BWW Interview: CALL YOUR FRIENDS! Sam C. Jones Performs His New Hit and More at The Brickhouse Art Gallery
Who would guess that what has been described as a sleepy little cowtown is actually a hotbed of young musical talent? The latest to join Sacramento's rank of up-and-coming people-to-watch is Sam C. Jones, a transplant from Virginia who landed on the west coast in 2016 and has quickly made a name for himself in the world of local professional theatre. He has recently returned to his passion of songwriting and will be releasing an album of original work later this winter. Broadway World Sacramento spoke to Sam about the King, country music, and what gets his creative juices flowing.
Sam, you're originally from Virginia and earned your B.A. in musical theatre from Christopher Newport University. What brought you out to Sacramento?
I was brought out here with an internship with the Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) to act in their season a few years ago. I was really looking for an acting internship or apprenticeship where a theatre company would put me in their season doing a lot of jobs and hopefully performing, too. I was looking for exactly what STC did for me. They housed me and put me to work. I was in three of the main stage shows and taught classes and did all of the miscellaneous work you do when you are an intern. I assistant directed one of the shows with the kids in it. I was specifically looking for that when I got out of college.
I've had the pleasure of watching you in STC productions such as Disaster, A Christmas Carol, and Man of La Mancha. Up next for you at STC is Pump Boys and Dinettes. What is that show about?
Pump Boys and Dinettes is a country western musical that takes place in a gas station/diner where all of us are active musicians, so everyone in the show plays an instrument in some capacity. That one is going to be a lot of fun. I'm in that show and music directing it. This fits in the same world as Million Dollar Quartet, which I've done a few times. Any of the kind of jukeboxy shows. It's written by a couple of different songwriters. Kind of a loose plot, a concert of country music, actually. They revived it on Broadway a couple of years ago. It's done every now and then and it's starting to get done a little bit more.
You segue seamlessly from musicals to Shakespeare, such as A Midsummer's Night Dream at the Davis Shakespeare Festival. Do you have any plans for Shakespeare in the future? Hamlet at STC or next summer's Davis Shakespeare Festival?
At the moment, no. I'm focusing on my music. I'd love to do more Shakespeare but right now the music is where my heart is.
Before acting, you were in a band called The Lowdown. Can you tell us about that experience?
That was my high school band. That was my first band and it was a punk rock group. The biggest show we were able to do was a Battle of the Bands in Washington, D.C. at The 9:30 Club, which is a pretty historic venue. After I started doing theatre seriously, we took a hiatus so I could focus on acting. I kept writing music and decided that I missed writing music for people, so I decided to focus on that again.
Your new album, Call Your Friends, will be available in 2020. The title song reminds me of a cross between country and Elvis. How would you describe your style?
My drummer called it a country-rock fusion. There are songs that are much closer to punk rock and there are some ballads on the album, as well. I always say it's a cross between Frank Turner, Elvis Presley, The Mountain Goats, and The Gaslight Anthem. Oh, and Glen Hansard, who wrote Once. Those are the closest ones that I would equate myself to. I hope it moves people and moves them to listen to it. I've been told that my funny songs are funny and that my serious songs will make you cry. What I love about the saddest songs are that I always try to write in a beginning, middle, and end format. I try to tell a story or take you on a journey. People take away their own lessons, one that I intended or one of their own.
Call Your Friends-the Concert will be playing this Thursday in Sacramento and Friday in Davis. It features three other Sacramento favorites as your backup-David Taylor Gomes (composer of Ranked, a New Musical), Hannah Jane Kile, and Sidney Raey-Gonzales. How is it collaborating with other artists and friends on your original music?
Well, I really wanted to collaborate because some of the songs I've written are obviously coming from a place deep within my soul. Some of them I wrote because I've been influenced by musical theatre. Some are from the point of view of characters I've created and I didn't necessarily want to sing all of them. There are few numbers that I think, "Oh, a girl should sing this," or, "This character is David's wheelhouse," so part of the point of doing this concert was to hear some of those songs for my own ear and to give people a chance to see me in a new light as a composer. I'd love to write a musical. I'm not only showcasing my work as a songwriter but as a composer by writing all of the parts for each instrument. Writing the music for everyone for this concert really challenged me and caused me to grow as a composer.
I understand that these songs reflect experiences in your life, one in particular being your struggle with social anxiety. How do you overcome that as an actor and musician when you have to interact with colleagues and the public? Does it translate into stage fright or is being on stage a comfort zone?
For a little bit, when I first moved to California, I developed a bit of stage fright. It would fixate on one thing. I have anxiety and elements of OCD that manifest itself in my anxiety. I would lose my voice right before I went on stage for a little bit. There was a good 6 months where I was very unsure with what I was supposed to be doing with my voice. This was after years of it never being an issue for me. It happened out of a need to prove myself and I felt that everything I was doing was important and I had to prove myself to a new community of actors and producers that I really respected. I worked through it by just getting another good voice teacher and finally addressing some of my own personal anxieties. Some of that is in my songwriting. I was bullied as a kid and I talk about my own relationship with drinking and my relationships with people. I was a serial monogamist for my entire life up through college and I sing about that a little bit-always feeling like if I don't have a special someone in my life, I feel like I'm doing something wrong. There are breakup songs in there and regret in relationships and a song I wrote that Hannah is going to sing about when I knew someone was going to dump me, so I wrote it and when they did, I said, "Here's this song." It is very cathartic to sing that song, "Stolen." It's not on the album and the only reason is because it's one of those songs that's made to be sung by a girl and I think Hannah does a beautiful job with it. It's remarkable. I wrote it from a deep place within myself but I still feel that someone else should be singing the song. It always seemed to me that a woman should sing that song. Or at least not me. I'm interested in writing for other artists and other genres. This is an R&B song, but I write others that move into the musical theatre category. I've written songs for hip hop in the past and other genres, so I'm always open to writing for other genres. For my own stuff, I'll probably stick to rock and country.
What is your favorite piece of music to perform?
In this show, it's so hard to choose. I would say I love performing "Call Your Friends" a lot. If I had to pick 3 favorites, I would say "Childhood Escape Plan," "Pour Me Another" (that Hannah and I will be doing Nancy and Frank Sinatra-type harmonies on), and "Call Your Friends." I've loved that song since the day I wrote it. I love all of my songs, but those are the three that I think are going to be killer.
I would guess, based on your sound, that you've been heavily influenced by Elvis. Who do you look to for inspiration?
I've played him in a musical twice and I got called back to play Elvis by a cruise line. I mean, that rockabilly sound is definitely an influence because I love that music a lot, but I don't really think I sound just like Elvis. I sound a lot more like the more modern folks that I mentioned but I would still listen to him as an influence. I love the simplicity of that songwriting. You can do so much with three chords. That early, early rock and roll stuff. I would say the big ones were Frank Turner and Glen Hansard and even Willie Nelson. One of my favorite bands is Lake Street Dive. They're definitely a huge musical inspiration for me. There's an obvious nod to some of their music in this show.
Where and when can fans access your new album? What's next for you music-wise?
The current single, "Call Your Friends," is available on all streaming platforms now. The new album will be released in early 2020. I'd like to do another show like this to release that album. Then I'm planning on heading to Nashville to record another album after Pump Boys and Dinettes. While I'm pursuing this, I'm still pursuing theatrical jobs. I'm just now taking more of an initiative to pursue this dream instead of waiting for something to happen with my music. This is me deciding to start a new chapter in my life and follow this dream of putting my music out in the world and I don't know how far I'm going to get but I'm optimistic. I really love the music I'm putting out there and I hope that everyone else does too.
Call Your Friends-the Concert will be held on Thursday, November 14 at 7 p.m. at the Brickhouse Art Gallery, 2837 36th Street in Sacramento and on Friday, November 15 at 7 p.m. at Sudwerk Brewing Taproom, 2001 2nd Street in Davis. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door and available by visiting thesamcjones.com.
Photo credit: Yarcenia Garcia