Samiam's major label debut album draws you into a world where torment hides behind every shadow. "Clumsy"--with such angst-filled punk rock songs as "Bad Day," "No Size That Small," "Routine" and the harrowing, autobiographical "Stepson"--chronicles struggles to overcome broken homes and shattered dreams.
Its tense, unsettling subject matter might make one wonder if the band's members have used the 2-year-old songs as vehicles to exorcise their own demons.
Samiam (pronounced Sam-I-Am) just recorded an album's worth of new material, and it all barrels down the same emotionally turbulent path. Or, as bassist Aaron Rubin puts it, lead singer Jason Beebout "wrote more mean, miserable songs about his long, unending, tortured relationship with his folks and siblings."
Meanwhile, the quintet is having some new problems: getting its music released. Songs of intense introspection and angst have been popularized in recent years by the likes of Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine and Ministry, but some in the industry wonder if the audience for such heavy-sounding music is on the decline.
Apparently the decision-makers at Atlantic Records think so. The label released "Clumsy" in 1994, and the band toured for about a year and a half. "Then [we] went into the studio and recorded our next record, but suddenly Atlantic decided they didn't want to put it out," Rubin said on the phone from his home in Oakland.
"They were going through a major upheaval, and we were dropped along with about half of their roster. I guess Tori [Amos] and Hootie [and the Blowfish] can only subsidize so many acts that lose money. Of course we were disappointed, but we don't really feel any major animosity. We're focused now on the goal of getting a new record deal."
An Atlantic spokesperson who worked with the band said, "They're great guys, and I wish them the best. We reevaluated our roster last year at the end of the third quarter, and after surviving through several rounds, they just didn't make the final cut."
Dealing with bottom-line business realities is not the only challenge the band has been facing. Samiam has undertaken something of a musical metamorphosis.
The band--which also features guitarists James Brogan and Sergie Loobkoff and drummer Victor Indrizzo--was formed in 1988 as part of the flourishing Bay Area punk scene. that spawned Green Day and Operation Ivy. Samiam's three indie label releases all were defined by the band's three-chord, one-dimensional punk fury.
Starting with "Clumsy," the band members have developed into more versatile players of hard-edged rock 'n' roll. Now Samiam emphasizes structure and melody along with unbridled energy.
"Our music has changed. It's not the beat-up, sloppy, pure frenzy that it once was," said Rubin, 28, who has a degree in philosophy from UC Berkeley. "After a while, you get halfway competent at playing your instruments and you learn how songs are supposed to be arranged. Our tempo became a little slower, but I think it's more proficiently played, better music now.
"We're still punk, just not in the traditionally fast, aggressive way. Some of our older fans may say we've changed for the worse because we're not as punk as we used to be. But I don't know. I look at punk-bred bands like Swervedriver and Sugar, and they've grown without losing their edge. That's what we want to do."
Rubin left Samiam several years ago to attend law school at UCLA, but after a year he grew disillusioned, dropped out and returned to the band full time. He said he has no regrets.
"Being in a band is a cool life," said Rubin, who learned to play bass by listening to KISS and Aerosmith records back in high school. "I enjoy life on the road, away from all the day-to-day worries, like if my neighbor's dog is barking or are my bills getting paid. We get to see so much, and it's actually a pretty soothing lifestyle for me."
Samiam continues touring clubs (such as the Lava Room in Costa Mesa, where the band plays Friday night). According to Rubin, the band is a lot looser on stage than one might imagine after listening to some of its gloomy songs.
"Live, there's no self-absorbed brooding or Jim Morrison-like posturing," Rubin promised. "It's just rock 'n' roll played by some dorky idiots. All we're trying to do is entertain our fans and give them their money's worth, just like if they went out to a movie."