great, and there was always a sizable crowd there that was primed to hear original music. We were averaging about a show a month there but unfortunately, it got sold in March of this year. In some ways, losing that gig was a good thing because it was kind of an impetus to book shows outside of Nashville, which we've kicked into high gear. The dream would be to play the mother church, the Ryman Auditorium here in Nashville. It's not a stretch to say it might be the best-sounding venue in the US. There's definitely magic in that place.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Oh man. I'd have to say Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, just so I could meet those guys and stand on the same ground they stood.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
Write a bunch of bad songs. Just get them done and out of your head. Play them for your mom or your dog or your goldfish. Then write some mediocre songs. Play them at a dive bar. Once you've done that, write one good song. Latch onto a good idea, and don't settle until it lives up to your favorite songs from other artists. Don't finish the song just to finish a song. Have a high bar for every line and make it as good as it can possibly be. It will probably take a while to finish it but once you do, then you'll have something you can build a career on. Go play it everywhere you possibly can. Then write another good song.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to tour a hell of a lot more. I spent a lot of my early years sitting in Nashville just working on writing. That was super valuable and I played a lot of shows in Nashville, but I wish I would've hit the road, and written those songs while I was out there.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I think the one that means the most to me is the title track off our last EP called "Don't Look Down" which was written with John Cirillo and Nicole Lewis. The song was inspired by a letter my Dad wrote me on my birthday one year. It was a long letter talking about how he was proud of me and all that mushy stuff, but at the end, he said "While you sometimes crash into things without thinking things through, there's nothing like knowing how high you want to climb, and not looking down".
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I'd say "Mary Does" and "Blame it on the Moonlight" - two of the singles we've released so far this year. Those two songs have such infectious grooves and they're feel-good songs. At our last show someone named Mary came up to the stage and asked us to play "Mary Does" which was pretty cool.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
I start with a melody. Multiple times a day something will pop into my head and I'll record it as a voice memo on my phone. There are hundreds of high-pitched, nonsensical, embarrassing melodies on that thing. The day before a co-write, I go through my phone and pick out one of the good ones, and put it on top of a guitar groove. I'll then take that melody to my co-writers and we'll come up with a concept, or maybe even just a song title, and then we'll start puzzle-piecing the lyrics in there.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I have a kind of on-the-go and up for anything mentality about life right now, and I think that comes through in our music. I want our songs to give people that carefree feeling you get when you're with the person you love, and adventure is right around the corner.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
I'd say disagreements are rare. I think that's because everyone is there to serve the song, and that takes a lot of the ego out of it. If there are opposing viewpoints, someone will make a case for their line or melodic idea or whatever, and if they can't convince everyone else then we'll just keep searching for something that everyone can agree on.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Our plan for this year has been to play as many shows as possible and release a single per month, and that's been going great so far! Our most current single is called "Water and Stone" and features a great singer/songwriter named Sarah Spencer, who we wrote the song with. You can find it on all streaming platforms!