Interviewed October 2007
They say success breeds success – and that’s exactly what’s happened for singer / songwriter Sam Blakelock.
His song High Road won him Best Song at the 2007 smokefreerockquest Canterbury regional final, and in September 2007 it won him the Smokefree Pacifica Beats APRA Lyric Writer’s award at a ceremony in Auckland.
Stoked with his rockquest win, he was inspired to write another tune – Singalong song - which placed seventh in the national Play It Strange songwriting competition in early October. “I came home all happy after winning (at smokefreerockquest). I wrote it that night pretty much. The chorus was that night. The verses usually take a couple of weeks – to fill in the gaps.”
Sam writes a lot of songs. “I’ve written about 25,” the 17-year-old says, “but only about 10 of them are actually good. There more just little ditties. I usually just get the chorus, or maybe a verse, then I sit down and figure out the other parts – or sometimes I take a verse from one and a chorus from another and blend them together.”
Voice and guitar are Sam’s main tools of the trade, but he also uses piano to help write his songs. Sam listens to lots of jazz – he’s planning to go to CPIT Jazz School next year, and enjoys singer / songwriters who use minimal backing – like Jack Johnson.
“What I like about him (is) it’s quite accessible. It’s not lots of layers and lots of polishing up – it’s basically a guy and his band and his guitar.”
“There’s usually a bit of everything in the songs. The High Road was about not bothering about the low road. I’m gonna go for it, take the high road. It’s really about a feeling. But I enjoy writing situational songs that are like stories – man walking down the road, that kind of thing – they’re quite fun.”
It might look like Sam has had overnight success, but he has been working hard at his music for years.
“Last year I did rockquest with my band, Strange Brew. We didn’t get through.
This year I went by myself – the band I was with didn’t need me as there were two guitarists, so it worked out quite well. I made it to the Canterbury Regional (final) where I won Best Song – but I didn’t get through (to nationals).”
“High Road is kind of funky. I usually write in two not very distinct regions. The major (key), normal songs and the funky ones, like boom boom chika lika – that’s High Road. It’s got a catchy chorus, and I did some kind of rapping and singing in the verses, and some made-up scatting words.”
It’s harder to find good zones for busking in suburban Christchurch, Sam says.
“We went to Countdown – we used to get money there, but now we’re not getting much. We tried Fendalton Supermarket – we went there about four times. But now they don’t want us. Everyone was going past and saying how good it was. But the supermarket said if they let us then they have to let other people…”
“We tried town, but we only got 50 cents in one hour. I think people see you more as a form of entertainment – maybe they think we’re paid or something. We tried Saturday morning in the Arts Centre, but it wasn’t very good.”
Not getting much cash for his busking efforts isn’t the end of the world though, Sam says. “It’s basically just practising, but in front of people. You can muck around and have a big jam session for an hour.”
There’s guitar solos and Sam also sings with his sister Ana.
“I enjoy … doing new things and interesting things. Original and unexpected things. Things that are catchy – it has to be catchy and have some meaning as well.”
Building up his musical skills and his songwriting knowledge is important, he says.
“You have to do theory. We also do competition and arranging and performance."
Alongside the study, Sam is gigging as much as possible. He plays Red Café at the Upper Riccarton Library on Saturdays, with a friend on saxophone – it’s pretty relaxed. “They clap after each song. It’s quite good how it’s not a concert - you don’t have people analysing you or picking things out – they’re having their coffee. But at the same time they are appreciating it.”
“We play for an hour. And then we go busking afterwards and earn about three times as much,” he laughs.
Sam has his plans firmly set – plenty of gigs, and finding a bass player and a drummer, a distributing copies of a DVD of a performance in the library café before heading off to Jazz School in 2008.
“My ultimate goal is singing my songs on a stage. I’m trying to do some local demos by the end of this year, and I’ll give them to all my teachers and school friends. Hopefully I can get a band together and get more live experience singing my songs. Then we’ll see what happens.”