Feature, InterviewSean McHugh

Now/It's: An Interview with Sam Gidley of The Lonely Biscuits, Cowboy Sam

Feature, InterviewSean McHugh
Now/It's: An Interview with Sam Gidley of The Lonely Biscuits, Cowboy Sam

Nashville has always been an intriguing city with regard to the many superstitions of its inhabitants, particularly within the realm of musical success. As you'll read on, we discuss the notion of Nashville being an "x-year town" with The Lonely Biscuits' Sam Gidley. Granted, there are other notions of Nashville existing as a "two year town" or a "ten year town," and just about every increment of time in between. In the end, it might be best to say that Nashville is a town that rewards those willing to grind it out and roll with the punches as time moves on, and Sam Gidley is no exception. During his seix or so years in Nashville, not only has Sam's band The Lonely Biscuits made magnificent strides in their career (they'll open for Judah and the Lion at Ryman Auditorium September 9th), but Sam has slowly but surely carved himself a nice little pocket producing music with other Nashville artists such as October Tooth and past interviewee David Swick. All that to be said, Sam's next six years look all but certain to continue the upward trajectory of his last six. 

Now/It's: Nashville met with Sam Gidley at Portland Brew, in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville.

Sam - What have you been up to today?

N/I - Well, I interviewed Corey Leiter this morning.

Sam - Oh yeah. He plays kind of indie country music, sort of?

N/I - I guess you could call it that. I’d just say indie singer-songwriter to allow it space to move around.

Sam - Right. I’ve seen his name popping up more and more.

N/I - It was a solid conversation. His perspective is pretty interesting. He has some unique views in the sense that he played a show with Damien Jurado in Ohio just from a cold open email.

Sam - Oh that’s dope.

N/I - For that fifty state tour that [Jurado] is doing. So he’s played some cool gigs, all while he’s running the whole ship himself. He’s an awesome guy to talk to.

Sam - It’s cool to get that perspective.

N/I - For sure. He talked a lot about meditation, too, which I thought was pretty compelling. But anyway, let’s get onto the subject of you.

Sam - Alright [laughs].

N/I - Fun fact - this table is the same table I interviewed Joseph Barrios and David Swick.

Sam - Oh really? That’s a good table for stuff like this, then [laughs]. There aren’t any people next us.

N/I - Yeah it’s good. Anyway, what have you been up to?

Sam - I’ve been good; same old. It’s actually been pretty chill the last few weeks. We’re kind of just gearing up to hit the road in August and September.

N/I - And that’s effectively a month or so on the road?

Sam - Kind of. It’s pretty much like we’re gone every Wednesday through Sunday, and then we’re back for a few days. So it won’t feel like a month, but I think it’s twelve or thirteen shows, which winds up being pretty much every weekend. It’ll be cool. It’s our first headlining stuff for the year, so we’ll see how that goes, because we’re kind of in a weird cycle, like when the music will be out and everything along those lines. We’ll get to test out some of the new songs.

N/I - Is that to coincide with the EP’s release date? You finish up the touring just in time to be back for the release?

Sam - It might have been better to tour September into October, play the record after people had gotten to hear it, but we’re hoping to tour with a few bands in October/November.

N/I - So you’re just trying to get that stuff in line then?

Sam - Yeah.

N/I - Do you know who those bands would be?

Sam - No…

N/I - Or are you not at liberty to say?

Sam - No. There are a few bands that we’re submitting for, but nothing solid yet.

N/I - So when you submit for a band, what’s that process like?

Sam - We don’t really do anything. We just send [the bands] to our manager and then I think our manager sends them to our agent. And then we wait.

N/I - That’s what I figured.


Sam - Sometimes it’s different, like our manager might know a particular band’s manager, so they’ll just do it that way.

N/I - So if there’s a direct line or something.

Sam - Or with The Weeks, it was more of a “Hey we’re friends, come out with us.” Those are way better situations, where you have a connection. But a lot of times, it’s just a stale, agent-to-agent, numbers thing.

N/I - A little more sterile.

Sam - Yeah. So that’s kind of how it’s going this time, just because there aren’t really any bands that we’re friends with during that particular time. So we’ll see.

N/I - Well how do you guys feel like that, then? Because haven’t most of your tours been with groups that you at least know one or two guys in the other groups?

Sam - Right. It’ll definitely be a different experience, but it was kind of that way with The Weeks, too. We knew a few of them on more of a surface level. Johnny [Fisher], we’re pretty good friends with, but none of The Weeks, we’d ever really hung out with. So it was a week or two….

N/I - Where everyone was slowly warming up to each other?

Sam - Where we’re all kind of figuring out the vibe and what everyone’s like. But it’s not as hard as it sounds. You’re not with them all of the time.

N/I - Sure. It’s like a basic work relationship. You don’t really know anyone, and slowly but surely, you begin to build an ever so slightly more friendly relationship over time.

Sam - Yeah. And that’s the other cool thing - not knowing them then, but now with The Weeks, we’re tight. That’s cool, because that’s a relationship we have in town now. So it’d be cool to expand that outside of Nashville - some band or artist that we can rely on whenever we hit them up.

N/I - So the preference would be for a non-Nashville band?

Sam - Maybe. Not necessarily, but we’re just trying to reach outside of anything we’ve ever done. Bigger rooms.

N/I - What’s your average room size? Three hundred? Four hundred cap?

Sam - For our headline shows? Anywhere from - on this run we have an 85 cap, in Davenport, Iowa, all the way up to Omaha, which I think is 600. And we’ve sold out that room before. So that’s usually the range, somewhere in the few hundreds. That’s where we feel comfortable.

N/I - I see. So how did Davenport become a big tour stop? Is there a university near there?

Sam - I think it’s mostly that Daytrotter guy.

N/I - Oh yeah! That’s right! I keep forgetting they’re up there.

Sam - I think he opened up some hip little venue, and now a ton of bands go through there. It’s pretty cool.

N/I - For sure. Bringing it back to Corey [Leiter] for a second, he did a Daytrotter session.

Sam - And I think Liza Anne and [guitarist] Robbie Jackson are playing there tonight [laughs].

N/I - Today’s Robbie’s birthday, right?

Sam - I think so, yeah. I need to text him. It’s cool, because Iowa is kind of a weird place, otherwise. It’s hard to route through the Midwest a little bit.

N/I - Yeah, I’m sure the Midwest can be pretty hard.

Sam - It’s like Des Moines or Ames or Iowa City, so it’s cool to stop where we are. Plus, I think it’s kind of like a built in crowd.

N/I - I mean if it’s an 85 cap, I’d imagine almost every show is a virtual sell out. If not for the sole reason that someone came through Davenport.

Sam - For sure. And Okey Dokey is opening up for us for that show.

N/I - Oh really?

Sam - Yeah. They’re doing three or four shows with us in August, so it’ll be fun.

N/I - Are Grady and Nick going to play with them during those sets?

Sam - I don’t think so. I think they have a full band touring with them.

N/I - So you don’t have to be the odd man out, then?

Sam - [Laughs] No. It’s kind of nice, honestly. The other night [at the Basement East] I thought that it was kind of fun just to watch them, because Grady was stressing all week and really practicing, but that was awesome. I hope they keep playing with them.

N/I - It was a good show.

Sam - Yeah totally. So that’s kind of what’s next.

N/I - That and then the EP.

Sam - EP is out in late September, and I think we’re doing an in-store at Grimey’s that day, and then doing a Nashville headline show in October or November. The rest of the year should be fun, and then just try and get some momentum into next year. Do an album.

N/I - Tour winter and spring of next year pretty heavily, no doubt.

Sam - Yeah. Hoping to do that. Like the biggest tour we’ve ever done.

N/I - Well I figure that’s roughly the right trajectory. Almost exactly six years in town - not that anyone should subscribe to this notion - but that would fit with the idea that “Nashville’s a seven year city.”

Sam - Is that a thing?

N/I - I mean, I don’t think so, but everyone has their own numeric value or version. I would imagine it’s one a case by case basis.

Sam - That is interesting. I guess I can kind of feel that holding true for us this year. I feel like this year has finally shown us that we’re growing out of the “we’re still kids” kind of vibe, because people are starting to take us a little more serious now. I wonder who made that up?

N/I - I couldn’t tell you. I’m less apt to accept a notion like that solely because it makes it seem like the individual or group has no say in their success. If I had to guess, it’d probably be more akin to Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule,” which is based off the individuals’ effort, rather than some extrinsic force. That seems to make more sense to me. If you look at The Lonely Biscuits’ story, you’ve been playing six years worth of shows and have been a band for that long.

Sam - Yeah, that’s interesting. I guess we’ll see how next year plays out in Nashville [laughs].

N/I - Well I would hope you don’t place too much time and energy into a thought like that. Which I know you won’t [laughs].

Sam - We’re going to change the name of the album….

N/I - To ‘Seven Years?’

Sam - [Laughs] Yeah. No, that’s cool though.

N/I - It’s funny that you mention people taking you guys seriously this year as opposed to kids, I’ve found that for myself, as an ancillary witness to your guys’ growth, this year is the first year that you guys played with that was a “cool band” we all saw six years ago for the first time, which was The Weeks.

Sam - Yeah. They were local legends when we were all freshmen.

N/I - And if you look at some of the other bands that you guys have toured with or done spots with, some of them aren’t even together anymore.

Sam - I know, it’s crazy. We were actually just thinking about that the other day. It’s interesting to think - it doesn’t matter, so to speak - but who’s going to last in the long run that might be viewed as super cool right now. Who’s to say that in ten years from now, we’ll be saying “Oh man, remember that so and so band? What happened to them?”

N/I - Right. The other day, I was thinking of Wild Cub, where not even two, three years ago, they got a deal with Columbia or whoever it was.  

Sam - I think it might have been Mom+Pop.

N/I - That’s right. I think whenever I try and recall a band that signed between 2012 and 2015, I just automatically assumed they signed with Columbia. Because they revived Descendent Records and brought on a bunch of people. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Sam - Yeah, there was definitely a wave of bands coming in.

N/I - Tons. And some of them get caught in the major label system, where some are left in artist development purgatory, or are slated as “on deck” for the next three years until someone else falls out of a contract agreement.


Sam - A lot of that happens to Philly bands’ careers. There have been so many times where I find a band and I get bummed because this didn’t happen with them, but now I look at it as a learning opportunity with our own stuff. It’s like if we had signed this deal or done this with so and so, gosh, we probably wouldn’t be a band anymore. It’s just weird how things get like that.

N/I - Well obviously with you guys, there was a pretty large sea change that had you jumped on a deal earlier, who’s to say that wouldn’t have caused some sort of rift.

Sam - We wouldn’t have wanted to blast out that music we’re no longer playing. So we’ve been lucky in realizing all of this.

N/I - It’s an unique situation. I just finished reading this book called Meet Me in the Bathroom. It’s an oral history on the post-garage movement of New York, from early 2000s to now, more or less. It’s the Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Moby, all the way to Vampire Weekend, The National, and Grizzly Bear, and everyone in between. It’s crazy to see them all talk about a band like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band that was viewed as the ultimate New York band, and it was them and The Strokes.

Sam - I never realized that…. I mean I knew of the bands, but groups like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and The Strokes, they’re all from the same scene.

N/I - Oh yeah, and Interpol was arguably the most interesting one of the bunch.

Sam - Because they’re kind of mysterious, and unknown.

N/I - Yeah, and part of that was due to the fact that they simply didn’t get along with anybody else within the scene. The thruline with a lot of those bands - The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - they just come from more affluent backgrounds, whereas the Interpol guys - they weren’t dirt poor, or anything - but they didn’t identify with that. But the most interesting part of that scene to me were the bands that ingratiated themselves into the scene without ever really being a part of it, and somehow wound up having the most sustained and bountiful careers out of anyone, which were The Killers and Kings of Leon. There were entire chapters devoted to just those two stories, talking about Julian Casablancas being drunk and getting pissed off, and Ryan Adams and Albert Hammond Jr. were doing heroin together, and then there’s Brandon Flowers, who’s this Mormon kid going “Oh my god.” And then The Killers go back to Vegas and they blow up.

Sam - That’s crazy, I need to check that out.

N/I - It’s long, but it’s really good. So in a way, I would like to think that Nashville is sort of going through the same thing, the problem is, I don’t know where the starting point would be.

Sam - No, it is weird. I feel like we’re in a strange phase where nothing is rising above the rest, as much, but it’s also kind of an exciting time, because I think everything is kind of just figuring itself out. It’s not as trendy anymore. I feel like before, everyone was kind of doing what they wanted to do, which is cool, but it’s just a matter of everyone separating themselves from each other and then using that to lift each other up.

N/I - For sure. If you look at the fact that sonically, you guys and The Weeks are a natural fit from a sound stand point, but at the same time, you’re not the same thing. And then Okey Dokey is another iteration of that. But then you look at Blank Range being on the other side of The Weeks, and then Teddy and the Rough Riders, and then you get to Margo Price, and William Tyler. It’s like everything is different, but….

Sam - They sound very similar.

N/I - Right. They come from the same thing. So I think it’s pretty interesting. I’m kind of banking on it resembling the whole New York scene, mostly because Nashville’s growth kind of coincided with the the death of the New York scene.

Sam - I definitely see it. I mean, it’s already sort of happened with the Americana stuff, but I would love to see it stretch into all the genres. That way, people just always have their eye on what’s coming up in town.

N/I - Well, that Meet Me in the Bathroom book is pretty heavy on just rock and indie rock, but they talked to RZA a little bit, and he talks about how it’s weird for a New York rapper to fall into the scene.
Sam - Yeah. Totally. It’ll be interesting to see how the whole thing pans out. I think regardless of whether it’s a huge new wave of stuff or not, it’s going to be good, and it’s going to keep being good.

N/I - Well if there were a “wave,” what do you think it would be? Coming out of Nashville?

Sam - You mean genre wise? Or just in general?

N/I - Let’s say genre-wise so as not to inadvertently christen a band as the “chosen one.”

Sam - It’s hard to say. I think it could be… It’s hard to say it without naming bands.

N/I - Sure. Maybe the restriction is a bit too strict. But what I think it could be is more Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival type bands, but with a more modern edge. I feel like Blank Range’s new album is bound to make some moves in that direction. Then, the one that I think would really cement it is Cordovas.

Sam - Oh yeah. They’re so good.

N/I - Exactly, they’re so good, it’s just that they’re on the road for literally 200, seemingly 250 days a year.

Sam - That’s so wild. I don’t know if I could do that [laughs]. That’s intense. Are the going over to Europe and stuff too?

N/I - I think they’re in Europe right now.

Sam - Okay, cool.

N/I - They do a lot in Europe.
Sam - That probably makes it a lot more doable, but still, that’s a long time to be away from home. I could definitely see Nashville going that direction.

N/I - I think it’s basically - using the New York scene as an example, again - The Strokes come out and then everyone wants to be The Strokes from Ryan Adams to Ezra Koenig to Tunde Adebimpe. Whereas here, it seems to be more Sturgill and Margo and then everyone wants to hang in that realm.

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Sam - Yeah. That’s what’s going on right now, but I’d like to see how that all plays out.

N/I - I would like to see it diversify, maybe a little less twang and maybe a little more, I don’t know, rock or pop? Speaking of, the pop scene in Nashville is weird.

Sam - It’s super weird. I always just kind of see it pop up every once and awhile. I know it’s happening, but I’m just not immersed in that scene at all. But I’ve heard some good stuff come out. I’m just not friends with any people that do pop music.

N/I - Pop music in the sense of gunning for Top 40. Because Joseph [Barrios] makes pop music, but it’s not quite the same thing.

Sam - Well there’s COIN, but that’s indie pop. I’m not friends with anyone that’s making Katy Perry type tracks, which is cool, I just don’t know anything about it.

N/I - I feel like pop is potentially the most difficult road to take in terms of “making it in music,” because when you’re playing The East Room and you’re a pop act, you have to act like you’re playing….

Sam - Bridgestone. I know, it’s crazy. At that 8 off 8th thing Joseph played, I saw that, and I thought “Good for these people to put themselves out there like that.”

N/I - That’s like a whole different realm of putting yourself out there. It’s not even just here, I feel like it’s anywhere. If you really want to establish that this is what you want to be a fit for.

Sam - You’re going to have to play at least a few shows in a tiny little club.

N/I - Exactly. It’s like a punk club, but you’re decked out in sequins and sunglasses indoors.

Sam - That’s actually a long term kind secret plan of mine. Obviously, I want to do the whole band thing for as long as I can, but eventually move into pop production. I don’t know if it would be in LA or here, but it’s a scene that I’m going to eventually enter.

N/I - Really?

Sam - Yeah. Just because I’m a little bit tired of having to worry about everything being so cool. Sometimes it just feels good to open up a session and just make the craziest pop track you can, without having to pull back things because something isn’t “hip” enough. So that’s the one thing that I’ve kind of discovered about myself.

N/I - So do you think it would be difficult for you to do that coming from the realm of “hip cool” whatever and make people understand that you’re not being ironic? I feel like that might be a bit of a hurdle.

Sam - Maybe? I can see where people might think that, but I wouldn’t be directly associated with every track. It’d be like a behind the curtain type of thing. At least for the general audience.

N/I - Right. You’re not trying to become the next Pitbull or anything.

Sam - Exactly. I just want to make tracks and write with pop artists and then they’ll do their thing.

N/I - So like Dr. Luke minus the creepy stuff?

Sam - Exactly. So that’s one of my secret long term goals.

N/I - That’s different than during our freshman or sophomore year, you said you would love to play drums for Wu Tang Clan.

Sam - Yeah, that’s been a childhood dream of mine. I mean there’s not really any genre that really scares me, I kind of just got it in my head that all the indie stuff is awesome, and I love it, but I know I’m not going to want to be that cool forever [laughs].

N/I - Well no one can be that cool forever.

Sam - It just seems exhausting.

N/I - If you think about it, too, at a certain point, being considered “indie” might even worse than being a pop artist of the moment, because it’s so vague, and eventually the only tonal touchstone is being cool or hip.

Sam - Right. So I’m putting any ceiling on what I’m doing.

N/I - As you shouldn’t. I think that might be the first “exclusive” I’ve ever had in an interview.

Sam - Watch out [laughs].

N/I - Well you’re already kind of headed in that direction with Cowboy Sam. You’re working with some very different genre channels, because each one kind of….

Sam - There’s an indie aspect.

N/I - Right. And it’s understood that if you’re working with someone that wants to do country music, it’s definitely going to have it’s fair share of production twang, but at the same time there might not be the heavy guitar, all the while, you’re orienting toward that.

Sam - Sure. I mean, I’ve only produced a few projects at this point, but I’m trying to really put my mark on everything I do, but at the same time I don’t want anyone to think that I have a specific sound. Because I’m still figuring that out myself. So I’ve had a lot of fun working with the three different channels I’ve worked with thus far. I think you can tell if you knew that produced them all. But at the same time, I really am making an effort to distinguish each artist to have their own unique sound. And I’d love to expand that even more.

N/I - Well that’s basically why I brought it up. Just from my perspective of it, and knowing everyone you’ve worked with on these separate project, they’re all distinctly within their own realm. It’s not like you’re the guy that works strictly with darkwave artists. So if one day you wake up and want to do a ska record, it’s a little easier to dive in due to your diversified portfolio.

Sam - And I think in years to come, it may become more of a channel - and that’s what usually happens - you have one successful record and that becomes your genre. More people will come to you. But at the same time, I want to keep it open ended, to keep messing with it myself.