Artist Interview: Same
Posted: by The Editor
photograph by Eric Stevens
“We had worked on a record for years and had spent so much time getting ready to put it out and had all these shows booked and then as soon as the record came out pretty much all the shows get canned and it’s like well, let’s see how it does on the internet I guess,” says Tom Higgins, one of Same’s guitarists, before adding “we’re not the only band that was dealing with that at the time either, but it still is definitely not how we wanted it to go,” followed by laughter from bandmates Jesse Caggiano and Jake Stern.
I met Jesse, Jake, and Tom a few weeks ago at an ice cream shop, and then we walked to Jake’s back porch to chat about the group’s killer 2020 record Plastic Western, their new record coming out later this year, and the strange nature of collaborating on, releasing, and performing music over the past couple years. “I hate talking about the pandemic,” Jesse says at one point, “but it comes up all the time.”
Same’s debut album Plastic Western is an intriguing and varied collection of tunes that fall under the broad category of indie, but are more their own thing, taking whatever style is built from a riff or from the band jamming on an idea until the songs crystallize and take shape. “That’s the band philosophy,” says Jesse, who sings and plays bass, “there’s no particular sound or there’s no real guideline of what can be a song that we put out.”
Recorded in early 2019 at the studio of engineer Matt Schimelfenig (of Three Man Cannon), the process was memorable in part due to the ragtag conditions. “What really sticks out is like there wasn’t any heat in the studio,” says Tom. “Matt had just started building out the studio pretty recently (“and it was in January” Jesse adds) so it was really cold. We had to use a propane space heater. In between tracking we would fire it up for a couple minutes and try to get it warm in there and then start tracking again.”
“It blew an open flame into the room, so you couldn’t have it on very long,” says Jesse. “It was loud, so you’d just turn it on a little bit, heat the room back up to 49 degrees, and then play the next track.” Despite the cold, Tom adds “but it was a pretty good process and I really enjoy working with Matt. He has some good producer sensibilities too, just as far as suggesting stuff to do. So it was fun to work with someone in that regard.”
“I think we learned a lot making that first album too,” adds Jake, who plays guitar and sings backup. “I think our philosophies kind of changed between that album and the one that we just made. Like when we recorded Plastic Western we tracked everything pretty individually. We tried to record a drum and bass take at the same time, but everything else was overdubbed separately. It ended up coming together, but it ended up taking a really long time, like it wasn’t super efficient in the studio.” With the odd nature of reality the last few years, as Jake mentioned, Same already has another album lined up, recorded with Schimelfenig again—“the Same engineer,” the group jokes. “That’s his job now.” The band took a different approach to recording this time around, as Jake explains, “with this new album is we recorded live and it gave us way more of a live feel and also no click-track, just let us kind of blaze through the songs like we’d been practicing them and it was like super fun and way more efficient.”
“People always say when you record live without a click, that energy is there,” Jesse adds, “it feels way more like you’re playing from the heart instead of just paying attention to the click. I dunno I feel like you can really feel that on this record. The last record, if you listen to the songs, I love them, but they feel calculated in this way. Which we were kind of going for that sound.” For the new record, he says, “we just wanted to do something different. Same studio, same producer (engineer, whatever). Matt also is like a producer cuz he gives us cool ideas. But yeah, we wanted to make something that sounded different…It’s so hard to talk about Plastic Western without bringing up the new album,” he ends as the band laughs.
In addition to recording the new record live as a group, Same was able to build off the familiarity of working in the same environment, as Tom explains, Plastic Western “was my first time doing a bigger project in a professional studio so there was definitely a learning curve. Which I noticed when we went back to do the new album, I just felt way more comfortable and I’m sure everybody else did too, especially cuz we were in the same place with the same guy.” Jumping off that point, Jesse says, “you know what to expect, you know what kind of gear is there, you know how he works, so you can work around what his workflow is like. You know you get up in the morning and you go to the studio at 10 or 11 and you’re there until like 9…and then you have a couple beers and listen to a Neil Young record to cap it off.”
Of course, Same was writing and recording their new album while trying to still promote Plastic Western in the messiness of the last couple years. The group discussed the increasingly surreal and alienating way art has to be promoted, with Jesse saying “We did an album release party on Twitch and it was fun to do that cuz we weren’t doing anything else. It was like this is our thing. But I can’t imagine just being like alright time to log on and do our little live thing from my computer chair.”
“It’s really interesting,” Jake chimes in, “some bands did really really well with it. I think some bands were just really easily able—I don’t even wanna say easily—some bands were able to really adapt, but I think we definitely kind of had a tough time.” Jesse jokes, “I just can’t imagine being like alright Jamie (Gruzinski, the band’s drummer) here’s like how you set up your Twitch account, here’s how you set up Twitter, cuz like he wouldn’t…He would just be like ‘I’m out,’” as the band starts laughing. “He has no social media presence,” Jesse explains, “which is like great honestly.” Jake adds that the rest of the group prank-called Jamie during the Twitch album release because “we just figured he had no idea that it was happening.”
Jakes describes social media promotion as something that “kind of falls by the wayside or doesn’t come as necessarily naturally” to the group, which is echoed by Tom and Jesse agreeing “it’s not fun,” before Tom adds “but you just have to do it to a certain degree.” Although they add they do like to have fun with social media at times, as Jesse mentions the April Fools joke the group did, “we were saying before the full Plastic Western release, we’re releasing every song tonight and then a youtube link with every song playing overtop of each other compressed into like 30 seconds. We did our fake release and it got a lot of traction cuz people didn’t know that it was fake and would just retweet it and be like ‘this is so sick’ without even listening to it…caught some people.” Tom adds, “I got really bummed out cuz I sent that to my mom as a prank and she didn’t even listen to it and just replied like yeah it sounds awesome. And I was like you didn’t even listen to it, that’s not even the real album,” as the band cracks up laughing.
The nature of the group’s collaboration and songwriting was forced to change too, as the songs on Plastic Western had mainly been worked out of playing together in the same room, some tracks only taking shape over years of tweaks and reworks. For the new record, Tom says “we had some songs, but then when covid happened, we weren’t jamming very much in person, but we were still trying to write through these songs. So I feel like what happened on this record you see more of…it’s like collaborating in a different way. Rather than writing the songs live together, for example, Jesse would be like hey I demoed out this entire song by myself, here’s the idea and then maybe I add a part to it or maybe I don’t, or it’s something small. So rather than collaborating live it was like sending ideas to each other back and forth, which I think led to us coming up with fuller ideas on our own cuz we were at our houses by ourselves….It’s always pretty collaborative, but I think on the new record the way we collaborated kind of changed a little bit.”
Jesse adds that the new songs have a different feel, saying “I remember making some demos and being like I don’t even know if these sound like Same songs. Then once we started to get back together and jam like after we felt safe to do so, it was just like yeah, let’s just jam on these cuz I’m sure they can be Same songs. And they’re on the record now as Same songs and they feel like Same songs.”
The first of these new batch of songs to be released, “The Bell,” actually won’t appear on Same’s new album, as the group opted to release a b-side first to tease the slightly different sound. “That was one of those songs I recorded in my bedroom, that I demoed out,” Jesse says. “I was in the middle of reading Jeff Tweedy’s book How to Write One Song which was very inspiring and kind of made the songwriting process more simple or more clear, like ‘here’s what I do and it works for me’ so I’m like cool, I’ll try these tricks. And that song was birthed out of trying those Jeff Tweedy tricks, lyrically at least. It just sat as a recording for a while and then sooner or later I showed the band like this is something maybe we can do, but it was different…the demo was just acoustic guitar, bass, and fake drums and that was not the instruments we all play in a lot of our songs, like Plastic Western is not that sound, Same has never been that sound.” That Tweedy influence can certainly be felt in the ever moving forward narrative in the tune’s lyrics (“I’m changing lanes / under the pass / roll down my window / give up my cash”) that are delivered over a bouncy backbeat, with some clever lead lines added overtop of everything.
The second new track, “Facially Blind,” was scheduled to hit streaming services at midnight the same evening I met the band, and Jesse described the writing and demoing process as “pretty similar to ‘The Bell.’” An upbeat tune with beautiful lap steel touches and some fun background vocals in the chorus, Jesse says “I was really influenced at the time by Terror Twilight the album by Pavement, that kind of Stephen Malkmus songwriting. It’s hard to exactly tell what parts were influenced by what, but that was present. There’s a band called Pope that I like, they’re from Louisiana. Jake kind of introduced us to that band. Super good, they write these really flowy choruses that are fun and just have this nice melody and I was like I wanna write something like that so they influenced some of the melodies in that song. It was a demo that was pretty much done and the thing that really made it the song—it has like a sweetness to it—and that’s in the way that Jake is playing these leads that he came up with on the lap steel over top of it. Really gave the song its personality, which is funny cuz for the longest time I had known that song without Jake’s leads and once they got added it was like oh wow, now I know this song, this song is like a different thing, but in a really good way, like now it’s complete. I didn’t know it could even be this.”
On the lap steel lines in the track, Jake adds “I was screwing around on the lap steel when we were playing that one in practice beforehand and then I kind of wrote my parts in the studio when we were jamming it initially, doing the first whatever ten takes or so working on the parts…most of the lap steep we tracked one morning of one of the sessions, we just decided we’re gonna start off the day with some lap steel in the morning, wake ourselves up. It was just this very nice pleasant morning where we were waking up with these yawning lap steel lines. It was fun.”
live photos by Aaron Eisenreich, with apologies to our photography editors
A week after meeting up with Same I walked across the 40th Street Bridge over the Allegheny River to see them open for Supercrush at Whisper Nest, a cozy little bar and undoubtedly the hippest place in Millvale. Same sounds great on Plastic Western, but they are a band that you really gotta see live. The group’s friendship and collaborative nature is apparent in the way they seem to be having fun the whole time while still sounding incredibly tight, pushing the tempos a little more than on the record. In addition to “Facially Blind,” Same also sprinkled a couple more new songs into their set, a hard rocker called “Vacation” and “Into the Fire,” a tune that ended with the kind of killer extended jam the band excels at live. They closed out the set with “Shoot It,” a track that falls in the middle of Plastic Western, but works perfect as a set closer, as the band goes out rocking, building and explosive final jam off the simple repetition of “shoot it, I shoot it” mirrored by the group’s heavy and aggressive attack on their instruments.
The topic of shows and touring returning in what is still a hesitant and risky way for many groups comes up and Jake says “we love touring and playing shows and stuff, but like it’s not really in the cards for us right now to do intense touring, but that’s okay cuz it’s still just so much fun to play in a band and write songs and put out music. That’s what it’s about.” Tom adds to this, “touring is really awesome and stuff, but people are starting to see that’s not the only way to do it now. You can kind of do a mix or kind of find your own way to do things.”
Continuing on that thread, Jesse points out the value of having a strong local scene, saying “you could put together a really cool bill for a Pittsburgh show with great bands, then why do we always have to be touring to people?” He continues in a half-joking way, “Why can’t people tour to us? We’ll just play seven shows a row in Pittsburgh and you pick which one works for your schedule. You drive here for us…” Tom picks up on the joke, saying “I think it’s about time for the fans to tour. I think the bands have done enough driving,” as the group laughs.
Getting slightly more serious, Jesse adds “the benefit of playing in this band is I love getting together with these guys and writing songs and playing and it doesn’t hinge on whether or not we’re touring I guess. We definitely wanna do some weekends and keep playing other cities and just keep playing for the foreseeable future as much as we can. And I don’t wanna say like that’s enough for me, but it does keep me satisfied. As long as the band is still continuing to do things, I’m happy. There is no reason to put all this added pressure on yourself.”
Closing up on the band’s philosophy, Jesse says “the way I think about it is there’s a lot of albums and artists that I really love and am influenced by, you know, there’s just a pile of music out there. You can’t listen to all of it, but you can find the records you hold near and dear and get a lot out of. For me, I just want to give back and contribute what I’ve learned from all this accumulation of listening to music and be like here’s what I got, and if there’s someone that picks up that album and is like hey this is really good, this is inspiring, it makes me wanna write this kind of song, then great, that’s the kind of fulfillment that I wanna have. It’s not like I’ll ever really get to know that for sure, but I always think like you’re always listening to these albums that rule and are really good and that you’re influenced by and it’s like hey, I gotta give back. You gotta give back in any way you can, even if it’s not the full amount of what you took. It probably isn’t.”
“In addition to what Jesse said,” Tom adds, “which I agree with, also, at the shows when people are listening to it, this sounds corny, but I just want people to have fun and just enjoy it, and if someone else finds it inspiring too, then that’s awesome. It’s just kind of a reflection of ourselves and what we’re doing and hopefully people can take something positive from it, whatever that may be”
If you’re in Pittsburgh, or feel like making a trip to what some call the Paris of Appalachia, you can catch Same playing around town the next couple months:
9/5 @ Mr. Roboto Project with Golden Apples
9/21 @ The Government Center with Quivers
10/19 @ Mr. Roboto Project with Pope
Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject
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