"I've always kind of had this romantic idea of being a college English professor." So says Sam Quinn, singer, songwriter, artist, gold medalist of in between-song stage banter and co-founder of Tennessee's now defunct The Everybodyfields. It's been a couple years since we've heard from Sam. After the fallout from The Everybodyfields, he took his time putting new band Japan Ten together. He minimized his touring schedule and maximized his hair and beard length. Also, while we're talking fashion, he traded in his old signature brown pants for a well-worn pair of his father's 1983 jean shorts.
Sam's new album, the fake that sunk a thousand ships, marks a couple of firsts for the Quinner. It's the first batch of new tunes since The Everybodyfields' Nothing Is Okay, and the first solo Sam Quinn album.
For current fans of Quinn's tunes who are hoping for more songs about heartache, loneliness and despair, well, it's Christmas in May. "It's a sad little record. I've made some sad ones before and just decided to drop the bottom out of it and make a real down, depressing record," he says.
Like most touring musicians, the road took its toll, and Quinn found himself out in the wilderness. "Between this record and Nothing Is OK, I took a little time off. I wasn't in a good spot in between the ears," Quinn says. "I just had to put a little distance between the two records to figure out what I wanted to do. It's not a glamorous lifestyle, just gigging around and what not.
"There were a lot of parts of me that didn't want to do it again. There were easier ways to eke out a living than doing this. I thought about going back to school, but I figured that if I didn't do this [being a musician], I'd be frustrated."
It's safe to say that we would all be selfishly frustrated if Quinn did go back to school and hang up music. But then again, who wouldn't want to take their college English courses from Mr. Quinn?
How has his writing changed over the last couple years? "It's a little less vague than some of my past writing. In an effort to be completely honest and not really beating around the bush, I used some proper nouns and give the full effect," Quinn says. "I also holed up in a house in Concord, and ended up getting a lot of writing done."
Part of his motivation to move from Knoxville, Tenn., to Concord, N.C. was to get away from some personal problems he was having, and to get away from sweeping up at the Oak Ridge nuclear plant. "I knew moving away from what was going on was not a grown-up way to deal with things, but it was a quick fix. I knew it was going to be like scratching swamp ass, you know, it's only going to make it worse."
Thankfully, Quinn did decide to push through his drama and use this record as a way to move forward. "2009 was a real tough time. I was trying to figure out what I wanted," Quinn says. "Do I want to play music, do I want to be with this girl, how do I want to live my life? And it all came to a head. And all those things put together gave me the umph to want to do this record. And I knew if I could get this one large-format project completed, it would help my morale so much. You know, something I could hold and touch and put in a machine in any country in the world and it will work."
Quinn's artistry in making an album does not stop at writing and recording songs. He's done all the artwork on The Everbodyfields' albums, and he talks about his ideas behind his new one. "In terms of maximum frustration, sometimes it feels like your head's exploding. If I had to draw a picture of myself, there would be these huge arcs coming out of all points on my head. There's a commentary and parallel between the water and the trees and the whale coming up for air, and letting out this primordial sound like a foghorn. It's a story of a mental explosion. There's the pool with the trees in the back, and then me with the trees in the back and it all kind of pulls itself together."
And pulling himself together is what Quinn did on this record. For all its maudlin themes, this record is also a triumphant album for Quinn at this point in his career. His new band, Japan Ten, features a couple of the former Everybodyfields members and some new faces, keeping the sound consistent to what's already in the pocket, and serving as a launching pad for the next explosion.
Brian McGee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Sam Quinn (formerly of The Everybodyfields)
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, May 15 (9 p.m. $8 / $10. www.thegreyeagle.com)