Music

Sam Doores Brings New Sounds to Americana on His Solo Debut (album stream + interview)

Photo: Sarah Danziger / Courtesy New West Records

Deslondes member Sam Doores goes solo during down time from the band. His new album upsets expectations about the nature of Americana music in 2020 and yet maintains strong ties to Doores' roots.

Sam Doores
Sam Doores

New West

13 March 2020

Sam Doores releases his self-titled debut solo album on 13 March via New West Records. A member of New Orleans-based outfit the Deslondes, Doores tracked the record in several sessions with producer Anders "Ormen" Christopherson. The result is a deeply poetic and haunting collection that draws upon the musician's disparate influences.

The opening instrumental, "Tempelhofer Dawn", marries flourishes of psychedelic music with Old World instrumentation and a melody that could be from the turn of the last century. Often, the compositions sound like R&B or country singles from yet another bygone era, whether the lived-in rhythms of "Let It Roll" or the dreamlike "Cambodian Rock 'n' Roll".

There are unexpected sonic and emotional turns throughout, hints that what we're hearing is both remarkably familiar and decidedly unlike anything we've heard before. "Wish You Well" conjures memories of a Polaroid left in a back pocket and laundered, its colors and shapes distorted. It renders the music of New Orleans into a subconscious smear of high experimentalism and parlor music. The song's stomping, insistent rhythms live comfortably beside lysergic leanings and melodies not so much as inherited as embedded in the most primordial parts of the artist and listener's DNA.

"Windmills" offers us a snapshot of a narrator meditating on the various intersections of time: Is he living in someone's past or contemplating his future? Is time moving forward or standing still? In Doores' capable hands the answer matters less than the journey. What we discover as we amble through the track is personal, unnamable; it commands both our deepest contemplations and our infinite listens.

Perhaps not since Los Lobos' Kiko has an artist so effortlessly married avant-garde and everyman sensibilities, arriving at a place where childlike curiosity meets the fruits of patient practice and ambition. Deep knowledge and unbound imagination coexist peacefully, happily, throughout.

Doores recently spoke with PopMatters about the origins of the album and how he hopes audience members will receive it.

* * *

This material is gathered from a larger body of songs. How did you go about selecting what would be on the album?

I had a closet full of tunes that never really fit with anything else I do. Anders invited me to record with him, and I'd sit at his kitchen table and rifle through the songs that I had. Whenever he was feeling one or had ideas for one, we'd start working on it. I had about 100 songs total, and we ended up recording about 20 together.

Tell me about the decision to go to Berlin to make this record.

We had some mutual friends who had showed him an old album of Sundown songs. That was the band that I had with Alynda [Segarra] from Hurray for the Riff Raff. He wrote us an email and said, "If you ever come to Berlin, I'd love to record you guys." He was moving there from Copenhagen, and it just so happened that the Deslondes were about to do their first European tour, and I hadn't booked my own flight home. I emailed Anders and told him that I had some extra time if he wanted to work together. That was the first session in his new studio. We decided to keep chipping away at it; each time I got a chance to tour Europe, I'd visit Anders, and we'd record a few more songs.

How many sessions did you do in all?

Probably five sessions in Berlin. There was one session in Nashville and one session in New Orleans. That was strung out over a period of four or five years.

Tell me about the direction of this album and how it revealed itself. There are some very haunting qualities and then things that I wouldn't call lo-fi, but it's definitely not this loud, booming record.

We recorded all the basic tracks on his reel-to-reel. I think part of the lo-fi, less booming thing that you hear comes from the fact that we love old recordings from Jamaica in the early 1960s. The haunting thing is something that I have to credit to Anders. His ear challenges what you'd normally put on a track. Where there'd normally be a piano or a guitar, he'll use an autoharp through a tremolo amplifier or a vibraphone where I'd hear an organ. We wanted something haunting and familiar but also strange and weird.

It feels like the record gets stranger the deeper we go.

[Laughs.] Isn't that just the way life works? I wanted it to work in movements. I liked the beginning being an instrumental and a song that invites you in ["Let It Roll"], then get into some of the more accessible, straight-ahead material on Side A and then take a stranger, more introspective turn on Side B, more of a dream world.

Did it take you a long time to conceive of that or was it pretty immediate?

The idea was something I felt from the beginning, but the actual sequencing took me a while. Sometimes I'd sequence it, then we'd record two more songs, and then everything would shift. I didn't land on this sequence until the day that I sent the tracks in to be mastered.

You mentioned Anders providing some challenges in terms of the instrumentation, doing things in ways that you normally wouldn't. Did that also impact the vocals?

I think this is the first time I did any double tracking of vocals. The main difference is that we had a lot of time to mess around and experiment. I wasn't paying studio rates and having to be as efficient as possible. We came from the same place on the vocals.

Was there a song or a few songs that surprised you?

Almost all of them! Instead of being frightened by it, I was really excited.

Have you thought about how this will be received by fans of your past work?

I try not to have any expectations. But I do think that there's a good chance that a lot of the more traditional Americana fans might be a little weirded out by some of the production, some of the more experimental things. I hope that they can still hear that it's grounded in roots music: New Orleans R&B, folk music, blues, and country are all in there. I hope it pushes things forward but still appeals to people who like traditional music.

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