Interview by King City Online
Sam Lambeth is as versatile as a Swiss Army knife and just as sharp. He writes brilliantly about music and has enough experience in the Birmingham scene to fill a book, which hopefully he will someday write. He also gives great interview, as you’re about to discover. We caught up with him for an in-depth discussion about his past, present and future.
You have a long and varied history in music. Where did it all begin?
I started in a band called The MonoBloggers in 2009, so-called because I wrote blogs on MySpace (nerd!!!) and our drummer had a mono brow. We worked with the legendary Gavin Monaghan on our first EP, Argh! Rock!, and got some good stuff from that - articles in NME and The Fly, radio play on Kerrang! and XFM, support slots with The Lemonheads, The Bluetones, Little Comets and Kids In Glass Houses.
We signed to MAS Records and our songs got played at the Molineux during half-time at one of Wolves’ Premiership games, an honour for me as a big Wolves fan.
What was it like working with Gavin Monaghan?
Amazing! He’s not only a great producer but one of the most genuine people I’ve met. When we worked with him way back in 2009, we were wet behind the ears. Our bassist was using his umbilical cord for a jack lead! We cut six songs in two and a half days. But to be young and green, and having Gavin and his then engineer Gazz Rogers instructing us, was so inspiring. We learnt so much. It was our first time in a studio so we were so wide-eyed but Gavin was a great, patient teacher.
I remember we bought him a McDonald’s and asked if other bands did that. He said “sometimes…but they mostly bring drugs and beer.” That’s when we realised we were never gonna be rock and roll! While Gavin was mixing, we played football on the forecourt and popped over to the local bowling alley, before it burnt down. So, yeah, we weren’t exactly hell raisers! We returned in 2010 and did one song this time, and the dynamic was a bit different. Gavin pushed us more, which was great, and it was our first ‘proper’ sounding song. It was so fun and enriching doing layers and trying out lots of fancy effects. I remember going home and barely being able to sleep because we had our first ‘grown up’ song. I’ve worked with him two or three times since and I’ve loved it every time. He’s a kind and compassionate guy who cares, but he’s also a sharp and engaged producer.
What came next?
We spent some time with MAS Records, a fantastic initiative that supports young and grassroots musicians. They helped fund the recording of new songs, rehearsals and offered sound advice. I’d recommend any young musicians to get in touch with them. We released our second EP, Jagged, with MAS and once again it did fairly well. We then signed with a record label who offered us some realistic things – a new EP, some merch, a little tour – but would also take 30 percent of our profits. With the promises they were making, it didn’t seem too crazy. We were young and naïve, and we got swept up in the hysteria of it all.
There’s a ‘but’ coming isn’t there...
The label did nothing for us. Worse, before we signed the deal, we told the label we’d already booked a recording sesh for a single and they said that they would foot the bill. On the day, they couldn’t be reached, so I had to pay out £250 out of my own pocket. I mean to a 19-year-old, that’s a hell of a lot of money. I will say in hindsight though that this was totally my fault…I should have checked beforehand with the producer about it, at least.
After that we decided not to gig or record because we were obliged to give the label 30%. For six months, we did nothing...except get annoyed with each other and argue. By the time we were free of the label, the zeitgeist had moved on and we were exhausted. We decided to have a break and that turned out to be a break we’re still on today! Looking back, I remember being so numb afterwards. It was very much like losing your first love. You just don’t expect your first band to split up. You think this is it forever, four people touring and grinding out a future. When you’re faced with your band disintegrating, it hurts.
Sounds utterly dispiriting. How did you come back from that?
Time passed and I wanted to do a band again. I started attending a club night in Digbeth called L’Amour. I was DJing there, and at Sunflower Lounge and Snobs, too. Combine all that with my review writing and I’d built up a vast contact book with bands and promoters. It felt like the right time to start a new band, which I called Quinn.
New band, new sound?
Quinn were more grungy and lo-fi, built on fuzzy solos, lots of reverb and a load of flannel. Sort of early Dino Jr, Teenage Fanclub, Ride, that kinda thing. We supported Evan Dando, Pale Waves, The Night Cafè, Bully, The Orielles and We Are Scientists, and toured the UK a couple of times. We got airplay on BBC Radio One, which I never dreamed would happen. It happened quite late, about 2am, but I’m still chuffed it happened. We released two quick fire EPs - Seems Fine (2016) and Crush (2017) but in the summer of 2018, after three years, we decided to part ways.
Did you feel like it was time to take stock?
Yes, in 2019, it had been ten years since The MonoBloggers formed and I wanted to do something to celebrate. I put all the semi-decent songs I’d recorded together into one album, a cheekily titled ‘Best Of’. This was mainly so I could just send people to one place rather than sending people about three different band links! I decided to put on a gig to celebrate. I played with a few ex-bandmates, too, which made it extra special. The gig sold out and we donated the earnings to Teenage Cancer Trust (I should say a big thanks to The Future Sound Project, who promoted the gig and took nothing from the earnings). After that, I felt it was time to walk away from performing and writing music. I’d had a good innings, but it was getting harder to find the time and find band members. I was ready for a long break.
When and why did you decide to return as a solo artist?
I never stopped writing, and at the start of 2020 I started working on a set of songs. I began to tentatively consider the next steps – entering a recording studio, working out the other musical parts – and started to think about slowly dipping my toe back into the world of music. I think the good and crucial thing was I wasn’t in a band, and thus there was no urgency, no time limit and also no limitations. I could spend time refining and honing the songs, I could add instrumental parts willy nilly and I didn’t have to get things done for the next rehearsal. I wasn’t sure how long it would take in terms of getting it all off the ground, I wasn’t sure who I was going to work with and I didn’t know what form the music would take. It was all very much pie in the sky and then obviously the world came to a halt in March 2020.
Did the pandemic put a spanner in the works?
Strangely, it accelerated it. I had so much free time that I was able to really cultivate and decorate the songs. I wanted them to be more expansive than what I had previously done, so I bought a few instruments (much to my mother’s chagrin). Over lockdown, I learned mandolin, harmonica and keyboard, and used them to embellish the songs I had. It also quickened things up in terms of getting to the studio. I was very, very fortunate as I was able to book two weeks with the great Ryan Pinson in August 2020.
There was still the issue of raising the funds to record, but I was so determined to hit the studio that I did a few shifts with my friend on a building site, I sold pretty much everything I had of value on eBay and wrote a few freelance pieces. By the time it got to August, I had assembled the funds needed and the EP, which I titled Love and Exile, was completed.
What’s the inspiration behind the new EP?
It’s my first solo EP proper. To get in the headspace, I listened to loads of solo acts, some I’d listened to before (Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams) and some that I hadn’t (believe it or not, Bob Dylan was one! Then Jackson Browne, Robbie Robertson, Don Henley), just getting in that mindset of being solo. I wanted it to be different from what I’d done before... more acoustic, melodic and broader. The songs had an Americana feel so I listened to bands like Wilco, Counting Crows and Eagles, just seeing how they fleshed out their sound.
This might sound arrogant, but I don’t mean it to be - I wanted to make a ‘timeless’ record, in the sense that people could listen to it and wonder whether it was from 2020, 2002, 1992 or 1972. Having that in the back of my head helped for sure. Anything that sounded tied to a certain era was out, and that goes for the music videos, the EP cover, the press shots, everything. The same goes for the lyrical themes. I kept them universal - love, loss, death, time, religion - so it wouldn’t age too badly.
Ryan Pinson produced and, as any musician will tell you, was amazing. He does the drumming on the EP and really helped lay the foundations for the record’s sound. He’s very involved and always has great ideas for how to embellish and flesh out the tracks. Many of them sound different from what I had in my head, and that’s down to Ryan’s keen ear and experience.
When Love Ain’t Enough is one. In my head, I had it that it’d be me, guitar and cello. Nowt else. I listened to songs like ‘More Than Words’ and ‘Hey There Delilah’ loads to try and get that style. But Ryan pushed for it to have more. At first I was sceptical but as always Ryan was right - it sounds more of an anthem now. I’m not the best at piano and felt hesitant to play all the parts on the EP. That’s where Zoe Brittle comes in. One day I was working on the building site with my mate Cal, and he mentioned his girlfriend was quite the piano player and within three seconds I’d begged him to ask her to play! She not only agreed, she totally ran with it. She came up with so many cool melodies that again the songs changed so much. Zoe worked really hard for no reward really, so I’m really thankful for her for coming in and creating such beautiful sounds. I should also thank Cal, as he not only ‘provided’ his girlfriend but he also lent his bass for me to play on the record!
You can’t keep a good man down, and in our humble opinion, Sam Lambeth’s future is bright. With the help of Zoe and Ryan, he’s made a record rich in melody and melancholy. There are anthemic Springsteen vibes and a Waterboys vibrancy to the songs. and even a hint of the great Pete Wylie. As you might expect, our favourite track here at King City is.... The King (You and Me). Check out the video below...