November 12, 2018 by David Soares
Let’s Have A Word #4: Will Samson
“Let’s Have a Word” is David Soares‘s attempt to make the Lisbon scene spill the beans.
I first met Will Samson in 2016, when he had just snuck into the dark of a cinema theatre, to take a seat on the same row I was sitting, along with friends we have in common. The film screened was Emocean, by the Berlin band Fenster — with whom he played for a while — which starts out as a mockumentary on the band to become an experimental sci-fi music film. His character, the evil Nosmas, inverted name and also inverted personality, is the extreme opposite of Will Samson in real life, who is peace incarnated. By coincidence, the cinema in question was Cinema São Jorge, where the Oxford-native will play his first-ever Lisbon solo show on November 18th, as part of the Misty Fest program.
For this concert, Samson already has an appreciable catalogue to source from, made up of three albums (Balance, 2012, Ground Luminosity, 2015, Welcome Oxygen, 2017) and four EPs ( Light Shadows, 2014, Lua, 2016, Thesis Print, 2017, A Baleia, 2018) and counting.
You once said your perfect idea of happiness is “to live in the countryside, with a nice lady, a ginger cat, an upright piano, and a garden.” Any success? Well actually, I do live with my partner now and we do have a cat and I do for the first time have a real music room, like a separate room that I can record in. I also have a miniature kids piano, so it’s pretty close (laughs).
Tell me about your composition process? How has it evolved? It’s been pretty consistent, the only exception has been the album I actually recorded when I was in Lisbon two years ago. So, at the moment, I’m really close to finishing a new album which has taken at this point about a year, maybe a little bit longer, and that’s just the case of the process being just that one small idea, like some sound that sounds nice, and then building on that — which can sometimes take months usually, just slowly adding and adding and then often eventually deleting all of the stuff I’ve added (laughs) and realizing it sounded a lot better like a minimal version. But then the album I recorded in Lisbon, its base was I didn’t really have equipment with me. It was mostly just an acoustic guitar, so these pretty much full songs came out each day within a period of a week or 10 days, I think. So that was a weird magical thing that really hasn’t happened again since. But otherwise, it’s about starting with any sound that seems like there’s something to build in and take many months to expand on it.
But do you usually compose on the guitar, or keyboards as well? I guess so, mostly with guitar and then either with guitar or piano, and then often, once I have the chords, I replace them with other sounds. Yeah, usually if it starts with the guitar, then eventually I’ll process the sound a lot through effects, so it tends to not really sound like a guitar anymore.
It seems there are two sides to Will Samson, the acoustic folk songs and instrumental ambient music. Where do you think your sound will head to in the future? Well, whereas the previous album was really minimal, the album that I’m finishing right now has a lot more percussion and electronics, so it’s definitely gone back to much bigger-sounding songs.
A lot of your ambient music sounds very ‘aquatic’ — it trickles, ebbs, and flows and rises; A Baleia was initially inspired by a flotation tank experience. And many titles suggest that. Are bodies of water your main source of inspiration? Yeah, I think part of it is I actually spent most of my childhood, at least my early childhood, in Australia, so most of my early life was at the sea and I have these vivid memories of just being underwater. I love this idea that it’s really like experiencing a different world that’s also completely silent. There’s something magical about that. And then basically I think everything I ever recorded always involved tape machines, it’s quite an essential sound, and there’s something about that which naturally creates this shimmering water sound anyway.
But it hasn’t been conscious, it just came up all the time? I don’t know, it’s hard to say whether it’s conscious or not. I definitely have a fascination with waves. Like the video for this song Sanctuary, which was made by a friend, is all just images of waves and actually seems to be the video that everyone always comments on as well. So maybe the people who are listening also are seeing that connection between water, waves and the sound of the music. Since you mentioned it, I’ll probably think about it for the next few days (laughs) and how conscious or subconscious that is.
So, you’ve always collaborated with many musicians, but you’ve been mostly touring solo lately. Yeah, less so, like the last tour I did was completely with my violinist (Beatrijs De Klerck) who has played on the last three records that I released, she was heavily involved and she’s already like a really central part of the sound now, so it’s becoming difficult to not have her there for the performances.
But do you miss playing with a full band at all? No, the most people I’ve ever played with has been four and it was for a release show in London. It was really fun but I think it feels like it works really nicely just as a two-piece.
Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, though? Well, I’m supposed to be making some songs with Jimmy Lavalle, whose project is The Album Leaf. We toured together a couple of years ago. That’s still something we want to do, but we’ve both just been really busy with other stuff. I mean, that’s really a dream choice, so I’m still determined to make it happen, it might just take a long time (smiles)
You’ve never scored a soundtrack, have you? Is that something you’d like to do? I actually got asked that this morning (laughs) (DS: I didn’t know about that, I swear). It’s a really funny story, actually, because on the recent tour at the beginning of the month (October), we had a day off in the Lake District and we hiked to the top of this mountain. It’s a small mountain. We met a guy at the top, the only other person who was there, who was a photographer and also teaches classes on Zen, and he just e-mailed me today to say if I would be interested in making some music about some films with this subject of Zen, which seems perfect…yeah, it seems like that has come together really nicely.
I think much of your music would serve nicely for soundtracks, that’s why I wondered. It’s happened to be something that I’ve always wanted to do and at this point I thought I’d be a lot more involved in — and it will happen when it happens.
What do you think you would do if you were not a musician? In an ideal world or in a practical world? (laughs)
Both. (pause). Well, I really enjoy writing, so some form of creative writing, I guess. And, well, next year, I’m actually about to sign up to do a course in this practice called TRE, which stands for Tension & Trauma Release Exercises, which basically is a series of exercises that induce essentially body spasms and the body releases any stored tension, and it’s something I am going to do anyway, so I guess some form of therapeutic practice like that.
That would be the practical or the ideal? Somewhere in between (laughs)
You’re based in Belgium now, but you’ve lived previously in Lisbon, Berlin, London, Brighton. How did those different cities influence you musically? For sure, it seems funny but, when I was in Lisbon, I felt like it was the first time where I heard a nylon-stringed guitar in its proper context, if that makes sense. You know, with Fado music, for example, it felt like hearing nylon-stringed guitar in its correct context. That’s what I used for the album Welcome Oxygen, which I don’t think I would have if I had recorded another album in a different place at the same time.
I guess with Berlin, it’s inspiring to the point of, you know, there’s a big music community, so there’s always musicians to collaborate with or to bounce ideas off. For example, the album I released in 2015 was the first one that involved quite a lot of percussion. I was playing drums for the band Fenster at the time, so that was definitely connected, playing drums again and then getting really involved in percussions.
You had a stint in Lisbon in 2016 for a year. What brought you here in the first place? Well, I had always, since maybe 2012, had this idea of living in Portugal. Not sure why, because at that time, I didn’t have any friends who were living there or anything, that was before this big tourism or gentrification boom. Also, at the same time, before I decided to come, I had been looking for a place to live in England and it was really difficult and very expensive of course. In the end, it ended up to be considerably easier for me to go to Portugal and find a place to live than in England. Even when I came, like two years ago, I already felt like I had left it too late, just in terms of renting prices being way more than what I had been told or what I expected.
Don’t you have a Portuguese connection? Some Luso-Indian blood or something? Exactly. That’s the funny thing, I didn’t actually know about that. I already had this idea of wanting to live in Portugal before I knew about Portuguese ancestry. Yeah, it’s a long complicated explanation (laughs), but the short version is that I’d been trying to convince my Mum to do a DNA test for quite a while, she eventually did it, and that’s when we found out about the Portuguese ancestry. So, we already knew that there was a bit of Indian ancestry, but the Portuguese one was a surprise. And when I was there, I tended to confuse everyone because people would just speak to me in Portuguese and then when I didn’t understand they’d switch to Spanish and then when I still didn’t understand, it was just like everyone was really frustrated at me (laughs).
A Baleia, which you released earlier this year, and previous works are made up of Portuguese titles. Why? Is it still a trace left from your time here? It actually came around because that instrumental EP that I did, Lua, I recorded it when I first arrived in Lisbon. That’s when I had this really bad accident, which meant when I listen back to these songs now, I can vividly remember being on this really strong antibiotics, pretty spaced out (laughs), so it kind of helped to feel like that when you’re making this kind of ambient music. I was already there when I was recording it, so it made sense to use Portuguese titles. With the second ambient release, I saw it as a kind of counterpart to that. It seemed strange to not have Portuguese titles.
While in Lisbon, where did you hang out for live music? I think the only proper venue i went to was Musicbox. I saw Damien Jurado there.
Oh, I was there too, actually, I remember now. And I was also there for Nos Alive.
Did you get to know anything about Portuguese music? Any favorite act? When I first arrived, I was actually briefly living with a guy who has this project called Medeiros/Lucas. It was just briefly, because his Danish housemate, whom I knew from Berlin and was away, and I took his room. It’s funny, it seems like the independent music scene is so small worldwide.
And Medeiros/Lucas is also very oceanic lyric-wise.
Let’s have a word: what’s your favorite Portuguese word? It can even be one of your song titles Well, actually, yeah, I really love the word lua, which is why I chose it (laughs). That’s a good one. Or no, maybe there’s faroleiro (Note: lighthouse keeper). There’s even something really nice about the English word “lighthouse,” and it just sounds really nice in Portuguese.
You’re going to play your first concert in Portugal in November for the Misty Fest festival (Espinho Nov.16th and Lisbon, Cinema S.Jorge 18th) — if we don’t count a couple of gigs playing drums for The Loafing Heroes at Festival Silêncio and Musicbox in 2016. What can we expect from those shows? I’m basically bringing as much of my setup as I physically can, especially for solo shows. For example, I use my feet a lot. With my left foot, I’m playing a bass synth, and with my right foot, I’m using guitar effects. I’m playing guitar and singing and using some other electronics as well.
What’s your relationship with the stage in general? Is it something you particularly enjoy, or do you consider yourself more of a studio musician? No, when you play a good show, it definitely feels like there’s a pay-off. There’s definitely nothing that quite compares with connecting with a room full of people, if it’s a really good show. But I feel like as I’m getting older — because I’ve been touring for a pretty long time — I’m realizing more and more how important the context is, particularly for this kind of music. For example, we’ve always had really nice shows in churches, because the acoustic was perfect for that kind of music. When I played standing venues, just like black rooms, there’s certainly a difference. They can be great too of course, but it’s a different thing.
What’s next? The number one thing would be I just have to get the new album tied up and mixed, so I guess that’ll be out hopefully before summer next year. We’ll see.
Any more gigs lined up between November and the new album release? I’d love to, but I think this will be the last lot of shows before the next record. The life cycle of an album now is just getting shorter and shorter, that’s just the way it is, you kind of have to learn to just be more productive, I guess.
Dates in Portugal :
16.11: Espinho – Auditório
18.11: Lisboa – Cinema S.Jorge
There’s also a crowdfunding campaign for the finishing of his upcoming album, collaborate if you can, it will be worth it.