Q&A ::: Sam Gendel

Sam Gendel is a musician based in LA. He has been involved in a wide range of output, some collaborative, some deemed solo works. His latest album ‘4444’ received a glowing review from tastemaker blog Pitchfork and it’s been on repeat in the TSOFDs kennel. We’re honored that Sam has taken some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us…  

sam gendel

TSOFD: Hi Sam. Thanks for chatting. First of all, are there any albums you can single out that have particularly inspired you?

SG: Jon Hassell ‘Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street’, John Coltrane ‘The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings’ and Geotic ‘Mend’.

TSOFD: Love a bit of Coltrane. We shall endeavor to look the other two up. We’ve learnt you are an LA musician. Did you grow up in and around LA? We’d love to hear more about your formative experiences and the music scenes you have been involved in – were there venues or musicians that took you under their wing you feel you owe a debt to or is LA a competitive and fragmented place rather than there being an overarching sense of community?

SG: I grew up in a small agricultural town in central California, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It is the opposite of LA in many ways.  I moved to LA and had to find my own way more or less.  No one took me under a wing, and there aren’t many creative venues, but for some reason it always felt free and vibrant here, so I never left.  It doesn’t feel explicitly competitive here, maybe because it is always sunny, but I wouldn’t say there is a unifying community.  There are many small communities that sometimes rub shoulders.

TSFOD: The ‘psychedelic’ tag is one that is thrown around quite a lot. What we dig about your music is it comes across as psychedelic in a very natural way rather than feeling contrived. Do you find composition and recording comes easily and you can turn it on like a tap or do you have to wait to be in a particular zone to end up with something you are satisfied with?

SG: I am really just an improviser.  Everything I do or create stems from improvisation.  Most of my favorite work I have produced will never be heard by anyone because it probably happened late one night at home, alone, in low light, enhanced, without means of documentation.  I often feel like a sand painter with sound: I make the thing, and then it just gets blown away, never to be seen or heard from again.  Poof.

TSOFD: How do you go about recording? We’ve noted you’re cited as producer for this latest record though Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor has produced you in the past. Is there a lot of painstaking engineering that goes into it for example, to get a precise sound, or is it simply overall vibe and performance that’s of paramount importance to you?

SG: Recording is an enigma to me.  I don’t have a process other than to get the work out by whatever means possible.  I work with an engineer when I need to be fully in the music.  It’s nice to let someone else drive the car so I can sit shotgun and control the climate and dial in the fade/balance on the system and kick my feet up on the dash, you know?  I worked with an incredible engineer on ‘4444’, Chris Sorem; he always makes the process effortless and clear.  Almost the entire record was recorded live, in the same room, with no click track.  It was pretty simple and old school, like a jazz record.  Time was spent sculpting the sound to a degree, but not too much.  I wanted to do something genuinely subtle, not trying to be subtle, but actually subtle.

I also record myself, poorly, but with ardor.

TSOFD: The guitar playing on this record is really interesting – very hypnotic. If I’m not mistaken you’re on record as stating saxophone is your first instrument – does playing a different instrument act as an inspiration in itself and lead you towards composing in ways that are new and exciting to you?

SG: At this point guitar feels very comfortable for me, albeit in a nontraditional way.  I have only played it for a few years, whereas I have been playing saxophone for almost 20 years.  All my guitarist friends say I have a bizarre technique on the instrument, but they love it because it is coming from such a different place than the traditional way of playing.  People often ask me what tunings I am using, but I only used standard tuning.  There is no doubt that the guitar inspires certain music out of me that the saxophone doesn’t.  That being said, when people ask me what instrument I play, I always reply “saxophone” because that is my thing, and my next releases are going to center around the saxophone finally.  The saxophone is my voice in this world.

TSOFD: Do you see yourself as primarily a jazz musician or simply a musician?

SG: (quoting Duke Ellington) “There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.”

TSOFD: Your output evokes a certain political consciousness. Gil Scott Heron and Fela Kuti spring to mind.

SG: Great music from both of them.  Politics are boring.  I suppose times change but also things often stay the same.

TSOFD: Have you ever visited China? Ever heard of Hangzhou? Have you ever absorbed much in the way of Chinese music, either traditional or modern? Would you like to visit China in future with a view to performing?

SG: I have never visited China, nor have I heard of Hangzhou before this interview.  My absorption level of Chinese music (traditional or modern) is a solid slim to none.  That being said, I would love to bring my saxophone to China and create many trippy performances in strange spaces.

TSOFD: Before we let you go – please tell us one artist we should listen to.

SG: Three words – John Carroll Kirby.

TSOFD: Thanks Sam – we have a John Carroll of our own here in Hangzhou – we’ll be sure to add a Kirby onto the end and follow up this recommendation. All the best.


‘4444’ is out  now on Terrible Records.


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