SAM TSUI on producing and writing songs and his desire to sing with Jessie J
Sam’s love for 80’s music “the synths, rich harmonies and funky rhythms, epic vocals, and at the same time really earnest songwriting”spawned the wonderful album Trust.
Sam, being one of the first independent musicians to harness YouTube and social media created and grown a combined social following of over 5 million loyal fans, who call themselves the #Samily. Proving his ability to connect to his audience, the artist has over 500 million views on YouTube for his creative and musical content and has opened for musical talent such as Bon Jovi, Ariana Grande and DNCE.
In this Q&A, discover what inspires this talented Yale graduate, what he does aside from music and him being “a long-winded, multi-volume epic SF/Fantasy series” type of book.
Tell us something that a lot of people don’t know about you.
One thing people may not know is that If I weren’t doing music, I’d probably be an illustrator or visual artist - whenever I have free time I like to paint and sometimes I share the results with fans on social media. The way my art manifests in my music is through the graphic design for my albums, social media, and merch - all of which I create myself!
Pre-Youtube, when and how did music start for you? Does it run in the family as well?
Music absolutely runs in my family. My mom was a high school music teacher, and my grandmother (from Hong Kong) sang Chinese Opera. From a very young age, I loved writing and putting on little musicals with my friends, and have known since then that I wanted to make a career out of music and performing.
Let’s talk about your album Trust. How was it producing and writing songs from it?
As with any massive undertaking like a full album, it’s been a ton of work but a complete labor of love. As with all my work, I’m very hands on - all of the songs on the album I wrote (some I co-wrote with my husband Casey Breves) and over half of the album I also produced myself. The result is that the final product really is very much directly from my mind, and I love giving fans such an earnest piece of work. I’m so proud of the album, and it’s been so gratifying to finally put it out and begin to see my fans jamming to the music and connecting with the stories the songs tell.
Do you have any favorite track from the album?
From track to track, the album has a lot of variety so that’s a tough question - I absolutely love performing the fun, funky songs like “Cameo” and the title track “Trust” live, but the ballads are always some of my favorites because they’re the most personal - “Fixed” is a favorite, along with, of course, “Clumsy” - the music video for which I just released!
What’s the story with your single Clumsy? What inspired the song?
“Clumsy” is actually the first song I wrote for the album, and it’s still one of the most resonant for me. Sometimes we get so caught up with life or work our own problems that we end up sabotaging our own relationships and even inadvertently hurting those we love the most - that’s what this song is about, and it’s something I think we can all relate to. In the music video, we tell this story with a full dance concept piece (which was a huge joy and challenge for me to work on) that depicts my own internal thoughts as a figure who keeps interfering with, and ultimately ruining, what begins as a beautiful dance. It’s really special and I think the fans are going to love it.
How would you describe the album to someone who is just getting into your music?
I’m a big fan of 80’s music - the synths, rich harmonies and funky rhythms, epic vocals, and at the same time really earnest songwriting - and all of these are definitely ingredients I tried to put into the album and my music in general. It’s definitely a pop record and a lot of the music is really fun and (hopefully) catchy, but each an every song tells a real and specific story about the ways we interact with each other and our world.
Is there any artist that you dream to perform with?
As I mentioned, I’ve always been a sucker for impressive vocals - I’d LOVE to sing with Jessie J, who is currently KILLING it with her weekly performances on Chinese TV (which I have been watching obsessively). Performing or songwriting with her would be a dream!
Top song in your playlist right now.
“Make Me Feel” - Janelle Monae. Love everything about her, and this funky, Prince-y track is definitely my current jam.
Any advice you can give to any aspiring youtube artist / artist right now
I’d say my best advice would be not to lose sight of how powerful uniqueness can be. It’s easy to think of yourself or your own work in the context of what’s popular right now, and that’s definitely an instinct we all have - but ultimately the best art has to say something new, and one has to take pride in and understand the things we each bring to the table that are different and new.
If you’re a book, what type of book are you and why?
Probably a long-winded, multi-volume epic SF/Fantasy series, haha. Not only do I read a lot of them, but I too have lots of fantastical thoughts and ideas, and a lot to say.
If you will be given the chance and opportunity to help a specific charity, what would it be and why?
I recently attended the annual gala for GLSEN, which is doing incredible work in helping to create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ young people across the country - it is crazy and upsetting to me that in 2018 so many kids still feel unaccepted and unsafe because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and I think it’s so incredibly important that we continue to help create environments of acceptance and positive dialogue in schools.
Photography: IRVIN RIVERA
Styling: DEREK RICHMOND
Grooming: SIFA SITANI
Photo Asst: PHIL LIMPRASERTWONG