He’s been described as a “15-year-old folk hero of the future,” a “wunderkind,” and an “Americana prodigy,” while simultaneously holding on to his teenager-ness; hanging with friends, playing video games, and skateboarding different spots. Sammy Brue just released his debut album, I Am Nice, on Friday, June 16th, and the Portland, Oregon native is undoubtedly about to become a household name. We spent some time with him, asking questions about life as a young artist, musical inspiration, and the grabbing inside scoop on that infamous hat of his.
The album was produced by John Paul White (of The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (of Alabama Shakes). After experiencing Sammy play live while on tour with Justin Townes Earle, one music reviewer exclaimed that he was “floored by [Sammy’s] skill” and that “seeing any artist lost in what they are doing, as if none of us existed through their performance, is always a treat.” A writer for Americana UK reacted similarly: “Bloody hell. This is the frankly astonishing debut album from the Portland, Oregon native.”
What kind of deck do you ride? What skater(s) has your attention nowadays?
Right now I have a deck by Lizard King
. I met him a few years ago at an Avett Brothers
concert and he was a cool guy. The second time I met him was in LA and we got to hangout before a show I did there. So, I like his products, too.
What’s the best thing about Utah?
I love the mountains and sunshine. Ogden, UT has such a cool vibe to it. It’s an old railroad town and has an outlaw history to it. I can still get to the NW or LA pretty quick if I have to, but live a quiet existence still.
What do you miss the most about Oregon?
Family and culture. My cousins are still out there so I visit as much as I can, and we’re trying to book more gigs out there. I really miss the culture of people being who they want to be, too. If you want to dress in a kilt and Vader mask while riding a unicycle around with your bagpipes, people are fine with it. Also people out in the NW care about the arts and artists. It seems like they know how important they are to society.
How many of those hats do you own? What if a big gust of wind comes knocking it off and blowing it away for good – do you always have a backup ready at a moment’s notice?
I have around 7 or 8 right now. Different brands and even a customer made one that was a gift. I usually won’t have a backup, but the hat seems to get the same care as my guitars and don’t get lost too often. I did forget to bring one to Austin for SXSW this year, but I can usually find a Goorin Bros or another hat shop in most cities that I play in.
If you could duet with any artist in the universe – dead or alive – who would it be and why?
Etta James! Mostly so I could just sit back and listen to her sing.
How’d you come up with the album title and song names? Do you write the song, then name it or the reverse?
I write the song and then find the name after it’s done. Sometime it is a line or words in the song and sometimes it’s how it makes me feel. I was watching an old interview with Kurt Cobain, I think it was one of the last interviews he did, and the reporter told him towards the end that he was actually really nice. Kurt explained that he was a nice person; it’s just people see what they want. Then when I was writing “Control Freak,” which is my take on Cobain and his life, I put the line “I am nice” in the song. I thought that would be a good album title just to let people know from the start that I am a nice guy.
What has been the highlight of your recent tour? Learn anything about yourself, the world, music, fans?
I was playing in Chicago when it hit me towards the end of my set. I’m on tour with the guy
that made me want to get up in front of people and perform. On my first tour! Thats a pretty big highlight to me.
How do you keep your guitar skills fresh? Are you one to push your boundaries and get out of your comfort zone?
I try to play every day, but also know when to set away from it for a break. Whenever I want to try and get creative I’ll search old videos of originals on YouTube too. Watch Elizabeth Cotten finger pick
in such a simple way. The simple, more basic stuff inspires me for some reason. Then I build from there to wherever it goes. I also grab my banjo for a break and sometimes that gives me ideas to perform on the guitar.
You’ve been playing music and performing for a while, and you’re still quite young. What’s it been like on that journey?
I think the business side of this industry makes you grow up fast. I’ve accepted the fact that my art is a product for consumption. Writing before it was just about creating something.
What’s the worst (best?) “I can’t believe I ate that while on tour” story you have?
Cow tongue tacos in Austin, TX. Way better than I thought they would be. My Dad dared me to eat them and I actually loved them. Other than that I don’t venture out of my comfort zone too much.
What kind of gear are you using nowadays? Give us your must-haves when performing.
I always have my Loar LO-16 with me and a LR Baggs Venue DI. GHS Strings on all my gear too. I did buy a 1969 Martin 00-18 I’ve been playing and writing with and have fallen in love. I’m finally at the point of experimenting with pedals too. Send me any suggestions you guys have on that.
Tell us something about your dad that would embarrass him – shhh, we won’t tell anyone!
Not touching this one….
We have a lot of young, ready-to-take-over-the-world musicians that read this blog. Any advice for them as they figure out their sound, what they want out of their career, what decisions to make next, etc.?
Just play and write. Your voice will surface eventually. Don’t try and follow a trend and put yourself in a box that doesn’t fit you just because you think it is what other people want to hear. Different thinking is what changes the world.