With the release of his latest album Angeleno (following a self-relased album and an EP) Sam Outlaw has received favourable reviews and great exposure. The Californian has taken his take on classic country to the next level, recording with producers Ry and Joachim Cooder. after Joachim heard a demo tape and contact was made. Ry Cooder came to some live shows and asked to sit in with the band. He decided then to us the core of Outlaw’s band, including bassist Danny Garcia and steel player Jeremy Long. “From there I also added Bo Koster from My Morning Jacket. It was my call to add Bo on Wurlitzer, and fortunately Ry really liked his playing so it all worked out great.”
The new album revisited some of Outlaw’s material from his previous releases as well as new songs. This was a mutual decision between artist and his producers. “I knew that this album would get heard by significantly more people than anything else I’d released before, so I considered all my songs fair game. The recording process is, and should be, a learning situation. “I learned that my favorite way to record music is to start with the whole band tracking together. From there I can over-dub vocals if necessary, but there’s no better way to capture the “life” of a song than to just play the song; as opposed to building each track one instrument at a time.”
Using your own band, rather session musicians, is something that happens more often in the indie area but after the recording the next step is playing live which can be done solo, with a small group or full band. Outlaw’s preference was to use his own regular band where possible; “I prefer to record songs with my regular players. There’s a better groove and by playing the songs live you get the chance to fine-tune the songs before you’re paying money for takes in the studio.” This is something that forms part of his mind-set when he writes; “I write and arrange my songs typically with a full band in mind. Lead instruments, harmonies, etc. So playing solo is always a challenge for me since I typically have to re-work the arrangement of the tunes. Playing with a small acoustic group is significantly less challenging and much more fun than playing solo, since I enjoy performing music with people. The chemistry of live music is what I really look forward to at each show, so playing a whole set solo is admittedly not my favourite.”
For this album he has signed with Canadian label Six Shooter and that experience has been a positive one. “Six Shooter has been awesome. Having a team of people that believes in you and helps you pursue your dreams goes a long way. I can’t say enough how thankful I am for that team and how much it encourages me to have some help along the way.” It reinforces the fact that having a support system - manager, label, crew etc - is something that most artists can benefit from. It also allows him to concentrate on his writing and performance as well as reaching a wider audience along the way. “I don’t think about bringing my music to a wider audience beyond wanting to play bigger shows. I’m just going to do what I think sounds and looks good and if other people like it – great! And fortunately I have a manager and good team of people who can help guide the marketing. I’m going to focus on being a better songwriter.”
Being a songwriter is the core of what Outlaw is. His songs deal with the emotions and trials of love to a large degree. This is a universal subject, especially in country music, but one that needs to be considered from different emotional angles. “Every song can’t be about the same subject matter or you’ll just bore yourself to death. I don’t know if any emotion is necessarily (more) profound than lost love, but certainly some of my songs are about other emotions.” He feels his inspiration can be hard to pinpoint, but overall was something that “comes from God, I think. I don’t really know”. Location, he opined, was a positive factor in his writing. “Angeleno could not have been made in any other place with any other players. A big part of the sound of this album comes from the life in Los Angeles and Southern California.”
Much of Outlaw’s live performances have been in the US to date, but he recently completed a tour of Australia with Justin Townes Earle that proved successful on a number of levels. “I got along great with Justin and his fans were incredibly generous. Justin has developed an impressive following in Australia and the shows were all sold out. What more could I ask for?” He has also played with other upcoming singer/songwriters like Cale Tyson. Both are part of an interesting resurgence of artists who draw on traditional country music, as well as other sources, that are currently quite different to what seems to be the staple of mainstream country radio. “If I had to take a wild guess, I would say audiences who want more ‘traditional’ or ‘classic’ sounding country probably aren’t dissatisfied with mainstream country radio because they don’t listen to country radio at all.” Outlaw also hopes to play dates in Europe next year.
In some pieces his choice of stage name has been a subject of comment and perhaps even controversy. Due in some part to the preconceived notion of what Outlaw music in country might be. “I’m not sure that using my mother’s maiden name is controversial. The Outlaw family is just as part of my blood as the Morgan family and I’m fortunate to feel love and support from both sides. I love the fact that I get to talk about my mom and her family and that using her maiden name provokes those conversations. And if the nature of the word “outlaw” prompts someone to check out my music who otherwise wouldn’t give it a shot then, great.”
In the end that is what it comes down to. The music. Right now Sam Outlaw is making some of the best country music around. Take the time to listen.
Interview by Stephen Rapid. Text editing by Sandy Harsch