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Interview With Sam Blue

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Sam Blue is an electronic musician from Saint John, New Brunswick. He has dabbled with various forms of electronic music for a number of years, and his experience within the fields of composition and production is vast. His music is carefully crafted, elegant and memorable. He has been involved with various musical entities, most notably his solo project called Embassy.

I recently had an opportunity to ask Sam about his views on music and how he approaches the creative process.


Listen to the music of Embassy

1. When did you start making music?

I took piano lessons for a short while in first grade, somewhat reluctantly, but developed a comfort level with the piano. I don't think I ever took lessons after that but I continued banging away from time to time, stubbornly doing it my way, learning to make sounds I liked without a lot of understanding of musical vocabulary. I also played recorder for a while in school which I think helps a lot with the whole hand-ear co-ordination part of the brain. I guess I like the process of learning entirely on my own, discovering sounds that I like. Eventually that learning pattern crossed over to experimenting with other noisemaking devices like cassette recorders, computers, and of course the legendary casio SK-1.

2. Have you always had an interest in electronic music? What is it about electronics in music that interest you?

Maybe it's the whole DIY thing. Electronic music is often more of a solitary endeavour, where traditional instruments are often intended to be played as a sort of ensemble. I don't feel a particular devotion to electronic sounds. I have two guitars and an autoharp. I love the sound of a real piano, now more than ever. If you think in terms of pure physics, the amount of variables and interplay that goes into a single note of a piano is staggering, from the standing waves of the strings to the resonances in the wood. The technology to reproduce all of those variables electronically may never exist. On the other hand, technology allows one person to develop the equivalent of a whole ensemble of instruments in a single device. So I guess that's what has attracted me to the laptop studio. It enables me to work in an entirely private world, just me, my laptop, and headphones, and work out a sound, melodies, and song structures, without any negotiation. I guess electronic music is well suited for people like myself who are somewhat single-minded, anti-social, at the same time devoted to a very specific end goal in terms of sound. Technology allows you to produce in the real world what could formally exist only in one's imagination.

3. What projects/bands have you been involved in?

I can't say I have ever been in a band, though I would love to. I've played live with some of the members of a band called "The Buttetrfly Effect". When one or two members were unable to be there for a real BFE gig, they would re-brand themselves as "IC Jupiter", which was a purely improvisational project. I joined in for two performances and I loved it. For my own material, I have only performed an "Embassy" set once but I hope to again if I can make a little more progress with the writing.

4. How do you go about composing songs? What comes first- melodies, rhythm, etc?

I tend to follow the same process for every song. I start by setting up a loop with drums and bass, and then start improvising on the keyboard, and record the keyboard parts as MIDI. This sort of "seeds" the parts of the song that might make up a chorus or verse. I find the "seeding" part might take a few minutes or a few hours, and then setting up the song structure, arranging, adding extra instruments and tracks, this can take months, or in some cases, years. I don't often get a lot of time through the week to work on music, and when I do, I try not to push myself to much. I like to pick away at it when I really feel like it.

5. Briefly tell us about your home studio. What sort of gear do you use?

Most of the time it's just my laptop, an iBook G3 from 2002, Propellerheads Reason 2.5, and a Novation Remote25 Midi controller keyboard. So far I have only managed to "polish off" one track with vocals and other guitar parts. For that track, Danse Macabre, I went into a friends studio to record some of the vocal parts. I re-did some of the vocals in a large rented space with some rented microphones and preamps, and tracked it myself using my laptop. I think that's the way I will go for future vocal and instrumental tracking.

6. Do you think it can be isolating to be an electronic artist on the east coast of Canada?

For me isolation is a necessary part of the process. I draw a lot of inspiration from seeing live performances when I get the chance. More importantly, I am a devoted listener to KCRW, a college radio station in Santa Monica, California. They have an electronic/modern music program in the evenings called "Metropolis", hosted by Jason Bentley. This keeps me working late at night when I am busy with freelance work, but more importantly, it keeps me in touch with what is happening with modern music.

7. What's your opinion of the Saint John music scene? What do you think are it's strengths and weaknesses?

I love seeing live shows when I get the chance, but as far as there being a music scene, I don't feel greatly concerned with what is, or is not happening locally. I guess I try to operate in a "think globally, act locally" frame of mind. I think more people need to get out there and make music. Myself included. The city is full of talent, closet talent, and there are only a brave few who are really putting it out there. I think all the closet artists need to get it together and make things happen. I guess I'm preaching to myself more than anything.

8. When I speak to many electronic acts in the Saint John area, there seems to be a general consensus that there was a small but healthy electronic scene in the city about 3 to 4 years ago, but it seems to have died off somewhat. Do you agree?

Maybe. From my perspective, I'm self-employed, a parent, a homeowner, and sometimes I make music, but I am not all that aware of what's going on around me. Personally, I find that this ignorance and isolation is important for real creativity. But that's me. Some people thrive from working with other artists and collaborating on a variety of projects, and I suppose that if I lived in a larger city, that would be possible, but for me, it's important to operate in an independent fashion, and I suspect that is true for a lot of artists of all types.

9. Please tell us about your company Design For People. What exactly does this company entail? is my bread and butter. I am self-employed, so all of my income comes from freelance work doing things like website design, e-learning, and flash production.

10. Musically, who has been your influences?

The first band that really inspired me musically was a-ha. I guess it was the combination of stripped down, synth pop with a beautiful vocal performance that I was attracted to. After that, it was Kate Bush. I was blown away by Kate. In love with her, really. I was in love with the combination of experimental, very diligent studio techniques, with brilliant, visionary writing and storytelling. Not to mention her voice. I should also mention Dead Can Dance - who are really the antithesis of electronic music - many of their influences are in world music, indigenous music, and medieval music, but I find what really attracts me musically is a sense that the music itself is somehow very necessary, driven by an inspired sense of purpose, and I can't think of anyone who have come close to Dead Can Dance in that respect. They turned me on to that whole realm of ancient, devotional music from composers like Hildegard von Bingen, who was a mystic, a monastic leader, and a woman, composing beautiful, visionary music in the twelfth century, an era when music was forbidden in the monsatary. From where I sit the best artists today are those who not only push experimental boundaries, but also operate from an inspired place, with a sense of purpose. I can think of a few others in this category - Bjork, Smashing Pumpkins, Boards of Canada, M83, Moby, and Sasha.

11. Are you interested in any other artistic mediums?

Yeah but I don't have a lot of time to play. I have done a lot of photography, and dabbled with film, and of course I work as a media designer and I try to approach this work as a craft or an artform when I can.

12. Where can people hear your music?

Well as I mentioned I only have one track, Danse Macabre that I have finished, at least as a demo, and that is on my NMC site at - I have also posted bed tracks for some songs I am currently working on, but don't have the lyrics for yet.