Sam Baker interview by Brian DeSpain, photo by Robert Poole
We were able to sit down and interview Sam Baker recently during his run of shows starting in Kansas, catching up with him in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Please enjoy the conversation.
Americana Highways: Among the other musicians I’ve spoken with, some have been hampered in their songwriting by the lockdown and others have found it to be an opportunity to focus more on writing. Tell us the different ways the “pandy” has factored into how you have channeled your creative spark?
Sam Baker: It’s both. I’m mostly a painter now. I write songs and still hear melody. I think with you and I [previously] talking about it, I think one of the things that I noticed was music to me is to say what I want to say. Painting seemed more focused. The colors seemed helpful. The canvas seemed helpful.
It’s just that art form. The impulse comes from the same place in some kind of way. I think that riding the wave you can do it through music or painting.
AH: You’ve played a couple of new songs at these three show this weekend. Is this leading to a new album?
SB: Yeah, I’ve got a record. I’ve just got to flesh it out.
AH: You have demos?
SB: I don’t have demos. It’s all in my head.
AH: I noticed you have a 2022 calendar composed of images from The Long Wait painting series. Would you share what a few of these paintings symbolize or mean to you?
SB: The Long Wait was a lot of fun. I did a show in Sante Fe at the Worrell Gallery which sold out.
With the exception of the Say Grace album cover, I don’t paint with a project in mind. It’s spontaneous. The impulse to write songs and the impulse to paint come from the same paint but they do not cross.
AH: It seems amazing how your past travels to Pittsburg, Kansas to perform have led to a connection so this is where you reacquaint and practice with your band, after maybe 20 months apart? Tell us about the experience here this week.
SB: I don’t understand the world works. With Rob and Carol (of Olive Street Presents), there was something about our relationship that was good. It’s great how it worked out and the Miller Theater is a fabulous venue.
AH: Your interview in 2014 with Terry Gross at NPR details your near death experience from a train bombing in Peru and a path of multiple surgeries and a long recovery. You say this set you on a path as a songwriter. Would you share your perspective on gratitude from realizing a different path in your life?
SB: What you and I talked about briefly in the lobby – violent death is a terrible, brutal thing. It did lead to a different path for me. I can say to myself now, I’m grateful where I am right now. I can’t say I am grateful for that event. Because the child and the other people paid too much of a price for that. The event was so horrible. I am grateful to be alive.
We all could have lived if they they hadn’t put that bomb on the train. I would not be who I am and I would not be an artist. We would not be here [at the venue] today. I am here because of that event. And I’m grateful to be here. I’m not grateful for that event. I’m not grateful that a child died [riding in the seat next to him]. I think from the song “Broken Fingers” that “some things don’t heal” is it. There is a tearing, a horrible tearing in a situation like that.
Some people think if they kill the right people or kill the right people’s children that good things will happen. It does something where you’ll never be healed.
AH: Is there any literature or music (artists) you have taken some comfort during down time from touring?
SB: I’ve gone back into the whole period of Miles Davis and Bill Evans and some others. That seems so fresh to me right now.
AH: What was behind your desire to move out to the desert?
SB: The desert always gives solitude and simplicity. That is the desert.
I had so little of value. I sold my house and left Austin (Texas) where I’ve been so many years and I felt really sort of beautifully untethered. Everybody is approaching this whole thing [pandemic disruption] differently. Some people are really nestling in and others are breaking down.
AH: What is the song “Ace On Ace” about?
SB: I wrote that for Walt Wilkins. He was always going home and he had a little baby – so just “put the wind in the willow and the Tennessee moon, and his cracked windshield and I’ll be home soon.” And he’s such a music person, it was “hurry home angels, hurry home son, hurry home highway roadtrip, and the clouds drift by like Bob Wills’ tunes.”
Check out our review of two of Sam Baker’s shows, here: Show Review: Sam Baker Two Shows in Kansas
Find our interview of Walt Wilkins here: Interview: Walt Wilkins on Producing the Mysterious Fluidity That is Texas Music
Find more info on Sam Baker here: http://www.sambakermusic.com