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O.C. Pop Music

Luck Aside, Samiam Won't Be Led 'Astray'

September 28, 2000|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Samiam has weathered its share of lumps since forming in 1988. After releasing three indie albums, the Bay Area punk-rock quintet signed with Atlantic Records and released its major-label debut titled "Clumsy" in 1995. But Atlantic was suddenly in one of those corporate downsizing modes, and even though Samiam (pronounced "Sam-I-Am") had already recorded its follow-up ("You Are Freaking Me Out"), the label never released it and subsequently dropped the band from its roster.

After some legal wrangling to buy back the rights to the new batch of emotionally turbulent songs, Samiam, which performs tonight at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, signed with an independent label, Ignition Records. But just a few months after "You Are Freaking Me Out" was released in 1998, Ignition folded and left Samiam in the precarious position of touring behind a product that was no longer being stocked in record stores.

But lead singer and primary lyricist Jason Beebout is without bitterness or self-pity. Beebout, who is joined by guitarists Sergie Loobkoff and James Brogan, bassist Sean Kennerly and drummer Johnny Cruz, is buoyed by the band's resiliency and modest aspirations. After all, in a pop marketplace defined more by fashion and trends than artistic merit, it's rare when the cream rises to the top.

"When we were with Atlantic, our CD was in more stores than ever before, we toured for two straight years with big-name bands like Green Day and Bad Religion, and we got to travel to places we wouldn't have otherwise seen" such as Japan and Europe, said Beebout, 30, by phone before a recent North by Northwest festival appearance in Portland, Ore.

"Overall, our experience with a major label was a good one," he said. "Now when they said, 'We're not going to put out your next record,' of course we were bummed. But realistically, how big can a band like Samiam get? Not that big. We wanted to try something different than putting out records for the same 20,000 people. I think Atlantic did all they could to promote us. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out."

Knock on wood, but life is looking brighter for Samiam. The band is now touring in support of "Astray," its strong new CD released domestically last month through Van Nuys-based Hopeless Records. (The CD has been available for several months in Europe on the Epitaph-affiliated Swedish label Burning Heart Records.)

A mix of crunching punk anthems ("Sunshine," "Birdbath"), alternative rock ("Parrafin," "Mexico") and moodier, downbeat numbers ("Curbside," "Dull"), the sonically varied "Astray" is a melodic, song-oriented, smartly produced collection that thematically focuses primarily on dark, personal issues.

In the mid-'90s, big-selling bands including the Offspring and Green Day brought punk rock barreling into the mainstream. That kind of unanticipated breakthrough is not something Samiam covets. More important, Beebout said, is evolving as a band.

"If 'Astray' sounds more structured and fully developed, it's because we had so much more time to write and record these songs," he said. "I think we understand the songwriting process better than we ever have. Plus, if you do anything long enough, you hopefully get better at it.

"So much of a band's commercial success is about timing and luck, and we just can't expend any more energy on things that are out of our control. We're at a point where I think we have enough name recognition to land good club gigs and get our record into the stores without any hassles. We're happy as long as we can support ourselves, make music . . . and have fun.

"Despite the bumps along the way," he added, "it's actually working out pretty well."

BE THERE

Samiam, Jealous Sound and Co-Ed play tonight at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim. 7:30 p.m. $8. (714) 635-6067. All ages.

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