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Samiam are an post punk/indie rock institution. Forming in Berkeley, California, almost three decades ago, the group molded their unique style playing early on with bands like Jawbreaker, Seaweed, Green Day and Bad Religion. Over the years, they had mainstream radio play with songs like “Capsized” and “She Found You”, released eight full-length albums and continue to play to passionate fans all over the world. Started by Jason Beebout (vocals) and Sergie Loobkoff (guitar) in 1988, the band’s current lineup also features longtime guitarist/vocalist Sean Kennerly as well as more recent additions of bassist Chad Darby and drummer Colin Brooks. They have refined their brand of post- hardcore/alternative/emo/indie rock over the years and are just as powerful now as they were during their heyday in the late nineties. If anything, they sound more relevant than ever before.
Samiam’s story starts at 924 Gilman Street immediately following the breakup of Beebout’s band, Maximum Rocknroll magazine poster brats, Isocracy. “It seemed like a lot of bands broke up around the same time and there were all these people at Gilman with ideas of starting new bands with each other,” Beebout recalls. “Operation Ivy had broken up around that time and started Rancid and I started talking to Sergie and about what I wanted to do.” The duo shared a love of bands Short Dogs Grow, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth and The Doughboys, however Samiam didn’t end up sounding quite like any of those groups…or anyone else for that matter. Pop melodies and punk riffing were the perfect backdrop for Beebout’s instantly recognizable voice, belted over dramatic dueling guitars and urgent drumbeats that soon made them a local club favorite. With the release of 1990’s Samiam, 1991’s Soar and 1992’s Billy on New Red Archives the group soon became international sensations. In 1994 when East Bay Punk was exploding into the mainstream, Samiam caught the attention of Atlantic Records and signed a multi-record deal.
“The whole experience of being on a major label during that era was bewildering then and it’s bewildering now,” Beebout admits, adding that the group never really felt like they fit in with the label’s roster — a recurring situation for Samiam. “It was a cool experience being in nice recording studios and being the focus of attention but I don’t think we ever really felt comfortable with the industry side of things.” Despite their misgivings the group released Clumsy in 1994 (featuring the song “Capsized” which was heavily played on MTV) followed by You Are Freaking Me Out in 1997 (the latter of which featured the radio favorite “She Found You”). The tours supporting these albums saw the band playing everywhere from Whisky A Go Go to CBGB to sports arenas and national television shows. After getting out of the major-label world, Samiam released fan favorite Astray on Hopeless Records and Burning Heart/Epitaph Records in 2000 and then went on a recording hiatus for a few years, though they never stopped performing live. “We’ve only released three albums over the past seventeen years – 2000’s Astray, 2006’s Whatev- er’s Got You Down and 2011’s Trips – but we’ve toured Europe almost every year and played in North and South America as well as Australia consistently,” Loobkoff, who also plays guitar in the celebrated emo act Knapsack, explains. “Since 2001 we haven’t had a manager and rarely have booking agents, we’ve just been doing it all on our own like a garage band.” However while the band has downsized their operation, interest in Samiam has continued to rise and the band has garnered rapturous responses at festivals such as Groezrock, Riot Fest and The Fest from both seasoned fans as well as the previously uninitiated. “There are a lot of places in the world where we are a lot bigger now than we were when we were touring full-time and I feel very fortunate that we can be in Melbourne, Sao Paulo, Berlin or New York and there will be a good crowd,” Loobkoff adds.
The band’s level of activity may have fluctuated over the years and their sound has broadened a bit, but there is no question that you can hear bits of Samiam in countless bands that have walked the line between pop and punk. “We could have been lumped in with all these other bands when punk was super popular but we didn’t ever want that and looking back I’m proud of the fact that we wanted to be individuals instead of saying ‘fuck it’ and just trying to do what everyone else was doing,” Loobkoff says. Writing a song about mortality as dark and poignant as “Dull” may not be a recipe for a hit single but it has an emotional resonance that’s one reason why Samiam have remained relevant long after most acts reach their expiration date. “I think that end of the day being in anything for over 25 years is impressive,” summarizes Beebout. “We’ve never given up, we’ve always followed our own path and we’ve found an unorthodox situation with this band that works for all of us… so there’s no point in stopping.” – Jonah Bayer