Jules Bethea-Rateliff and Joe Sampson talk about Joe's first official release, Kill Our Friends
There's a box set floating around with your songs. How did that come about?
I think those are all just four-track recordings, and I have a couple hundred of them. I just gave them to some friends, when I met Nathaniel a couple years ago, and when I met Joey. When I met people, I just gave them whatever I'm doing at the time. And there like, "Oh, do you have more?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I've got tons more." So I just gave them to people I knew, mostly colleagues, really, other songwriters.
Because I love the idea of, you know, those old pictures of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristopherson and whoever all in one room, sitting around with a bottle of wine, whiskey, and showing each other songs. I kind of romanticize that a little bit, especially those parties we use to have. My birthday party years and years ago, where we all got together in Nathaniel's backyard and created a little bit of a scene -- our scene, for us personally.
I heard that you took a CD to Twist & Shout, a limited number that you had burned yourself, and when they sold out, that was that. Is that true?
Yeah, well, sold out, I think I brought ten. But you know, Roger Green was working there, and he played it all the time, and I think that helped out a lot. He played it a lot, and people were probably like, "What's this weird shit?" Because it probably wasn't what they had heard [before] a four-track. So it probably sold out for its obscurity and its weirdness, which is fine with me. I think it's kind of cool.
How long have you been writing and recording songs on your four-track?
I've been playing in bands since high school in the '80s. But I didn't start writing songs...I always felt like I was a songwriter, but I didn't really start writing them until I was 21, 22. And then I had a decade of great years, writing them all the time. And then in my thirties, it kind of slowed down, and I'm forty now, and I haven't written a song in five months, probably. But I've been playing a long time. I never got better at guitar or anything like that, but I never cared. I just wanted to know five or ten chords and with a capo, there's a hundred more.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Connecticut until I was about nineteen and then I moved to Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona, with a girlfriend. I lived there for a couple years. And then, I haven't been back home -- I might see my mom once and a while, but rarely, maybe five years. I don't go back east much. I've been living out west now for going on almost twenty years.
How did you end up in Arizona?
Girlfriend was going to art school, and I dug her, so I was like, "I'll go with you." Little things, you know. It's funny because I'm from Connecticut. I'm a red head, you know, I'm a ginger. And I got blasted by that West Coast sun. I remember getting so sunburned, and just not getting it, like, "What? What is this? I don't get this." You know? Think I could run around in the sun like I did back home.
So how did you end up in Colorado?
I was living in Seattle for a couple of years. My brother went to Western State in Gunnison, and I didn't have enough money to go all the way to Connecticut for Christmas, so I flew to Denver. He picked me up, and lived with him for, like, a month in Gunnison, and went back home, and then went to Charleston for a year and a half, Charleston, South Carolina.
And then he was like, "I'm going back to Gunnison. You want to go?" I was like, "Yeah. I do want to go." And so I went back there and stayed there for years, a couple years, and met my friend Kate Magness, who'll be playing that show. Her and I just sat around with a four track and wrote hundreds of songs. That's what we did. We just wrote songs. We met Erin Roberts there, and she was part of it, and we all just wrote songs. It was kind of great. And from there I moved to Denver, because I wanted to play music, be in a band.
So you moved to Denver specifically to play music?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think it was on my mind, and I had a couple people who had already lived here, like Chris Adolf. We had mutual friends, and met up that way. And so yeah, basically, moved out of Gunnison. It was freezing there. Hated the cold. And came to Denver -- that was a long time ago - and tried to play music here.
When was that?
2000. I remember I worked at Watercourse. I always remember I worked at Watercourse on 9/11 - that's why I know the year I was there. That's where I was.
And that's where you met Jules, right?
Yeah, I met her through Chris Barker, this guy we worked with. I lived in Gunninson, and he moved to Denver earlier, and then I met Jules. We practiced in Jules's basement, A Dog Paloma, my old band. Chris Barker was in it, and Erin Roberts was in it, and Moses Montalvo, who used to be in the May Riots, he was in the band, too, and we all just played, and that's how I met Jules. I think Chris lived with her. I think he was her roomate, and I think that's how we met. But I've known her pretty much since I've been here.
How did you end up at Watercourse.
The owner of Watercourse used to live in Gunnison, Dan Landes. He used to live in Gunnison, and I knew him.
So now that you've heard the record, what do you think?
Well, we kind of made a hybrid out of it. We took Roger's recordings, and then we added some of me and Chris's recordings from a couple of years ago, and then a couple of my personal ones. It's a really long album - it's like seventeen songs, but it's only 45 minutes long; they're short songs.
It's hard to say: I like it. I like the feel of it. I'm going to be honest: It's hard to hear yourself. I'm sure everybody can kind of relate to that. I think I'm a little pitchy. A lot of it's live, a lot of it's just us doing it live, thinking I'm going to re-do the vocals. And then since I bailed and Roger took over, I didn't get a chance to do that. But there's got to be a charm in that, too. But I like it. I like it. I like the songs. Some of the songs are really great, and I like that.
Joe Sampson - "Moon Up Above"
What's your favorite song on the record?
Favorite song on the record, as a song itself, would be "Moon Above." I like the lyrics of it. The direction that we changed to is a little different than I thought it would be, but it's fine with a trumpet. Sean [King] came in with a trumpet, and it's cool. It's really cool. I think I sing it terribly, and that's why I wanted to, like, "Damnit!" That's my favorite song, written, that came out the best...
What do you like about it?
I like it because it's not all from the same day and the same studio, it's kind of got - I was trying to explain to somebody - there's regions of fidelity going on there. It sounds like everything is in a different area, which it kind of is. Like I said, it's a hybrid. I like that. It's like those old Bonnie Prince Billy albums or a Palace albums, where they're all just weird, like they're recorded in weird places. I love that. It makes an interesting album. That overall, I like that, how it's some acoustic songs and couple of upbeat songs, but no rock songs on this one, but maybe some day.
What did you listen to growing up? What influenced your songwriting?
Let's see...songwriting? Probably, truly, R.E.M., as a kid. I think Michael Stipe, I think he's kind of an amazing melody maker. You take two chords and he can make these incredible songs. Those first seven albums are mind-blowing to me. I don't listen to them anymore, but I don't need to. They're imprinted on me. Michael Stipe's melodies blew me away. He was always number one when I was a kid. And Violent Femmes. I love Violent Femmes first couple of albums. And the Cure - you know, the usual late '80s alternative rock, the Smiths. I had a little industrial age where I like Ministry and stuff like that, KMFDM, and shit like that.
But that's the stuff that shaped you, the late '80s stuff?
Yeah, and, of course, to be honest, I can't deny this, the Beatles. The Beatles I still listen to weekly, the Kinks, Beatles, all that stuff, too. You know, I have older brothers - Neil Young, my brothers were really into Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. So through the walls of our bedroom, I heard all that, Pink Floyd. I knew all the Pink Floyd albums, through the wall in my bedroom. They're incredible. He gave me those.
My dad sang all the old songs. My dad would've been 80 this year, so he gave me, you know, Mills Brothers and Al Jolson and Frank Sintra and Perry Cuomo. So I heard those. Those singers and those melodies were incredible. So yeah, I think when I was kid, R.E.M., and when I got older, Bonnie Prince Billy, Will Oldham, Jeff Tweedy. But I never was very Americana. But then when I got even older, and when I met Mr. Rateliff there, I got a whole new view of what I liked and what I wanted to emulate.
I never had a mentor. I don't believe in mentors. I don't believe anybody can show you too much artistically. I think they can probably help you along socially, but you take your style. But he would be the closest thing to my mentor in my later time, Nathaniel, purely performance, purely vocal power, the exact oppose of what I have. I have no vocal power, and he's got incredible vocal power.
I was sitting in front of him going, "You mean, you sound like this right in front of me?" When I first met him, I went to his house looking for Joe to give him a CD, and he was back there. I was like, "Hey, man, what's up?" And he's like, "I'm just singing songs." And he sang a song in front of me, and I'm just like, "Wow! People sound like this right here, right in front of me? I thought it was microphones that did that." I couldn't believe it. He's still one of my favorites by far.
Joe Sampson Kill Our Friends CD Release show, 8 p.m., Saturday, April 28, with Hayley and Doug (Snake Rattle Rattle Snake) Julie Davis and Joseph Pope III (Fairchildren), Stephen Brackett (Flobots) and Cache Flow, A. Tom Collins, Erin Roberts (Porlolo, Ending People), Rachael Pollard, Bonnie Weimer Esme (Paper Bird), Littles Paia (Adam of Bad Weather California), Married in Berdichev, James Han (Fairchildren) and Martina Grbac (Land Lines), Dan Landes, Carrie Beeder, Nathaniel Rateliff and more, $6, 720-570-4500.
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