Leaving it all on a track: Sam Lachow on his artistic intent
Sam Lachow is a Seattle based producer, songwriter, rapper, videographer, director, and editor of video and music. He is currently promoting his latest and most polished album of his career, “Corduroy.”
We interviewed Sam about his journey as an artist, the release of his album “Corduroy,” the collaborations on the project, American race and class politics, and music as a connection to a higher source.
Congratulations on the successful release of your album Corduroy! I would love to analyze your work and nuance some of your socio-political critiques of American society.
In “Fifteen Pennies” you say “I got skunk drunk on the 8th of November Thought we were done son The night of the election when the Trump won But never felt a punch I can’t get up from I’m a tough one…”
What is your perspective on American class politics? What did/does the Trump administration symbolize to you?
Sam Lachow: I actually said when the “chump” one, because I didn’t even want to say his name… My perspective on American class politics, I just hate that dude. I’m just so done seeing him on my TV screen, and hearing about him, cause he’s just such a narcissistic idiot. It was just so embarrassing having him around. I already knew that before the election, so when he won I had a lot of feelings about it.
When I wrote this, my first feelings were: we’re gonna get through this. There’s a whole half of our country that feels that for some reason he represents them. I don’t want to just talk bad about the guy, because he has a family and whatever, but I don’t know. The guy seems to only think about himself. Doesn’t seem to have compassion or empathy. Doesn’t seem to be a regular human being with empathy, like at all. I don’t know if it means that half of the country is like that, or… I mean there’s more to it.
That’s why I said “never felt a punch I can’t get up from,” ‘cause you know, we’ll get through this, and in a way we did. It got so bad and now we won, eventually. We didn’t win overall because there are still 73 million people that voted for him, even with everything he did. Also, I gotta preface this by saying, like, I’m not a political artist at all. I’m just not knowledgeable enough. I’m not gonna sit here, as young as I am, and with as little knowledge as I have, and try to pretend I know- all I can say is how I feel, my truth and my perspective. I know there are people that disagree with me, and I don’t think that they are wrong for that.
The media completely alters the way we think about things. I’ve been getting into watching all types of media and figure out why these people think that they aren’t racist. I’m trynna learn and get all the sides, but my perspective on American class politics; I’m definitely against the two party system. I’m against it just in the way it’s a pendulum swing. I’m also for progress, and my ex-girlfiend Andrea and I got into a lot of arguments about this because I think progress isn’t linear, and it happens slowly. I think voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was a good thing because my main goal was to get Trump outta office, but her main goal is to dismantle the entire system; which is very admirable, and I agree… I just think we make more progress by getting him out of office, then we are in trying to end the whole system because we can’t do this in one night. Maybe I’m naive, but I’m a huge Barack Obama fan; I’ll listen to every interview, I read his whole book. I listen to him and he vouches for Biden, and I believe there will be progress. It’s going to be slow, but a lot faster than if Cheeto was still in office.
In “Speed of light” you say “But im not as woke as Professors at a coffee shop with lattes and mochas (wow)”. How do you feel you engage in activism?
Sam Lachow: I’m being sarcastic in that line. I think in a way, the idea of these professors being “woke” because they know a little bit about history, is not really knowing. It’s pretending you know. They’re still in the upper class. It’s a big problem I have with liberals, especially in Seattle where they love being “woke” and “activists,” they’re not giving up their job for anybody, you know what I mean. They’re being as woke as they can to make themselves look good. That’s what I’m talking about; I’m not as educated as these professors, but I’ve been around the way, in a sense I feel I know a lot more about reality than these guys. That line is basically about white liberals from Seattle who are full of it.
To further continue your socio-political critiques, you contest the elitist mentality behind obtaining a degree as the sole way of obtaining success.
In “Fifteen Pennies” you say “I never had a fortune or a trust fund Never had a dealer ’cause I was one Never change the fabric I was cut from Under my ruger was tucking one gun and a bunch of drug”
In “Fifteen Pennies” you also say “You want a piece of the American dream? You better do like the powerful do and barely be seen Spend 10,000 hours on your hustle degree And make the money disappear like it was nothin’ to me”
What does the “American Dream” symbolize to you?
Sam Lachow: I grew up very poor. With nothing. Also white. So I had this weird mix of wanting to fit in with my other white friends, who had these big houses, and also knowing there was something that was different about me and realizing this class separation. I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of Black people, and related to them more. I was less embarrassed to invite my Black friends to my house, then I was to invite my white friends because I didn’t have the kind of houses the white kids had.
My dad, coming from a Jewish family, is insanely smart and didn’t give a fuck about money. That’s why I’m ambitious and I hustle, because I just don’t want that; I was always seeing my parents argue and it was usually about money, it seemed. Stressing about money, I learned at a young age, sucks! And I wanted a piece of that security. When I talk about the 10,000 hours thing, I don’t know how long it takes, but you gotta want it. What I think is more important by far is doing something you love. One hundred percent. If while doing that you ended up having kids, then you have to think more about how you will feed them, and buy diapers, you know what I mean. But until then, do what you love, in my opinion. Fuck the American Dream. To me the American Dream is doing what you love and being okay.
I’m grateful for how I grew up because it made me way more ambitious, way more of a hustler. It made me find joy in both the art of what I do, and also the art of marketing it and spreading it to people. I get joy from having people listen to my stuff and talking to my fans. I think a lot of that has to do with how I grew up, and growing up poor.
In “Ten Feet Tall” you say “I was OK, wanted money with no fame. But both things, come with liquor and cocaine. Start missing, what is art or what art isn’t. Its hard to listen, being selfish and narcissistic Your old passion, feels dated and old fashioned The wheels roll, shit, die young or feel old. You had fun with the trap drums. The 808s and mumblings way to late to keep u with” How would you describe your journey as an artist?
Sam Lachow: I’ll start from the beginning. I grew up poor, and I wanted money. I was not thinking about being famous, I wasn’t thinking about being cool. I mean in high school you can’t help it, but I wanted to just do what I love and have money. I didn’t choose art because of money or fame, at all, I chose it because I had no choice. It’s what I love, it’s what I gravitate towards. If I had a choice, I most likely would’ve wanted to graduate from a university and become a doctor or lawyer. But that’s not how my brain worked. I went to college for a year, not even a whole year ‘cause I got kicked out. I studied Communications, I don’t even know what that means, like I was doing that because I thought I had to.
When I started becoming locally famous, all that means is in Seattle I get recognized walking around, people started sucking up to me, and that became a drug in of itself. That’s what you become used to, and without wanting to, you become cocky and narcissistic. So that’s why I start saying “Start missing, what is art or what art isn’t. It’s hard to listen, being selfish and narcissistic,” cause you start caring about continuing this cycle of people loving you, and getting praise. You want those likes, those followers. That’s what this whole song is about; remembering why you do this. You can love art, the art that you’re making, and life, and not love what you are gaining from it. This is one of the reasons I feel so lucky I became a drug addict, which is a line I talk about here too; you either die young or feel old. It’s not true. I thought I would die young, having a popping ass time, but really the goal is to get old, not feel old; get old and be happy living, knowing it’s not forever. Make the most out of it. Make other people happy. Be there for other people. “I’m here for a good time, not a long time,” is the most selfish thing you could say. No! You got people that love you. Stick around, be there for others.
Furthermore, how might you say your art was impacted by the quarantine period?
Sam Lachow: Quick answer is, the quarantine made me cancel my tour and all my shows, and in all honesty, I love touring and the people I meet, but it makes me very nervous. Especially as someone who relies on drugs a lot, it’s not good for my recovery and health. Part of me was hyped, but I also lost a lot of money not being able to tour. But it was an opportunity for me to just make music. That’s what I’ve been doing; I’ve been making a lot of, in my opinion, the best music I ever made. Not having to rehearse for shows and spending all that time on the road has hindered my promotion, but I’ve been more happy just being able to make the music, and having that be all it’s about.
Who are some of your major influences?
Sam Lachow: I get this question a lot, and I always say André 3000 because, in my opinion, he was the best rapper ever. Him, Notorious B.I.G., Lil Wayne and Eminem were the only rappers that I ever would listen to and have to rewind over and over just to study their flow and rhyme schemes, and how they didn’t rhyme certain parts but it still sounded so damn good for some reason. Those are the artists I studied.
When it comes to Hip Hop beats, Pharell is way up there, the 2001 album by Dr. Dre is up there. When it comes to melodies and song writing it’s definitely The Beatles, Elliott Smith, folk music, Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Bob Dylan when it comes to songwriting. Quincy Jones. I love singer song-writers. Regina Spektor; goddamn that girl can write a song. I don’t care how good you are at singing, I don’t care about an Ariana Grande who doesn’t write her own music, even if she can sing her ass off. I wanna hear someone’s journey and their vulnerability. I wanna learn your story.
In “Broken Bat” you say “I been up two NIGHTS, running from the red and blue LIGHTS” Not to reduce any “race” to class confines, but the Black American and Latino population in America are more impacted by police brutality.
Sam Lachow: When I talk about running from the red and blue lights, there probably was a part of me thinking about why I grew up scared of the red and blue lights. I hung out with a lot of Black people. When I’m in a car running from red and blue lights, the cops don’t like us. I don’t know if it’s because Latinos, Black people or White people who wear their hats backwards, the cops never liked us. Maybe it was the car we had. Whatever. I was definitely aware of it growing up.
Whenever the cops would bang on our door when we were having a party I would literally hide my Black homies. And it wasn’t even telling them to hide, it’s just what we would always do, we just knew the system as unjust. It’s like “Sam, you answer the door and be extra White and we will have a much better chance at continuing this party,” you know what I mean. That’s just how I grew up, it’s how the world worked.
That was one of the most interesting things for me, this shift that happened this year with Black Lives Matter. I just thought that’s how the world worked, and that there was nothing we could do about it. I feel guilty about the fact that when I was hiding my Black friends so that I can open the door for the cops that I wasn’t thinking like, “hold up, why is this how it’s going down.” It’s a beautiful thing getting that realization and learning. It’s crazy to think that I didn’t think it was something that could be changed. I thought that’s how the world worked. These last couple of years have taught me that holdon, maybe that’s messed up, and there’s something we can do about it.
How are you respectively navigating Black American culture to pursue your career? Do you aim to use your platform to boost the voices of those impacted by the social realities of American society?
Sam Lachow: I never felt, and still don’t feel, and you say navigating so I don’t know what that means, if you’re trynna imply that I use a culture to pursue a career, that’s not how it is. I gravitated towards what I liked. And I made what I liked. That’s what me and my friends did. We were not thinking about using a culture. It was later on that I realized that I benefited from it. I like Rap music. I like Hip Hop. I realized that I didn’t have to go through the same struggles as the people I was listening to. When it comes to using my platform to boost Black voices, no, I wasn’t trying to do that. I have Black and White voices all in my catalogue, but it wasn’t that I was intently trying to put a Black voice on a song to boost their voice. I am an artist, I was trying to make the best music possible. If you’re good, you’re good. That’s all I care about. I wasn’t thinking about it probably because of white privilege, I didn’t need to think about it. Coming up, I didn’t care what you looked like, if you were good, you were good. I’m still that way. I’m not gonna boost someone’s voice and make bad art from it. But that being said, I do think it’s important for me to amplify voices. That is what I’ve been doing though, unconsciously because of the community I was in. I didn’t think of it as White or Black, I was just trying to amplify talented people.
One thing I was thinking about, and this is besides the point, I was talking to my ex-girlfiend Andrea about this, I work with a lot of white videographers, editors, and music video directors. The reason I do that is because they have the equipment and the skill set and that’s what they do. And this is obvious, the reason they have this is because they have the advantage… their parents paid for their college and now they are good at what they do. It’s not fair. But it is true that most of the videographers I work with are white directors and it’s probably because their parents got them into college for it, or bought them a camera. It’s just something I think about.
You often have a female subject in your new album, what is it like to navigate your lived realities in the art form? What purpose does it serve you to translate these narratives into music?
Sam Lachow: Basically, right now in my life, my main thing is addiction and my selfishness and me trynna get out of my own narcissism and hedonistic ways, and stop trynna look for that quick orgasm or cocaine sniff or heroine shot, whatever drug I’m doing. I’m trynna stop pleasure seeking. At the same time I still am human and I still love, but I’m a drug addict, which makes me selfish, but like anyone I wanna love and be loved. That’s a big topic of music. Addiction. Love. Human connection. One of the reasons I love drugs so much is because I’m insecure and it allows you to connect with human beings, even if it’s artificial. But it doesn’t last.
You often mention drugs in your lyrics, and even released a video speaking about your relapse, what impact do drugs have on the production of your work?
Sam Lachow: The quick answer is this, I am a drug addict. I’m also a workaholic. There are drugs out there that can make you work for all night until the next day, maybe three days. I would have a really bad problem with bendering, I would stay up for three days, mostly just working on things. I like to go go go. And I got addicted. When you are on those speed drugs, like cocaine, meth and adderall, you need to come down somehow, and that’s how you get into the benzos, the xanax. Then you get addicted to that, and it’s a cycle. I am in programs, tryna get better. All I’m gonna say about it, besides that, is that I am grateful I have this problem because I’ve learned so much and met so many people. I feel I have this wisdom about life, and about what matters. Quick highs such as drugs, sex, money, material things I learned aren’t real and don’t end up making me happy. By learning that, it made a big difference in my life. When you know getting that car isn’t gonna make you happy, man are you happier.
What was it like working on a project with so many artists and moving parts?
Sam Lachow: It is a pain in the ass sometimes because you got to be on people’s asses and bug people, and no one wants to bug people. But I love collaborating, I will never not collaborate because I wanna save money or I don’t want someone to get a percentage. I’m trynna make the best song possible. If someone is better than me at something then I’m collaborating with them. That’s what I care about. I think collaborating is fun! Human interaction is fun, it’s what we all crave, and it’s one of the best parts of music. It’s like asking a drummer, why do you work with a whole band? That’s what we do. That’s what I wanna keep doing. I don’t wanna be alone doing this myself. I wanna share it with people.
Is music a form of spiritual release for you?
Sam Lachow: I think it one-hundred percent is. I never used those specific words, but I am a firm believer that I am not responsible for any of this. When it comes to art, it’s not that I decided that I am going to make a cool song today; the best things come when you step out of your own way and let something take over. It’s all about setting yourself up to be in the right experience and situation and, whatever you wanna call it, I call it God, does the work for you. We don’t know what we’re doing. I didn’t choose any of this. I didn’t do any of this. It comes from somewhere else. Not that I’m special, and there’s someone or something that chose me. More that I accept the fact that I don’t know anything and there’s a higher power beyond my comprehension and understanding and I can’t take credit for my successes. More than that, I can’t take credit for my failures. That’s how you learn to accept the things you can’t change. That’s what a lot of recovery programs are all about. It’s learning to accept what you can’t change. Having the courage to change what we can. Having the wisdom to know the difference. You can’t decide what’s going to happen to you. I don’t decide that I’m going to the studio and making a hit. It’s not up to me. There’s something else there. If you start taking too much credit then you’re in a world of pain because when things don’t go your way it’s all your fault. I try to remember that I’m not the one steering the ship. “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!” – D.H. Lawrence
Interview conducted by Shirley Reynozo