Red Bull Noise Complaint: Samiam

Despite a history stretching back to 1989, Samiam doesn’t play huge shows. They don’t sell millions of records. And they don’t have royalty checks arriving in mailboxes in front of sprawling mansions. They sell out classic venues to dedicated punks and indie rockers – a group they consider more “friends” than “fans” at this point. It’s called longevity and community.

They also consider New Brunswick, New Jersey something of an oasis on the road.

“We always know we have an extended group of friends. There’s a core of ten people we expect to see every time we get out here. Some of them are old men now, but they are still into seeing shows and there’s always a ‘remember that one time when’ story. It’s like a family,” says Sergie Loobkoff, guitarist and founding member of Samiam.

New Brunswick is not so different from Berkeley, CA where Samiam formed around the legendary 924 Gilman Street, possibly the most famous all-age punk collective of all time. As New Brunswick is to NYC, Berkeley is a smaller city in the greater metropolitan area of San Francisco, although in the late 80s and 90s, Berkeley had a healthier scene than the bigger city to the west. New Brunswick was alive with the same kind of DIY spirit that they grew up on.

“Early on, some of our big city shows were hit or miss,” explains Loobkoff.

He knows. With Samiam, he’s played every kind of gig – from a few basements to performing “Capsized” on the John Stewart Show in 1994 at the height of their alt. rock popularity, to huge European festivals and even a wedding.

“There’s the old saying that it doesn’t matter if there are 10 people or 10,000 people. But if there are a couple of people there and they don’t like you, it’s not too much fun. If the audience is engaged, it feels right.”

Fronted by Jason Beebout, who still handles vocal duties, in 1990, the band released a self-titled album on LA-based indie label, New Red Archives. They would follow it up with Soar in ’91 and Billy in ’92 before making the switch to Atlantic Records for 1994’s Clumsy in an era when the majors were looking for the next big thing. In ’97, they wrote You are Freaking Me Out, and enjoyed some commercial success with the song “She Found You.”

But Samiam isn’t a “next big thing” kind of band. They have that inherent passion from the hardcore scene, but continue to grow as dynamic song crafters. They write beautifully melodic songs about love and pain, occasionally drifting to darker places, but always rebounding to that driving, infectious punk rock positivity that has made them a favorite in the indie scene for over two decades - the kind of band that will always be there for you. They’ve moved into different stages while keeping the music a priority, and are better for it.

In 2000, they teamed up with growing indie label, Hopeless Records, to put out Astray, packed with songs that have become some of their most loved, with Sean Kennerly and Billy Bouchard, who have been in the band for the last 14 years,. But even as they cemented their status in the punk scene, they veered off into different directions. It took a full five years before they got back together and revised the line-up with Jeremy Bergo on bass and Charlie Walker on drums to write Whatever’s Got You Down. Samiam gave the core following something new to sing along to while catching a few new ears.

"There are a lot of boy bands out there and I think we wanted consciously separate ourselves from that as far as we could"

“In that six years, so many really commercial, quasi-punk bands put out records that were sickeningly clean. There are a lot of boy bands out there and I think we wanted consciously separate ourselves from that as far as we could,” opines Loobkoff, “We won’t be as popular as those bands, and that’s fine.”

By this record, the members of the band had moved into careers and/or families. Though the music still had the same reflectiveness and intensity, there was no pressure to produce hits. They simply wrote what they wanted to write, and the loyal base loved them for it. It was with this ethos, that they wrote their most recent offering, Trips, in 2011, to an underground that still wanted to hear their music.

Loobkoff now works as an art director for not only a network of bands he has met through his career, but also for corporate clients. He’s always amused when he sees a band come out of the underground with creative marketing.

“You have some yuppie designer working for this huge company and his stuff is worse than what you see from these kids in an indie punk band. Some of them really have it figured out.”

He sees what the kids are doing with the tools at their fingertips that didn’t exist when Samiam was pasting together flyers.

“At the same time, the shelf life of these bands is shorter and shorter. They get big on the internet from February to September. They put out a second record in January and it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s a new band that’s way cooler.’ I feel bad for some of them. And some bands are 1,000 times more popular than Samiam. But it’s only for a year and half.”

And with that, Samiam continues to leave it all out on the stage into a third decade.

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